Travel Necessity: Making Coffee on the Road

“and the cool air off the hills
made me think of coffee,
so I said, “Coffee would be nice,”
– Kwame Dawes, Coffee Break

One of the greatest expenses on the road can be coffee, especially for addicts like me. When I worked overnight in New Jersey, I would regularly make a full 10-cup pot of coffee. Plus, I’d drink tea later in my shift. (Note to coffee companies: You can sponsor my travels.)

In some destinations coffee can be expensive. In touristy parts of Italy, a cup of coffee will set you back at least EUR 3. I got spoiled going to my local used bookstore for good coffee for $1.75, with free refills, which usually convinced me to buy yet another book to read (one addiction feeds the other).venice-coffee

Before I set out on this journey I worried about my ability to find coffee at the grocery stores — I remember how difficult it was to find non-instant coffee when I first moved to China in 2005; I practically wept when Carrefour and Jusco moved in near my apartment in 2008 with a consistent supply of coffee and cheese. I was so desperate back then that I would travel an hour and half on a bus to the foreign import store and buy a tub of Folgers for more than $10 when I knew it was much less expensive back home.melita-coffeemaker

Fortunately, my parents’ friend had a Melita cup-top hand drip coffeemaker. It was the best going-away present I could receive (well, other than money for future plane tickets). Because I didn’t want to have to always go out to find new filters as I traveled, I set out in search of a reusable coffee filter — the stores didn’t have the specific one for this Melita product, but I managed to find one that fit.

More than a year later I’m still making my morning coffee with this. Fortunately, there’s a Carrefour near me in Taipei and I can buy 1/2 lb. of ground coffee for NT$99 (about $3). It’s not great coffee, but it’s good enough. If I buy really cheap coffee, like I usually did in New Jersey, I just add some cinnamon to the grounds as I brew my cup — it tastes better and the cinnamon helps the body regulate blood sugar.carrefour-coffee

Of course, I still enjoy going out to coffee shops. I went to a few in Seoul — they weren’t difficult to find as the Korean capital has more Starbucks than any other city in the world (plus a few dozen other coffee chains). During my second trip to Japan, I spent a lot of time at Starbucks working on my China Survival Guide and other writing and ramblings — I usually avoid Starbucks, but there wasn’t anything else near me. I was forced into a few coffee shops in Hanoi when the power went out at my hotel while I was working. Plus, I had to try the egg coffee — it was good, but a little too sweet for my taste.egg-coffee-hanoi

In Taipei, I sometimes go out to Cama Coffee, a chain that serves great coffee in very small shop spaces. They also have whiskey hot chocolate — you can’t taste the whiskey, but the hot chocolate is really good. There are plenty of other options around the city at varying prices (most don’t have seating though).

How do you feed your coffee addiction while traveling? 

2 thoughts on “Travel Necessity: Making Coffee on the Road”

  1. Man, Shanghai keeps sounding like a whole different world. Coffee is everywhere around where I live with roasters like Cafe de Vulcan, Sumerian, and more.

    My weapon of choice for travel is an Italian Moka Pot. Easy to carry around and all you need is some kind of heat source whether it be fire or an electrical heating surface. My weapon of choice for at home is a nice glass French press.

    1. I was tempted to get a small French press, but I wanted to avoid glass, and a plastic French press is just worthless. Plus, I this little cup-top coffeemaker takes up less space in my suitcase. I also noticed a lot more coffee shops around Shanghai when I stopped in–too bad they weren’t open for breakfast at 7am.

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