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The Best Portable Coffee Options for Making Joe on the Go

If you travel or backpack long enough, you’re without a doubt going to find yourself in a predicament — at some point, you’re going to need a damn fine cup of joe. The problem is that getting that coffee might be a bit of a problem if you’ve been backpacking into the wilderness and the closest coffee shop is thirty miles away. Or, maybe you’ve been driving for hours and you find yourself in a one-horse town off Route 66 where the “best” (or only) coffee option is 7-Eleven. Whatever your predicament, it pays to be prepared with a backup plan. Here are four of our favorite alternatives for making coffee on the go.

Copper Cow Portable Pour Over Vietnamese Coffee

If drinking instant coffee — any instant coffee — isn’t your speed, we get it. Elevate your portable coffee drinking with Copper Cow Coffee. The boutique, Los Angeles-based company sells all-in-one coffee packs that bring the legendary Vietnamese pour-over coffee experience anywhere you want it. Each single-serve pod includes a mug-sized filter pre-filled with gourmet grounds sourced from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Tear it open, stretch the filter “legs” over the lip of your mug, and pour your hot water. You can optionally top it off with a packet of real sweetened condensed milk to round out the authentic experience.

The good: The taste is fantastic. Like traditional Vietnamese brew, the coffee is strong and nutty, while the condensed milk adds depth and richness.

The bad: The price. At $3 per serving (assuming you opt for the full kit with condensed milk), it’s a pricey way to get your caffeine fix on the go.

Nanopresso Personal Espresso Machine

We’ll assume you’re not keen to travel with a full-sized espresso maker. The next best thing is packing a Nanopresso. This pint-sized wonder can provide legit gourmet pours of espresso anywhere you want it. At just six inches long and weighing less than a pound, it’s packable even for hyper-minimalists. It requires only the grounds, hot water, and a little elbow grease to pressurize the chamber. Fast-forward a few minutes (once the extraction process has had time to work its magic) and you’re ready to pour. The optional NS adapter adds the convenience of espresso pods to save you the hassle of grinding and filling the coffee basket each time.

The good: A compact design that pours a surprisingly delicious brew.

The bad: It doesn’t actually heat the water, which means you’ll still need a fire or other heat source to get started.

Cowboy Coffee

For purists, cowboy coffee boils (get it?) the coffee-making process down to its base components: hot water, coarse ground coffee, and time. Eggshells, which smooth out any bitterness and help floating grounds sink to the bottom faster, are optional. Nothing more. It’s because of this “rustic, sittin’-round-the-campfire” image that it often gets a bad wrap among java-loving elitists. The process is more art than science, so the final product varies widely. For such a deceptively simple method, there are a surprising number of recipes available online. If you’re new to the process, grab a cowboy coffee kettle and start with this four-step recipe from Sam James of Toronto’s famed Sam James Coffee Bar:

The good: It’s dirt-cheap and requires only ground coffee and some sort of heating vessel to prepare.

The bad: Due to the inherent nature of the process, the flavor and strength can be inconsistent. For some, that’s just part of the allure.

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

starbucks via instant pike place

Hate on Starbucks all you want, but they’ve figured out how to elevate instant coffee to a whole new level. Instant coffee gets a bad — and much-deserved — rap for being awful because it almost always is. Even the most popular brands often taste like a dirty sock soaked in household chemicals. Starbucks VIA Instant uses 100% Arabica beans and is available in the company’s most popular coffee varieties including Italian Roast, Veranda Blend, Pike Place, and even decaf. If you’re feeling especially festive, spring for the specialty VIA packets like Peppermint Mocha or White Chocolate Mocha Latte.

The good: It’s the easiest and most convenient option on this list to prepare. The single-serve packs are tiny, lightweight, and require only a cup and hot water.

The bad: The standard roast varieties all bear the “bitter/burnt” taste for which Starbucks’ cafe coffee is notorious.

Last updated October 22, 2019.

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