Avoid Bad Road Joe with a Travel Coffee Maker

There's nothing obsessive (necessarily) about bringing a travel coffee maker with you on a road trip. Drinking bad gas station coffee gets really old really quickly. Problem is, "travel coffee maker" can mean different things to different people. Let's take a look at some of the portable devices that can help you make a good cup of coffee while you're away from home.

Before we do that, though, let's remember one thing: if you're filling your coffee maker with lousy coffee grounds, guess what? Yes, you're about to drink a lousy cup of coffee. So, before you think about buying a portable coffee machine, ask yourself if you're willing to spring for good coffee, and to devote the car space to carting it around.

Will you bring whole beans in an airtight container? Will you pack a coffee grinder and do the grinding each day? Or will you at least bring a can of pre-ground coffee with you?

If you're willing to do that, and you're picky about the quality and convenience of your coffee, then yes, a travel coffee maker may be for you.

Here are your options:

French press. A French press consists of a cylinder (usually transparent plastic) with a plunger at the top. With the plunger pulled all the way up, you place the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cylinder, and then pour in near-boiling water. Let the coffee steep for a few minutes. Then push the plunger down. The plunger keeps the grounds at the bottom of the cylinder while you pour the coffee into your mug.

French presses make great coffee and don't require paper filters. They're easy to clean out (just rinse them), though you're then left with wet coffee grounds. Keep in mind that with a French press, you must have a separate source of very hot water.

Filter cones. A filter cone sits on top of a mug and holds a paper filter. You put coffee grounds in the filter, and then pour in near-boiling water. The coffee slowly drips down into the mug. It may not sound as if this is enough time for the coffee to "brew," but believe me, it works. I use one of these every day.

There are even mugs that come with a specially-fitted filter cone attached, but I don't see the advantage. Filter cones are a bit tidier than French presses because you can just throw away the paper filter with the coffee grounds inside it after you've finished. But you'll still need a separate source of hot water.

Small thermal coffeemakers. For a few bucks more, you could buy a compact plug-in coffee maker. I know of at least one travel coffee maker that clips onto a car door and plugs into the car's cigarette lighter. Pretty sweet.

Pros: coffee right in your car; familiar brewed-coffee texture and taste; no need to heat water separately. Cons: breakable parts; takes up more room; slightly higher price.

I have to admit I'm thinking about getting a small thermal coffeemaker for my next long road trip. But do whatever suits your personal style and needs!

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