Coffee Anyone? A Coffee Snob's Guide to Brewing Coffee On The Road
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Everyone loves their morning cup (or two) of coffee, there’s no better way to start the day. At home you have your favourite roaster, your grinder, and your preferred brewing method, but what about when you go on holiday? How are you going to get that morning cup? Sure, the hotel has coffee, but it’s not really the same is it? Rarely is it ever better than the stuff you would buy and make yourself.
What if the anonymous bean you’re drinking isn’t good enough? Folgers definitely doesn’t make the cut, and shouldn’t even qualify as coffee. So now you’ve just realised you’re a coffee snob, what do you do?!? Have no fear and welcome to another complexity of our travel adventures.
Parts of Europe are renowned for their coffee culture, but you can’t go out for coffee every time, and sometimes it won’t quite satisfy your discerning palate. When travelling we prefer to stay at an Airbnb rental over a hotel for comfort, convenience and cost savings. Some may have a Nespresso machine or a Moka pot, few have a traditional coffee maker and even fewer, if any, have a bean grinder. If coffee is provided it’s usually pre-ground from who knows what era, or in pod or instant form (yes we’re cringing too).
Not all these rentals are equally equipped, and if you are travelling long-term or are a digital nomad, a better coffee solution is a must.
From our previous travels around Europe, we found it challenging to locate freshly roasted coffee beans. Large grocery stores may sometimes have a wide variety, but most only list a “package date” or “best by” date, which mean nothing. A roast date is critical when it comes to the quality of the bean. Back in the US we typically got ours directly from roasters like Coava, Bluebeard or Caffe Lusso, and various others around the Pacific Northwest.
Nothing beats a fresh cup brewed with freshly roasted beans, the only issue is how will you grind them if there’s no grinder at your rental or hotel room? Well, after hand milling beans between two cutting boards or smashing them with a mallet in a pot we took precautions for future trips and are now enjoying the perfect morning cup of delicious coffee. Welcome to our ongoing series of the trials and tribulations of being a coffee snob on the road.
The Equipment we use to make coffee while travelling
At first we were travelling with our French press, however, this isn’t the most travel-friendly device there is. It is bulky and can break easily since it is made of glass, and a Chemex would pose the same problem. So we recently switched to an Aeropress. It only makes one cup at a time and we are not huge fans of it being plastic and requiring filters. However, it is BPA free, it travels well, is easy to clean, and most importantly makes a good cup.
Another good option if you like stronger coffee and espresso is a Moka pot, which is made of metal and not easily breakable. Just make sure you have a stove where you are staying if you choose this option.
What about the beans you ask? Back when we lived in the US, we had the most awesome coffee grinder ever - a Breville burr grinder. We miss it a lot, but obviously, it wouldn't travel well. After our trip to Italy with the infamous manual grinding techniques described earlier, we got a Hario manual ceramic burr grinder. It’s adjustable, easy to assemble/disassemble, travels well and is much more efficient than desperately crushing beans between two cutting boards.
The Coffee Roasters We Love In Europe
Here are three of our favourite roasters we have found in Europe so far:
UE Coffee Roasters based in Witney, Oxfordshire. The UK’s first and only wood-fired artisan coffee roaster. We found this one when we were living in the UK last year and drove a good distance from where we were living to visit the roastery. It was well worth the trip. Bonus points for being right on the edge of the Cotswalds!
The Barn Coffee Roasters based in Berlin, Germany. Specialty coffee roaster offering premium coffee from sustainable and traceable farming. Freshly roasted coffee beans are pretty much unheard of in Poland where we are currently staying, so we quickly had to find a roaster that could send us some good beans. We have ordered consistently from them for a while now and have been happy with all of their beans so far. Check out this great post by Forever Cosmopolitan about this great coffee shop in Berlin!
Artisan Roast based in Edinburgh, UK. Award-winning gourmet coffee roaster always sourcing beans with quality and sustainability in mind. We found this gem on our recent trip to Scotland and just had to pay it a visit. This also happened to be where we bought our Aeropress. They have several cafes in Edinburgh and Glasgow if you would like to pay them a visit.
Union Hand-Roasted Coffee based in London, UK. They roast coffee beans to order right before they send it to you, so you know it is fresh. They are a Union Direct Trade company which is better than Fair Trade. We recommend their single-origin and micro-lot varieties.
Tips For a Satisfactory Coffee Experience In Europe (Or Travelling In General)
- Plan Ahead - Think about what your coffee deal breakers are, and make sure to prepare yourself before you travel. Do you like consistency and have to drink the same coffee all the time? Better stock up on beans before you go. Do you like experimenting and trying new coffees? Research some roasters in the area(s) you will be staying. You can drink them while you travel and even bring some home as a souvenir!
- Protect Your Gear - If you are bringing any fragile coffee gear, make sure you pack it in a way so it doesn’t get damaged. We always pack it in our carry-on, not our checked luggage, and wrap anything glass (french press, grinder) in something like a scarf, hat, or towel to protect it.
- Be open-minded - When travelling you should always be open-minded about the culture, their food, beverages, etc. Try the local coffee before you dismiss it as being inferior, but always have a backup plan.
- Sugar? Cream? - If you take your coffee with cream and/or sugar, be prepared for the possibility that it might not taste exactly the same as you are used to. They might have a different type of sugar than you are used to, and the milk might taste a little different too (BHT milk is one of the biggest offenders). Personally, we enjoy our coffee with a little bit of Turbinado or Demerara sugar, so we try to find it in the local grocery store. It isn’t always available, so sometimes we have to settle for the white sugar provided, which is usually made of sugar beet in Europe as opposed to sugar cane.
- Water - In general, Europe has very good quality water. However, it can also be very hard and minerally, which can definitely affect the flavour of your coffee. Depending on the water and the coffee, this can be a good or bad thing. If you are worried about it, buy some bottled water to use instead.
- Do your homework - If you plan on ordering coffee in a restaurant, cafe or bar, learn the local customs and proper way to order the kind of coffee you want to prevent embarrassment or miscommunication. We will provide more specifics for each country later in the series.
Our coffee habits are one of our many quirks, and we are sure airport security has had some laughs looking at the contents of our luggage sometimes.
What weird quirk do you have when you travel? Know any good coffee roasters or coffee shops to suggest to everyone? Let us know in the comments!
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