Quality Coffee to Go: How to Get a Good Cup on the Road
So you're heading to your aunt's house in Alaska or Alabama or Arcata for Thanksgiving, and you think that must mean terrible coffee for Turkey Day, right? No! Just because you're heading to the burbs, it doesn't mean you have suffer Sanka served through some ancient and dirty drip coffee maker. Let your kinfolk bring the green bean casserole. You bring some decent beans and brewing gear so you can make great go juice from anywhere you may travel, here's how.
Pick up a bag of decent beans before you head out. Better yet, pick up a few. If you're pressed for time, stop into Bi Rite*, where you've got a great selection to choose from including beans from De La Paz, Ecco, Four Barrel, Ritual, and more. Check the bag for the roast date. The fresher the better, but make sure it's not more than two weeks old. Throw that sucker in your carryon.
You're going to need a decent way to prepare those beans once you're away from home. This means gear. The essentials you'll require are a grinder, a brewer, and something to make hot water. That last step shouldn't be a problem--even hotel rooms often have microwaves.**
But you will need to bring preparation tools lest you want to ruin your expensive beans in some long-moldering Mr. Cofee. Let's start with the grinder. You're going to want to grind your beans, but unless you travel really heavy, sticking a countertop burr grinder probably isn't going to fly. Sure, you could bring along a little blade grinder, but if you're going to do this thing, you may as well do it right, right? You need a Hario Skerton. It's a small, light hand-cranked burr grinder that will fit easily in your bag and lets you control the grind size. Don't be fooled by the size and price, it's actually quite a robust solution. Several cafes around town carry these. Call ahead. And in a pinch, grind your beans at home first. While freshly ground beans are always preferable, it may be your only option.
Next you're going to want something to brew the coffee in. There are three solid options here: a French press, pour over, or Aeropress. The French press is probably your easiest bet. You can find them everywhere--most Starbucks carroty hem even--so if you leave home without a brew system you can always pick one of these up on the road. If you want to bring one with you, REI carries little camping models that won't break in your bag and are small enough to fit in a generously-sized pocket. (Even so. Don't try to smuggle it through the backscatter machine. The TSA will not understand.)
You can also try to get a pour-over system. Hario makes a plastic version of its popular V60. If you haven't used a V60 before, here's a super easy method. But that may be hard to come by. You can, however, pick up a ceramic dripper and filters from most of the high end cafes around town.
But your best bet for traveling is likely an Aeropress. It's plastic, so it's light and nearly unbreakable. It makes a great cup of coffee, and it's very forgiving, so even if you aren't able to bring a burr grinder or a kettle, you should still be able to make a great cup of coffee. Caffe Trieste carries them, as do Sur La Table and Bed Bath and Beyond. Has Blog publishes an excellent, easy-to-follow visual brewing guide. Good luck, and Happy Thanksgiving!
*Unless you live out in the avenues, then you may want to try Other Avenues, where they have Ritual and Barefoot and De La Paz.
**In a pinch, you can use your in-room coffee maker to heat water--although God knows you don't want to make actual coffee with it. If it's really skanky, you probably want to clean it first. Stop into a Safeway and pick up some white vinegar. Run it through the machine just as if it were water. Then flush the system extremely thoroughly with distilled water. Do not tell your hotel you are doing this. Once it's sufficiently clean, remove the basket and run filtered or distilled water through it. It won't heat up to 205, where it should be for a perfect cup, but at this point you're just a sad little man (or woman) trying not to drink in-room coffee. It beats Folgers.