There are a ton of advantages to van life – being able to explore the countryside while still maintaining many of the same comforts of home. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we don’t make a few small sacrifices to maintain our lifestyle. And if you’re anything like me, even a day full of adventure starts just a little better when you’ve got a piping hot cup of coffee in your hand.
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Why coffee can be a challenge while vanning
In even the most well-equipped campervan, you are limited in both space, power, and utility. For most of us, this is a great trade-off for having the ability to wake up in the wilderness, enjoying a view that many would pay millions for. But this does limit us on how we brew our coffee.
Having a standard drip coffee maker taking up valuable kitchen space is simply a waste, never mind the electricity required to run one of those things. Even with a nice solar system, drip coffee makers just aren’t efficient.
Besides, vanning requires an eye towards minimalism. You don’t want an appliance with just one feature, you want something that can do many things. We also have to consider waste disposal.
Coffee pods contain more plastic waste than they do actual coffee! So for those of us hitting the open road, we need a more versatile system.
Plus, some of us don’t have converted vans! There is no kitchen. A simple camping stove and kettle is all we have for our hot water, so we need something that’s portable and electricity free to brew a proper cup of coffee in the morning.
The most efficient way to brew coffee in a van
In order to brew a cup of coffee, we’re going to need a few basic things. First, of course, is the coffee itself. We generally recommend pre-ground purely for simplicity. When you compare the volume vs the weight, pre-ground coffee comes in compact packaging (so it’s easier to store) and doesn’t require the use of a grinder.
That being said, some serious coffee fans much prefer freshly ground coffee, and if this is your thing there are hand-grinders on the market that don’t take up much space when you’re on the road.
Next we need a way to boil water. Most of us are equipped for some kind of cooking (even if it’s quite simplistic), with propane or butane stoves tending to be the most cost and space efficient. If you have a dedicated kettle that’s great, but you can just as easily boil water in a pot.
And last but not least, you need a way to brew the coffee. And for that we choose a simple French press.
Why the French press is the best choice
French presses are inexpensive, compact, easy to use, and easy to clean. Just pour a few scoops of coffee into the bottom, boil some water, and pour a little into the French press. Give it a quick stir for 30 to 45 seconds then add the rest of the water and put the lid on. The coffee will need to brew for about 10 minutes.
Once you’re done, just push the plunger down and pour yourself a cup of coffee! The plunger keeps the grounds (which are compostable and easy to deal with) at the bottom of the pot so you don’t have to clean up right away. And there are a large variety of French presses available so you can find the perfect one for your travels. If you’re a solo traveller, you can find a combination French-press / cups that let you make yourself an individual brew.
You can also find models that work with tea if that’s more your thing. But overall, we chose this style of coffee maker for van travels because they are inexpensive, versatile, easy to clean, and self-contained.
Coffee alternatives for vanlifers
While the French press is our personal favourite, there are many other options that some vanners find more useful. Pour-over coffee can be made directly into a travel mug and you simply dispose of the filter once you are done. Some rate the quality a little higher, although you do require a gooseneck kettle to really get the full experience.
Other van dwellers swear by cold brew – something you can make easily in your fridge or cooler. Others even swear by “hobo-style” coffee – just boil a pot with grounds and add a shot of cold water to settle the grounds to the bottom. You can read this discussion on reddit to hear some anecdotes from a few other van dwellers.