Despite third wave coffee's country-wide profusion, a great pour-over is still not always within arm's reach. Consequently, travel sometimes equals bland coffee. I've found that when I'm in certain cities, say Las Vegas, finding a great cup of coffee is nearly impossible, especially on the Strip. Over the years, I've devised different setups to maximize the mobile coffee brewing experience. While this particular guide is optimized for one or two people, I've included suggestions for those who plan to make coffee for a larger group, too. Here now, the ultimate mobile coffee brewing setup, from start to finish.
Every great coffee experience starts with beans, so that means loading up on the freshest you can find. Make sure to grab at least one 12 ounce bag of freshly roasted coffee for one solid week of drinking. I'd portion out about 30-50 grams a day, which means you'll need about 350 grams for seven days.
Brewing mobile means having a reliable and easy to use hand grinder. Taking a bulky electric burr mill grinder (the kind of machine you'd keep on the kitchen counter) to a Las Vegas resort (or, say, a campground) is overkill. I've already reviewed the most commonly found hand grinder models; I really like the Porlex for quick trips. One major bonus: it fits right inside an AeroPress brewer, which is what I like to use while traveling. I didn't use the mini Porlex for my review, though that's certainly an option as well.
There are two brewers I suggest for travel. The first is an AeroPress, a sturdy plastic device that looks like it belongs in a lab. I'd rate it as a C+ in terms of usability, but after mastering the brewing technique, it yields very good single cups of brewed coffee. It's also really small, a little bigger than the size of a Coke can when you bundle it up. And it weighs maybe a third of a pound. The other brewer I'd suggest is a Hario V60, especially one of the newer thin stainless steel models. The reason why I suggest the Hario is that it's a little more brainless to operate in the mornings.
Another option I've really enjoyed is the travel-sized Bona Vita electric water boiler, which weighs about a pound and is shaped like a tall can of tomatoes. I've toyed around with this half-liter boiler, which takes room temperature water to boiling within minutes, with great success. It's particularly suited to use with the AeroPress, which doesn't require a special spouted kettle. But, with enough care, it is possible to brew a very solid cup on the V60. If you won't have access to a water boiler (they're becoming less frequent in hotels, and are almost impossible to find even in a Vegas resort), this is my recommended device.
When traveling, I think most people could forgive eyeball measurements. But why eyeball when something like a pocket-sized gram scale runs a mere $10 on Amazon? I purchased this new style gram scale and found it incredibly useful: the range of this tiny device (it's sized like a square deck of cards) goes all the way up to one kilogram, which means brewing an entire Hario V60 or AeroPress mug is entirely possible.
Here's the tricky part: dialing in your travel coffee set up so it's almost as good as what you could get at a local craft coffee shop. And the bonus? It's often much cheaper to get your morning (or afternoon) coffee this way.
I really like Heart Coffee's general brewing method. Start with 18 grams of beans and hand grind to a slightly fine setting (think like Diamond Crystal kosher salt). Then set the AeroPress above a cup, wash through with warm water (to prime the device to the right temperature), throw in the coffee, and fill with 270 grams of hot water. Set the plunger on top to prevent the brewed coffee from seeping into the cup below. Wait just below a minute, remove the plunger, stir grinds and set the plunger back. After another minute, slowly plunge coffee through (make sure to take it off the gram scale when you push the coffee through at this point or else it'll break). Et voila, about 9 ounces of delicious hot coffee. Repeat for a second cup.
Via Hario V60
This method's a bit higher on the MacGyver scale. Grind 22 grams of coffee and throw the grinds into the Hario V60 (you can also wash through the filter, though you don't have to). If you have a fancy gooseneck kettle, slowly pour about 50 grams of water to "bloom" the coffee, then after about 30-40 seconds, finish pouring the water over a period of two minutes and thirty seconds or so, using a total water weight of 340 grams of water. If you're using the Bona Vita half-liter water boiler, you won't have the finesse of the gooseneck kettle, though you can still manage to brew a darn good cup of coffee (same parameters, though try and aim for about a 15:1 water to ground coffee ratio).
The Full Gear List
- Porlex coffee grinder ($54)
- Bona Vita half liter water boiler ($30) OR electric gooseneck kettle ($60)
- American Weigh Scales digital gram scale ($10)
- Aeropress ($30) or Silver-plated Hario V60 ($28) plus filters for each
- A sturdy travel mug or tumbler
- Fresh roasted coffee
Editor: Kat Odell