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  • September 16, 2021 6 min read

    Whether you are traveling in a tricked-out van, a renovated RV, or simply in your car, everyone needs regular access to coffee. Sure, you could pay a fortune to get coffee from a café every single day but most of us love the simple life.

    Additionally, gas station coffee is out of the question for those of us who are coffee aficionados. They never seem to be fresh and always taste burnt. 

    There’s no need to go out of your way for a daily dose of liquid energy. These three coffee brewing methods can be used to make your own fresh and delicious coffee while on the go. Read on to compare portability, power source, storage, ease of use, and cost!

    Standard Coffee Machine

    Standard Coffee maker

    • Portability
    Coffee machines are one of the least portable methods of brewing coffee, but they are the standard. For vanlifers who just can’t leave their brewer at home, there is hope.

    While they aren’t as bad as espresso machines, coffee machines can be very bulky. Even the smallest of coffee machines can’t be carried in a backpack. This makes them less than ideal for travel unless you have a large van or an RV.

    There are several single-serve coffee machines that could easily fit in most campervan cupboards. These coffee machines operate like Keurigs, and use coffee pods, K-cups or reusable filter that allows you to brew your preferred coffee.

    • Power Source
    Coffee machines almost always use electricity to brew coffee. This is perhaps their biggest downside because electricity is a difficult commodity when you are traveling.
    This brewing method is reserved for those RVs and vans who are lucky enough to have a consistent power source either through a shore power hookup or through solar panels, generators or batteries (either traditional or lithium ion). Some alternative coffee makers have been modified to use power from the 12-v socket in your vehicle such as the Handpresso Auto Capsule.
    • Storage
    Standard coffee machines are bulky, which makes them hard to store. Also, if they have just been used they may still be hot and difficult to store or pack away.
    Single-serve coffee machines are easy to store on their don’t usually have very many parts that need to be kept organized. This makes them much better to use while traveling than your typical coffee machine.
    • Ease of Use
    What standard coffee machines lack in portability and power, they make up for in ease of use. These are some of the easiest coffee brewers on the market. Many of them brew press of a button coffee with preferences that can be pre-programmed into the machine.
    Coffee machines will brew the perfect cup of coffee every single time because the method they use has become standardized. There is little or no room for human error if the coffee grounds and the water have been measured correctly. It is also easy to prepare the night before, so you don’t have to be fully awake before brewing yourself some coffee.
    • Cost
    Coffee machines tend to be more expensive than manual brewers because of the technology needed to make them. On the low end, a single-serve coffee brewer can cost around $45 like the Chefman InstaCoffee Single Serve Coffee Maker.
    Coffee brewers that are from big brand names can be as much as $100.
    Coffee machines are one of the pricier options.     

    Manual Pour-over

    Manual pour over coffee maker

    • Portability
    Pour-overs are much smaller than coffee machines and can often be taken apart to better fit in a bag. Because of their small size, most of them can fit in small bags, making them very portable brewers.
    Although they are quite compact, many pour-overs are made from glass, which is easily breakable. One benefit of pour-over brewers is that there is a wide variety of models on the market. Many of these models are made from stainless steel, plastic, or other eco-friendlier materials.
    • Power Source

    Pour-overs are manual, so they don’t require any electricity or any consistent heat source. If you have access to hot water, you can brew pour-over coffee. Besides the benefit of not using electricity, pour-overs are one of the easiest travel coffees to brew.

    • Storage
    Pour-overs are some of the smallest coffee brewers as well, but this depends on their cup capacity. Many come as only the top part of the cone. These are placed on top of your mug or thermos which will collect the brewed coffee.
    By getting rid of the carafe at the bottom of the pour-over brewer, these devices are smaller and even easier to store. Many can fit in small drawers and cramped spaces, making them the perfect addition to any tiny home on wheels.
    • Ease of Use
    Pour-overs are the perfect travel companion and are easy to use. Baristas prefer pour-overs because it gives them complete control of the brewing process. Pour-overs allow control over the filter, grind size, brew time, and even allow you to determine which bits of coffee are brewed.

    All that power comes with some responsibility, however. Pour-overs are more prone to human error due to the freedom of expression they provide. Because of this, it takes a bit of practice to brew a good pour-over coffee.
    • Cost
    Pour-over coffee brewers have a wide range of prices depending on the quality and the material of the brewer. Higher quality coffee brewers are often made from glass and can serve multiple cups of coffee at a time. The Kalita Wave Pour Over Coffee Dripper is a high-quality brewer that costs about $60.
    Less expensive pour-overs are commonly made from plastic or stainless steel and often come without a serving carafe. This is perfect for tiny living because they are easier to store. These pour-overs can be as low as $10 which is the case with the Melitta Pour-Over Coffee Cone Brewer.

    French Press

    Insulated French Press To-Go

    • Portability
    French Press has been a favorite of travelers for many years. They are perfect to use while camping because they can easily pack away. The Insulated French Press To-Go is the size and shape of a regular thermos which makes it the perfect travel companion. 
    Since you would be taking your thermos with you anyways, having a French press that doubles as a thermos is the ultimate Vanlife hack. Not only can it brew your coffee while you are on the go, but there is zero mess from pouring brewed coffee into a portable mug.
    On top of this, because it is made from double insulated stainless steel, there is no need to worry about it breaking. Most French presses are made from glass and need to be treated with care, but not the Insulated French Press To-Go. Just throw it in your backpack and you are ready to hit the road.
    • Power Source

    All a French press needs to brew delicious coffee is hot water. It does not need any electricity or power source, which makes it the perfect off-grid brewing buddy. Unlike the pour-over, it doesn’t need a steady stream of hot water to brew.

    • Storage
    The French press is one of the easiest brewing methods to store because they are so compact and are typically only meant to brew one or two cups of coffee. The Insulated French Press To-Go makes storage even easier.
    This brewer is the same size and shape as a thermos, so storage can be as easy as putting it in your vehicle’s cup holder!
    • Ease of Use
    French press is the easiest coffee brewing option to use besides the manual brewer. French press coffee is an intuitive and hands-off experience that is easy to learn. To brew French press coffee, simply add the hot water and coffee grounds and allow them to soak/brew for 3-6 minutes.
    Once it is done brewing, use the plunger on top. This will allow the built-in filter to separate the coffee grounds from the coffee. That’s all there is to it! The coffee grounds do not need to be removed before drinking the coffee, making French press a no-mess brewing method.
    • Cost
    The cost of a French press depends on the quality of the craftsmanship. Many lower-quality French presses break within the first year of usage but cost only $15. For a sturdy French press that will last many years and even more cups of coffee, the cost rises to $30.

    French presses are as inexpensive as a pour-over but much easier to use. They don’t use electricity or take up space like a coffee machine. 


    Just like with all forms of vanlife, the right coffee brewer is a personal choice based on your lifestyle. It is important to consider the size of your brewer as well as what tools are necessary for the brewing method.

    Whether you don’t have access to electricity or have limited storage space, everybody deserves a fresh cup of coffee while on the road.


    Works Cited:

    “10 Best Coffee Makers for Van Life 2021 - an EXPERT Buyer's Guide.” Above Average Coffee, 2 June 2021, aboveaveragecoffee.com/best-coffee-maker-for-van-life/.

    Defiance Tools. “Insulated French Press To-Go.” Defiance Tools, www.defiancetools.com/products/on-the-go-insulated-coffee-press.

    “Handpresso Auto Capsule.” Handpresso, www.handpresso.com/en/handpresso-auto-capsule-8.html.

    Stephen. “The 7 BEST Campervan Coffee Makers - 2021 Ultimate RV GUIDE.” Van Life Theory, 24 July 2021, vanlifetheory.com/gear/best-campervan-coffee-makers/.


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