Coffee served up in a cafe in East London. Picture: iStock
Coffee served up in a cafe in East London. Picture: iStock

One thing you should never drink on a plane

"Oh, you're Australian? You Aussies are really serious about your coffee," the barista in Mexico City said after I ordered a double espresso (standard when travelling, lest I receive a watered-down "Americano" in place of a long black). Given the inordinate amount of time he spent fussing over it, I think I scared him.

Aussies; we're a snobby bunch when it comes to the humble coffee bean. But it's because we're spoilt for choice, coming from the land aplenty. We're flush with quality coffee, expert baristas and standards you don't want to mess with.

So when you're travelling somewhere that champions the chains, or if your insides shriek at the sight of a "pot of coffee", the question must be asked: how does one find a decent coffee while travelling?

The easy answer: Never drink airline coffee.

The second easiest? Read on, fellow caffeine fiends.

Ozone Coffee Roasters, London.
Ozone Coffee Roasters, London.

KNOW WHERE TO GO

The odds are stacking increasingly in the coffee connoisseur's favour with specialty coffee houses sprouting everywhere from Rome to Portland and Hanoi.

There were less than 3000 specialty coffee shops in the entire United States back in 1993; Lonely Planet's new tome, Global Coffee Tour, puts today's figure at about 30,000.

"It's ironic that some of the worst coffee experiences I've had while travelling overseas have occurred inside one of those major 'coffee shop' chains," Lonely Planet's Chris Zeiher says. "Skip the free Wi-Fi from the houses of bland and seek out a locally run hole-in-the-wall offering small batch roasts.

"The New Zealand coffee scene is also stellar. Personally, I also love the traditional Swedish fika - it's like a mandatory coffee and pastry break."

Follow your nose when it comes to the barista behind the bar. In Alice Springs you'll be surprised to find coffee served by Bondi hipsters at Page 27 Cafe. In London, Ozone Coffee has the Kiwi-owned, flat white tick of approval and Caravan Coffee Roasters (also co-owned by Kiwis) is busily spreading its specialty brews across the boroughs.

Of course, there are destinations that have celebrated their own coffee culture for centuries - there's no point messing with the ritual of sipping espresso at a counter in Rome.

 

Courier Coffee, Portland. Picture: Jamie Francis / travelportland.com
Courier Coffee, Portland. Picture: Jamie Francis / travelportland.com

 

KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Heath Dalziel, barista at Adelaide's Third Time Lucky Coffee and Australian Brewer's Cup champion, says the best thing to do is judge a book - or cafe - by its cover.

"If you see a particular type of machine you'll know somebody has made a large investment, which you probably wouldn't do if you're making crap coffee," he says. "La Marzocco, Synesso - they're good ones, as well as San Remo. If you see a Chemex or pour overs on the menu that means someone is wanting to create a good coffee experience.

"Coffee is about details, if they're ticking the boxes for coffee lovers, you have a good indication the coffee will be good."

KNOW WHO TO ASK

If you don't have the contacts list of a champion barista, your smartphone can still help you sniff out quality.

"Google is probably your best friend realistically," three-time Australian barista champion Craig Simon says. "Sprudge (coffee blog) is also quite good."

"Using apps like BeanHunter can help the coffee adventures and lead you on a coffee trail from espresso bar to espresso bar," says Australia's top female barista, Tilly Sproule from Tim Adams Specialty Coffee.

"I travel to London frequently and constantly fire up the London Good Coffee Guide app," Chris Zeiher says.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS, DIY

Don't have faith the local cafes will deliver your requisite hit? Look for travel-size French presses, gooseneck kettles or coffee pumps to pack into your luggage.

"I am a big fan of purchasing beans wherever I am," Tilly says. "I have a little hand grinder that I use when travelling and an Aeropress to brew my filter coffee. This is a great way to experience different coffees too, and easy to travel with."