Never Drink Gas Station Coffee Again
One man’s quest to avoid bad coffee and dirty bathrooms
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Gas stations brew some truly terrible coffee. Gas station bathrooms are disgusting. Since I go on a lot of road trips, it means that too much of my life has been spent dealing with both. And life is short, so no more: I’m equipping myself with the ability to make an excellent brew wherever I am and that I can drink at scenic overlooks where I'll pee on trees.
This little quality of life improvement was inspired by my friend Michael Ellem, who’s a car photographer down in Australia. We spent two weeks together, stuck in the mud in the Outback. Despite the record flooding, he always had a smile on his face. A big reason for that was the Bialetti coffeemaker he keeps in the back of his truck. I think my little kit is easier to use and quicker to clean up, while still brewing a truly extraordinary cup of joe.
The priority here was both quality and portability. I wanted to create a kit that would power me through an entire long-distance road trip, fit easily into my Land Rover, and be easy to use even in bad weather. This stuff makes that possible.
It’s an MSR Pocket Rocket 2 powered by a four-ounce bottle of MSR IsoPro fuel. The stove is ridiculously tiny, but also extremely well built, and it boils water very quickly. Bringing one liter of water to a roiling boil takes just 3.5 minutes, and I’m often heating way less. The four ounce canister will boil that liter of water eight times, and again, I’m only usually heating 250 to 500 milliliters. The flame jets out of the stove at high velocity, making it impervious to most wind conditions—I don’t feel the need to use a wind screen.
I really like MSR’s Alpine range of cookware and utensils. Made from stainless steel, they’re appreciably more robust than the titanium alternatives, but remain incredibly light. Like all MSR gear, this stuff is also the product of an utterly insane level of attention to detail. This Alpine Teapot can hold one-liter of liquids, perfectly nests a four-ounce fuel canister, has a lid that doesn’t fall off, and it pours smoothly and predictably. I never realized this level of perfection was possible from a simple tea kettle.
The Coffee Maker
I’ve had this Aeropress forever, as you can see from the wear and tear. It’s simple, light, robust and allows you to make a surprisingly diverse array of brews. All you have to do is vary the water temperature, the fineness of your grind, the time you let it brew, the amount of coffee you use, the quality of the filter, and what you run through it. It can make a cold brew if you use cold water, an espresso if you use enough coffee and wait, or even a latte if you heat up milk and push that through. It’s also super easy to clean up: just remove the filter and pop the used coffee grounds out the end, into a trash can. Oh, and replace the standard paper filters with a metal one.
I also keep a few packs of Alpine Start instant coffee in the kit. They're a great backup, should something happen to my espresso, and it's nice having some quality, highly-portable, single-serve packets on hand just in case I find myself at a trailhead.
My local cafe here in Hollywood sells Urth Cafe Italia Espresso. It’s as good as anything I’ve had. I’m currently experimenting with grind fineness in pursuit of total perfection. I know I should probably carry a grinder and do that myself, but find that having it done at the cafe, then storing the ground beans in a sealed mason jar works just fine and cuts out a little labor.
These are insulated stainless steel tumblers from Stanley's cocktail shaker kit, but they sell something similar as a standalone item. I grabbed them for the kit because they fit well, but they’re also really good at keeping my coffee warm as I drink it. I see my little coffee stops as a chance to take a break and stretch my legs, so don’t need a lid or a travel mug. Stainless steel is easy to clean—I usually just finish my drink and call that good enough.
Again from MSR’s awesome Alpine series. It’s made from stainless steel, meaning way better made than it needs to be, and one scoop makes the perfect amount of coffee for the Aeropress. The tools on the handle are designed for liquid fuel stoves, not the Pocket Rocket 2, but you shouldn’t need to service that.
I’m ridiculous and housed my little travel coffee kit in a Pelican case. I in no way need this package to be totally waterproof or protected against drops, but it’s nice to know that I’d still be able to enjoy a great cup of coffee if I somehow ran over this thing with my 5,500-pound 4×4. You could just throw everything you see here in your trunk and let it fly loose, but housing it in a nice case adds a sense of occasion and makes it easy to collect everything if you’re hopping in another vehicle.