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The best coffee for on the go travelers

We all become time and sleep managers over the course of our travels. Whether shaking the grip of jetlag after a seven-time-zone-jump or getting over the sleep lost from a weekend trip to Hong Kong, managing our time in bed is critical to building future productivity, so we plan well – and we occasionally cheat.

Our favorite way to stay ahead of jetlag at Gadling is with caffeine, ideally enjoyed at the corner cafes in small Parisian neighborhoods but most often brewed in our very own homes and offices as we recover from our trips abroad.

For the traveler, coffee-on-the go is a necessity. We learn to live out of the single serving pods that come in our ensuite hotel rooms and order proper cappuccinos in Italy and café au laits in France. We learn the difference between Guatemalan and Ethiopian beans, between a medium and a dark roast. And we hate (although sometimes we love) the sight of a Starbucks in our favorite picturesque tourist destination.

We also tend to bring that coffee affection home, though usually more in a single serving environment. (After all, since we're always on the move it makes little sense to brew a twelve-cup batch). And that brewing technology ranges from the most simple, analog device to the most high-tech brewing symphony. Let's start at the bottom.
The analog siphon (our favorite, the Yama tabletop)

There's a hand made, wooden-framed version of the analog siphon sitting on our editor in chief's desk, used infrequently to brew a batch of simple coffee for the visiting colleague. Brew is made by filling the bottom portion of two lobes with hot water and then heating the section with a candle, or Sterno. Once the water reaches a critical temperature, it flows up to the top of the lobe where the coffee is contained. As the grounds saturate and the brew thickens, the consumer can design how strong the drink will be. Then, once the heat is removed, the brew falls to the bottom lobe and the top section can be removed and washed. The resulting beverage is mild in intensity and full in flavor.

The stovetop siphon (our favorite, the Bialetti Moka Pot)

High heat from the stovetop requires that most efficient siphons are made out of metal, and the classic iteration of this design is the Italian made Bialetti. In principle, this works the same way that the analog siphon works. In this case, the main difference is that there is more gas under the hood to speed the process, so the water pushing through the coffee is also mixed with steam.

Compared to the analog siphon, most Bialettis use a higher percentage of coffee versus water in the process, thus producing something closer to (but not exactly) an espresso as a product. It's not the right strength for every single coffee drinker, but for a few, the ratio is divine.

The French Press (our favorite, the REI Tabletop French Press)

There's a certain, simple feel about a French pressed coffee that makes drinking it enjoyable. Perhaps it's the quiet time spent watching the coffee grounds steep or the pleasure in pushing the steel mesh to the floor of the glass. Either way, the result is a clean cup of coffee that's highly customizable to your taste.

The variables, of course, are the volume of grounds and the amount of time the grounds steep, both of which you determine. It'll usually take a bit of time to find the right combination that suits your palette, but for the experimental epicurean, the press is a delightful retreat. Freakonomics has a great resource for brewing the best French Press if you're looking to get started.

The Pod Launcher (our favorite, the Delonghi Lattissima Premium)

On the digital end of the spectrum, a variety of pod-based technologies are making well done, single serving cups of coffee a common reality, and if you're looking for aesthetic, Nespresso has the competition beat. All that one needs to do to produce a ready-to-consume cup of espresso or Americano is load up the pod, lock it in place and press the brew button. Seconds later, a delicious cup of steaming coffee is ready to go.

Most of these devices benefit from the fact that coffee pods can be vacuum-sealed and shipped around the world, guaranteeing freshness and quality control. Those who want a completely fresh-ground experience, however, may have to look elsewhere.

The Full Digital (our favorite, the Philips Saeco Xelsis Digital ID -- pictured)

For those looking for the fresh ground experience there's no better place to look than the superautomatica. In contrast to the pod launcher, the superautomatica pulls beans in from an onboard hopper, grinds them, tamps them and then runs water (also onboard) through the system to produce an excellent stream of coffee. Everything is programmable here, from the number of beans used in the process to the length of the pull to the granularity of the grind. Depending on the model, milk can even be incorporated (steamed or not) through an inline system, and if you want to steam your own then there's also a wand. Short of having your own espresso bar with a barista attached, the superautomatica might be the best single-serving cup of coffee that one can produce. Just be willing to pay for it. Models range in price from around $500 to well over $3000, with the above Xelsis Digital ID running just under $3000. Yes that's a fingerprint reader on top of the unit – it's used for identifying users and their favorite coffee configurations. For the cost, expect excellence, and with the superautomatica you'll get it.

With contributions and mentorship from Charlie Habegger at Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago.

Filed under: Food and Drink

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