My name is Bloggerbels, and I have a problem. No, I’m not talking about the problem of being a horrible person – that’s a topic for another post. The problem I want to talk to you about today is my debilitating coffee addiction. You see, I have an addictive personality, something that may or may not be related to my Asperger’s Syndrome. I have been addicted to food, to alcohol, freight trains, classical music, “the ladies”, and now, to coffee.
I developed a taste for coffee a while back. I enjoyed a daily cup or two for several years, but as soon as I stopped drinking alcohol I noticed that, like some sort of Alcoholics Anonymous stereotype, my coffee consumption went completely through the roof. At this point I realized that my restless, addictive mind just needed something to latch on to, and if I wasn’t going to become addicted to making people smile or to curing cancer, I may as well just embrace my addiction to the mostly harmless drug that is caffeine. And embrace it I have!
Another of my addictions happens to be travel, although it might be less of an addiction and more of a bright, multi-coloured distraction from the yawning emptiness of my life. For a time, my addiction to travel meant that my coffee addiction could not always be properly fed – some travel destinations don’t have much of a coffee culture, or good coffee may be prohibitively expensive. Or, in the worst-case scenario, one may find oneself in a veritable coffee desert, where good coffee is simply impossible to find. (Ironic, since the desert-filled lands of North Africa and the Middle East did much to spread coffee throughout the world!)
That all changed the moment I discovered the espresso pot. I was traveling around British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies with my dear father, who surprised me on the first day of our trip by yanking a coffee pot out of his suitcase. At first, the idea struck me as ludicrous, and I ladled untold scorn and derision upon the man who brought me into the world; but over the two weeks of the trip, I learned that the pleasure of starting every morning in your hostel or Airbnb with a good cup of coffee is easily worth an extra kilo of baggage. So, who’s laughing now? Nobody, because coffee is serious business.
I ended up getting my own espresso pot and testing it out during a backpacking tour of Europe. Sometimes it didn’t seem to be worth the trouble, like in Bulgaria, where you can’t go more than a block without stumbling across a convenience store selling not-bad vendo espresso for 20 cents US. Other times it proved itself worth its weight in gold, like when I got to enjoy fresh-brewed coffee with my best friend in the garden of our AirBnb in Santorini. Either way, once I had a taste of coffee-making self-sufficiency, it was hard to give it up.
After making the painful decision to move away from Manila this year, I decided to do a farewell backpacking tour of the province of Romblon and the Visayas region. The trip promised beautiful tropical beaches and friendly locals, but it didn’t promise a steady supply of good coffee. Much of my trip would take me through coffee deserts – places where one would be happy to find even a sachet of pure instant coffee; places where “coffee” means a 120-calorie packet of nauseatingly sweet 3-in-1 coffee mix, its contents haunted by the ghosts of dead Indonesian rainforests that were burnt down to make room for oil palm plantations. The problem was, when I say backpacking, I mean no carry-on luggage, and I wasn’t sure that the pointy metal edges of my espresso pot would endear themselves to Manila airport security, a humourless bunch who go so far as to confiscate umbrellas from carry-on luggage. So, what did I do? Before I give away the shocking twist ending to this story, it’s time to do a run-down of all the options for coffee self-sufficiency that are available to the backpacking coffee snob. (For the sake of comprehensiveness, I’ll include options that wouldn’t be allowed as carry-on – perhaps you can just check your backpack in and still count as a backpacker?)
How it works: Fill the bottom with water, place well-packed fine-ground coffee inside the tray in the middle, and boil. The resulting pressure will push the boiling water up through the coffee grounds and cause it to emerge at the other end as coffee!
Pros: Made of solid metal and sturdy as hell; if you want, you can easily make the coffee strong enough that you will see through time.
Cons: Requires an actual stove and not just hot water; will fall through the gaps in a Philippine gas stove, so you’ll need a pot holder, as well; the cheap potholder I used for this purpose was covered in silver paint, and I can only hope that, by exposing it to fire and breathing the air in its proximity, I was not unwittingly signing my own death warrant.
How’s the coffee?: Delicious!
How it works: Pour hot water over the ground coffee and wait. Once it is steeped to your satisfaction, push down the plunger (heh, heh) to separate out the coffee grounds and prevent further steeping.
Pros: Also good for making tea or steeping shredded newspapers in hot water; can tolerate coarse-ground coffee better than some other options; has a dash of the ol’ continental je ne sais quoi.
Cons: The glass can break easily, as I can personally attest, having broken one; probably can’t be taken as carry-on, since a shard of broken French Press could serve as a weapon in a pinch (unless you get a plastic one – is that even a thing?); I find them a bit messy – to clean, not to brutally stab people with; you do have to pay attention to how long you steep it for.
How’s the coffee?: If you don’t over- or under-steep it, it can be pretty good.
How it works: I have no idea what an Aeropress is, and I don’t care to find out. But I’m gonna say that pressing and air are somehow involved?
Pros: Who doesn’t like air? Who doesn’t like pressing things?
Cons: I don’t know what it is, so I’m just going to assume it’s terrible and doesn’t work.
How’s the coffee?: Why not just stir your own shit into boiling water? It will look and taste the same as Aeropress coffee, anyway. (I assume.)
How it works: More or less the same principle as a French press, without the press – so it’s basically just a French. Mix ground coffee into hot water, and after letting it sit, optionally strain out the grounds. So named because it can easily be prepared out on the range and/or the plains.
Pros: You will feel like a real man while drinking and talking about and thinking about the fact that you are drinking cowboy coffee. You will especially feel this way if you happen to be a woman. And your tastebuds will take a trip to flavour country and be gently caressed by the rolling tumbleweeds of deliciousness.
Cons: Depending on how fine the grind of the coffee and how small the holes in the strainer are, you may end up getting a bit of food with your drink. My cowboy coffee setup required two mugs and a strainer, making it a bit of a hassle in its own right. Also, some women may prefer to not be real men. And some gender-fluid metrosexual effeminate borderline-gay men like me may prefer not to, as well.
How’s the coffee?: I don’t know. I only tried this method once, in a Mexican hostel that had, by far, the worst common kitchen facilities I have ever seen in my travels, with one single-burner electric hotplate shared between two kitchens, along with a staggering lack of kitchenware. And I booked that place primarily so I could have a kitchen for making my cowboy coffee (priorities!), meaning I ended up pretty pissed. And I think the hostel had an 8.0/10+ average on Booking.com?! As a result of all this, I think I kind of lost sight of how good the coffee actually was. Anyway, whichever hostel in Oaxaca has a really good average rating, don’t go there! I was fooled, but you don’t have to be! That said, added hassle aside, I don’t see why the end result couldn’t taste exactly the same as French-pressed coffee.
How it works: Step 1: Stir instant coffee powder or granules into hot water; Step 2: abandon dignity.
Pros: It’s easy, like drinking bleach!
Cons: Drinking bleach may give you a more authentic coffee-drinking experience.
How’s the coffee?: I want to demonstrate my coffee snob credentials by saying that I would never be caught dead drinking instant coffee, but I have to say that sticks of pure unsweetened Nescafe and Great Taste instant coffee ended up serving as my backup lazy coffee-making solution during this trip. And although I wouldn’t trade it for any of the other options listed here (with the exception of the worse-than-Hitler Aeropress), it kinda got the job done.
How it works: Basically a lobotomized drip coffee maker – line the funnel with a paper coffee filter, add coffee, carefully pour in hot water a little at a time, and delight as freshly-brewed coffee (slowly, so slowly) comes out the other end.
Pros: Easy to clean – just toss the filter in the garbage; it’s popular in Japan, just like sushi, which is delicious; easily 59 better than the V1; if you get a heat-resistant plastic version, it’s very light (albeit bulky), and even Manila airport security couldn’t think of a reason to stop you from taking its gentle curves as carry-on.
Cons: Kind of a pain in the ass to use, as you have to keep waiting for small amounts of water to work their way through before you can add more; wastes paper; requires quite a bit of ground coffee compared to, say, an espresso pot.
How’s the coffee: For whatever reason, it produces good coffee far more consistently than all of the drip coffee makers I’ve had in the past.
So, which option did I ultimately opt for? Here’s a hint: It’s the only option that produces good coffee and can actually be taken as carry-on. If that doesn’t help, here’s another hint: it’s the V60. Yes, that’s right – for the last few weeks I’ve been baffling the hell out of the local townsfolk from Tablas to Sipalay by asking for hot water to feed this thirsty little coffee gizmo. And yes, it has saved my ass plenty of times while traveling through the coffee desert without so much as a Dunkin’ Donuts in sight.
And what about the ground coffee going into my V60? After all, a true coffee asshole wouldn’t drink any coffee made with beans that were ground more than two days prior. Unfortunately, I assumed from the start that any portable grinder option wouldn’t make it on as carry-on. I did consider being unhinged enough to buy a mortar and pestle after landing, but in the end I betrayed my principles and settled for rapidly oxidizing pre-ground coffee. At least I was lucky enough to buy a fresh bag of Lavazza espresso grind in Dumaguete, which helped to keep me well caffeinated during the demoralizing final leg of my journey.
(Incidentally, coffee issues aside, the trip ultimately ended up being a lot of loneliness, bad Internet, and a severe jellyfish attack for good measure – but as usual, that’s another story.)