Have you ever been traveling on a plane or at a hotel and you wanted a great cup of coffee? Or perhaps you decided to go on a road trip to the middle of nowhere and you wanted to brew a great cup of coffee. If this is you, then I can tell that having the right coffee equipment when traveling is for you.
How do you make great coffee when traveling? Your coffee kit would include:
- Fresh roasted whole bean coffee
- Portable grinder
- Storage container
- Portable kettle
- Travel mug
- Aeropress or French Press.
This isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Continue reading to see what it takes to have the proper coffee equipment for travel and how to put it all together.
How to Make Great Coffee When Traveling
Its not overstating the obvious when I say that making or even finding a great cup of coffee when traveling whether on the airplane or at the hotel can be difficult.
I cannot count the number of times I tried to find ways to make good coffee when traveling so that I would not have to drink the coffee on an airplane or have to use the coffee brewer in the hotel room with coffee pods.
I also wondered if I was the only one who cared about drinking good coffee when traveling and its difficult or inconvenient to find a good local coffee shop.
However, what I saw on a recent flight to Paris convinced me how important getting a good cup of coffee is to some travelers (me included) and how far some will go to have one and which has led to this post and hopefully a better coffee experience for all.
A Story about Coffee and Travel
I was on a plane to Paris and it was an overnight flight that arrived at around 9am.
As is normal on this type of flight and at about 2 hours out the lights came on and everyone was starting to wake up when I heard an all too familiar sound from my days of owning a coffee roasting business.
The sound was that of coffee beans being ground and it was close by. Shortly after hearing that came that wonderful smell of freshly ground coffee.
I immediately started looking around to see where it could be coming from and just a few seats to the left of me I saw a passenger with the whole set up. He had whole bean coffee, a grinder, an Aeropress and even his own coffee mug! I could not believe it!
What I saw him do was pull out his grinder, grind the coffee beans that he had brought with him and that were in a ziplock bag and then asked the flight attendant for some hot water.
He then took the grinds put in the Aeropress and poured the hot water into it and about 2 minutes later he had the Aeropress over the coffee mug and was pressing the freshly brewed coffee into his coffee mug!.. Man… was I jealous!!
Here I was having a horrible cup of airplane coffee and he was sipping on, what I found out later, was a fresh brewed cup of Kenya coffee! It was at this point I decided that life was too short and I would start bring my own coffee whenever I traveled.
And so, here is my short list of items that I would consider bringing with you when travelling. If your hard core, I would recommend that you go the whole way but you can also pick and choose what you read below as any of it will help improve the travel coffee experience. It just all depends on how far down the coffee rabbit hole you want to go with this.
The Ultimate Coffee Kit For Travel
Fresh Roasted Coffee
First and Foremost – Get it fresh roasted! In a perfect world you would get coffee that is between 3 days to 5 days after it was roasted..Once you try fresh roasted coffee you almost never go back to store bought and it will not matter what you do going forward if you start with old or stale coffee its going to be difficult to make a great cup.
I would recommend, if you have local roaster, to go to them and check out what they have or use a subscription service like Bean Box. All coffee have there own distinct flavors from the Chocolate nutty taste of a Brazil to the floral notes of a nice Kenya. See what you enjoy and ask your local roast master how often and when he roasts that particular coffee.
If you don’t have a local coffee roaster, you can always order it online via sites such as Volcanica or coffee clubs but do the best you can in getting coffee freshly roasted.
Ask your local roaster or send an email to the company online to find out the roast date if its not listed.
The person I saw on the plane had his coffee in a Ziploc bag. In a non perfect setting, I think this will do but if you really want to do it correctly you bring with you container like the Airscape Container.
The reason being when you leave coffee beans exposed to air it will oxidize and therefore you will lose the flavors and nuances that your coffee has. Therefore, you can avoid this by keeping the coffee away from light, moisture, heat, and air.
The key here is to get a quality BURR grinder but you’ll have to get a manual grinder for portability reasons as they are a lot smaller and lighter as well as if you want to use it on a plane or anywhere else where there may not be easy access to electricity such as if you are hiking or backpacking around.
I highly recommend grinding immediately before brewing. If you grind your coffee too soon, it will quickly lose many of the compounds that give it such incredible aromas and flavors. On that note, one of the better grinder out there is the Porlex Grinder but there are options out there as well depending on your budget
Ok.. this may be taking it to the extreme but I thought I needed to add it. Coffee to water ratio is very very important in order to get the perfect extraction for your coffee.
I usually use a 16 to 1 ration ( water to coffee) but everyone is different on how strong they like there coffee. For the frequent traveler, I would recommend that you pre-measure out your whole bean coffee and put them in separate Ziploc bags for each cup of coffee you plan to have and take with you.
For a scale that you could use at home or take with you on while traveling I would take a look at the Hario Drip Scale.
This is where it gets somewhat tricky if you are looking to go down the purist path and do everything by the numbers.
In a perfect world you would want the temperature between 195 and 205 degrees but since we are talking about brewing coffee while traveling i.e. on a plane or in a hotel than, I have found this is next to impossible to get.
Therefore, I would recommend getting the Bonavita Mini Kettle as its light and sturdy enough to travel with and is perfect for trips or small kitchens.
Most people have there favorite ceramic coffee mug that they use at home.. Don’t bring it! They usually are too heavy and too delicate to carry with you. You also won’t have a lid and the coffee will get could fast.
I would also tell you not to get a cheap travel mug as the issue with most of the cheaper mugs is that the fall apart quickly, most notably the rubber pieces on the bottom, and the lid don’t seem to make sipping your coffee very easy or impossible without spilling on yourself.
Recommended Travel Coffee Brewers
One of the simplest but yet best ways to make coffee while on the road, or even at home. The Aeropress was invented by the inventor of the frisbee and stays with the simplicity of design and function.
It is basically a big syringe made out of plastic that will make both a great espresso and great cup of coffee.
I won’t go into complete detail on how it works as there are plenty of youtube videos out there to help you with that or you can check out my Aeropress vs French Press post, but basically you grind your coffee a little finer than for drip coffee and place it in Aeropress along with the thin circular filter.
You then place the Aeropress on top of your coffee mug and pour in the hot water. At that point just let it sit for about 2 minutes to brew and finally press down on the top like pressing on a syringe and there you go..
A great cup of coffee in 2 minutes. You can see a list of my 5 favorite Aeropress recipes here.
The traditional French Press is another great alternative to take with you as its very easy to use and easy to carry. They come in a variety of sizes and styles but don’t overthink it.
Just get one that is not made of glass to avoid any breakage issues and one that will hold the amount of coffee that you will drink each time. What I like about the French Press is the pure taste of the coffee. Since no filters are involved, oils are kept during the brew process.
You could go for either the stand alone French Press or go with the French Press and Travel Mug all on one.
For more of a comparison check out my Aeropress vs French Press Post
As you can see depending on how far you want to take this will depend on how much of a purist you want to be when it comes to coffee and travel.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to do all these steps to vastly improve your coffee experience while on the road.
Simply by buying fresh roasted coffee and grinding it as you need it will in of itself give you a fantastic cup.
However if you really want that perfect cup which will set the tone for the rest of your work or vacation day then bringing all these items along with you will do just that.
It will also make next impossible to have diner or hotel coffee ever again.