From airplanes to hotel rooms, there are contingencies for nearly every coffee-on-the-go situation. My tiny travel coffee kit (it all fits in the Aeropress bag) can make me a great cup of coffee anywhere there is electricity but it takes a little startup capital.
I am always on the lookout for easier, less hassle ways to brew a cup of coffee in a pinch. That is why my interest was piqued a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon the Trader Joe’s Pour-Over Coffee Brewer. There is a whole market segment dedicated to simple and disposable ways to source a good cup of coffee.
Here are my musings on the disposable Trader Joe’s coffee brewer (spoiler alert: I was not impressed) as well as two viable coffee-on-the-go alternatives.
The Trader Joe’s Pour-Over Coffee Brewer
The Trader Joe’s Pour-Over pouch can be purchased at the store for $1.49 or online for $18.49 for a six pack. It contains 20 grams of pre-ground Arabica coffee. The title is a bit of a misnomer as it is not a pour-over but an immersion brewer (like the French press).
The packaging had a best by date (5-20-17) and stated that the coffee was packed in Denmark. I was curious if this was pretty standard for Trader Joe’s coffees, but could not find anything about where their other coffees where packed or roasted.
It surprised me when I opened up the top of the pour-over pouch to check out the inner workings. I expected to see some sort of coffee tea bag on the interior perhaps like they have for single brewers (non K-cups) in hotel rooms. Instead, there is a rectangular filter in the top of the pouch that holds the coffee. Outside of this filter is room for more water and an outlet to a spout for decanting your coffee when it is finished brewing.
To use this Trader Joe’s Pour-Over pouch, simply add hot water up to one of the two fill lines (for a stronger or weaker cup) and let steep for four minutes. When it is ready, decant and enjoy a mess-free full immersion brew.
Thoughts on the Pour-Over Pouch Post Brew after a Thorough Autopsy
I think that the last time I tried Trader Joe’s coffee was while the blog was in its infancy and I bought a sample pack of origins to try out with my butter in coffee experiment (an experiment I may need to revisit). On the quality scale, Trader Joe’s coffee falls below my usual daily coffee fare (I probably put more of an emphasis on finding great coffee than the average consumer). In general, Trader Joe’s coffee isn’t bad coffee but there are many superior cups to be had.
The coffee that came with the pour-over pouch on the other hand was just plain bad. It was stale and the smell and taste reminded me of your average commodity coffee. There was also a good amount of coffee powder in the coffee grounds. I assume because the ground coffee had been rubbing together all the way from Denmark.
I had hopes of perhaps being able to reuse that pouch mechanism to brew a batch of my own; however, there was really no way to salvage the brewer. It is a one use contraption.
I did have some success with taking out the coffee that came with the pour-over pouch (there was still some remnants and powder remaining) and using it for a mess-free disposable cold brewer. I would recommend this method if you don’t mind dropping $1.50 on a single use 500mL cold brewer.
Pretty much the only thing the Trader Joe’s Pour-Over pouch has going for it is the super simple brewing process and the fact that it is mess-free. The coffee is bad, it is relatively expensive for what you are getting and you can’t even reuse the bulky packaging.
Two Coffee-on-the-go Alternatives
Although I wasn’t impressed with the Trader Joe’s Pour-Over pouch, it did show me that there is a need for a simple way to get a great cup of coffee that is disposable (not everyone wants to carry around an Aeropress bag full of gear!). Here are two alternatives that will result in a much better cup of coffee but still feature a disposable and simple format. Both of these alternatives will fit into your pocket and simply require a little hot (or maybe even cold) water to get you on your way.
The Kalita Kantan
The Kalita Kantan is a nifty little pour-over brewer that is disposable and is about the size of an index card. Although, like most brewing methods, you could spend months honing your Kantan pour-over skills, a quality pre-ground coffee made by a novice in the Kantan would be vastly superior to the Trader Joe’s Pour-Over Brewer (and the Kantan is actually a pour-over).
At less than 25 cents a filter, having a few Kantans around for coffee on the go emergencies just makes sense. (I am planning on dropping a Kantan brew guide need week.)
Sudden Coffee is the ultimate in coffee contingency plans. It is instant coffee that (reportedly*) tastes great. Developed by Kalle Freese, a two-time Finnish Barista Champion, everyone is raving about Sudden Coffee.
Sudden uses a proprietary process to dehydrate expertly-made, high-quality coffee and packages them into a portable tube. This high quality instant coffee can be mixed with hot or cold water (or even milk) for a cup of coffee that is almost impossible to screw up.
The biggest downside of the Sudden coffee is the pricing. Right now they are running $24.00 for 8. While three dollars a cup is a not outrageous for a quality coffee beverage you can consume anywhere (even if you don’t have hot water), it is high enough that I would understand pursuing other alternatives.
*I say reportedly because I have not actually tried Sudden Coffee yet. I have been hearing good things about it but have yet to pull the trigger on purchasing some for various reasons.
I’m sure there are lots of other unique and simple ways to make a cup of coffee-on-the-go. If you have any coffee-on-the-go input or techniques, I would love to hear about your experiences. Join the conversation below.