Travel Coffee

Travel Coffee

ChemexIt has been six years since I first learned how to make coffee on a chemex at the original Buddy Brew coffee bar.  Before that I  was a frequent visitor at Starbucks and would look for the most interesting bag of Peets or Starbucks coffee at the grocery store.  My Mister Coffee did the job every morning with very little fuss. I have always been a black coffee drinker and was fine with the darkly roasted and pretty bitter coffee; then the guys at Buddy Brew showed me how to grind the beans per batch and make coffee in a chemex.  That was cool.  They were selling whole coffee beans roasted right there with a roast date and the place of origin – really cool.  And the coffee was truly a whole different animal.

I began to stumble upon light to medium roast single origin coffees that were a much much different experience from the black and oily beans at Starbucks.   It was like walking out of a dark room where everything had been seen in muted shades of grey and then stumbling into broad daylight where everything was brightly saturated with color and contrast.

I can well remember that first “face melting” coffee that had me grinning like an idiot and drinking so much of it I was bouncing off the ceiling.  That memorable coffee was an Ethiopian Guji Hambela that was a natural process coffee and it smelled intensely of blueberry and flowers and tasted of blueberries, chocolate and sugar.  That was such a beautiful coffee that I found myself hooked on the experience and I have been chasing after perfectly sourced, roasted and brewed coffee ever since.

Hotel Coffee

I have been traveling frequently and finding a great cup of coffee on the road can be tough.  Sure, if I’m lucky enough to be landing in San Francisco or Portland or one of the other specialty coffee meccas then I would just leave the coffee making to one of their legendary coffee shops.

Here is what I find most of the time:

free coffee

You get what you pay for

Sometimes the complimentary coffee is pretty good.  Most of the time it is just awful.  So if you just need a jolt of caffeine and don’t mind adding sugar or milk then you are good to go.  Life is simpler if you don’t mind mediocre or even horrible coffee.

There are solutions to the dilemma of traveling while harboring an addiction to spectacular coffee beverages.

Now I am not talking about camping – that is a different situation all together and deserves a discussion all its own.  I plan on taking on that topic in a future blog post.  I am talking about your typical airplane or car ride to a city or town with more than a dozen people in residence.  Some trips might be for a couple of days or others for a more extended period of time.

The first hurdle is often the plane ride itself.

airplane coffee

suitable for a captive audience

Now I know there are those fellow coffee geeks out there that will go ahead and ask for hot water and then make their own coffee right in seat 16A.  I have heard that the Aeropress is a pretty reasonable way to brew up a nice cup of coffee at 30,000 feet.

I prefer to go ahead and drink the coffee provided on board the plane.  Is it good? No.  Is it awful? Sometimes.  I like to think of airplane coffee as a little taste of nostaglia.  This coffee is pretty close to what I drank for years & hey I survived.  Now I can use the airplane coffee to “reset” my palate and make me feel good about all the effort I go through to make myself a really great cup of coffee.

Lets talk about what I need to make a really good cup of coffee while away from home:

  1. Fresh whole bean coffee
  2. 200 deg water
  3. A Scale
  4. A grinder
  5. A dripper or Aeropress
  6. Filters
  7. A Carafe or Cup
  8. 10 minutes


Keeping the fresh whole bean coffee in good condition is important.  Don’t leave the coffee in a hot car all day or pack the bag of coffee beans on top of your favorite soap.  Coffee can take on the flavor and smell of other products and a nice cup of soap flavored coffee is not great.

Quality water heated to 200 degrees F. is important and I have been just defaulting to using bottled water in most cities.  Getting the water heated properly in a hotel room can be a challenge but if I am on a short trip I just run the water through the ubiquitous coffee maker and hope for the best.  Most of the time the water temp from the coffee maker is way too low but carrying around an electric kettle can be a hassle.  When I can, I take along a Bonavita kettle.  The Bonavita is a perfect way to heat water to precise temperature and then also have the control of a gooseneck spout for your pour.

A good scale that measures in grams is important.  The Hario Coffee Drip Scale is a great choice. The Hario is small and light, very accurate and is less than $50.  There are many small scales available at just over $10 if your budget is tight.

big travel kit


After great coffee beans and hot water, the grinder is the most important part of the travel kit.  At home I use a Baratza “virtuoso” grinder and it is a great burr grinder and well worth the money.  On occasion I will pack up the Baratza and all the other stuff and ship to a location where I will be working for an extended period.

I would be willing to wager that most people think carting around 25 pounds of coffee making gear is a tad crazy.   In my defense I would like to point out that an awful lot of people travel with a giant bag of golf clubs or maybe even a bicycle or surf board.

Back to the grinder.  There are small electric grinders on the market that are more practical to carry around than the Baratza.  These grinders are blade grinders that “chop” the beans into pieces of varying sizes and shapes and they are quite portable.  For the best quality coffee you need a consistent grind of similar sized coffee grounds – and that means you use a burr grinder.  Electric burr grinders are too big for most people to consider lugging around an airport.  So that leaves us with the manual or hand grinder.

travel kit

Travel Kit with vacuum sealed coffee and no scale

Hand grinders comes in many shape and sizes and the price can range from $20 on up into the hundreds of dollars.  Depending on your budget and how much room you want to make in your luggage I can generally say that you get what you pay for.  The hand grinder I have been using is the Hario Mini Slim Mill and it will get the job done for around $30.  The grind is no where near as consistent as the Baratza and although I haven’t done a side by side test – I think the grind is only marginally better than a small electric blade grinder.  I have also been using the GSI Outdoors Java Mill grinder and the performance is similar to the Hario Mini but has half the capacity.  I think the GSI Java Mill is an option for the camper or bike packer.

A favorite of the home hand grind crowd is the Hario Skerton hand grinder.  The Skerton has a larger capacity than the Mini Slim Mill but otherwise is very similar.

The Porlex JP-30 and the smaller Porlex Mini are long time favorites of the coffee geek crowd.  Both of these grinders are long lasting stainless steel and are priced at pretty affordable rate for most people.  These grinders still require a substantial investment in elbow grease  and for a medium to fine grind you are going to be grinding for couple of minutes for one cup of coffee.

There are really high quality hand grinders out there with new models showing up regularly.  One of the newest super grinders is the Feldgrind made by Knock.  The feldgrind is getting a lot of attention but has been very hard to come by even at the $150 price tag.  For the money is no object group there are the Lido grinders by Orphan Espresso. 

Once you’ve heated up the water and ground the coffee, then its time to get the coffee brewed up.  At home and at The Bikery I prefer to use the Hario V60 coffee dripper.  The V60 allows for great control of the pour over and is a little quicker than the Kalita Wave Dripper.

Java Drip Folded

Java Drip Folded

Java Drip Open

Java Drip Open

On the road I have really come to appreciate the GSI Outdoors collapsible Java Drip coffee dripper.  The Java Drip uses the Kalita Wave filter and performs almost exactly like the very popular Kalita Wave Dripper.

The Java Drip takes up very little room in my luggage and because it is made of silicone it is almost indestructible.  I have had great results with the Java Drip and would be happy using this at the coffee bar as well as on the road.  It is also nice that the Java Drip is only around $20.

Another very popular alternative to a dripper like the Java Drip is the Aeropress coffee maker.  The Aeropress is pretty self contained and with a little experience you can produce a consistently great cup of coffee.  If you want to give the Aeropress a try I would recommend going with the “Inverted” or upside down method of Aeropress brewing.  There are loads of tutorials on line and I have found the inverted method is the easiest and leak free.

I will often find a decent coffee cup in my hotel room.  I personally don’t like drinking great coffee out of a paper or styrofoam  cup.  If there is nothing available at the hotel or motel I can usually beg or buy a nice coffee cup somewhere in the area.

If I am going to be traveling for just a couple of days and really want to keep it light I will measure out my coffee in 25 gram amounts and then use a vacuum sealer to make a single cup packet for each cup I plan on having while I am away – and that eliminates the need to carry a scale.

If you would like to give any of these products a try, come on over to The Bikery and we can brew up a little coffee and see what works for you when you are heading out of town.