I wouldn’t say I’m a coffee snob, but if I’m going to take the time to make my own cup of coffee, I want it to be as good as possible. My pursuit of the perfect brew is why I’m the owner of several coffee makers, my favorite of method of which is a pour-over coffee setup. But even though I have a lovely glass coffee carafe that pairs perfectly with my Hario-style brewer from Blue Bottle, most mornings, I brew straight into a travel mug so I can drink it at the office.
My penchant for taking my coffee to-go is why I’ve been drawn to portable coffee makers, those all-in-one gadgets that let you brew into and drink from the same vessel. I love the idea of streamlining my morning coffee routine to a single gadget, but it’s been tricky to figure out which type is the best. The trick, of course, is that the best portable coffee maker really depends on what style of coffee you like drinking, since different portable coffee makers have different advantages and downsides — but as a dedicated coffee junkie, here are four of my favorite ways to make coffee on the go.
Best French-press portable coffee maker
This Bodum travel press works just like a full-size French-press coffee maker — and that’s great if you like French-press coffee. I, personally, don’t. (Some people say French-press coffee is more mellow and less acidic, but I find it muddy.) But despite my anti–French press bias, I can acknowledge that this thermos makes solid French-press coffee because it works exactly like a French-press. And one benefit about this setup over a traditional French-press is that you don’t have to wait around for the coffee to finish brewing before you leave the house. You pour in the hot water, slap on the lid with the plunger still up, and get out of the kitchen. Just push the plunger down when it’s time to do it, no matter where you are — even if it’s in a subway car, as one former co-worker of mine used to do.
But the built-in plunger, though convenient, is also a dead giveaway that your thermos isn’t a regular thermos, so if you’re looking for discretion, this might not be the mug for you. Also, as with any French-press coffee maker, be prepared to deal with a mess of grounds at the end. But even if it looks a little dorky, I would recommend the Bodum Travel Press if you like French-press coffee and wish you had more time to make it in the morning.
Most versatile portable coffee maker
For a more discreet, French-press-style mug, I like the Bobble Presse. You’d never know by looking at it that this travel mug has a built-in brewer, but it does, made of perforated metal that fits perfectly inside the double-walled stainless-steel mug. Instead of pressing down on a plunger, you push the whole filter into the thermos after you let the grounds steep. Unlike the Bodum, you need to wait for the coffee to finish brewing before you can plunge and go — but unlike the Bodum, you can fully remove the metal microfilter from the rig and use it as a traditional travel mug. That’s why this is a solid option for people who want to bring a cup of homemade coffee to work in the morning, as well as a thermos for their afternoon caffeinated pick-me-up from the café around the corner.
Best pour-over portable coffee maker
The Soma Brew Bottle is the most expensive portable coffee maker on this list, but it’s also the only portable coffee maker I’ve used that makes pretty good pour-over coffee without a separate filter or dripper. It’s also been pretty lauded among coffee nerds, having won an award for best new product at this year’s Speciality Coffee Expo (and recently called out by my editor as an item on her wishlist) so when Soma sent me a sample, I was excited to test it out.
According to Soma’s instructions, all you have to do is, “Pour hot water over ground coffee, put the lid on, and get ready to tackle your day,” and for the most part, making good pour-over coffee in this thermos is really that straightforward. (I would just advise you to grind your coffee a little coarser than you might for traditional pour-over and to be slow with your pour; I had a bit of an overflow situation the first time I tried it, because the metal filter was smaller than I anticipated.) The glass thermos itself has a nice heft to it, as well, closer the feel of a ceramic mug than a travel mug, and the metal filter is easy to remove from the casing and clean out. I plan on keeping this one at my desk, so I can make pour-over coffee in the office with minimal mess. You can also use it to make cold brew, overnight, or steep tea, if that’s what you prefer.
Best portable cold-brew coffee maker
For my money, there’s no better way to make cold-brew coffee to-go than in a Mason jar, and I’m not alone in this conviction. I interviewed baristas about their favorite cold-brew coffee setups and Claire Chan, owner of the Elk in Manhattan’s West Village and Bar Beau in Williamsburg, recommended brewing in a wide-mouthed Mason jar. “It’s sturdy, reusable, and looks really cute,” she exclaimed at the time. All you have to do is grind up coffee, pour cold water and stir, then leave it in the fridge overnight. To filter out the grounds, just strain the liquid over a cheesecloth. This method is, by far, the cheapest and most efficient way to make cold brew, and it’ll leave you with a silky concentrate that’ll keep you buzzing all day. And as long as it’s in that Mason jar, you can take it basically anywhere.
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