Help is at hand for serious caffeine addicts - Matthew Woodward explains ways to enjoy quite reasonable coffee on the move
Depending on what you like to drink and the size of your luggage, there are in fact some great gadgets and ways to make good coffee virtually anywhere. I am going to assume that you have access to hot water, which is nearly always the case on a long distance train, my habitat for a couple of months each year.
I should start by saying that settling for a cup of local coffee is by no means a failure. There are some amazing brews and places to drink great coffee around the world. However, much of the time locals think foreigners will want "American" coffee and make a large instant coffee for you when asked, so be clear when ordering what you are actually after. Now you know where the slightly disapproving Italian bar call of "Americano!" comes from.
But let's assume all that is on offer is instant coffee, the arch enemy of discerning coffee lovers.
If you are short on space and want something really simple, a great starting place is the humble and not so well known coffee bag. Ground coffee individually wrapped for freshness and available in several types of blend, you can get these in most supermarkets.
This means that no coffee lover has to suffer, even if space and resources are limited. There is also a clever alternative to this that you tear open and hook over the top of your cup, essentially acting as a disposable mini filter.
Next up on the ladder of size/complexity is filter coffee. All you need to carry are filter papers and a plastic cone (almost indestructible, but slightly bulky), and you can drip this directly into your trusty mug – you don't need a coffee pot.
An advantage of this is that you can experiment with locally ground coffee in the countries that you are travelling in. Another great derivative of this is the little metal coffee filter that you find across Vietnam and parts of South-East Asia – a French idea that is matched with intense local Robusta coffee for breakfast.
You are entering true barista territory if you carry an aeropress on your adventures. The concept is a recent Californian invention. It is an incredibly simple plastic tube and giant plunger that uses filter papers and combines hand pressured extraction with the filter technique. Easy to use with your favourite type of coffee, it is particularly suited to espresso type coffee, but this can be diluted with hot water to your taste once made.
One for the serious coffee geek, if you need the best coffee possible a Handpresso might be right for you. This is for making smooth and intense espresso type coffee, and is essentially a hand pump and a chamber filled with hot water that is connected to a micro filter. You pump the chamber, press a button and it releases the air under pressure, just like your espresso machine at home.
It takes a few goes to learn the finer technique without showering nearby people in hot coffee, but delivers an excellent result. The most expensive option here, but the best result for serious espresso addicts.
I use a large metal one with insulated walls. This keeps my brew warm in the Siberian winter and is hard to topple over, even on a wildly bumpy express train (as long as you don't over fill it). Plastic mugs are okay, but somehow the coffee just doesn't taste quite right..
All the above take up little space in your luggage and will allow you to enjoy a coffee fix that other travellers will envy. Don't forget how quickly coffee goes past its peak once ground, so ideally carry as little as possible and top up at a coffee shop or roaster in places you pass through. You might consider investing in a small air tight plastic box or a zip lock bag to keep your precious cargo in.
Matthew Woodward has completed several amazing long distance rail adventures using the Trans-Siberian railway and onward across Asia. From from his home in Edinburgh he has reached Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo and is now headed for Tibet. His blog can be found at Toad's Travel Adventures.
Main image: Cappuccino beside a train (Shutterstock.com)