I often find myself amazed by the specialized skills of those with unique hobbies, passions and interests. I want to ask permission then, to share my knowledge in a small area of passion. Will the following words change your life? Probably not. Are there bigger problems in the world? Definitely. However, as a Regent scholar, it might make that next late-night study session on the road a little better.
First, let me qualify: I travel a lot. In the past three years, I’ve been to most of the continental United States, as well as a handful of countries. Over that time, something has always bothered me: the coffee. For any coffee aficionados that have been forced to drink Hampton Inn or Best Western coffee for a few weeks—you can relate to my grumbling.
If you find yourself in Paris or Rome, surrounded by small, independently-owned cafés, consider yourself exempt from my advice (but not my jealousy). Otherwise, here are a few options for constructing the optimal cup of joe.
1) Starbucks Via. These are a little on the pricey side, but they travel well and taste good. Go with the Colombian or Italian packets–they taste a little more like the in-store Starbucks brew. An extra option: combine with weaker hotel coffee for an extra strong cup.
2) Mug Press. For those French press fans, you can purchase a mug press. They don’t work nearly as well as a full-size French press, however, they are portable and you can pack ground coffee inside the mug while traveling. Bodum makes a nice mug press, but it will cost you around $25. The worst part of the mug press is that the used coffee grounds sit at the bottom while you sip, which can make the coffee taste overly bitter or over-brewed.
3) Cold Press/Toddy coffee. If your hotel room has a fridge, you can cold press coffee using two empty plastic bottles. Mix filtered, cold water with coarsely ground coffee (grind before you leave home). Let it sit for twelve hours in a fridge and then filter. You can reheat the coffee if you’re looking for a hot cup, or after a quick visit to the ice machine you can enjoy iced coffee in the classic tradition. Because the leaching of flavor uses a different chemical process (I’m putting on my nerd glasses here), the coffee tastes sweeter and less bitter. The best thing about this method is that it travels easily: just bring ground coffee, a couple empty coke bottles, and coffee filters. Don’t let the filtered coffee in the fridge for more than 48 hours though—the fresher the better.
4) Single-cup pour-over brewing. This is my preferred method. You can buy a Swiss Gold or Melitta plastic pour-over system, which is really just a fancy ceramic or plastic cup that sits on top of a mug (ranges between $4 and $20). Use a #2 paper filter (the ones that look like a cone chopped off at the end), finely ground coffee, and fresh water. Put the #2 filter in the plastic cup, add some finely ground coffee, and place it over a paper cup. Carefully pour hot water (using a microwave to heat) over the brewing apparatus, filling up the paper filter and coffee grounds to the top. Sit back and let gravity do the rest. The entire system travels easily and allows for a strong cup of fresh coffee. I pack a couple of mugs along with the plastic brewing cup so I can heat up bottled water in the microwave.
5) Get out there and find a local café. A good tip: if they have a large, visible espresso machine you have likely found the right place. Order an Americano and pull out that Econ textbook.
French novelist Honore de Balzac said, “As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move…similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.” As traveling students, whether with noses buried in case law or the Encyclopedia of Psychology, bring with you a proper ally.