As an avid coffee drinker, I used to be a big fan of single-serve coffee machines. One day, the machine decided to stop working—which does happen from time to time—so I decided to go old school and use my automatic drip. Then, I realized that all I had were pods of single-serve coffee grinds, and I was all out of regular coffee filters!
This was a job for a French press, but I didn't have one on hand. Desperate for my caffeine fix, I grabbed two mugs and a paper towel—which ended up being a moment of brilliance in retrospect. I haven't looked back since.
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This easy method to a perfect cup of coffee works well, both at home or when traveling. Utilizing the principles of the steeped coffee method popularized with the creation of the French press, it creates a richer and more full-bodied brew because the coffee grinds remain in contact with the hot water longer—especially when compared to automatic drip and single serve machines.
Note: Instead of utilizing this French press method, you can just as easily put your coffee grinds into a paper towel, then steep the paper towel in hot water if you wish. The flavor won't be as strong or as rich, but it will save you steps if you're in a hurry.
Place coffee grinds into the first cup. The standard ratio for a good cup of coffee is 2 Tbsp. of grind to every 6 oz. of water, but you can adjust for strength according to your personal preference.
Typically, a French press requires a coarser grind of coffee to ensure finer grounds don't seep through the press filter. But this paper towel method can properly filter finer grinds—including coffee for an automatic drip. So, even if you're using store-bought grinds or have to open a pod from one a single-serve machine, you should be good to go.
Be sure to bring the water to a rolling boil before removing it from heat and pouring it into your cup. You want the water to be hot enough to generate steam, which will aid in brewing your coffee. Pour the water into the cup that contains the coffee grounds, then stir to allow the grounds to mingle with the hot water.
Pro Tip: When hot water is added, fresh coffee grounds foam at the surface, whereas stale coffee grounds produce no foam and will remain flat. (You can also test your coffee beans and grounds using this easy method.)
Immediately cover the cup completely for 3-4 minutes; I like to use two mugs of the exact same size. When you put one mug over the other, the rims line up perfectly to trap the steam. Additionally, the extra space from the overturned mug creates a dome similar to a French press. That way, the brewing happens simultaneously with both the heat of the water and the even-hotter steam.
Remove the empty top cup from the bottom cup. Then, place a paper towel over the top of the empty cup and push it down in the center (about 1/3 of the way) so it acts as a filter. Pour the brewed coffee over the paper towel.
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As the paper towel collects the coffee grinds, you will have to pull it towards the top to make room for your coffee. Eventually, you'll pour the last drops of coffee through the paper towel and will need to pull the paper towel away from the cup completely, as seen below.
At this point, you can discard your paper towel; and that's all the clean-up you have to worry about! Just sip, add sugar and cream to your preference, and enjoy.
The next time you travel, you can say goodbye to the crappy coffeemaker in your hotel room. Just pack your favorite coffee grinds, because all you need for a fresh cup of coffee now is two styrofoam cups and a paper towel (or an actually coffee filter, if you feel so inclined).
Let us know in the comments if you've tried this at home and if you'll be taking this show on the road and using it the next time you travel.