Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Making great coffee on the road can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be. I've spent years traveling, along the way experimenting and trying different brewing methods, finding what worked and what didn't. In this post I share the methods I use every day on the road to brew delicious coffee.
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Getting hot water while on the road can be the biggest challenge to making good coffee. Some travelers have used hotel room coffee makers. But I have yet to find one that heats water hot enough to meet proper brewing standards. And as far as cleanliness...well you don't want to even think about this.
My personal go-to is an immersion heater. Compact, quick, and low-cost. Easy to slip in a bag, use anywhere there is an outlet to heat water in a metal mug or thermos. Add instant coffee to the water, use the thermos as a kettle to pour into a brewer, or brew right in it with the Espro Press.
Not all immersion heaters are the same though. Some have a coil that is too large to fit in some narrower thermoses or too short/long to be properly submerged and heat the water. Get one too short and it will heat the water in the upper portion of a taller thermos to a different temp than the lower portion.
I've been using the Heatiac Travel Immersion Heater for daily travel use. It is the perfect length to properly heat water in the metal thermoses and mugs listed below. Has a convenient on/off switch and comes with an adapter for outlets in foreign countries.
Another popular option is a collapsible kettle. The heating element and cord are contained in a solid base with an on/off switch. The walls are made of flexible, food-grade silicone and collapse onto the base for compactness and easy packing.
The 600 ml kettle translates to 20 oz. of water capacity in a self contained heating option. However, it takes up significantly more room, is a single purpose item and may retain residual water inside after use. Despite this some people still prefer the form and function of the kettle.
Thermoses and Mugs
Your mug or thermos is important as a drinking vessel but can serve other purposes as well. Paired with an immersion heater it can double as your kettle. Go with the Espro Press and it can be your thermos, kettle and brewer all in one. Whatever you choose it should be durable, have good heat retention and be well designed for travel.
The Espro Press P1
A very versatile piece for your travel kit. The P1 is a double-walled, stainless steel travel thermos with a secure, screw on lid and great heat retention. The bonus feature is that it has a removeable, double fine mesh micro-filter that also makes it a French press. A typical French press will leave sludge in your cup and the liquid must be poured immediately to prevent over-extraction. The double micro-filter removes all but the tiniest amount of residue. And after brewing it effectively separates the coffee grounds, allowing you to brew now and drink later with no taste difference.
The drinking portion of the cap doesn't have a single hole, but an open ring inside. So no spinning to find the opening and it allows the full aroma of the coffee to reach your nose. Your nose actually does more for your "taste" experience that your taste buds.
Using the immersion heater, I will heat the water directly inside the P1. Then either cap and use as a kettle for pouring or add my ground coffee, stir and press if using it as a French press.
Kinto Travel Tumber
French press not your style and just need a thermos that can double as a kettle? Then the Kinto Travel Tumbler is a great option. Shorter than the Espro P1, it packs away conveniently. Has a snug, screw on cap that covers that same ring-type drink opening that allows you to experience the full flavor aroma of your coffee.
Its depth works great with the Heatiac immersion heater for use as a kettle for AeroPress, pour over and instant coffee brews. Its 12 oz. capacity is also handy as a reference for brewing without a scale. Use a coffee:water ratio for 12 oz. and pour till empty.
Miir Camp Cup
Sturdy, lightweight and made of high quality surgical-grade steel that won’t affect the taste of the beverage. The double-walled design provides great heat retention and the opening easily accommodates the AeroPress and other brewers. Also, comes with a snug fitting lid to help prevent spills on the go.
I have been using the same Miir Camp Cup for years now and it always has place in my bag when I leave home. The only wear showing is a couple of paint scuffs on the handle from me accidentally flinging it across a concrete floor. Oops.
Yeti Rambler Mug
This brand is a well known name, famous for their product’s superb insulating ability. A very solidly built cup, it lives up to its reputation. This is a great alternative to the Miir Camp Cup. I did a side-by-side heat retention test between the two. The Yeti won, by a small margin, consistently staying about 5 degrees warmer over the course of several hours. The Yeti has a little different feel with more rounded edges and a bit bulkier feel. Yeti makes this mug in two sizes, the original 14 oz. and the more recent 10 oz., bordering either side of the 12 oz. Miir.
Brewing great coffee requires at least some accuracy in your coffee and water measurements. At home it is easy to have scales and timers but these can be large and not travel friendly. Luckily there are a few options and work arounds.
Best solution is to be able to weight both your beans/grounds and water when brewing. If you have the budget the Acaia Lunar is a fantastic, professional grade scale. Slim, small, highly accurate and has built in timer feature and long battery life. You can use this both at home and slip it in your bag for travel. And you will never be disappointed. At home I use mine for pulling shots on the espresso machine and you will frequently see this in many coffee shops in that role.
Budget Scale Option
For something just as small and portable but a little more wallet friendly, I have been using the AccuWeight digital scale for my travels. This scale will allow you to weigh out your beans but doesn't have the capacity to measure water for brewing. Using the set capacity of of the Kinto Thermos or Miir Mug and/or the number marks on the AeroPress takes care of the water weight issue; even eyeballing in between amounts like a 10 oz pour over has given good results.
A good grinder is an indispensable piece of brewing equipment and not a place to skimp. An even and consistent grind size is key to getting a tasty and repeatable brew. My first grinder came from a well-known outdoors brand and cost about $30 and broke a few days later; both of them. The cheap plastic internal components quickly stripped out and failed when faced with grinding light to medium roasted beans. A sturdy, quality grinder is well worth the extra investment. Both of the options below are durable workhorses, plus are some of the best options for compact portability. Both are slim enough to fit inside the AeroPress and feature removeable handles.
The Porlex Mini was my go to grinder for many years and is a fantastic option. Built with a stainless steel body and ceramic conical burrs it is sturdy and reliable. The burrs have a knob on the bottom with indexing notches to help you adjust your grind size. The mini is a slightly shorter version of the original but still holds up to 20-25 grams of coffee beans, making it suitable for single cup brews. Its handle easily slides off and can be slipped into the attached rubber holder or stored elsewhere for compact traveling. The body is also slim enough that it can fit inside of the AeroPress, saving a significant amount of room in tightly packed luggage.
Solid is an understatement with this grinder. Machined from a solid piece of high grade aluminum, with ball bearings on the shaft and knob and impressive 38 mm conical steel burrs. It is a pleasure to use and makes quick and easy work of grinding your beans. One of the most useful features is having the grind adjustment marked on the top cap. Making it easy to adjust, set and repeat grind settings for different brew methods or after cleaning. Worth every penny. You can find it on the Made by Knock website.
Travel coffee doesn't get any easier than instant coffee. Use your immersion heater to heat up some water in your thermos or mug, add instant coffee and drink. And instant coffee is no longer a cringe worthy option thanks to Voila and their work making specialty grade instant. Check out our selection of instant coffee.
The Espro Press P1
A French press is one of the simplest brewing devices. The Espro Press is a double-walled thermos that also functions as a fantastic French press. See the full description in the Mugs & Thermoses section above.
The mighty AeroPress is an incredibly popular, go to brewer for people brewing on the go. And for very good reason. Small, lightweight and very durable it packs easily, stands up to years of use and brews a great cup of coffee. Despite being designed for travel its not uncommon to see it in use at good coffee shops. If a shop has a particularly impressive coffee they want to show off, the AeroPress is often the brewer used to highlight its attributes.
The AeroPress is like the Swiss Army Knife of coffee brewers with the number of different brew methods and attachments that can be used with it. You can brew a regular cup of coffee, brew a concentrate and dilute for larger cups/thermoses, use the Fellow Primso attachment to brew "espresso" or the Puck Puck for Kyoto-style cold drip. Use the small paper filters for a clean cup or get a reusable, micro-mesh metal filter that will add some more oils and body to the cup.
Recently the AeroPress Go was released as an even more travel friendly AeroPress. Slightly shorter than the traditional AeroPress it fits inside a plastic cup with silicone cover and a foldable stir stick that fits inside. Choice between the two is really personal preference. Some like the slightly smaller Go, some think the small amount of space saved doesn't balance out the small loss in brew capacity.
The standard AeroPress paper filter is a small disk and comes in packs of 350. They will last you a long time!
Throw a reusable micro-mesh metal filter in your kit and never worry about not having a filter again. Options include the Altura Mesh filter or try the Able DISK standard and fine pair to go between clean cups or those with more oils and fines for fuller bodied cups.
Like espresso? Fellow's Prismo has a micro-mesh filter and one way valve to build pressure and replaces the AeroPress filter cap. Grind your coffee fine, add just a little bit of water and agitate vigorously before pressing out. While technically not a true espresso shot, it tastes pretty close for something you could do in a hotel room.
This attachment can also be used for non-espresso brews. Its one way valve won't let any liquid through until pressure is applied. Depending on how and where your brewing this gives you a little more control and avoid some possible mess. Great bonus attachment to add to your kit.
If you've ever been in a cafe and seen large glass and wood tower dripping water over a bed of coffee grounds, that is Kyoto cold drip. The slow drip-by-drip extraction makes a smooth and delicious cup of cold coffee. The Puck Puck turns the AeroPress into a mini Kyoto cold drip set up. A water bottle screws into the Puck Puck which then slides on to the top of the AeroPress. Twist the Puck Puck to set the drip rate and let it brew.
The Miir Pourigami is an extremely compact way to do a pour over while traveling. Made from three pieces of medical grade stainless steel, with a durable powered coat finish, that assemble quick and easy. Place atop your mug and use water heated in your thermos for the pour. When finished brewing, the pieces pop apart and fit into a heavy duty nylon wallet. The case is so small, slim and lightweight you could slide it in your pocket and never notice it was there.
So you've assembled your chosen items and created your travel coffee kit; now how do you carry it? Space is the most common deterrent I've heard from people as to why they don't bring their own equipment while traveling. Being obsessive about my own coffee and liking to experiment I carry ALL the equipment listed above every time I travel. Because of the small size of the items, and that many "nest" within another item, it all fits conveniently inside a toiletry bag.
There is a plethora of options when it comes to finding a bag that will work. Look for one with a large open section inside. Small pockets are handy for storing things like filters, but ones with dividers in the main section make it impossible to fit larger items like an AeroPress.
North Face Base Camp Travel Canister
My first coffee kit bag was the Base Camp Travel Canister by North Face. Well made, durable and waterproof with a large open main compartment and storage pockets built into the lid. The bag was perfect for bringing along an AeroPress, filters, and immersion heater. A sturdy carry handle and webbing loops are built into the outside if you prefer to clip on the outside of your bag. The bag comes in a number of different colors as well.
Marmot Longer Hauler Duffel Bag
Similar to the North Face bag, but with slightly larger dimensions, this Marmot Long Hauler Duffel Bag has a large main section, a bigger top opening flap and more built-in zippered storage compartments. Don't let the name "duffel bag" fool you, it is still a toiletry sized bag.
Made by Design Hanging Toiletry Bag
My current bag is this hanging toiletry bag from the company Made by Design and sold by Target. This bag has a handy upright design with a large, open main section that fits the AeroPress and a thermos and mug. Plus it has numerous open and zippered pockets inside and out that allow me to carry all the brewing devices and accessories listed in this article. It has proven very durable and takes up very little room in my luggage. This bag can be found on the Target website.