french presses for travel (2)

— TESTING & REVEIW —
Travel & Press Coffee Makers

Testing and writing by: Nathan Crane

I’m ahead of the curve when it comes to the travel French press. My secret Vegas move for years (since I always drive) is to pack my French press and an electric kettle in my suitcase. Instead of having to stand in a ridiculous line in the morning to pay five bucks for a third-rate cup of coffee, I just brew up a pot in my room and face the day when I feel like it.

French press was my entry point into a better world of coffee. Part of the appeal is its simplicity: coffee and water are mixed in the beaker, then the filter presses the coffee grounds to the bottom, leaving a big bold mug of joe. That simplicity means that it can plug into all kinds of situations — as long as you can get boiling water, you’ve got top-quality coffee.

Now I’ve got French presses everywhere — a big one at home, a medium one at work, and a metal one with the camping gear. I especially like the French press when camping since you can get great coffee by putting a kettle on the fire. Nothing’s better than sitting by the fire sipping coffee as the sun climbs over the mountains. 

Still, maybe the French press could be even simpler. These travel presses combine the coffee maker with the mug into a single unit so you can make and enjoy your coffee with a single device. It’s an idea with a lot of promise, and they’re worth taking out for a spin.

 

Top Coffee Makers for Travel

PRODUCT SIZE RATING
1. Stanley Classic 16 Ounces 4/5
2. Kohipress 16 Ounces 4/5
3. Espro 12 Ounces 2.5/5
4. AmoVee 15 Ounces 2.5/5
5. Presse by Bobble 14 Ounces 1.5/5
6. AeroPress Go 6 Ounces Doin’ Its Own Thing
7. Bodum Travel Press 13 Ounces 1/5

How It Works

French Press

If you’re reading this article, you probably already know this, but it never hurts to recap. A French press is a device for making coffee by infusion. Coarse-ground coffee and near-boiling/boiling water are combined in a beaker and allowed to infuse. A metal filter is pressed down into the beaker, trapping the coffee grounds at the bottom of the pot. The coffee produced should be poured off immediately, either into cups for drinking right away, or into an insulated thermos for drinking later.

how french press work
The end result should be full-bodied and flavorful coffee. Since there is no paper filter, all of the liquid components of the coffee end up in your cup, producing a distinctive and powerful cup of coffee (maybe a little too powerful for good health, so mix up your brew method for your heart and your palate). Of course, the metal filter is not as tight as a paper filter, so there’s usually a little bit of coffee solids in the finished coffee. Most are so fine as to just be part of the French press texture, but the last two or three sips at the bottom of the pot are usually full of disgusting large grounds, and best avoided. For more info on brewing with a french press check out our full tutorial here.

One problem with French press coffee is that once the coffee is pressed, the grounds are still at the bottom of the beaker in contact with the water. The coffee continues to brew, albeit at a slower rate, gradually turning your perfect coffee into bitter overextracted coffee. The solution at home is easy: pour the coffee as soon as it’s brewed so it can’t sit on the grounds. You can’t pull that off when your pot is also your mug, so we were eager to see how much that would affect the flavor over time.

AeroPress

The AeroPress is not the same thing as a French press, but the ideas are similar enough that we included a portable AeroPress in this roundup. The basic idea is somewhat like an upside-down French press: finely-ground coffee and water infuse briefly in a beaker, then you press a solid piston down from the top, pushing the coffee down through a paper filter into your mug.

steps for areopress go brewing
The end result of the basic recipe is something similar to espresso: a potent brew that can be sipped as-is or cut with hot water for an Americano. As I learned after trying out the AeroPress a couple of times, though, this rabbit hole goes very deep. There are hundreds of AeroPress recipes out there, using different combinations of grind size, water temperature, infusion time, stirring technique, and more to produce all kinds of different brews. It’s impressive, and I think I’ve found a new obsession.

Testing

stanley brewing

Procedure

We brewed a cup of coffee in each press using a ratio of 16:1 of coffee to water just off the boil. We first added double the weight of the coffee in water, waited 30 seconds, stirred, added the remaining water, steeped 4 minutes, and pressed. We took the temperature and tasted the coffee immediately after brewing. We left the lid closed for 30 minutes, then tasted and recorded the temperature again. After sampling the coffee, we cleaned each press and noted any problems.

Goals

Utility as a French Press

These coffee makers should make a good cup of coffee with about the same amount of effort as a standard French press. The coffee should taste good, with no more coffee solids in the finished coffee than usual. The pressing process should be simple and neat.

camping with espro

Utility as a Travel Mug

The travel mug should keep the coffee hot over a reasonable period of time while keeping the outside from getting uncomfortably hot. The lid should protect against spills and be easy to drink from. The shape should afford an easy grip in the car and easy storage in a cupholder.

Best Portable French Press Coffee Makers for Travel

french press review

Best for Camping – Stanley Classic Travel Mug French Press | 4/5

Stanley_Classic_Travel_Mug_French_Press
 

I’m a longtime fan of Stanley thermoses, so I had high hopes for the Stanley as a travel mug, but questions about it as a French press. The Stanley looks like a basic olive-colored thermos with a carrying bail. The top part of the lid unscrews and swings back to reveal a hole for drinking with a small vent hole close above. Unscrew the lid all the way, and you get access to the filter unit, which is a frame with a filter at the bottom surrounded by a rubber gasket. This unit makes 16 ounces of coffee.

pressing stanley
Brewing was very straightforward, and I appreciated that the body of the beaker was a bit wider than the others. It was easy to get a good stir on this model. Pressing was easy enough, and the gasket engaged well, but with 16 ounces of water, my fingers came right to the surface of the coffee while pressing. Our initial impression was that the coffee was adequate, but not brilliant. After 30 minutes, the temperature dropped from 191° to 176°.

temperature drop in stanley
Our impression of the flavor on the second taste was unchanged. Cleaning was simple, with everything coming clean easily with a rinse. On the whole, the Stanley performed adequately as both a French press and a travel mug. I especially appreciate the great seals that make it leakproof, and the great temperature retention. On the downside, it’s a bit big and awkward, and doesn’t fit some cupholders. It’s also a bit awkward to drink from with the lid still there. The Stanley has one application where I think it shines: backpacking. It’s a coffee maker, it’s a thermos, and it’s extremely hardy. You could make soup in it at night, then coffee in the morning. The Stanley should have a place in your pack, if not necessarily your office.

Best for Office Use – Kohipress |4/5

KohiPress_coffee_maker
 

When we pulled these out of the box, it was clear that the Kohipress was made by people who care about style. The Kohipress is a tall, thin, black cylinder with a little curve bulging out near the top to give you a comfortable place to put your hand. The look is sleek and sophisticated. The screw-on lid has a latching cover that swings back to reveal a drinking hole and a concealed vent hole for easy sipping. Below the lid, the filter sleeve screws onto the main body of the cup. The filter sleeve is solid with a very tightly fitting gasket. At the bottom is a metal filter with a unique spring-loaded secondary gasket that seals off the part where the grounds sit.

parts of kohipress
Brewing was a bit of a pain. Like far too many companies, they eschew giving actual quantities in favor of vague instructions. The max fill line marked in the container was at 16 ounces, so we first tried that. The result was disaster, with hot coffee spilling all over the table.

I later tried again with 12 ounces, and a little coffee still spilled out while pressing. 12 ounces is probably the right amount of coffee for this unit, but the gaskets fit so tightly that I think there’s always going to be coffee trapped in different spots that’s going to get squirted out. The tall and narrow design also makes it difficult to maneuver everything around. It’s tricky to pour the grounds from the grinder container in there neatly, and getting a spoon in for stirring is awkward. It also takes a fair amount of force to press, which is tricky since you don’t want to seal off the whole opening, but there’s not much room for your hand to go that doesn’t block it.The flavor on the coffee was reasonably good, and the secondary gasket performed admirably. Even at 2½ hours in the cup, the coffee never became overextracted. As a bonus test, after drinking all the coffee, I rinsed the cup out, then added water. I tasted it immediately and after a five minute rest and found no coffee flavor. That seal really does a good job. Temperature retention was also good, dropping from 189° to 155° in 30 minutes.

kohipress coffee temperature
Once the coffee is brewed and the full unit is assembled (and wiped clean of the spilled coffee), it works great as a travel mug. It’s easy to handle, the lid is easy to drink from, but prevents spills when latched, and it fits anywhere. Cleanup was a mixed bag. Everything rinses right out, but hot coffee trapped between the insert and the cup spills out when disassembling the unit. On the whole, the Kohipress is brilliant but flawed. It’s ambitious in its design, especially with the extremely good pressure valve that seals off the coffee, but the tolerances are too tight to be completely practical. Press it in the sink at home and shake your head at the problems, then enjoy a great travel cup on the road in style.

Espro — 2.5/5

Espro_P0 coffee maker
The Espro is an odd duck. It tries to be a very small conventional French press, but also a thermos, and only a little bit of a travel mug. The results fall along those lines. The Espro is a small black cylinder with a carry loop on top. The look is very minimal and stylish. The screw-on lid is solid with a plastic carry loop across the top. There are no drinking holes. When opened, it reveals a pull-out insert with a conventional piston featuring a filter with two layers of very fine mesh. Both the insert and filter gaskets fit tightly. Brewing was a bit awkward. The label claims a 16 ounce capacity, but the max fill line was at the 14 ounce mark. Brewing was possible at 14 ounces, but 12 would be a better fit. Pressing was difficult due to the filter, which is double, very fine, and only open on the sides. It did produce a very clean cup of coffee that was quite good.

Espro P0 brewing
Temperature retention was the best in the roundup, dropping from 190° to 178° in 30 minutes. As a travel cup, though, the Espro barely qualifies. You can drink out of it after screwing the lid off, but the shape is awkward and it’s easy to spill. Cleanup was a bit tricky. The insert is messy to open up. It requires some force, and will splatter a little coffee on you. The filter has a few fiddly pieces that need cleaning.

testing heat retention
In the end, I can’t see the value in the Espro. It’s a pretty good French press, but a terrible mug. If you’re traveling with this thing, you’d want a separate mug, so just get a regular French press and a better travel mug. It’s not that bad, it’s just not good enough to be worth a spot in your suitcase. One last note, when we purchased this mug it came in $30 but it’s price is known to fluctuate so you’ll need to click the link above to check on current price.

AmoVee2.5/5

AmoVee_french_press_for_coffee
 

The AmoVee is basically the Kohipress without the ambition and style. The look is about the same, except cheaply plastic and with a ridged contrasting grip instead of a subtle curve. The screw-on lid is identical to the Kohipress with a latching cover that swings back to drink. The screw-in insert does not fit as conspicuously tightly, and lacks the spring-loaded grounds cover. Brewing was relatively straightforward. The inadequate instructions don’t give a quantity, but with a flashlight, you can see the max fill line at 15 ounces (you can’t read it without the light, which is a bit of a minus). The tall narrow shape was also tricky to work with here. We brewed 14 ounces easily (having learned from the previous tests), and found that the slightly looser fit made pressing easier. The coffee produced was very flavorful, and one of the best in the test.

AmoVee brewing
As a mug, the AmoVee is conspicuously uninsulated. The temperature was just 177° after pressing (despite the same starting water temperature as the other cups in the test) and fell to 137° after ½ hour. Drinking and spill-resistance were fine, but the coffee got both cold and worse over time. Cleanup was a breeze.

AmoVee-temp-reading
I can’t recommend the AmoVee as a travel French press. Despite working well as a press, the mug part is very bad, and you won’t be satisfied with its performance. The whole thing feels cheap and a bit shoddy. I don’t expect it will last.

Presse by Bobble1.5/5

Presse_by_Bobble
The Presse gets some things right, but is sabotaged by its terrible, terrible lid. The look is interesting: a thick gold cylinder capped with a black rubber lid. The awful lid is soft rubber and fits by friction over the top of the insert and cup. It has a semi-latching piece that fits over the drinking hole and three vent holes on the opposite site with no covers. Under the lid is a solid insert with a filter on the bottom. Unlike the other cups of this style in the roundup, the Presse has a double-gasket at the bottom, but no top gasket, so it chatters a little when inserted. The Presse advertises its capacity as 13 ounces, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that number was accurate. In fact, you could probably do 14 ounces without spilling. Thank you, Bobble, for your honesty. Brewing was very easy, with the wide cup making access simple. Bad news, though: the coffee started out blandly adequate and got worse over time.

Presse by Bobble brewing
Temperature retention was fine, dropping from 191° to 165° in 30 minutes. Cleanup was easy. As a mug, the Press is a bit wide to the point where small hands will have trouble with it, and it doesn’t fit a lot of cupholders. The lid is the real problem here. First, I don’t like the friction fit. I shook it inverted over the sink and it didn’t fall off, but I do not trust it over nice clothes. Drinking from it is awful. You have to hold the rubber tab back to drink from it, which is bad, but the place where you hold the tab is right over the vent holes, which is terrible! You can’t get a good drink out of this thing since it can’t vent with the holes blocked. Just as bad, the vent holes aren’t blocked with the tab closed, so it will leak if it falls over.

Presse by Bobble-min-temp-reading
If the lid was better, the Presse would be adequate. As it stands, it’s all but unusable.

AeroPress GoDoin’ Its Own Thing

AeroPress Go french press
The AeroPress Go is enough like a travel French press that we tried it in this roundup, but the similarity is like a trumpet to a saxophone: many commonalities, but not really comparable. You could also say AeroPress coffee is like an awkward simile, in that I’m making one right now. The AeroPress Go is a slightly smaller version of the standard model. With the piston just seated, it can hold about 6 ounces of water vs. the standard’s 8-ish ounces. It comes packaged in an oversized cup with a lid, which holds everything you need if you pack it carefully, including the AeroPress Go, a small container for filters, a scoop for coffee, and a folding stirrer. This is a nice upgrade over the sprawling standard AeroPress.

water capacity of aeropress go
The coffee as described in the instructions was delicious, but produced a tiny amount of coffee from a huge amount of grounds. Online exploration led to more reasonable recipes I enjoyed just as much with reasonable amounts of grounds. Sidenote: why does a product aimed exclusively at coffee nerds express coffee quantity in rounded scoops and water quantity in fill lines? I’m supposed to want my water at exactly 175°, but I’m not supposed to care about a few grams of coffee more or less? C’mon, guys: use precise measurements. They matter. As a travel product, this is questionable at best. You’ve got to be a serious AeroPress nerd to want to take this whole production on the road. As a home product, I actually really like it. It stores nice and compact, and makes tasty coffee.

Bodum Travel Press1/5

Bodum_Travel_Press_coffee-maker
This one didn’t make the video, and I would have been better off if it didn’t make the review. The Bodum is a plastic mug with a screw-on lid with a fairly conventional piston, although the piston stops with about 2 inches of space at the bottom of the mug – way more than usual. The Bodum is listed at 15 ounces, but we held it to 14 ounces, and probably would have been better at 13. Brewing was easy enough, but the gasket at the edge of the piston is no good, leaving the coffee undrinkably full of grounds. As a travel mug it was ok, with a temperature drop from 182° to 152° over 30 minutes. The grounds had settled enough by then that I could get a good drink, but it was substantially overextracted by then. The lid is reasonably good, and cleanup was simple.

Conclusion


Watch our complete testing and review of these portable coffee makers on YouTube.com

My first thought when I heard about the travel French presses was, “Are any of these travel presses better than a standard French press and a travel mug?” The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. Unless you’re so strapped for space that you can only have one thing, you can do better than any of these units with more standard gear. Still, I’ll throw out a couple of superlatives.

 

Best for Backpacking

Stanley_Classic_Travel_Mug_French_Press
Is the Stanley, which does double duty as a great thermos and a pretty good French press. In a situation where you legitimately want to minimize your gear, it will do very nicely.
 

Best for the Office

KohiPress_coffee_maker
Is the Kohipress, which, despite its flaws, is a great travel cup with an acceptable French press. Just keep it down to 12 ounces and brew it in the sink, then drink coffee in style.