Imagine traveling to Paris, France, the city of lights. You’ve just sat down at a picturesque (and cliché) corner cafe. As you open up your laptop, and gloss over new emails, the waiter comes around, and asks for your order in a manner that seems both slightly familiar and mildly annoyed – a trait unique to Parisians.
Fast forward 15 minutes. Your laptop sits dormant on the minute circular table, and you sit disappointed on the wicker chair. The myth of amazing Parisiahn coffee is just that, a myth that seemingly applies to the whole of the European continent.
As an experienced traveler, and coffee fanatic, I never leave my habit to chance. After being let down time and again, I now always carry my own brewing kit. Life on the road (or in the air) requires a different approach to essentials, and a flare for minimalism.
There are three simple things I look for when building my traveling coffee kit: portability, durability, and packability.
For a nomad, mobility and simplicity are key. Although there are portable, electronic brewing options, I prefer to stick with manual brewers. This way I am not dependent on a power source, besides myself.
When the lifespan of your essentials depends on the tenderness of an airport baggage handler, packing fragile items is a poor bet. It is important that your brew gear knows how to take a beating.
Apart from size, coffee brewers and gadgets come in all manner of odd shapes. You should keep in mind how your gear would fit in your baggage, and ditch anything too bulky.
The Coffee Nomads Essential Packing List
Here it is – if you want to have your cake and eat it to – i.e. travel minimally, but travel with the gear required to make an awesome cup of joe, consider the following essential items:
A Hand Grinder: The Porlex Mini
There are many imaginative (and strange) ways to brew coffee, but there only a few ways to grind, so the first item on my packing list is always my grinder.
I bring my own grinder, because store-bought, pre-ground coffee tends to lose its flavor and aroma the longer it sits. Additionally, by changing the size of my grounds, I can control how light or bold my coffee will be.
On my travels, I carry a Porlex Mini stainless steel grinder, a burr grinder with a 20 gram capacity, which is about six inches long, and less than three inches in diameter. Detaching the handle allows you to adjust the grind settings, and makes the grinder even more compact and easier to pack.
Travel Friendly Coffee Brewers
There’s an overwhelming array of ways to brew coffee – but some are not-so travel friendly. I’ve tried most of them – thanks to my coffee and travel obsession – so why don’t you take advantage of my compulsive curiosity and read through my list of favorites below to find which brewer will work best for you.
Regardless of traveling, the Aeropress is one of my most favorite brewing systems. This hydraulic shaped gadget uses a pressure method to force the flavor out of your beans, which is quick, simple and, unlike other brewers, doesn’t require much nannying.
Assembled and compressed, the Aeropress takes up only a 12x5x5 inch space, and its cylindrical shape makes it easy to slide down the side of your backpack or suitcase. This brewer is best for someone who enjoys the unique taste of a pressure brewer, and also likes to keep work distractions down to a minimum.
The Kalita Wave Pour Over Dripper
If you are someone who is fond of pour-over methods, then I’d suggest checking out the (metal) Kalita Wave. This brewer works just like any other pour-over dripper – set it on your cup, place the filter, pour in the coffee grounds, and intermittently pour (near boiling) water.
Although this process takes a bit of time and devotion, it’s easy enough to do in a your early morning stupor. A gooseneck kettle can make the periodic pouring process easier, but, with a steady hand, you will be fine with any normal kettle.
What makes the metal Kalita Wave stand out from other drippers, is its stainless steel body and its miniscule size. The metal body keeps your coffee hot as it brews, and the 5x5x3 inch size makes it extremely stuffable. If you particularly like the pour-over method, and are in need of something small and durable, then the Kalita Wave is for you.
The Melitta ‘Ready Set Joe’
The standard, the reliable, the Melitta. This pour-over dripper, is both aesthetically and functionally simple, but whatever points this dripper loses in appearance, it makes up for in cost and dependability.
The Melitta is only a little bigger than the Kalita Wave, but is made from thick, BPA free plastic, which makes it almost as durable. Because it costs less than $10, and its filters can be found in most supermarkets, the Melitta is best for budget-minded travellers. This brewer is for travelers who enjoys pour-over, but could care less about looks.
The Handpresso Portable Espresso Maker
Good news for all you travelling espresso enthusiasts, there is a travelling espresso maker, called the Handpresso Pump, which allows you to (literally) pump out a shot of espresso while on the go. It weighs roughly two pounds, and is pretty slim, taking up a little less space than the Aeropress.
Although the Handpresso Pump takes a bit more fiddling than the other systems I’ve mentioned, it is fun to use but still pretty straight-forward. You can also buy special coffee pods for the Pump, which makes the brew process even easier. Check out this cheesy video to see you how it works.
Unfortunately, at $129, this unique gizmo is the most expensive item on the list. I recommend the Handpresso Pump for travelers who prefer espresso and enjoy quirky gadgets, but don’t mind shelling out a little extra cash.
Accessories That You May or May Not Need
If you are like me – a little meticulous with your coffee – there are a few accessories you should also consider for your travel set.
I recommend the Coastline Digital Pro Pocket Scale which is durable, compact, comes with 2 handy measuring/weighing trays and seems to work perfectly for pour over coffee.
There’s no need to go overboard when choosing a scale – just choose something that can measure in grams and ounces, and does not have an auto-off feature (having your scale shut off mid brew will ruin your pour over process)
Another item you may want to pack is a coffee storage container. Because I often like to bring my favorite beans along with me, I use the Friis 12oz Coffee Vault, which provides airtight storage, while also filtering out CO2. The 12 oz is 5.5×5.5×8 inches, but, if you have more space allowance, there is also a 16 oz version available.
One final item I include is a mini thermometer. Most people just boil their water, but to get the highest rate of extraction from you beans, you actually want to heat the water to just below the boiling point.
For traveling, I recommend the CDN Digital ProAccurate thermometer, which is inexpensive, easy to use and easy to pack.
Coffee Travel Kits
If you are looking for a simpler decision, there are some ready-made kits available. I’ve tried out many of them, but these two are my favorites:
Undoubtedly, my #1 is the The Rambler from Stumptown Coffee. Stuffed into a rugged looking, water-resistant canvas bag, this kit comes with the full Aeropress, a Porlex Mini grinder, two Stumptown mugs, and a 12 oz bag of Stumptown’s Hairbender coffee. This ready-made kit looks great, packs well, and comes with one of the best portable brewers on the market.
The other kit worth considering is the Weekender Kit, from Timbuk2 and Blue Bottle. The Weekender’s layout is pretty similar to The Rambler, so it includes a Porlex, two mugs and a 12 oz bag of coffee; however it uses the Blue Bottle ceramic travel dripper, instead of the Aeropress. All of this comes neatly organized in a compact leather bag which is only a little larger than The Rambler. If you prefer drip brew over pressure brew, then this kit would be a better choice for you.
Regardless of what you’ve heard about the local coffee in your travel destination, I recommend bringing your own brew kit. There are still some modern cities (I’m looking at you Paris) where it is just hard to find – and expensive to drink – good coffee. Additionally, if you manage to find some good local brewers, you can brew up that coffee even while working from your hotel room. There are many dangers of traveling, but coffee shouldn’t be one of them.
Let me know what you thought of the article in the comments below, and tell me what you prefer to pack in your traveling coffee kit.