My quest for the ultimate travel coffee setup

Hotel set up I am a coffee snob. I offer no apologies for this. I really appreciate good coffee, and have zero tolerance for crappy coffee.

I also travel a lot. So when when traveling to places that don't tend to have great coffee at the ready, I've learned that bringing your own brewing setup is mandatory. Combine that with some strong technomadic leanings and the search for that ultimate travel coffee setup can become an obsession.

A recent trip to Japan, a place where designers and engineers are even more detail-focused than I am, provided an opportunity to refine my toolkit. I thought I'd share those improvements with you here, in case you're looking to build your own kit for on-the-go-get-up-and-go.

First, two details. When given the opportunity, I tend to drink espresso. Truly great espresso requires the sort of serious gear I have no intention of dragging around the globe with me. (yes I know about the Aeropress, I'm just not a big fan) So when traveling, I default to drip coffee and focus on the details to make each cup better than the last. Also, I want to note that the setup I've been using is bad ass and made many cups that shocked me with their sheer deliciousness. There's nothing wrong with the stuff I had, and you could just copy my old set up and never be disappointed. But I'm obsessed: I believe that all things, particularly coffee, can always be tweaked and improved.

Let's get the non-gear out of the way first, because it doesn't matter what kind of equipment you have if your raw materials are crap. Water and beans. I always buy a bottle of spring water to use as the base because ceiling cat only knows what weird shit is floating around in hotel plumbing that could imbue your cup o' joe with weird flavors. Also, one of the last things I do before leaving town is buy a bag of high quality beans that were roasted as recently as possible. Keep in mind that coffee tastes the best when the beans were roasted between 3-10 days prior. For this particular trip I've been enjoying Los Inmortales, El Salvador: Finca Bosque Lya and Itzamna, Guatemala: La Maravilla both roasted up by the folks at Intelligentsia in Los Angeles.

Intelligentsia beans & Hario Filters

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk grinders. If you know coffee, you know the single most important piece of prep equipment is the grinder. No matter how good your beans are, screw up the grind and there is nothing you can do to save it. You can easily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a good home grinder, but in addition to being pricey those are generally too large for carry-on luggage.

Oh, what's that you say? You have a really small blade grinder that you got at Target?


You need a burr grinder if you actually want your coffee to taste good. Because different countries have different power sources that become annoying to worry about, a hand grinder is your best bet. For most of this year I've been using the Hario Skerton which is a very nice grinder for what it is, though it does have some problems. The bottom burr "floats," which means that especially when grinding at a coarser setting (like you'd do for drip coffee) the consistency is really bad. An inconsistent grind means the finer bits are over extracted and the larger ones under extracted which results in an inferior cup of coffee.

Luckily there are other options. Unluckily, they are super hard to get a hold of.

Legend has it that Hario makes an even smaller hand grinder that addresses the floating burr problem. I'd never seen on of these in person as they are almost impossible to find in the United States. My friend Tonx revealed to me that he had one locked up in some in some crazy coffee fortress in mid-city Los Angeles and after hours of jedi-mind-tricking I convinced him to let me borrow it for this trip to try it out. And then, at the eleventh hour, as if fate itself wanted to kick me square in the beans, it pops up on Amazon.

I spent a week in Singapore with the Mini Mill Slim and it's noticeably better than it's larger brother. I fell in love and swore to myself that since I was also going to Japan (where Hario is based) I'd go right to the source and buy one while I was there. As soon as I got on the ground there I went hunting for one, but I found something even more amazing.

Porlex Hand Grinder and Hario Mini Mill

Again, the Hario Mini Mill is awesome. Super awesome. But without question the Porlex hand grinder is even super awesomer. When I saw this on the shelf at Tokyu Hands I didn't know what it was but instantly had an object design orgasm. Upon further inspection I found that reaction to be justified. The attention to detail on this is unstoppable. Every piece fits just perfectly which means when assembled it feels solid (the Harios tend to feel wobbly). Functionally, it's a significant improvement: the ceramic burrs are sharper and the adjustments more precise. The Hario Mini Mill produced grinds that were far more consistent than the Skerton, but still kind of variable. The grinds that come from the Porlex are extremely consistent; I'd say even better than many electric grinders in the $100 range. These grinds are nice. No question about it.

Porlex vs Hario burr parts

Hario Mini Mill vs Porlex grinds

The Porlex is slightly taller than the Mini Mill Slim, but it's more narrow and just as easy to pack. I'm pretty excited about that upgrade. If you want one, let me know before I leave Japan and I'll pick you up one, but I gotta warn you my service fee is obscene.

Now that we have freshly-ground beans, we gotta brew 'em. Earlier this year I was carrying around the Clever Coffee Maker, an interesting design that blends pour-over with immersion (think French Press) brewing techniques. It's really nice, but not terribly small. Also, I found myself wanting more control over the brewing process. I switched to a Hario V60 which is a pure pour-over device. Once you figure out its nuances, this thing makes a damn good cup of coffee. I feel like I now have the hang of it, and became very satisfied with the results I was getting every day from it— maybe this is as good as it gets, I thought.

That is... until I saw the "crystal" (plastic) version. I'd been using the ceramic one: nice, but heavy. For traveling around, if I can shave off a few onces every once and a while I'm pretty happy. These were also cheap as hell so I picked up the 1 and 2 cup sizes for when I'm traveling solo or with the fam.

Hario V60-01 and Mini Mill

V60-02 Crystal, V60-01 porcelain, V60-01 Crystal

While these improvements range from awesome to nice, this next one is firmly in the land of dreams come true. A few months ago I publicly lamented the lack of a good travel sized drip kettle. If you are unfamiliar with drip kettles, they have a long, narrow spout which allows you to control the speed and flow of the water you are pouring to make sure you wet the grounds in the proper way, and to repeat that easily each time. Yes I know it's super nerdy, but you're reading a super nerdy blog post about super nerdy coffee gadget obsessions. Anyway, the kettles I knew about were large and not suitcase-friendly.

And then I spotted this...

Kalita kettle

Yeah. Whoah.

I can divide my life into the time before and after I knew that this Kalita slow pour kettle existed. My internal debate about purchasing it lasted seconds. It's about half the size of the smallest kettle I've seen and it looks beautiful.

I tried it out the second I got back to the hotel room and it was everything I hoped it would be. It's not as narrow as the sketch I'd used as a wishlist months prior, but it's damn close and seriously does the trick. I'm definitely psyched about this one.

One thing I didn't have to upgrade is my scale. For repeatability and general super-nerdness I've been measuring the beans and water I use by weight rather than volume for quite some time. If you want to get really precise it's really your only option. And the Soehnle Page digital scale is a super small and lightweight way to do that. This thing is 8"x5" and takes up almost no room in my luggage. And it's great for showing off to friends when you make them coffee on the road.

Soehnle Kitchen Scale

The downside to finding all this awesome stuff is now I have double the load to bring back with me. Though I'll have some pretty happy friends when I get home and start dishing out the hand-me-downs.

I am a minimalist: I have no reason to keep the old stuff around. Awesome though it may all be, I only need one complete setup that works for me. No point in having items that duplicate functions sitting around, particularly when I know people who could benefit from putting those extra items to regular use.

In the end, my new setup is lighter, smaller, and produces better results.

Not bad, if you ask me.

Full set up (plust blackberry for scale)


  1. dude, just get a good quality copper or steel napoletan coffee pot!

    it’s different to the mokka, it’s the one you have to turn over once you see the first puff of steam. i’ve been in italy for 5 years and discovered them a couple of years back, i never use a mokka anymore and coffee from a bar doesn’t quite cut it either anymore :)

    i’ve lusted after this one for a while now but i wouldn’t use it much as it makes 6 cups…

    it is a beautifull object though, pricey, but beautifull. you can find a good copper one (any old napolten dude will tell you it has to be copper) for a fraction of the price and that would reduce the size of your kit somewhat.

    hmmmm, time for a coffee!

  2. As a non-coffee-nerd, this reads like the reviews for super oxygen-free ballistic mega conductive $800 stereo cables.

    We all have our obsessions, I suppose. :-)

  3. You do realize that at U.S. international entry/exit sites you’re going to be tagged as a coke dealer for the symbiotic relationship between the grinder and digital scale alone. You’ll probably be tagged as Arab for the fluted ‘teapot’. Just sayin’.

    1. I’ve been in and out of the country about 10 times this year with some version of this set up without any issue, so all good!

  4. Sean, What are you using to heat the water – after all it’s gotta be the proper temp, especially for espresso.

    1. As I said I’m not doing espresso on the road, and I’m either staying in apartments with stoves or hotel rooms with electric kettles, so hot water isn’t a problem at all.

  5. I’m not coffee obsessed, but I really got a kick out of this. I was smiling reading the whole thing.

    @max_supernova: That’s true, until you experience the fruit of his labors. I haven’t tried his coffee, but I have had some damn fine cups of coffee from the more coffee obsessed people I know. It’s night and day better than your typical drip machine running through store bought pre-ground coffee. $800 cables lack actual results.

  6. i was given an handpresso as a christmas present, and at the time the only option was fr using those damn’d cofee pod thingies which was just stupid so i ended up making my own attachment to use coffee grounds so it required extra work to make it truly useful.
    i see they have now done a version of this which is good tho bit late fr me as they could have done that from the start.

    i resented the assumption that i was happy to buy a coffeebag to make cofee, especially fr a device targetted at camping etc not only is it not convenient it means its not ‘use anywhere’.

    glad they finally figured this out, its a good sytem i think and the pods were the major let down.

    capitalism and good coffee do NOT go together!

  7. sean, you have made me feel so much better about my tea obsession. since i travel with my own kettle, i too am curious, what are you using to heat the water?

  8. It would be interesting to know what it is you find much better about the pour-over system rather than the aeropress. I’ve always liked the aeropress because it basically tasted like a stronger, more espresso-like pour-over coffee.

    1. If I want espresso then I want espresso and Areopress feels to me like fake espresso, I’d rather have a great cup of pour over than fake espresso. To each their own of course, I’m just not an aeropress fan.

  9. Caffeine is a stimulant and as such should only be utilized in emergencies, as chemical dependency is a real factor. Most coffee drinkers don’t realize how the beverage shapes their lives and personalities. No matter how you choose to look at it, the tolerance for caffeine still equates to less sleep, and that is bound to have an impact on everything a person is and does. Having said that, I have nothing against a half cup every now and then, but that’s only if I feel in need of a slight sharpening of focus. And I do admit it smells wonderful, but so does cocaine, and moderation is the key in everything. If a person absolutely cannot function in the morning without a cup of coffee, some lifestyle choices need to be looked at.

    1. Gee Jeligula, any more words of wisdom? I’m sure everyone would like to hear more about how you think we should live our lives.

      Now that that nastiness is dealt with…

      I still swear by french press for my coffee. It gives consistent, strong results; doesn’t create waste filters; and is easy to clean. Grind your own beans just before brewing up and, ohhh man, that is a fine cup of coffee!

    2. If you are hacking your life with some caffeine, there are some benefits to counteract your negatives. Such as counteracting high blood pressure –

      Or “fighting type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and dementia” while showing that coffee drinkers have fewer cases of “certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes”.

      I know that these are both webmd articles, and sighting from one source is not always great, but I’ll trust them.

    3. Yes caffeine is a stimulant. I am highly aware of it as I have in the past shaken that monkey and she has harsh withdrawal symptoms.

      I however really love the taste of a good cup of coffee and have since fallen off the wagon but I really watch my intake. If I ever get told by the doctor to lay off the one to two cups I have a day (with the odd late afternoon cup when I know I have a scheduled late night of server patches) I will happily switch to decaf.

      1. @TombKing I could not have stated it any better myself. My reservations concerning coffee stem from a sensitivity to caffeine. Too much will trigger a migraine, so I have to watch it carefully. I love coffee, but it does not love me.

        @sk8trboi69 – As stated in my comment, what I said was my own opinion and in no way suggested that people live a certain way. Everybody should constantly review their lifestyle choices as a requisite for living, no matter what those choices may be. By this way we learn and grow.

    4. This would be more interesting if it were a look into the portable system of a pot-head or a heroin junkie, right?

      I think travel coffee is one of the joys of travel, like…

      The agony of “oh my god this is the worst coffee ever”

      Or the joy of “oh wow this coffee is really good”

      Or even better “thanks for this cup of coffee friend.”

      This whole exercise seems onanistic, but then who am I to argue with the guy who did the die antwoord cover… err…

    5. “No matter how you choose to look at it, the tolerance for caffeine still equates to less sleep”

      Anecdotal, but as someone who drinks at least 3 cups of coffee on weekdays and almost none on the weekends, and who manages to sleep for 12-16 hours every single friday night to saturday afternoon, I have to refute this.

      As for using it to wake up or function in the morning, it’s a matter of time. With coffee i’m productive almost immediately. Without coffee I have to warm up for a couple hours. Why wait? Better living through chemistry.

  10. You have changed my life this morning. Coffee has been a point of contention between me (the ride-along) and my boyfriend (the traveler who keeps trying to take me with him to strange places where I’m never sure if I’ll get even a nasty cup, much less a good one.) I’ll send this post to him and tell him it’s in the new flight regulations. Thank you.

  11. Just wanted to let you know that this month’s House Beautiful has termed the “object design orgasm” a “decorgasm.”

  12. after having recently purchased a gaggia espresso machine and a graefe mill, and ordering from a micro-roaster, I can really sympathize.

    The big issue however: Coffee you get at 95% of places becomes undrinkable, I almost got a fit and had to control myself not to lecture the lady who made it a couple of weeks ago when I ordered espresso at the gym – and could see the cup’s side through the espresso and it being way too hot.

  13. As a “load up the chock-full-o-nuts with milk and sugar” kind of coffee drinker, i was impressed with the display of geekery, but at times i wondered if this was a hoax. I mean, what about hand-sorting the beans and priming the filters?

  14. Jeligula, I’d be more than happy to pick you up a 500 ml bottle o’ Pocari Sweat from my local Japanese market here in northern KY for only 1/2 of Sean’s obscene service fee.

  15. The best coffee is Capulin. You can find it on the internet. My friend Daniel Fourwinds lives in Nayarit Mexico and operates the business. It is dry processed and never bitter cause he only picks red cherries. Try it

    1. ..welllllll..
      You can actually make a gin and tonic into an obsessive event as well, if you are so inclined

      And a dry martini, don’t even get me started ;)

      The coffee post was enjoyable. I love seeing other obsessives and their obsessions :) And a good cup of coffee is so nice (even though I switched to tea, myself)

  16. I’ve thought about how to boil water on the go, and it seems the best method would be an immersion heater (super packable and cheap, but requires an outlet which you’ll probably have in a hotel.) and a (very) little science:
    Just fill the kettle and bring the water to a boil with the heater. Now I prefer to use a french press, which needs something like 200 degrees (F) water, so I remove the heater and wait 10-30 seconds for the water to reach that temperature. Use a thermometer at home the first time to get the time right.

  17. Absolutely stunning setup, thank you for sharing. I know have several new goals for my travel cup as well. While I am a huge fan of the Aeropress, what excites me most is that Grinder. Good night, I want one. My Mini Mill Slim isn’t bad, but I definitely have the inconsistent grind problem, as well as static buildup and a bit of a dust problem.

    I would also be very interested in getting a Kettle or something similar to perhaps try the pore over method.

    Thanks for the Intelligentsia shout out, some of the best coffee in the world, I wish I had access more often then I do.

    And finally, caffeine addiction can be part of the coffee obsessed experience, but doesn’t have to be. It is possible to consume Coffee regularly while not building tolerances too high or experiencing withdraw on the days you choose not to have coffee.

  18. Thanks for the great suggestions.
    I’m curious about the 3-10 days post-roasting… that’s better than zero days? There are tons of places in Japan to get on-the-spot roasted coffee, and it smells great. Are you saying I should.. let it mellow?

    1. coffee roasters (and coffee freaks) in Germany will tell you that the coffee needs to breathe and will be at its peak about a week after roasting.

    2. coffee offgasses a lot of CO2 in the first 48hrs after roast and can tend to taste a bit sharper or unbalanced. peak flavor is usually happening somewhere in the day 3 to 5 range (depending on a lot of other odd variables that can inspire endless theorizing). but I’ll say that for most coffee I’d rather brew it right out of the roaster than deal with it at day 10. best to err on the side of freshness.

  19. Ah, Tokyu Hands! The hobbyist and general fanatic mecca. Where else can you get really good supplies for your hobby of diamond cutting or sushi-themed wall clocks?

  20. Sean – Did they have the kettle at Tokyu Hands as well (the one in Shinjuku Takashimaya is my fav by far)? I know that you provided the Rakuten link, but I’ll be in Nagoya in 2 weeks and figured I’d give it a shot.

    Also, from the pics it looks like you’re using the little hot water pot that you’ll find in most decent Japanese hotels…is this correct?

    1. It was the Tokyu Hands in Shibuya and yes, using the hotel provided electric kettle does the trick quite nicely.

  21. I think I am in love! (With your set up.) I thought I was the only extreme coffee geek in the world. Now, I really want that mill. Thank you for this. It reminds me of how my mother used to make coffee when I was little. She would hand pour directly into a thermos every morning. I used to love getting up and grinding coffee in this little antique mill she had.

  22. You’re certainly entitled to carry all this stuff around if it makes you happy, but calling yourself a “minimalist” while doing so is a bit absurd.

  23. Oh, my goodness. It’s really fun to peer into someone’s obsession like this. It’s like the first time I saw the interview/biographical film about Robert Crumb. I say this with all affection, but it really never occurred to be that someone would be crazy in this particular way. It’s like finding furries for the first time!

    Since my entire travel philosophy is about packing ultra-light and living as native-ly as possible wherever I am, this just entirely boggles my mind…

    Please understand, I am no doubt much crazier than this fellow, in my own myopic way, but wow! I wonder if his travel companions (assuming you have them on occasion) ever get a little fed-up with all the ritual, or have they gotten over all that by now?

  24. Thinking about it a bit more– I’ve spent a lot of on bar at various independent, third generation coffee shops in the last few years, and In my experience, at least with espresso, off-gassing has to last significantly longer than three days. We worked for a long time to isolate what generates various characteristics in the flavour profile of various coffees, with lots and lots of testing with many different variables including dosage, portafilter shape, water temperature, salinity, pressure, grind, and age of the coffee. We noticed that we got a lot more of the subtler characteristics out of coffee that had off-gassed for a longer period of time, from 7 to 10 days, and that those characteristics held through 14 or 15 days, although the coffee deteriorated much quicker after opening the bag (Generally, with a coffee that’s packaged with a one-way valve [like Intelli] it’s very safe to let it sit for a fairly significant amount of time, because there’s no oxygen getting in, which is what makes the coffee stale). So I wouldn’t hold the 3-10 day scale as a hard and fast rule. But this is all so up for debate, as you can see by the conversation below at Barista Exchange:

  25. Kind of off topic from your coffee set-up but have you read The Devil’s Cup? Great read for people obsessed with coffee and it’s history, though part of that history gets speculative at times but i love the book.

    Also the Clever Coffee Maker i’ve seen before and i think i’d prefer using the ceramic one over the plastic version. Sure the added weight can be a detriment but you need something durable when traveling. I’ve seen firsthand what happens to luggage and how badly it gets kicked around and stomped on. OH and the Porlex hand grinder looks incredibly amazing, not sure how easy it’d be to find something of the sort in the US but i might convince a friend in Japan to stash one for me until he visits the US.

  26. I’d love to get a second opinion on commenters here. When i was a barista for a local shop in Reno our boss had an alternate setup for brewing coffee that was used for iced coffee, and it’s cold brewing. You basically steep coarse ground coffee in water for 8-12hrs, you get a fantastic strong brew that has little to no acidity in it or off flavors and goes down smooth. I loved using it for hot coffee and had a huge punch caffeine-wise.

    Anyways, would like to know others experiences and opinions on cold brewing. Been pondering on taking it up for use at home lately.

    1. The cold brew system you describe does make some tasty coffee. It’s often called a coffee toddy after a guy who popularized it in the 60’s.

      It comes out fairly concentrated, so you have to add water to get it to the right flavor. A coffee shop that I frequent uses it in the same way (cold drinks) and the lack of acidity really makes a difference at the lower temperature.

    2. All you need for great iced coffee is a jar or tupperware container. Combine 1 1/2 cups fresh, cold water with 5 tablespoons coarse ground coffee and let steep for 8-12 hours. Pour contents through a standard coffee filter. The resulting concentrate lasts up to two weeks in the fridge. To drink, dilute 1:1 (strong) or 2:1 (mild) with water or milk and add sugar to taste if desired.

  27. I try not to obsess over food and drink; it’s part of my love/hate relationship with the Ugly American stereotype. I eat and drink what is set before me, and am sincerely thankful for it.

    I do cultivate a caffeine addiction, though, because it decreases the frequency of my (crippling) migraines and is easy to obtain without a prescription (unlike vicodin and imitrex).

    I have noted that there is a wide range of flavor in coffee. I drink it all, mind you, but I have noticed that coffee made by coffee fanatics is better than McDonalds coffee (which I do not purchase, for reasons unrelated to taste, but it’s occasionally given to me by others).

  28. You, sir, just sold a Porlex. If you’re not sponsored by that company you should be.

    Would anyone care to discuss home roasting? I’ve been wanting to nitrogen-flush/seal my roasted beans to prevent oxidization as they off-gas. Is that worth it or even within the realm of reasonable expense? Any Makers up for that sort of challenge?

    1. Home roasting rocks. I’ve been doing it for 4 or 5 years, and my coffee improves every year. I’ve used 3 hot air roasters — began with Nesco/Zach & Dani’s (but had 2 machines with identical microchip failures), then the inexpensive FreshRoast+8, and now the iRoast-2. I like the iRoast-2 best, but will probably move to a drum roaster when this one goes. I’ve also roasted in the oven, with the WhirlyPop and even with a cast-iron skillet (dark roast only with the skillet).

      There are a lot of advantages to roasting your own. It costs a lot less to have top quality beans if you buy them green, and you have a wonderful variety available. You can also roast to suit the bean and your taste — for example, I tend to make my espresso with a Full-City+ roast, instead of espresso, Vienna or French Roasts, because I want to taste the bean itself rather than just the roast (char). I mostly buy from (which is a wonderful education just to peruse), but also get green coffee from and

      In response to where he gets his hot water for his travel coffee, a hotpot for tea is standard equipment in every Japanese hotel rooms except the really fancy ones (where the housekeeper fills a thermal carafe with water for your green tea). For years, when I traveled to Japan, I took a brass screen (roll it into a cone and it’s an instant melitta-style dripper), some flattened coffee filters, and a ziplock bag with enough ground coffee to hold me until after the first day, when I could stop by a coffee bar for 250 g or so of finely-ground dark roast.

  29. That’s a nice setup. It would come in handy in Korea where they don’t realize that instant coffee is crap.

    I drink McDonald’s coffee on the road because I find it to be the best mediocre coffee. It’s way better than Karuba or anything burning on a Bunn machine in some gas station.

    My favorite coffee setup was a homeless guy with a container of scavenged cigarette butts taped to his handlebars who bought a few cents worth of grounds from the bulk bins and some boiling water and made coffee in front of the coop with styrofoam cups and a napkin filter.

  30. Sean – you inspired enough interest to sell out the stock of Porlex grinders at Orphan Espresso (as of 09/30/2010 -15:45 EDT). I’ll be anxiously awaiting mine.

  31. I’m surprised you this far but don’t roast your own beans. You could add a mini carbon steel wok and gas burner to your set-up for a little extra weight and bulk and let’s face it, your satisfaction would increase tenfold. Plus, the smell of roasting coffee is simply phenomenal. Call yourself obsessive. meh.

  32. I, also, am a coffee snob, but of a different fashion.
    I would rather drink coffee than anything else.

    Good or bad, hot or cold, gourmet or just plain ‘Greek NYC’ coffee shop; it does not matter. I guess my democratic views on coffee came about as a result of working in graphic design studios for so long. You drank whatever coffee was there.

    Sometimes we would even clean our Paasche airbrushes in a cold cup-o-joe :)

  33. Sean, ever try the “Vietnamese” French drip coffee pot?

    Such as:

    I think these produce deliciously rich, near-espresso quality coffee. Better I think than the pour-over cone style filters. And probably a lot lighter to carry around than that ceramic thing; also not made of plastic.

  34. As a multi-year veteran of the coffee business, I’m going to have to agree with max_supernova: as endearing as ultimate devotion to coffeecraft is, it certainly reads as overpriced hype from folks (I’ll stereotype no further!) who have the dollars to spend on things beyond rent and groceries.

    My two cents: use whatever equipment is accessible, and your coffee will taste fundamentally the same. If you have a little extra, spend it on good beans that you like and don’t waste it on the grinder. I also giggle at the insistence on using “spring water,” which EPA consistently reminds us can be just as contaminated with undesirable chemicals, if not more so, than treated tap water. And it’s not infrequent that a “spring water” manufacturer is exposed for simply filling bottles from the local tap and slapping a fancy label on the bottle so he can charge substantially more. D’oh. Distilled water, which is seriously cheap in bottles, is the stuff that’s been pretty effectively purified. Water purified by reverse osmosis (no brand names here) may be even purer.

    My set-up: $20 grinder that’s lasted since about 2001 / smallish drip pot / tap or distilled water / good beans of almost any variety.

    It still makes coffee. And it still tastes great.

  35. As an eccentric Brit, I became obsessed with Brazilian coffee in the 80’s, and relish the opportunity to share the contents of my travel kit. After much experimentation, I now only buy green beans and air-roast enough for each trip, allowing 36 hours after the 2-crack medium roast for C02 venting before sealing in a brown glass container. My travel grinder has an adjustable pressure spring that provides a full range, although I prefer a drip grind for my French press. As for water, you have to be careful offshore and use only distilled. I have never thought of myself as a snob, a little tilted off centre perhaps, but the person that has never tasted a proper cup of coffee can offer nothing to those that have taken the time to discover the wonderful aroma and taste.

  36. Eh.

    I drink the stuff black and unsugared which makes the quality incredibly apparent, but I drink instant every day because it’s $12 for a month or two’s worth instead of $5 a day.

    People in my office spend enough on their daily coffee in a year to buy a themselves a new second-hand car annually.

    When I do shell out and have a good coffee as a treat, I appreciate the heck out of it. When I don’t, I somehow survive the horror and still get my caffeine fix.

  37. This is one of the greatest posts I’ve ever read on Boing Boing in many years of reading. Why? You take an obsession of my own, and minusculy attack it point by point and show us the goods you work with. This is not a thread- it’s a a self contained nomad’s guide to great coffee. This post deserves to start it’s own blog- you could even call it “Nomad’s Guide To Great Coffee”.

    I use a Bodum family size french press and Black & Decker 30$ burr grinder for coffee at home. Cheap though it was, the Black & Decker gives pretty consistent results.

    But like you Sean, I at times am a nomad- I’m a hiker, camper, and explorer of remote places. I wandered around Japan for several years on personal weekend trips away from classes and teaching, with a pack, and one of my only stipulations was that I must have good coffee on the fly.
    Clothes were often an afterthought to portable food and caffeine.

    Tokyu Hands are my favorite stores in the world. They have everything indeed- only place I ever found Maccassar ebony wood blocks for small projects. I have never seen such a compact, well built grinder (with ceramic burrs no less!) anywhere on earth. I have a friend in Sapporo- I’m gonna ask he pick me up one of these asap.

    My ideas for improvement to your setup-

    That digital scale- 8×5″??? That’s huge! Why not use a precision pocket scale? They make much smaller scales, very popular with potheads. Are those not precise enough for you? You could save a lot of room and weight.

    Those drip cup things are everywhere in Japan, I used to have one in Sapporo, it brewed drip no better than a standard US drip machine. If you like that style of coffee, though, and really want something good- go to any good coffee shop in Japan, like the old Miyakoshiya places (the stand alone kind usually run by one person, and all they serve is coffee), and ask for “hand poured” coffee.

    They use a deep cloth filter held around a metal ring and handle- those things make excellent hand pour drip. The felt cloth filter cleans easily, gives a wonderful consistency and smoothness to the pour, and collapses to almost nothing. They weigh 1/10 of a pocket memo pad, and it’s basically a permanent cloth filter. Those can be replaced, if you choose (they only get stained over time). The coffee really has room to bloom in them- order it sometime and watch. Nowhere else I’ve been have I seen anyone serving coffee with these- but they are all over Japan.

    Finally, the kettle- it’s small enough, and nice looking- but I see an opportunity to use a kettle as the pack for everything else. The spout on yours is ideal, but what about this?:

    If you bought some stainless tube from a plumbing supply store, bent it, and fit it to some sort of stopper, you could easily take it off, and store it with the grinder and scale inside the hollow chimmney section of that kettle. Or, if you know someone who can weld with a MIG gun, get them to custom weld with solid core wire (no flux) a stainless cylindrical kettle for you, and a screw fitting for the spout. If you can pack everything inside the kettle, you carry less.

  38. Hmm…perhaps coffee makes you crazy, and we ought to outlaw or control it…

    From the linked article:

    “A study theorized caffeine as a possible, psychosis inducing agent. Researchers eliminated patients’ caffeine for a short duration. It was decided that caffeine aggravates symptoms of thought disorder and psychosis (42).”

    Maybe worse than marijuana, eh?

  39. One of the better (or at least more interesting, in any case) cups that I’ve ever had was in Furano, Hokkaido at the place they built for the series “Yasashi Jikan” / 優しい時間, otherwise known as “Mori no Tokei” / 森の時計.

    When you order a cup, they give you a little grinder w/ freshly roasted beans. You sit there and grind, shoot the shit w/ the staff or other tourists and just sort of chill, and once you’ve got your grounds to your required fineness, hand the grinder back to the staff. They then proceed to filter the grounds through a cloth filter right at the table / bar and hand you your creation to enjoy.


    God I’m glad I’m going back to Hokkaido & this place in a little over 2 weeks.

  40. I used to be this kind of coffee snob. The worst experience was the time my father-in-law gave us a whole pot of decaf without telling us it wasn’t the real thing. Jetlagged and fighting a headache all day, we finally figured it out ourselves. But after exasperating or alienating friends, family and enemies, I finally just accepted that when I travel I can’t always get the best. Now I just try to be grateful for whatever I get and enjoy the happy surprise of those rare occasions when someone actually gets it right.

  41. Giggling along with jiggle @ #73: chances are that ‘spring water’ is from a galvanised pipe stuck in a dirty hole in the ground with a crapola shed over the top. Would you use it for coffee if they labelled it ‘bore water’? Same thing.

    (You didn’t hang out on the Discworld MUD in the early 90s, did you, jiggle?)

  42. Ha! My friends think I am quite eccentric because I roast my own coffee beans. I use a hot-air popcorn-maker that I purchased for 9.90Euro ;-)
    I also grind my beans manually on an old burr grinder every morning, and all my coworkers shake their heads.

    By the way, the machine that one of previous posters linked to looks WICKED. And it is not as expensive as it looks. Still outside my budget, but nice …

  43. One more thing …
    Boiling water.

    When I was in the army as an enlisted private, I wanted to brew some decent coffee. I bought some ground coffee, plus sugar and condensed milk in town, I had a mug. All I needed was to boil water, without lugging a kettle.
    I made “prisoner type” water boiling … thingy.
    You need:
    – two razor blades – the old fashioned ones, like Gilette produced 50 years ago. They are from super high quality steel. Can be replaced with two cutlery knives with plastic handles “borrowed” from the mess hall
    – two pieces of wire, preferably insulated
    – two pieces of thread or fine string
    – two pieces of wood (wooden matches without heads work OK)

    You tie two razorblades side-to-side with matches as spacers.
    You attach one end of wire to one blade, the other wire to other blade
    Put the contraption into mug, pour water. Put wires into electrical socket (preferably without touching razorblades, naked wires, or water ;-) )
    Wait very short time for water to boil.
    You can transport (smuggle) the contraption in a matchbox.

    Later on, I acquired similar thing, manufactured in Soviet Union. It had graphite electrodes mounted at the bottom of plastic cup, with a plastic disk covering electrodes.

    I *IS* very crude, but when your craving for “proper” coffee gets too strong …

  44. “I am a minimalist”

    Hah! I laughed out loud when I read that. You are many things, I am sure, but when it comes to travel coffee, you nowhere near a minimalist.

  45. Yeah, this is a good “I’m going to be in a decently equipped hotel for a month or more and would like decent coffee on a daily basis” setup. I swear by my bodom normal-travel-cup-sized travel-french-press. Fill a ziploc bag with grounds (freshly ground from decent beans before leaving, please), stuff that inside the press/cup, and you have ~4 days worth of quality morning coffee for the travel cost of your outside-the-bag cup pouch being used; and all you need to source is hot water. I consider myself a coffee snob, but I also like to travel very light.

    Taking a grinder with you is not being minimalist.

  46. Who stays in a hotel for a month or more? This is the set up I take for a few days. And since I fit this, and all my clothes and computer stuff in a single carry on bag for a multi-week trip I’m quite comfortable saying it’s minimalist. You may think taking a grinder with you when you travel is excessive, I think it’s mandatory. We all have our priorities.

    1. My month-or-more point being, why take the grinder for anything shorter than a week? Airtight ziplock bags will keep your freshly ground beans from home at very tasty levels for quite a few days, and you’ve eliminated your need for a grinder for short trips. If you really insist on freshly-ground-seconds-before-brewing even when traveling — then, sir, I tip my hat to you; you have taken coffee snobbery to a new true level to which I can only aspire. It also gives me a great foil when my wife complains about me lugging around my coffee press as we trek across (random country name).

      1. If you think coffee ground days before is the same as coffee ground minutes before you really should rethink your self inflicted coffee snob title. Better yet, you should test your theory out. Grind some beans, put them in a ziplock back and let them sit for 3 days. Then grind some fresh and make a cup of coffee from each. The difference will be insane.

        We did a class in Los Angeles at Crash Space title “how to make better coffee at home” and did that test with beans ground a mere 8 hours earlier, and beans ground right then and everyone in the room, most of whom don’t consider themselves anything more than casual coffee drinkers could tell the difference.

        The grinder is the most important part of the kit. If I could only bring one thing, it would be the grinder without question.

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