Boat Coffee Systems

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2010 • all rights reserved

Making great boat coffee – 9 things to consider and 10 possible systems for use on your boat.There are a number of things to consider when deciding how you’ll make coffee in your boat’s galley.  No one system is right for everyone.

The only method that I don’t recommend is trying to use a 12 volt coffeemaker.  Everyone I’ve ever known who has tried one, and every review I’ve ever read, says that they take way too long to brew a pot of coffee.  One friend said that when she switched from a 12 volt to a 110 volt coffeemaker with an inverter, she actually used less power since it went so much more quickly.

Considerations in Making Boat Coffee

Before looking at the various possibilities for making coffee on a boat, let’s first ask a few questions.  The answers to these will help determine which system is best for your situation.

How much coffee do you need to make at a time? A typical ceramic mug or insulated cup holds 12 to 16 ounces, while most coffee pots are labeled in 6-ounce cups (a few consider 4 ounces to be “one cup”).  So if there are two coffee drinkers on board, and each wants two mugs of coffee in the morning, that’s equivalent to 8 to 10 “cups.”

Are you a fanatic about coffee made one particular way? Some people are hard-core French press fans, others want drip coffee and still others think perked coffee is best.  If you have a strong preference, you’re going to want to stay with that system.  I’ll give tips below on how to make any system work about a boat.

How much space is available – both for storing coffee making equipment and for making it?  Some methods take much more space than others.

Is electricity available and are you willing to use it for coffee? Electric coffeemakers typically draw 800 watts (more on initial start up) and so won’t run off the small inverters that you plug into a cigarette lighter.  You need at least a 1000 watt inverter, a generator or access to shore power in order to have an electric coffeemaker.

Will you primarily be making coffee at a dock, at anchor or while underway? Some methods will make coffee in almost any conditions, while others are best only in calm waters.

Are you willing to have a glass pot? If so, you’ll have to protect it from breakage whenever underway or in a rolly anchorage.

How often will you be making coffee? There are some methods that you might be willing to use occasionally (say if you spend one weekend a month on the boat, or a backup method that you use when underway) and others that you’d want if you’re living aboard full-time.

Do you want a hands-off operation or are you willing to be more active in making your coffee?  Some methods require constant attention, others require timing, and others can be started and left.

How long are you going to want to keep your coffee hot? Will you have a cup or two in the morning and that’s it, or will you want to have another cup hours later, perhaps in the middle of a watch?

How Do Various Boat Coffee Systems Stack Up?

There is no one method of making boat coffee that’s right for everyone.  In the following articles, I discuss how ten systems stack up on each of these considerations, and show recommended models for a boat galley.

No Electricity Needed:

One safety issue:  with any of the stovetop methods, you really need a gimbaled stove and pot restraints to boil water if the boat is moving at all – the dangers of a pot of boiling water tipping or sloshing are just too great.  And for the same reason, I prefer to use a tea kettle or my 4th Burner Multi Pot instead of a saucepan – water doesn’t slosh and it’s easier to pour accurately.

Using Electricity:

Espresso drinker?  I’m not, but several readers are.  Check out the espresso makers they like!

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  1. You are forgetting one of the best, richest tasting ways of brewing coffee. Stovetop espresso makers, then adding water to make an “americano”. This coffee is arguable more rich tasting with less bitterness than regular coffee. I’ve been doing this for many years and constantly get compliments on the coffee…

    Try one of these espresso makes on the stove:

    Bialetti 06800 Moka Express Stovetop Espresso Maker

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Thanks for the information! I love it when others share their recommendations . . . here’s the link:

      Bialetti Moka Express Stovetop Espresso Makers — it comes in 5 sizes from 1 cup to 12 cups.

      Also, another reader sent me an e-mail to recommend the AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker — it makes one cup at a time and is all-plastic so it won’t break.

    • Susanna says:

      I also scrolled down to mention that your No Electricity Needed section is missing the stovetop espresso maker. We use this (ours is the stainless Cuisinox) on a daily basis. (Breaking all rules, we do also have an Aeropress as well as an insulated stainless French press, the latter for when we have company and need to pour more cups).

  2. My wife bought this for me. I’ve been using it more than a year and it works great. It’s plastic so no metal/glass and cheap.
    GSI Outdoors 30 fl. oz. Java Press

  3. Well I use an aeropress, its plastic (so wont break), manual (so no extra power used)and makes from 1 to 4 shots of coffee at once. Boil water in the morning, make coffee, fill thermos with excess, and have a good coffee anytime during the day with no effort.
    And as a bonus the clean up is really easy.

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      That’s a second vote for the Aeropress. Thanks for the link to the manufacturer’s site — lots of good pictures and information. They also have a listing of places that sell the Aeropress, as they don’t sell them directly. I took a look at several of the online retailers listed on the site, and Amazon again seems to have the best price . . . and sells the filters as well.

      Amazon: AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker

  4. Katrina Drahos says:

    Another alternative would be coffee Bags. I am a tea drinker, therefore use teabags and a tea kettle aboard for convenience. My husband has been quite happy using Folgers coffee bags. He usually drinks freshly ground coffee beans, but when offshore and traveling has found the convenience of the bags a great alternative. They come in a foil pouch that I keep in a plastic sealed container and we can make a cup or a full thermos as desired for the day.

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Thanks for the idea! I don’t think I’ve ever seen those outside the US, but in the US they’d be great . . . or take some in your luggage.

      If you’re not familiar with these, they’re called “Folger’s Coffee Singles” (clicking on that will take you to an Amazon page where you can see them). They also come in decaf.

      They’re available in most grocery stores — if you can’t find them at yours, you can buy them at Amazon in a “6-pack” of 19 bags per pack (114 bags total) through the link above.

  5. Thermal carafes work great at keeping your coffee hotter longer. I bought one from Amazon and it works amazingly well. I highly recommend one 🙂

  6. The first time I tried french pressed coffee was like having coffee for the very first time again! I am now spoiled and will not drink coffee any other way if I have a choice.

    Anyway, I would like to suggest this ALL stainless steel, insulated model by Frieling. All parts are SS and the whole thing is very well made. It is expensive but it should last a very long time. The handle is a little wonky when you think about it in boaty terms but it actually worked out well for me. I made a little cubby for it which the handle sticks out of serving as a place to hang stuff. Most importantly, it make awesome coffee!

  7. Hi Jim — thanks for the recommendation!

  8. We are actually looking at a toddy cold-brew system (no power needed, not even to heat the water…who wants a hot beverage in the tropics?!) but don’t know anyone who has tried it…any thoughts from you or your readers?

  9. S/V Passage – I haven’t even heard of this, but I’d be happy to post the question to see if anyone else has any experience (if you post it, it doesn’t go to everyone). Do you have a link to the product so we be sure to get comments on the right thing?

  10. Mike Sytsma says:

    The coffee brewing system on our boat is the simplest, I think, and I have a story behind it. I had just bought a new 10-cup SS percolator for one of my first 2-week trips on my Catalina 22. However, I didn’t quite understand how the innards worked, and I lost the screens overboard while cleaning on the first day! What to do when faced with weeks without coffee? I learned very fast that coffee grains sink after being boiled about a minute, no strainer is actually required. You let most of them sink, then pour a cup and drink carefully, discarding the dregs. After that I was hooked, and I’ve been making coffee this way for 6 years, now on a Hunter 31. So keep in mind, if all your other coffeemaking devices fail, just boil some grounds in water and wait for them to sink.

    • Same thing happened to me and like you, I found the coffee boiled in the pot to be every bit as good if not better than the fancy coffee makers with nothing to break. If you are very fussy about the grounds, you can use a cone filter as you pour it into your cup but I never bother.

  11. I agree with the first gentleman….stovetop coffee with the stainless steel Bialetti …. 60$ from the Bay, but it won’t break and makes great coffee and is small which is a plus for storage for small boats…ours is a Catalina 34 MK 2 so not big by any standards! Thanks for all the great tips…we also have the nesting pots you suggest and have only used them occaisionally as we are weekend cruisers, but they are great, store easily in the oven, and seem incredibly tough ( we have the stainless version – as I am a bit paranoid of non stick surfaces. )

  12. Love boat coffee!

  13. Hi.
    I am not a fan of filters or coffee that has sat for a while keeping luke warm, so I would recommend an electic capsual system for Espresso or Cappuccino/Latte. Very fast and easy to use with no mess (no powder or grinding to deal with). Each pod is vacume sealed for one shot of espresso and is pretty much impossible to tell the difference between freshly ground and a good brand pod.
    We use the Nespresso Essenza C101 machine in our office. Fast warmup (1 minute) and double shot espresso in about 40 seconds. Team this with the Nespresso 3194 Aeroccino (milk heater) and you can make a good cappuccino very fast, hassel free and no mess. This system would work well on any boat with generator or shore power.
    At home I use the Illy X7.1 Machine. I prefer the Illy coffee over the Nespresso and the styling of the machine is awesome, but this machine would only work well in a larger galley in calm waters.
    Cheers, Brent

  14. Espresso Lovers should read the suggestions I just posted at the bottom. Cheers

  15. Black and thick!

  16. Kenneth Arnold on Facebook says:

    Coffee Press, boiling water, coarse ground Coffee!

  17. Steven K. Roberts on Facebook says:

    I lived with an Aeropress and Hario hand grinder for a couple of years, then switched to a Breville “Barista Express” espresso machine. Sounds crazy, but there’s nothing like a nice fluffy nauticalatté, and the power budget is not too insane… I did some data logging with a Kill-a-Watt meter and I’m averaging 75WH per mug (including warm-up, grinding, espresso extraction, steaming, and letting it sit powered on in anticipation of the second cup). A bit of an indulgence, I know, but worth it! I do keep the other stuff around in anticipation of tight power budgets, however…

  18. Ann Snider on Facebook says:

    A good hot cup of coffee!! We use the Farberware stove top perculator and a good thermos. The thermos is a year-round thing and we have another Farberware stove top perculator at home but we use the Grind and Brew to make the daily coffee. The stove top one is for when we lose power.

  19. I was French Press purist til they put a Keurig in at work. Holy cow I converted fast. Cost is a consideration but I fill my own and it’s cheaper and greener. Unfortunately messier too. I had wondered how much electricity the small Keurig used…as its now hard to imagine not having one.

  20. I love my aeropress.

  21. Lori Jones on Facebook says:

    We simply boil water and then pour it into the coffee maker.

  22. Lol @Hilary, yeah, those Keurigs are pure sin.

  23. Coffee press for fresh brew topped with frothed milk and cinnamon. Battery operated frothier is cheap, works great on whole boxed milk and makes the morning brew something special.

  24. I like my coffee hot and strong and lots of it, with a llittle cream and sugar thank you very much, as I usually have other coffee drinkers on board. For simplicity’s sake the French press for me,… Boiling water, coffee grounds, press…although it never seems to make enough and I wish it were insulated as it cools off fast once you start draining it. So a big, (10-12 cup) insulated French press would seem to be the ticket!

  25. Nancy Fournier on Facebook says:

    I lile my percolator!

  26. Martin Henry on Facebook says:

    French Press and Nescafé as a backup

  27. Jim Allen on Facebook says:

    I make tea 🙂

  28. Sarah Wright on Facebook says:

    Hand grinder; fresh ground is a must in the French Press.

  29. Roland Falkenstein on Facebook says:

    I have GIRD, and coffee really set it off, until I fould cold brewed coffee. I make a quart of coffee syrup, thrn mix it as I need it with boiling water. I think it taste great and is very easy! Last me about a month.

  30. Christine Warren on Facebook says:

    On the boat I microwave the water and use a starbucks instant pack.

  31. Ed Starboard on Facebook says:

    we found the french press to be a good idea…except it required a lot of water to clean up. fine at home but not on a boat with limited water supply. The Aeropress uses MUCH less water for clean up. We save nut cans and pop the little puck of used coffee into the can, small rinse and done. works great. makes 4 cups

  32. Amber Amodei on Facebook says:
  33. Susan Ford on Facebook says:

    We use a Farberware electric coffee.

  34. One of these with coarse ground coffee (lots of). It’s hardy (our has been flying several times) keeps the coffee hot for hours (not that it normally takes hours for me to drink it all) and holds 5-6 mugs… If we have the full 8 on then we make the coffee extra strong and water it down with another kettle full of boiled water… Excellent product that has more than paid for itself in savings from broken glass ones…

  35. Paul Bryan on Facebook says:

    I don’t always drink coffee, but when I do I prefer the French press. Stay jittery my friends.

  36. Papa Hari says:

    We have tried may onboard brewing methods. Instant, just add hot water, has won us over. Here is an interesting coffee tasting web page:

  37. My French press broke last fall after getting knocked around at a rough anchorage and I replaced it with an Aeropress (all plastic). I now understand what all the fuss is about…love it! Cleanup is so much easier as well!

  38. We prefer our percolator from West Marine. It is stainless steel. I use paper filter by punching hole in center. Best smell to wake up crew.

  39. Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill (absolutely worth EVERY penny), good beans, hot water, and french press.

  40. Wow that article got some comments! We love our stovetop espresso machine and our Bodum plunger depending on what we feel like. Usually a heart starter of good quality instant(Moccona)first thing and then later savor the aroma and taste of real coffee. We are cery lucky to have the storage for both.

  41. We have the stainless French press from Ikea – makes excellent coffee and I can’t break it 🙂

  42. this is what we use (used…. until my hubby broke first le handle, and just now the glass pot 🙁 )
    But it worked great for us who drink 2 big cups in the morning

  43. Our Bellman stove top espresso and milk frothier is amazing. The pressure gauge is worth the expense.

  44. We picked up a nice Faberware ss percolator works great

  45. The question is – how will I make my Tea???

  46. We have used French Press, Instant, and Percolator on our Catalina 34.

    One of my issues is with the clean up and disposal.

    We only make enough coffee that we’ll drink, if there is left over, we’ll make iced coffee with it.

    But the coffee grounds are difficult to get rid off. I refuse to dump them overboard no matter where we are. So I’m curious how others deal with the clean up and disposal of the remnants of the coffee.

    • I put them in with my other “food scraps” and dispose of them when back ashore — as I do with all our trash.

      • We do the same, the issue is the clean up.
        Getting the used coffee grounds out of the perc strainer or the french press is a messy job and I keep looking for a way to clean them out without using half a roll of paper towels or getting grounds all over the galley counter top.

        We have not found a coffee maker that has the ease of a Kurig type. But at least they are easy to clean up, Toss it in the garbage. But it’s not exactly eco friendly and does (IMHO) not make the best coffee.

    • Easy cleanup is exactly why I’d use a french press or perc. Considering that coffee grounds (and not the filters, obviously) are purely woody plant material that will break down in a matter of a week or so, why not bury those ashore or dispose overboard? Seems the best place. By contrast, your greywater is going overboard and that has cleaners and soaps in it. I can see not putting peels overboard or somesuch that would show up on someone’s beach, but grounds are another matter.

  47. File under non-electric: I like the Clever- it’s like pourover, but without the tall stacking of brewer-on-cup. I find that under way I can put the cone in the sink while it immersion-brews (like french press) but it makes a cleaner cup (like pourover or aeropress). See a video:

  48. Dan Leach says:

    Aeropress for everyday. Perk on the stove when we need a pot for guests. But I’ll confess we also have a stovetop espresso maker aboard. Stay Jittery.

  49. Aeropress and cone, while cruising and at home. No more bulky, leaky, scaled electric coffeemakers.

  50. Read this while waiting for my coffee to steep in our French press while anchored in Christmas Cove, STT. Thanks for another great article.

  51. Aeropress for two and stovetop percolator for more. I prefer Aeropress, but training guests is a challenge.

  52. 3 in 1 Nescafe sachets, just add boiling water…. job done!

  53. Can’t go past a Robert timms percolated coffee bag and I love my coffee

  54. If we’re plugged in I like percolated coffee, otherwise French press.

  55. Donna Chiappini says:

    Coffee is critical in my life. We have three coffee makers on board right now. The Keurig for when we are in our slip and have power and two French Press coffee makers for when we don’t have power. The original French Press is good but the grounds are a mess to clean up. I recently found a Keurig French Press on Amazon. Just as good as the brewed. Just need a tea pot for hot water. I use the pre-made pods but have recently purchased the filters you can fill yourself. When we take a long trip, at that point I think the Keurig French Press will be the keeper.

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