Motel drip to gourmet sip: Insider secrets to making great coffee on the road

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That delightful first cup of coffee isn’t just a sensory wake-up call — it sets the tone for the day ahead; a good cup promises a good day. As any traveler knows, finding a great cup of coffee while on the road can be a challenge. But with the right tools and a little resourcefulness, you can brew a flawless cup of coffee anywhere, whether you wake up in a plush hotel suite or a rugged campsite in the woods. 

A person holds a moka pot over a campfire with a yellow tent visible in the background, surrounded by trees.
Tired of drinking bad coffee when you travel? Check out these insider secrets to making a great cup no matter where you wake up. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Just because you are traveling doesn’t mean you have to endure less than stellar coffee. Explore these brewing methods to ensure that every morning, wherever you are, your coffee is nothing short of perfect.

Hotel room brews

These days, it seems every hotel room comes equipped with one of those single-serve, pod-style coffee makers. But pod coffee? No, thank you. Here are a few strategies to rescue you from coffee pod misery.

Compact and easy to pack, a travel-size French press only needs coffee grounds and hot water. Some ingeniously designed travel French presses even serve as your coffee mug, too. You can use the in-room coffee maker or microwave to heat water, snag some hot water from the breakfast area or order some from room service.

Collapsible silicone drippers make for lightweight travel. Use them with your own grounds, and you’ve got your morning ritual covered. Again, the in-room coffee maker or microwave can serve to heat your water, or grab some hot water from the lobby.

Like their pod-reliant counterparts, travel-size drip coffee or espresso makers are compact, electric devices. The difference is that these let you spoon in your favorite espresso grounds. Add water, flip the on switch and watch as hot water slowly percolates through, filling your cup with that rich, familiar flavor. 

Campsite java

Out in the wild, away from the convenience of electric kettles and microwaves, brewing coffee still remains a highlight of the morning. Here’s how.

Nothing beats the aroma of coffee brewing in a Moka Pot over a gas-powered camp stove. A Moka Pot is a stovetop coffee maker that relies on heat and pressure to draw out the rich flavors of your ground coffee. The end result is an intense cup, similar in flavor, richness and punch to a classic espresso. It’s simple, efficient and makes a bracing cup of coffee that’s ideal for a brisk morning outdoors.

If you’re traveling light, cowboy coffee may be the answer. To make this rugged concoction, boil water in a pot on a camp stove or over a fire and stir your coffee grounds right into it. Let it steep for several minutes, and then let the grounds settle to the bottom before drinking. It’s rudimentary but gets the job done.

A pour-over cone dripper is a handy, easy-to-pack device and it isn’t just for hotel rooms. It’s also the ideal camping companion — simply place it over your mug, add your preferred coffee grounds and pour hot water for a barista-worthy cup even when you’re miles away from the nearest café. Look for a collapsible silicone version to save space, and be sure to pack some paper filters, too. Or use a perforated metal cone filter that doesn’t require a separate paper filter.

Modern solutions for the nomadic coffee lover

Technology and innovation have blessed us with some nifty solutions for brewing on the go. Here are a few favorite inventions that push the envelope.

Imagine sipping your brew directly from a mug through a straw that filters out the grounds. That’s what you get with the JoGo Straw. It’s lightweight, easy to clean and perfect for the minimalist traveler. And it’s so small, you can easily tuck it into your purse or slide it into a backpack pocket. 

The compact and versatile Aeropress coffee maker is durable, portable and makes a fantastic cup of coffee. It’s a cylindrical chamber made air tight with a silicone seal. Coffee grounds steep in hot water inside the chamber and when you’re ready, a plunger forces the water through a filter into your cup. In just a few minutes, you can make a delicious brew that combines the full-bodied flavor you get from a French press, the smoothness you expect from pour-over and the richness of espresso.

Heating water on the go

The common thread in all these methods is the need for hot water. The good news is that there are plenty of easy ways to get hot water when you’re traveling. To start, those pod-style coffee makers you find in so many hotel rooms these days can be repurposed to heat water for your own brewing setup. Of course, if your room has a microwave, you can use that.

If you’ve got access to electricity, you can use a lightweight, travel-sized electric kettle. It’s a game changer for anyone who prioritizes their morning coffee ritual. These nifty devices boil water quickly and shut off automatically once the water boils. Choose a collapsible silicone one for easy packing.

When camping, you can use whatever heating method you’re relying on to cook grilled steaks or fish tacos for dinner. Whether that’s an open fire or a portable gas stove, all you need is a pot to boil water. 

Travel-friendly coffee add-ins

While the coffee itself takes center stage, it’s the accompaniments that fine-tune it to personal taste. Here’s how to keep your favorite add-ins close so you don’t have to compromise on the personalized coffee experience you enjoy back home.

Individual creamer packets, whether dairy or non-dairy, are travel-friendly and don’t require refrigeration. They come in various flavors and can easily slip into your bag.

Packets of sugar, honey or stevia take up virtually no space in your luggage, but if you’re staying in a hotel, you can likely grab whatever you need from the coffee bar. If you want to get fancy, make your own coffee syrups and bring them along in silicone squeeze bottles.

When you can’t have your favorite avocado toast with grated egg, add a scoop of protein powder to your coffee. Buy your favorite flavors in individual serving-size packets. It adds creaminess and flavor to your coffee, and also fills you up. 

With these tools and tips, the world is your coffee shop. Whether you’re waking up in a plush hotel bed or in a sleeping bag in the wilderness, a quality cup of coffee made just the way you like it is within reach. It might require a bit more effort than your home kitchen setup, but the ritual itself is part of the adventure. So, pack your bags — and your coffee gear — with confidence. After all, exploring the world shouldn’t mean sacrificing your beloved, first-thing-in-the-morning cup of delicious coffee.

Robin Donovan is the author of more than 40 cookbooks, including the bestselling Campfire Cuisine, Ramen Obsession and Ramen for Beginners. A food writer, recipe developer and food photographer, she is the creator behind the food blog All Ways Delicious, where she shares easy recipes for the best dishes from around the world.

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