On the Snobbish, Obtuse Evil of Travelling with Portable Coffee Gear


Enjoying cup of local coffee in Belgrade, because I'm a trooper and didn't bring my own gear.

Let’s talk about what you’re missing when you travel with your Aeropress, you self-righteous, jittery vagabond.

“Enjoying” a cup of local coffee in Belgrade, because I’m a trooper and didn’t bring my own gear.

Or the other famous road espresso gear: your Wacaco Nanopresso, Handpresso, Kompresso, and so on.

The solutions for pulling a reasonably good espresso shot and crema on the road are growing, and as a fanatical espresso snob, I sympathize with the impulse.

But all of these entail throwing another gadget into your luggage, and packing heavier takes away from your flexibility on the road.

And it’s not really just about the one gadget, whether you opt for a hand espresso pump or a moka pot or a French press. Use your nice gadget with pre-ground supermarket beans and you’ll just get a bitter, harsh cup. To be properly obtuse about local coffee culture and insist that your own gear is better, you’ll also need:

  • Quality recently roasted beans. Either you’ll pack them and/or have to spend time and effort locating a quality roaster on the road — energies that could certainly be better spent in your new locale.
  • A good manual burr travel grinder. Yet another gadget, and yet more physical labor before you take that sip.
  • Hot water. Thankfully you don’t have to carry this, and it’s relatively easy to boil water in most (but not all) places where you’ll stay.

Get all of these things just right, and you just might be able to enjoy a decent espresso, cold brew, or what have you on the road.

But I encourage you to take a different route, and drink coffee that might well be shittier.

Good Coffee Means Homey Comfort — and Is the Opposite of Good Travel

Even more so than other foods and drinks, coffee conjures hominess. But that’s part of the problem; we travel precisely to try something new. Hey, maybe we’ll discover something better. But it’s worthwhile even when we discover something worse.

“Domestic” or “national” coffee in Serbia, as it is typically served. It is basically “Turkish coffee”, and you can get into long and sometimes even heated discussions if you ask Serbians which term to use.

Perhaps, as is the case as I write this, we’re forced to drink Turkish coffee, and don’t particularly love it, but it starts to evoke a series of feelings; that of going to the market bleary eyed to find a café and a burek, of and figuring out the words to use to order, and how to have a conversation with whoever is selling the coffee and the lovely someone who is still tagging along with you from the night before.

After a few trips to Belgrade and Istanbul, a strong, well-cooked cup of coffee with grains settling to the bottom brings back those adventures.

And perhaps, years from now, we’ll drink another Turkish coffee and suddenly the taste will plop us right back down into that market and those conversations and feelings and extreme caffeinated peppiness.

Isn’t that better, in the end, than having brought our own coffee gear to do the perfect travel espresso in a hotel room?

And isn’t that applicable to travel in general? Aren’t we better off as we gain experience and learn to travel minimalist? As we get out and explore the other ways of doing things? Some will be greater, some worse; some more bitter and difficult to swallow, some grainier, some served with a disgusting gummy sweet thing on the side.

But at least they won’t be homey and perfect.

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