My philosophy toward airline coffee has always been, “Take what you can get and make the best of it.” Certainly the flight attendant would prefer I sit down, shut up and accept her meager brew. But it hit me– why can’t I make my own on the plane? Is it even possible? We set out to find the answer.
Caffeinated at 30,000 Feet: Mile High Brewing Setups
The constraints of a typical economy cabin don’t leave many options open. High-flying brewers need equipment that is a) portable and b) doesn’t require electricity. In this day and time it would take a brave soul to power up an electric kettle in the cabin, though most lavatories and an increasing number of economy seats have power outlets. We recommend keeping your brewing as discrete as possible to avoid any misunderstandings with overly vigilant and perhaps jealous passengers. For practicality and convenience, you’ll unfortunately have to request hot water from the flight crew– even if it isn’t up to par (hint: bring a thermometer).
The rest of your setup will no doubt create a cup fit for the angels. Try one of these setups:
1. AeroPress + Hario Mini Mill
This is the personal recommendation of Tim Ferriss: “Armed with an AeroPress and a tiny manual hand grinder like the Hario MSS-1B Mini Mill, you can make world-class coffee on an airplane meal tray! No mess and no fuss.”
Ferriss is joined in his quest for a perfect cup by Stephen Morrissey (2008 World Barista Champion), who further notes that baristas often use the AeroPress on flights. It’s portable, made entirely of plastic and is unlikely to draw scrutiny from TSA agents.
The Mile High AeroPress Club Facebook page (sponsored by Kaffikaze) has been “sharing coffee enthusiasm airborne since 2008!” The photos and videos make this club page an effective mini-tutorial for brewing up high. On a plane, on a mountain, on a snowboard, in a hot air balloon . . .
If you haven’t done so already, check out the above video of the upside-down AeroPress brew method on a plane.
2. Pour Over + Hand Grinder
Other sky-high coffee aficionados prefer a pour-over setup. If you are thinking of going this route, consider the Clever Dripper (lightweight and generally durable), the Kalita Wave (in stainless, for maximum durability) or a space-saving, collapsible silicon model.
As for grinders, we concur with the choice of the Hario Mini Mill, but any portable hand grinder should do. The plastic construction of the Mini Mill is perfect for travel because breakage is less of an issue.
3. Handpresso Wild Hybrid
The impressive Handpresso Wild Hybrid churns out shots at 16 bars and can easily fit in any travel bag. Simply add ground espresso or an ESE pod, add water, pump the handle 10-30 times and hit the dispensing button. Expect to spend a fair bit of time with a Hario to obtain a fine enough grind. Let us know if you manage to run your burr grinder and get away with it.
You might also try the Mypressi Twist, but the device’s reliance on N2O cartridges makes it a no-go for air travelers in our opinion.
As to why your coffee doesn’t taste exactly the same at 30,000 feet, we recommend these articles on the “high and dry” effect:
Have you self-caffeinated at 30,000 feet? Share your high-altitude setup with us in the comments below!