- Buyer's Guide
How to Make and Find Great Coffee When Traveling and Adventuring
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to check out the local coffee scene. There’s almost always something worth sipping on in any city you’re traveling to. Almost. Sometimes you’re not near any city proper – sometimes you’re on the outskirts of suburbia, or even in the middle of a national forest, or some desert in North Africa. No matter where you are, don’t compromise your coffee game. So how do you do that? Let’s dig into how to make and find great coffee while traveling.
Find Local Roasters & Cafés
First and foremost, you should do your best to sample the local roasts whenever possible; whether it’s espresso in Venice or third wave pour-overs in Austin. The best way to do that? Find out from the locals. When you’re on the hunt to find great coffee while traveling, local knowledge and expertise is hard to beat.
Where To Drink Coffee, by Avidan Ross & Liz Clayton
This is a great book that I didn’t even know I needed. My wife bought it for me as a gift and now I use it whenever we’re traveling anywhere new. The book gets its detailed recommendations from 150 or so baristas and coffee experts around the world, with detailed reviews, information, and maps of most any city you can imagine. It’s also a cool coffee-table book, since you can seemingly never have enough of those.
You might have to dig a bit, but this is my personal favorite way to find out what the locals are currently into. A quick search for the name of a city in this subreddit will usually turn up a dozen or so (or more) results with varying opinions on the best places to sample the local drip. A useful starting point for your list on where to find great coffee while traveling.
Worthwhile Chains and Franchises
When all else fails, and you’re stuck in tourist-central without direction, there are a bevy of franchises and chains that still serve up really solid options, like Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, and Stump Town.
Bring Your Own Brew
When far from civilization, or if you happen to spend too much time in trains, planes, and automobiles, you can still get your coffee game on with relative ease and success. The quest to find great coffee while traveling can be conquered if you’re a one-stop coffee machine brewing up magic wherever you are.
Instant Coffee; Yes, Instant Coffee
Something easily overlooked, and often scoffed at, is instant coffee. Nowadays, instant coffee is seriously great. Companies like Swift Cup have revolutionized the instant industry by partnering with world-class roasters like Verve Coffee to let you take your favorite beans on the go. When I’m being a little lazy, I even like to use this stuff at home.
It’s easy to pack a bunch of these in your suitcase or hiking pack, and all you need is some hot water. It definitely beats having to resort to off-brand airport coffee or whatever instant crystals have been sold as “coffee” in the past.
Brew Your Own
If you really want to get down with it, you can obviously brew your own wherever you are. There are plenty of brewers, grinders, and other devices available today that lend themselves really well to the world traveler or section hiker.
The first thing you need to brew your own coffee is obviously coffee. I like patronizing my local roasters, Joe Bean and Fuego Coffee, but you do you. While it’s easy enough to grind your coffee beforehand, you should always grind as close to brew time as possible if you want to get the best out of your coffee.
The Snow Peak hand grinder has been my traveling companion of choice as of late, mostly for weekend hikes to some of my favorite forested spots around the region. The stainless steel body is light and will last longer than many of the plastic hand grinders you see around today. The burrs are ceramic, giving you a nice, clean grind, and the wooden handle is a nice little touch. If I only plan on making one cup while I’m out, I even just store my beans in the grinder.
The handle, unlike with other hand grinders, is permanently attached to the lid. This is nice because you really have no chance of losing it this way, but it can get in the way if you’re looking to store it neatly inside of your AeroPress, which is unfortunate since this grinder would otherwise fit perfectly, saving a lot of space. That’s a small nitpick though, and you can always detach the lid itself if you’re looking to do that.
Brewing devices come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Obviously, avoid glass, ceramic, or otherwise fragile brewers when traveling. I also like to try and stick with things that have easy cleanup – meaning a few squirts from my water bottle at most.
This is the classic on-the-go brewer, used at cafes, homes, and campsites around the world. It’s easy to use, packs down well, and there’s no way you’re going to accidentally break it. I honestly can’t recommend the AeroPress enough.
I won’t get into how to use it that much, as there are far more knowledgeable people out there with some great recipes for coffee and espresso. There’s even a newly released AeroPress Go, but it makes a smaller cup and I like a bigger cup. In my opinion, this is the best way to get cafe-quality coffee on the go.
The new kid on the block. I’ve only had it for a few months now and I find myself using it at least a few times a week. Not only does it make a great espresso while traveling, it makes a great espresso, period.
It does take some trial and error to dial in because grind size is more important here than with filter coffee. The rate at which you pump also has an effect on the end result. So, I recommend you figure all of that out before throwing it in your bag for your next trip, but once you do you’re good to go.
The base setup is designed to make single shots, but the barista kit gives you a double shot basket and a larger water reservoir. In my opinion, this is a necessary upgrade, but if you like smaller shots you’ll be fine without it, and you’ll save some space. The kit does also come with some extra portafilter baskets, which is nice for making multiple shots, and an upgraded tamper which is quite a bit nicer.
If you’re more about convenience, you can even replace the standard portafilter with a Nespresso capsule adapter. Nespresso capsules are a great choice if you want to leave the grinder at home and not fuss around, but we’re getting away from our core mantra of not compromising your coffee game.
Now that we’ve made sure you’ve got coffee, let’s talk about how we drink it. Like my completely
unnecessary backpack collection, I have a mug or glass for every situation.
When glass isn’t convenient, the H450 is easily my favorite do-all mug for everything from coffee to whiskey. It’s luxe as hell and light enough that you won’t even know you’re carrying it. Plus, it keeps your coffee hot without burning your lips like some single-wall models. If you’ve never tried anything from the masters at Snow Peak, this is a great item to start your addiction with.
When I’m doing longer multi-day hikes, this is what I take with me. It’s the workhorse of the Snow Peak lineup and I use it for everything from boiling water and cooking to, obviously, drinking my coffee. It’s not a double-walled mug, so the outside gets hot to the touch, but that’s why there’s a folding wire handle. Also, the fact that it’s a single wall is what makes it so utilitarian.
I won’t get into talking about camp stove setups, that would be an entire article on its own, but I keep my entire alcohol stove setup in the 600. Everything including the stove, the stand, and the wind screen all nestle right inside, making for clean and simple transport and storage.
This is honestly something I was very unsure about at first, but the people at Snow Peak seemingly know me better than I know myself. The odd shape and small-ish capacity left me wondering, but now I can’t stop using it. It holds just enough – 12oz. You’re not fitting giant mugs of joe in here, but that’s what makes it so great for travel; it’s really easy to just toss in a bag.
The lid seals up tight, and I’ve had ice stay solid in the Tsuzumi after days in a hot car. The shape also lends itself to a nice hand-feel and solid retention without the addition of a handle, which for me can be cumbersome on a travel mug. I do hope we see a slightly larger version of this in the future.
Filter Coffee, Not People
Being able to navigate a city like a local is the key to being a traveler rather than a tourist. This is especially true of cafes and roasters that can easily fly under the radar on the global stage, while still being cultural powerhouses in their hometown. Above, we’ve given you some ways to start tracking them down so you can find great coffee while traveling, but in the end it all boils down to talking to people; asking the locals what’s good.
If you can’t seem to hunt anything down, hopefully you’ve now been armed with all of the ways you can still be a coffee hero no matter where you are around the world.