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The Best portable coffee solutions for travel

Save money and time by making GOOD coffee in your hotel room. It's not impossible.

Picture this (scenario that actually happened).

You groggily swim into consciousness. It's 6:00a.m., on vacation! You don't get up at 6 normally, you're no morning person!

Out your window, the Magic Kingdom castle awaits. And a high in the nineties with 300% humidity (I might be exaggerating... just a little).

This is WHY you're up at 6:00a.m. You won't make it until noon. It'll be back to the room for a nap and the pool.

You've got to make the most of those cooler morning hours. Be there when the park opens and go, go, go.

That means getting everyone ready and out the door. You still can't see straight, though. You need coffee!

Only problem? There's no coffee in the room and the hotel restaurant doesn't open until 6:30. No big deal, until you discover it's 7:15 and it'll take at least 20 minutes to get to the restaurant, wait for coffee, and get back!

Blast this coffee addiction, particularly the part that requires palatable coffee!

You now have a choice.

  • Go get coffee. Be late getting into the park. OK for you, not for your (young) children who can't manage the extra waiting that will be involved once your planned schedule is scrapped (bye-bye FastPass+).
  • Get coffee in the park. Which is the same as being late because the wait there is never short. Same problem with said children not being able to wait.
  • Go without coffee, have a headache, be grouchy---your day is shot until you get sufficient caffeine and you now have the ability to ruin everyone else's day with your foul mood.
If you aren't a regular coffee drinker or if you'll drink anything called "coffee," this may not sound realistic to you.

If you need your coffee and it better be good, this is probably a scenario you've experienced, although maybe without the theme park repercussions.

If you want:
  • packable ideas for making good coffee in your hotel room, 
  • ideas to save money over buying coffee every morning on a trip,
  • any other reason you'd need coffee gear to go, 
this post is for you!

I wasn't sure what to call this post. "Travel Gear for the Coffee Snob." "How to Make Drinkable Coffee in a Hotel Room." There were a number of choices but all of them involved terms that were incredibly vague.

I don't want to mislead anyone so this post is about coffee making supplies you can easily travel with when the hotel coffee maker just won't cut it.

I don't consider myself a coffee snob but I think anyone that is happy with the average hotel coffee maker would consider me one. On the other hand, I suspect any self-proclaimed coffee snob might not be happy with some of my suggestions. I'm somewhere in the middle and so are my suggestions.

If you are a coffee snob, let me recommend this post about travel coffee kits for coffee aficionados. I don't require this level of coffee perfection every day, but if you do, someone's got you covered.

Let's get started.

Why make coffee in your hotel room?

Why are you even worried about making coffee? It's usually not that hard to get coffee in a hotel lobby or to go buy it. You can absolutely do that. But if I'm talking about a Disney World resort, there is no coffee in the lobby. It's likely a walk to where you buy coffee.

I have two young children (under six). I used to have no problem getting coffee in some way. Now it's just one more thing to do.

If I'd drink just anything, it wouldn't be such an issue. I tried the coffee you can get in your refillable mug (the fastest type you can get) on this trip just to make sure how I felt about it. Ugh. Not an option for me.

If you will drink anything called "coffee" there are two best options for you at a Disney World hotel.

  • If you are on a dining plan or choose to buy a refillable mug, get coffee in your refillable mug at the resort (this also is the fastest option if you eat breakfast at your resort, regardless of mug status).
  • Make coffee in your room (determine if your Disney World hotel has a coffee maker). If your resort doesn't have a coffee maker, you drink lots of coffee, or just want to be sure, bring an electric kettle and instant coffee. Our villa on our recent stay did not have a kettle of any type (and it had a full kitchen, I used a pot to boil water, messy to pour!). Just FYI if you think a kitchen is a guarantee of a kettle (it did have a 10 cup coffee maker, though).

Since I can't palate the quick-service coffee, that means buying coffee from the actual coffee shop. In our resort, that meant where they serve espresso drinks, some resorts don't even have that option. This is the part that makes it a minimum 20 minute trip to get coffee. There's the walk, and there's a wait in line (just like at a Starbucks).

But I was prepared. And you can be, too.

Do I Need a Kitchen/Microwave/etc.?

These solutions are options I've used on various types of trips including business trips at various levels of accommodations (from college dorms to the Hilton). The only thing consistent was I had power, usually I didn't have a kitchen, sometimes I had a microwave.

If you're an average business traveler, these might be nice options so you can make good coffee faster than getting it elsewhere (I've given up hope of ever getting coffee in the hotel coffeeshop during a conference, not a morning person, never going to get there early enough).

I know staying on-property at Disney can be a lot different (when it comes to coffee) than the average business trip accommodations. If you need your caffeine, you don't need the surprise on a family vacation of being unable to get it---or spending money on something you hate.

Note that you shouldn't assume your Disney World Resort hotel has the same inclusions as a similarly priced hotel. I have seen mixed answers (even answers given one-month apart) about whether there are coffee makers in the lower cost (value) resorts and you shouldn't assume you'll have a mini-fridge.

If it is going to make a difference (I consider how long it takes to get coffee makes a difference in my schedule!), verify with your resort. If milk is your only issue (i.e. whether you have a fridge), your resort's quick-service food court/restaurant may be near where you'll catch the bus. This means you can either buy milk or grab creamer "on your way." You should see a theme here. If getting your morning joe matters/makes a difference, you need to plan ahead.

It comes down to a matter of money and time. At a Disney World resort, it's faster and a lot cheaper to make coffee rather than run to the quick-service food area (and much faster than running to the coffee shop). If you're talking about staying one night at a Hampton Inn, grabbing coffee in the lobby is probably a better idea for anyone except the most discerning.

Choices, choices, choices

I've tested these solutions out for you, several over years and various types of trips. Here's the thing, there isn't ONE answer for everyone. So this isn't a ranked list. Read through and figure out what will work for you (and if you travel a lot, you might want to have several solutions available, my choice for Disney isn't the same as for all my business trips).

My Perennial Favorite

The Pour-Over Cone

Available in Plastic, Metal, or Porcelain.

  • Pros: Portable and eco-friendly.
  • Cons: Requires both a coffee receptacle and a water receptacle (not "included") and requires harder to find filters.
Most of my life I've made coffee this way. This is what my mother has used my entire life so where I started and where I've returned every time I need to make a change. It's easy and makes good coffee.

The downside is needing to boil water (so this could be a deal breaker in some hotel rooms). There is also the con of needing two receptacles, a mug and something to heat your water in (a kettle or another mug to microwave the water). I really don't like microwaving water in a paper cup like you find in many family-centric hotels nowadays. Two ceramic mugs and a microwave will work just fine, though.

Also, it does require a filter, either a paper filter or a permanent filter. I tried a permanent filter and I didn't like it. One of the things I like about making coffee with the cone is there are NO dregs left in the bottom of your cup. This seems to only be with the paper filter, though.

Most of the metal cones appear to have an included metal filter so not my first choice. Also, on vacation/travel, you really want to just toss the paper filter with the grounds and quickly rinse the cone, not rinse a filter until it's clean.

I want to mention some of the eco-issues of using a cone as they can be pros or cons depending on your priorities.

You can consider paper filters a con, it is a daily waste product from this method of brewing (and a minor additional expense). However, it is compostable and makes clean-up super easy (I use my coffee grounds as fertilizer on my plants and the paper filters make it easy to keep the grounds without a lot of clean-up).

For those of you concerned with eco and health issues of the traditional plastic cone, it is available in metal and porcelain/ceramic. I wouldn't fly with ceramic cone (except as a carry on). They crush your luggage and this wouldn't be that portable if it had to be wrapped a lot.

Speaking of which, it's so portable because you can put a bag of ground coffee (as in just what you'll need) inside the cone when you pack it so it's taking up very little space.

This isn't a second rate way to make coffee which is why it's a perennial favorite. I can make my everyday coffee this way so it's certainly acceptable on vacation.

(There is also this plastic version for carafes or thermoses. Many of the standard cones have trouble sitting on a carafe, never tried a thermos but here's your solution. This won't work on a mug including a standard travel mug.)

The New-comer

I'm not sure of a generic name for this type of coffee making device.

Zevro Incred'a Brew
  • Pros: No filter needed, can use one mug for heating water and coffee.
  • Cons: No filter is harder to clean out. Only available in plastic.

I have two devices like this for making loose tea. I LOVE them. So I decided to give the coffee making version a try. I thought it'd save me taking filters with my cone plus let me brew the coffee a bit before letting the coffee drip through.

As soon as I made the first cup I realized it would be a pain to clean out on vacation. However, at home I can fill it up with tap water and go dump the water and grounds on a plant. So this might not be an ideal travel solution but it's viable in general.

I am considering trying it with standard round coffee maker filters (which you may have provided if you have a kitchen and coffee maker). Also, I'm treating this like a pour-over cone with a valve on the bottom. I think it's meant for you to add hot water and let the grounds sit (you use boiling water with a cone).

Note that it drains insanely slowly so you are best off treating it like a cone. The plus is it holds more water than a cone so you can add the mug's worth of water at once which you can't do with a smaller (#2) cone.

Because this uses a valve, the plus is you can heat your water in the same mug you eventually put under this device. I've had zero drip-issues (and the same goes for my similarly designed tea brewers which are two different brands---so no problems across three different brands).

Like a Keurig to Go

  • Pros: Easy clean-up, water pitcher included.
  • Cons: Requires a little more attention to have your coffee ready to go.

I don't know how I came across this device on Amazon. I actually bought it years before I bought a Keurig. This was my go-to travel coffee maker for years. Annually, I attended an institute where I stayed on a college campus where the coffee was AWFUL. I couldn't get anything better in time to get to class since I was without transportation.

The biggest issue is this is similar to a French press. You have to replace the pitcher at the top and use it as a plunger once your coffee has steeped for the time desired. If you forget, you can bust the k-cup pushing the plunger too fast and then you have grounds in your coffee (a lot of grounds).

However, I found if you leave the plunger on the top to keep the heat in, pressure willd naturally pull it most of the way down so no timing problem.

When I purchased this it came with a reusable filter cup---if you don't want to buy k-cups. I like the convenience of the k-cups because it's less mess and I can bring exactly how many I need (and they can be purchased so many places, too).

This made good coffee but it is a single serve system so not great if you need to make coffee for two or more.

I bought this back in 2013 and pulling it up on Amazon now, there are a number of portable one-cup coffee makers that show up in the various places on the page. I haven't tried any of the others so I don't know how they work.

I will say having the included water carafe has really made a difference with the Cafejo. If you have a microwave, you're set. Below is one option that APPEARS to have the same advantages, is a lot cheaper, and might take up less space.
Presto MyJo

More Coffee On-the-Go Choices

French Press

  • Pros: Can make great coffee
  • Cons: Messy

I have never been able to make great French press coffee. I don't know why. Because of that, this isn't a method I personally use when travelling. I find the mess completely prohibitive, too.  Essentially the clean-up is like the "new-comer."

However, it's possible to use a French press when you travel (get a metal press so no chance of breakage). If you know how to make great French press coffee, why not enjoy it when you travel? Not yet familiar with this? You will need to be able to boil water, not just heat it.

Stove-top Methods

  • Pros: Maybe what you do at home
  • Cons: Requires a stove

Stove top percolators or espresso makers are an option if you have a kitchen. In particular, if you have a kitchen, a stove-top espresso maker can give you options for some "nice" evening choices, too, whether after-dinner drinks or maybe affogato.

Don't try these for the first time while on vacation!

Electric Coffee Makers

  • Pros: Plug-in convenience
  • Cons: Not meant to be easily portable

Do I really need to suggest bringing your own coffee maker? I hope you've thought of that.

I know I've found many hotels are switching to the excessively cheap single cup makers where you put a filter pack in a flimsy drawer. That's why I've bothered writing this post, that rarely makes decent coffee.

There are smaller electric coffee makers and K-cup machines that can do a better job. These often use a mug rather than a pot which is the hardest part to transport. Even if you aren't super picky, this is something to consider if coffee on a trip is an issue for you.

Can a Little Extra "Baggage" Be What You Need

As a last note. I have a lot of sinus issues so I've found if bringing an electric kettle is possible, I should. I can then use it to steam my head if sinus congestion strikes (it often does when I travel due to the change in pollen and I drink less water while travelling).

Most of the convenient travel options are only made inconvenient by lack of a way to boil/heat water. Think about if a kettle might help you. I can fit my #2 cone and the coffee inside my ideal traveling kettle (the college favorite "hot pot," better for steaming sinuses). I then stuff socks and other small clean items in any remaining space and usually have no problem fitting everything. If this won't fit, it means none of my choices will.

Choose Your Coffee Making Solutions

You've got a selection of options to consider. Why spend too much time and money getting coffee while travelling if you don't have to?

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