VIDEO: Great Coffee on the Cheap

Posted In: "How To", Airstream, Coffee, Product Review, RV Lifestyle, RV Products, Video

Over the years, I’ve tried just about every method of making coffee when camping. When it came time to create a coffee page on our website, I was overwhelmed by the topic. There’s a lot of ground to cover. It sounds ridiculous, but for some reason it seemed easier to tackle New York and Yellowstone than coffee.

When we’re not camping, I’m one of those people who really enjoys coffee as a daily ritual. Yes, you may call me a coffee geek. It’s more than just an indulgence – it’s a full blown hobby.

Coffee is kind of like cooking and photography – while everyone does it, not everyone does it well. Does that sound snobby? It really shouldn’t. I don’t think it’s snobbish to pursue quality; in fact, these sorts of pursuits make life interesting. And it’s certainly not a money issue. While there may be a few snobs who insist on drinking nothing but $50 cups of cat poop coffee, there’s no reason that quality coffee should be an expensive hobby.

A few years ago I decided to learn the ancient, or actually the modern, secrets of the barista. I bought a fancy Italian espresso machine (Rancilio Silvia) with matching burr grinder (Rancilio Rocky) and started pulling shots. My espresso machine is a full blown manual experience, a little messy and time consuming but also quite satisfying. Like an Airstream, it’s a quality product that’s built to last. Unfortunately it’s too large and unwieldy to take with us on the road.

This is my home coffee rig. It pulls a killer shot of espresso. Unfortunately, it’s about the same size as our Airstream and draws more electrical current than the Las Vegas Strip.

If you have acres of space inside your RV, and if you never boondock, then maybe you can go for an electricity suckin’ shot pullin’ Italian stallion of a machine. But inside our Airstream, we measure countertop and storage space in terms of square inches. We’ve been known to go weeks without a hookup. We’ve got to focus on something small. And if it doesn’t require electricity? That’s a bonus.

It probably wouldn’t kill me to quit coffee, but why take chances?

You’ll find that creating your own coffee is both more rewarding and more economical than lining up for a hit at the local Starbucks. Even my fancy Italian espresso machine, expensive in the short run, “saves money” over the long haul by delivering restaurant quality espresso at a fraction of the cost. If you are in the habit of shelling out $4 for a grande latte every day, do the math. Although I’m no mathematical genius, the numbers favor prepping your own quality brew at home. By a huge margin.

Good coffee beans need not cost an arm and a leg. At the moment I subscribe via Amazon to Lavazza Qualita Rossa espresso. I get a four-pack at the subscription price of $22 – less than $6 a bag! This is excellent Italian coffee at a reasonable price, and another reason why I love Amazon. Sometimes I use other beans, though I’m fairly loyal to Lavazza coffeewhen making a “serious” cup of java. Lavazza sells a variety of espresso blends that are available in bulk. In addition to Qualita Rossa, I have tried Crema e Gusto, Crema e Aroma, Super Crema, and In Blu. They each produce espresso with unique flavor and character.

“Italy’s Favorite Coffee” – buy it in bulk for $6 a bag!

I’ve learned a lot over the years – enough to know that I’m still learning. Again, it’s like photography. You can learn the basics (composition, shutter, aperture) in a day, and then spend the rest of your life in pursuit of excellence. There are many variables that contribute to a great cup of coffee – the bean, the roast, the grind, the water, and the “extraction” process. The one constant is the need for good water. As for the rest, you can change ’em up to see what suits you.

My goal over time here is to document the various means of making coffee when camping. For our first video, we take a look at the world’s most popular coffee maker. Bialetti has been selling “Moka Pot” coffee makers since 1933 – just a couple of years after Wally Byam started Airstream! They are a staple in every Italian household. If you go to Italy and stay in a B&B, chances are that your morning brew will be made with one of these durable contraptions. Not only do they make a nice cup of espresso (well, it’s technically “almost espresso” because the pot doesn’t create the same pressure as a true espresso maker) but you can buy one on Amazon for a measly $20. See? Good coffee doesn’t need to be expensive.

Italian coffee pots are ideal for camping (even tent camping) because they do not require electricity. They are also quite compact. Our “three cup” version is about the size of a travel coffee mug. The downsides to this approach? First of all, they use some of your propane. Secondly, there’s a bit of mess.

If you want minimal mess, consider this video:

I know what you’re thinking. Instant coffee? Didn’t I just blather on about roast and grind and extraction? What does instant coffee have to do with quality? Admittedly, I am stepping onto treacherous ground here by even suggesting that instant coffee may be worthy of consideration.

Yes, in the past, instant coffees have been rather terrible facsimiles of the real thing.

Yes, it’s probably true that most instant coffees still taste like dirty lawnmower oil.

I love Trader Joe’s, but HATE their instant coffee. This horrid nasty stuff is frankly undrinkable. That’s why there’s mold growing inside this jar.

Nevertheless (and I’m probably destroying my coffee snob credentials here), there are a couple of instant coffees that are surprisingly decent.

The first is Starbucks Via. If you drink Via you retain your snob status because the stuff is more expensive than plutonium. Plus, every package comes equipped with its own stylish Starbucks logo. Via is a weird product – kind of like a practical Ferrari hatchback. You may be inclined to mock it, but you can’t deny that it delivers the goods. I daresay that Starbucks Via would perform well in blind taste tests. This would make a great ad campaign, if Folger’s hadn’t already done it.

A Ferrari FF, aka “the Starbucks Via of automobiles.”

Of course there’s an alternative to Via. It costs one-tenth the price and it’s available everywhere…


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