Good coffee is … essential. For me, it’s up there with fire, water and shelter. And honestly, I often took it to a shelter. But when you’re traveling, whether it’s with your parents or on a long-distance flight, getting the right things can be difficult. Here’s what you need to bring – and brew – yours.
What to look for in your travel coffee equipment
There are many things that claim to be travel equipment, but not all of them are particularly useful or good. Whichever option you decide to use, make sure it is up to par.
In addition, it should be noted that the travel amenities are inherently a bit ridiculous. Coffee is one of the most important cultures in the world. It is available everywhere. I’m not sure I’ve ever been anywhere where I couldn’t get a coffee. Bringing the equipment you need to brew your own requires a special kind of caffeine addiction. That said … good travel gear should be:
Capable of brewing better than what you can buy: There is no point in lugging a kettle and a big can of cheap instant coffee with you unless you really step out of the grill. Airplane coffee is barely drinkable, but it still is. Unless you know you’re going to be able to make something much better than, say, coffee from an average gas station, it’s probably not worth packing.
Compact: More than anything, travel equipment for coffee must be compact. No one is going to sit silently next to you on a train or plane if you take out a giant Mochamaster to brew. Likewise, you want it to fit easily in hand luggage or any other small backpack. You’re not looking for the best coffee setup of all time, but a good travel solution.
Lightweight: As long as your coffee equipment is compact, it should also be reasonably light, but it is worth considering. You should be able to throw your brewing equipment in a bag and forget about it, without developing low back pain.
Durable: About throwing your equipment in a backpack, it must also be durable. Look for high-quality plastic and metal hardware, not glass. You don’t want someone banging you on the subway to smash your carafe and your dreams of good coffee.
Easy to use: You can almost always get boiling water and a paper cup wherever you are. You can’t count on anything else. No matter what travel equipment you bring, it shouldn’t be too complicated to use.
Just make coffee: I have yet to see someone having a café au lait on a road trip. Any travel coffee equipment will just make straight black coffee. If you’re looking for cappuccinos or other dairy drinks, the nearest Starbucks will always be your best option.
So, with all that said, let’s dive in and take a look at some of the best travel coffee amenities, as well as my personal travel kit.
The obvious: excellent instant coffee
Instant coffee gets a bad rap – for good reason. Traditionally, it is made with poor quality ingredients, especially inexpensive robusta coffee beans, which results in a very poor quality end product. Now, however, there has been a shift to high-end, single-serve instant coffee sachets made of good-quality Arabica beans – like what you get in good coffee – for people on the go. Sure, it’s still freeze-dried, but it doesn’t taste like mud.
Starbucks’s own Via instant Colombian coffee worth a visit if you are a fan (or tolerate) his coffee. It is roughly equivalent in quality to an Americano from one of its coffees.
But, in my opinion, the best instant coffee is Waka Coffee instant coffee. It is soft, easy to drink and much better than any other vending machine. You just add 8 ounces of hot water, stir and enjoy.
Or, if you’re a real coffee fan, double it up.
Great instant coffee
The Weird: Pour-Over for single use
I’m a big fan of jumpsuits at home, so I was pretty thrilled when I found out that I could brew it on the go as well.
The Treeline Geo is a disposable paper filter. To use, you open it, hang it from your cup and slowly pour 8 oz of hot water over the real, non-freeze-dried ground coffee beans. Bam! Put a few in your bag and you get almost instant coffee better than instant coffee.
The capsule option: Wacaco Nanopresso
If you like your coffee like Tom Cruise (short and strong), there are still ways to get it on the go. Portable espresso machines are struggling to get the pressure needed for a real espresso, but they get close enough in no time.
Wacaco Nanopresso is the best of them (see our full summary here). He can prepare an espresso with ground coffee or, even more conveniently, Nespresso pods. You pour hot water into the upper room, then, with a little pumping, force it through the coffee to prepare something that looks like espresso. Everything is autonomous, so cleaning is also a breeze.
Best Travel Espresso
A large travel mug
If you brew coffee on the go, you don’t really want an insulated thermos that will keep it too hot to drink. You can get away with a Regular KeepCup or something similar, but if you go over it, a tough, heat-resistant titanium camping mug works just fine.
This one from Toaks contains just under 15 oz. It has a graduated scale, which is handy for measuring hot water. And, because it is made of titanium, it is light and can take a hit.
Best travel mug
The best travel brewer: AeroPress
Ignore everything except the brewer. That’s what I do. AeroPress
The AeroPress is the best way to prepare real fresh coffee on the go. Hell, the AeroPress is one of the best ways to make real fresh coffee at home – it’s just a bonus that its lightweight plastic construction makes it super portable. (You can even get an end cap so you can store stuff in the middle.)
With the AeroPress, you put a filter in the holder, screw it onto the infuser, place it on a cup, add ground coffee beans, then add hot water and use the plunger to push it through the “Puck” of coffee – at the end, a perfect cup of coffee.
AeroPress is certainly the most involved option on the list, but it will repeatedly provide the best results. Personally, I bring mine with me every time I travel. I used it in the desert, on trains and in hotel rooms. There are even people who used it in mid-flight-although it’s probably a step too far.
The best travel brewer
The best travel grinder: Knock Aergrind
To make a good cup of coffee, you really need to grind the fresh beans. Pre-ground beans have more surface area, so they oxidize (and become stale) faster. If you are ready to go totally overboard, you can get a portable travel coffee grinder.
If you bring an AeroPress, the best travel grinder is the Knock Aergrind. It is specially designed to be stored in the barrel of an AeroPress, so it will not take up additional space. Because it is a hand grinder, you need to put in a little work for the tapered burrs to do their magic, but the payment is worth it.
If the Aergrind is a bit expensive, there are cheaper options like the Hario Mini Slim Pro. It will not rank as well.
A cheaper alternative shredder
The best travel scale: American scale blade
To always make good coffee, you need to use the right ratio of ground beans to water. A small ladder is the ultimate boost your travel coffee needs.
We love the American scale blade. It is only 3.8 inches by 3.8 inches by 0.8 inches and is accurate to the tenth of a gram. It will fit in your pocket and weigh your grains perfectly.
Best Travel Coffee Scales
One way to store coffee: film cans
If you bring your own coffee, you need a way to keep it safe. For all the containers and ziplock bags I have tried, the best thing I have found is super simple: film cans. They’re inexpensive, light, waterproof, and most importantly, contain a dose of easily measurable coffee – about 13g of whole beans, a little more coffee grounds – so you can brew consistently without lime scale. Here is a pack of 50 for almost nothing.
The best way to store coffee