A bicycle tour is above all a tour of collecting stories, both your own and those of others. Everyone has a story to tell, whether it’s about a moment of generosity, a harrowing near-death experience, or of a character they met along the way.
At the Gualala Point Regional Park campground in southern Mendocino County, we met Travis and Alexis, a couple from Oakland who were on the last leg of their Trans America trip. They had started in New York three months before and were now just a few days from being home.
After three months on the road, they were full of stories. One involved a man who had been telling them his own story of searching for something in his pannier. “He said, “I pulled out my Moka Pot and found what I was looking for,” Alexis recounted. It didn’t matter what he was looking for; Travis and Alexis were more dumbfounded by the fact that the man was riding around on a bike tour with a stovetop espresso pot.
To each their own, however, after all, every cycling coffee lover has their own prefered setup. Some opt for instant coffee, others bring their AeroPress. My husband and I are those kind of people who travel with a small hand grinder, the kind of device that makes even fellow coffee lovers say “wow, you guys must really love coffee,” as they ever so slightly raise their eyebrows.
Whether you’re carrying a hand grinder or a Moka pot, what almost all coffee-loving cyclists share is an appreciation of the ritual that goes with their coffee. After all, on a bicycle tour, it’s not the drink itself that is the most important part, it’s everything that goes with it. It’s the view from the beach that you’re brewing on. It’s the break by the side of the road where you decide to brew a cup just because. It’s sitting at the picnic table and brewing a second batch because you don’t have anywhere you need to be and you can treat yourself to an extra hour of morning chill time.
“I know it’s silly to carry a ceramic coffee cup with me, but I had a lightweight one on my last tour and I hate the taste!”
Osman, a Turkish-born German, was telling me about his own coffee ritual, noting that a lot of people though it was funny that he didn’t travel with a camp cup. “It’s just not the same,” he said. “You know what I do? I boil water and pour it in my cup first.” Not only did he carry a ceramic cup, but he was sure to warm it up before he filled it with coffee, ensuring maximum enjoyment of the experience.
In an internet age, it would seem that we’re obsessed with “coffee outside.” Just peruse the #coffeeoutside hashtag (initially popularized by The Path Less Pedaled) and you’ll find there’s enough coffee and stove porn out there to fill an encyclopedia on the topic.
I am, of course, just as obsessed. What makes coffee outside so special? It’s entirely different from your usual coffee routine. Each element takes just a little more time than usual. Your camp stove isn’t your kitchen stove (or your electric kettle as the case may be), the picnic table, or log, or ground isn’t your counter, and whatever you’re looking at that morning is lightyears beyond your morning view at home. No matter what your coffee ritual is, when you take it outside, it’s an entirely new experience, and every cup comes with a memory. Beachside brewing with my feet in the sand in Nehalem, foggy, cold morning at Cape Blanco, a French Press paired with campsite avocado toast in the Redwoods; all of the cups of coffee over a trip standout.
So, how do you maximize on that experience? Here are a few tips for brewing good coffee outdoors.
Instant or not?
Instant coffee has a bit of a bad name, but nowadays if you’re picky about your coffee, there are a few options. Sudden Coffee is making a name for itself in the specialty coffee world, and after being funded on Kickstarter this summer, Voila Coffee is coming to the market soon, both instant coffee options for people who a brew that’s top quality. Even Blue Bottle is slated to have an instant product on the market soon: Perfect Coffee.
Figure out your favorite brew device
What you brew in is an entirely personal choice, dictated by personal preference, what you’re willing to carry and how much coffee you want to make at one time. I have yet to see someone travel with a Chemex on a bicycle, but I wouldn’t put it past anyone. My setup includes a titanium French Press and a foldable dripper, both from Snowpeak, and insulated camp cups from Miir. The foldable dripper is nice because it’s small and compact, and it makes for easy cleanup since you can just toss the filter with the grounds in the rubbish bin. Scraping out grounds from the French Press is a little messier, but hey, sometimes you just want a French Press. I often pair the two devices together by placing the dripper on top of the French Press vessel, which then makes it easy to pour the coffee into two cups.
If you’re not grinding
If you’re not carrying a grinder - and most people aren’t - find a good reusable, sealable container that you can carry your coffee grounds in. I’ve seen a lot of people carry their grounds in plastic bags, or even in regular coffee bags, but with the wear and tear that comes with packing and unpacking on a regular basis, it’s nice to have something a little more durable so you don’t need to worry about coffee grounds spread out in the depths of your pannier.
If you’re grinding
If you care about your coffee to water ratio (and many people do) be sure you have it dialed in before you leave on your trip. Figure out the approximate fill line in your grinder for the preferred amount of coffee, and do the same for the amount of water in whatever brew device you’re using. Then just eye things; it’s all going to taste great regardless of whether it’s perfect or not.
Don’t take things too seriously
Here’s the thing about coffee outside: it all tastes pretty damn good. So find a view, and maybe a friend, brew whatever coffee you have in whatever device you want and enjoy the moment.
This is a continuing series from Anna about her time on the road promoting her new book Hello, Bicycle. Check that out, but then make sure to read her last post on Bikes and Bakeries. Just try and stave off your hunger for a crusty slice of bread and a hot cup of coffee with that.