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Pete Hodgson's blurgh

The Ultimate Traveler's Coffee Kit

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I travel a fair bit for work and have discovered that when you’re living in a hotel it’s the simple comforts that you miss the most. Near the top of my list of simple comforts is a good cup of coffee soon after I wake up. The hideous coffee tea-bag things that most hotel rooms provide barely counts as coffee, let alone good coffee. A year or so ago I set out to find a way to make good coffee in a hotel room without using up a ton of luggage real-estate. Today I am very happy with my setup, apparently to the point that I’m OK with writing a blog post about it titled “The Ultimate Traveler’s Coffee Kit”.

Just to lay my cards on the table, I’m a fan of good coffee but I’m not a serious coffee geek. At home I do have a nice burr grinder but I don’t own a goose-neck kettle and I’ve never used a scale or a stopwatch while brewing coffee. Given that, this travelling setup works great for me.

The kit

My kit consists of:

Plus a couple of optional extras:

  • a cut-down chamois towel
  • some tea bags, for when I don’t want coffee

This setup packs almost perfectly into a small Eagle Creek pack-it bag that I found at REI. I won’t admit to the inappropriate amount of time I spent in the packing-paraphernalia aisle trying out different bags before I settled on this one.

I’m very happy with how compact this whole setup is. It doesn’t take up much room in a suitcase at all. It’s also great for backpacking.

The details

Many coffee geeks use the Aeropress as their standard brewing method, and for traveling it’s a great compact option. I ran out of the little paper filters one too many times while traveling so now I use a stainless steel filter. When staying in a hotel you usually only have access to paper coffee cups which seem prone to being crushed when pressing down on the aeropress, so I pack a little enamelled metal camping mug too.

There are a surprising variety of after market parts you can buy to enhance your Aeropress Experience. As well as the reusable filter I also have a little silicone cap which covers the plunger tube, allowing me to pack coffee beans inside. I get about 4 brews worth of beans in there - just enough to start my mornings off right during a short business trip.

By pushing the plunger through the outer tube the wrong way then placing the filter and filter cap on the narrow end the whole lot fits inside the camping mug. Aeropress, beans and cup in a very small package.

Initially I would bring pre-ground coffee with me when travelling but found that it didn’t taste so great by the end of a trip. The fact that the aeropress requires a pretty fine grind probably makes this worse. Eventually I bit the bullet and upgraded to a small Hario Slim hand grinder. It’s a bit of a pain to grind the beans every morning, but the results are worth it. The Hario Slim is teeny - only a bit bigger than a large pepper grinder - and I’ve actually found it easier to grind with than the larger Hario Skerton, perhaps because you can get your hand all the way around it to hold it steady while grinding.

The grinder breaks down small, and along with the aeropress the whole setup fits perfectly inside my bag. If I wanted to pack extra beans I could add maybe two brews worth in the top section of the grinder which has a little lid to keep the beans from wandering.

With the grinder, aeropress and cup in the bag I have just enough room left for some tea bags and a little cloth. The cloth is to dry off the equipment - you might feel guilty about the brown stains you leave on those nice white hotel towels otherwise.

Brewing in a hotel room

Brewing coffee requires hot water. Turns out that a lot of hotels will provide you a small electric kettle if you ask. If that’s not an option you can use the crappy coffee machine in the hotel room to boil water. Be warned though that you won’t want to use that water to make tea - it invariably has a subtle taste of old coffee. While I wait for water to boil I measure and grind my beans. I use the bottom of the grinder to measure a dose and a half of beans by filling the beans up halfway between the 1 mark and the 2 mark. I have my Hario Slim grinder set at 9 clicks looser than fully tightened, based on advice I read on the Interwebs. I use the inverted technique with my aeropress, and wait about 30 to 60 seconds before flipping it. Then I plunge the coffee into my little camping mug and top up the mug with hot water. After that I squeeze the plunger down hard into the hotel bathroom sink to compress the “puck” - this means less coffee grounds to clean off of the filter. Then I unscrew the filter cap and push the push into the trash. Don’t forget to take the stainless filter off first! I rinse the equipment in the sink and leave it to dry on top of my little towel. Finally I sit at my teeny tiny hotel desk and enjoy a really good cup of coffee while I start my day.

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