When you’re on the go but desperately need your caffeine hit, finding a café or making instant coffee are usually your only two options. But what if you could make a good, fast coffee with a device, compact and robust enough to take travelling?
We all know that buying a barista brewed coffee every day will quickly add up to be an expensive habit. However, we’re not all lucky enough to have an espresso machine in our home or workplace. Plus, neither option is practical if you’re off on a camping adventure. Even when a coffee option is available, you might want to stick to a flavour and brew that you trust. What do you do if you love your espresso but getting your fix isn’t practical?
Thanks to the ingenuity of coffee aficionados, there’s a huge range of portable, even pocket-sized manual coffee machines that can rival traditional machines for quality while setting you back a fraction of the cost. All you need is ground coffee, hot water, and a hand or two to brew a fresh coffee that will taste infinitely better than an instant freeze-dried coffee.
In this article, we’ll be going through all of the things to keep in mind when on the hunt for a portable coffee machine. Read on to see if picking up a handy travel espresso maker is the right idea for you.
What is a portable coffee machine?
A portable coffee machine is exactly what it says on the tin – a coffee machine that you can take travelling, with a much smaller weight and a much more robust build quality than most bench-top coffee machines.
There are typically five different types of portable coffee makers – automatic types, automatic pod types, pot types, press types, and vacuum types. These three coffee machine types all have their advantages and disadvantages, so it really comes down to what you want out of your portable coffee. Here’s what every type means:
Automatic portable coffee machines
Automatic portable coffee machines are probably what you’re looking for, automating the process entirely down to you simply needing to put water and coffee in and turn it on. Automatic portable coffee machines are usually small enough to carry and operate with a single hand, are robust enough to take on a plane, and while they might not look all that interesting, they make up for it in ease of use. You might struggle to find an automatic portable coffee machine that’ll grind the beans for you as well, but for coffee while travelling, it’s worth the tradeoff.
Keep in mind that some portable coffee machines will be battery-powered (either by batteries or via a charger) or will require mains power, so when you’re shopping for an automatic portable coffee machine, make sure its features are perfect for you.
Portable pod coffee machines
Portable pod coffee machines function exactly the same as non-pod automatic coffee machines, except with the addition of pod capability. Instead of inserting ground coffee, all you need to do is give it water and a compatible pod, and your portable pod coffee machine will brew your coffee. You’ll need to power your portable pod coffee machine in some way, which is depending on the device – some devices require mains power, whereas others use onboard batteries or removable batteries.
Portable pot coffee
Pot coffee makers are classic, and in many regards get in on a technicality – typically their use of operation makes them classically portable, but pot coffee machines can be quite cumbersome. Otherwise known as percolators or moka pots, pot coffee machines involve two halves, with water in the bottom half and coffee in the top half.
The pot is boiled over a stovetop, which forces the water to bubble through the coffee, letting it blend well as the brew is heated. Just be careful not to burn your coffee! You can also get coffee pots that can boil on their own, provided they have the mains power to do so.
Portable hand press coffee
A basic way to make your coffee is through the use of a press coffee machine. This is where you put your coffee grinds into a pot, fill it with boiled water, and then press the plunger in, brewing the coffee above the rim of the plunger without the nasty taste of coffee grinds.
This approach, like with pot coffee machines, can be less than portable, depending on the weight and build quality of your press coffee maker, however, you can definitely find small and light enough press coffee makers out there.
Vacuum coffee makers use a paper filter, where coffee is placed in the filter and water is poured over the filter. After this, you have to push with your own strength on the outsides to force the hot water through the coffee, blending it together. Specialised machines do this well with detailed instructions, and this very well could be your portable coffee solution.
Other portable coffee makers
Portable coffee makers and portable coffee machines come in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of different technology and methods being used to give you a nice, portable coffee. You might find a coffee machine on the market that blurs the lines between some of the above categories – you might even find a coffee machine that looks more like a manual coffee machine than anything else. The categories above are rough descriptions of what you’ll find from retailers, so it’s best to search for something that ticks all of your boxes.
What should I look out for when shopping for a portable coffee machine?
There are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a portable coffee machine. Obviously, you want to get the best machine for your needs and your travel requirements, so keep the below points in mind:
- Bulkiness: Your coffee machine might be heavy or light, big or small, cumbersome or easy to carry, depending on your specific model. Some models are bulkier than others, and depending on what your priorities are, you could end up with one that’s too big for your intentions. If you’re going camping, consider a smaller coffee maker, but if you’re headed for hotels, maybe consider a bigger machine, if your luggage can handle it!
- Power: Depending on the style of machine you purchase, power might become a bit of an issue. Some machines will require mains power through a cable, whereas others will be battery-powered either by an in-built battery or by removable batteries (such as AA’s or AAA’s). Power might be a bit of an issue if you go camping, so make sure you have your solutions in order.
- Price: For a lot of people, price is the be-all and end-all of buying a new gadget. Thankfully, it appears that you can pick up a portable coffee machine for under $100, although you can expect the quality to improve with a higher price tag. It’s worth looking around for the coffee maker that ticks the most boxes as possible.
- Type: The type of portable coffee machine or portable coffee maker you get is very important, be it automatic, pot, press or vacuum. You might prefer one type of coffee brewing over another, so keep your eye out for different brewing capabilities.
Where can I buy a portable coffee machine in Australia?
Portable coffee machines are actually harder to come by in Australia than you might think, and typically involve a bit more than walking into your local JB HI-FI and picking one up. You can get a portable coffee machine from Anaconda, Catch.com.au, Kogan and a number of online retailers.
Some portable coffee makers that blur the lines between portable and ideal for use in the home (such as pot, press and vacuum coffee makers) are available from a wide range of retailers, such as The Good Guys and Appliances Online, although it’s best to shop around to find the best coffee maker for your needs.
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Should I get a portable coffee machine?
Travel coffee machines are useful for those that travel a lot, for a wide range of activities:
- If you’re a camping lover, you might want a handy coffee machine on the go
- If you want a reliable and familiar coffee taste, or if you’re skeptical of coffee options when you’re travelling, you might want a portable coffee machine
- If you don’t want to spend money on barista-made coffees, a portable coffee machine could be handy
If you’re not planning on travelling anytime soon, or you mostly spend your time in one location, it might be worth getting a coffee machine for your home kitchen. Portable coffee machines are really for diehard coffee-lovers, and most people leaving the house would probably be content with barista-made coffees where they travel – unless you’re going camping. Even so, a mini espresso maker to take camping would feel quite nice.
How do I make textured milk for coffee on the go?
Creamy, frothed milk is far superior to the dash of cold milk added to instant coffee. It’s actually not so tricky to make textured milk yourself at home, in the office, or on holiday. Here are a few suggestions for tools you could use:
- French press/coffee plunger: Add your milk to the glass jug, warm it in the microwave, then use the plunger to froth the milk. Move the plunger rapidly through the body of the milk to texture it, and focus on the surface layer to produce foam.
- Battery-operated milk frother: These look like very small whisks. Simply turn it on and immerse in hot or cold milk.
- Latte shaker: You can shake up a coffee much like a milkshake using specialised tools. Designs can vary, but generally involve using shaking motions to rapidly force the milk back and forth through a filter that aerates the milk.
When you desperately need caffeine on the go, but instant coffee just isn’t good enough and buying a good coffee every day is just too expensive, a portable espresso machine could be a lifesaver. As you can see, there are all kinds of designs to choose from to suit your taste, style, and budget. Some are impressively small! Note that these are mostly just machines for brewing the espresso – you’ll need to buy ground coffee, grind your beans in advance, or also grab a portable grinder. You’ll also need access to hot water for the brew.
Portable espresso machines are sold online, from coffee supplies retailers (including many coffee shops) and even from camping stores.