How to Make Hotel Room Coffee Taste Way Better, According to an Expert

The water is more important than you think.

A hotel bed with a coffee tray and laptop
Photo: Ravi Tahilramani / Getty Images

Manuel Barsallo isn't here for a bland cup of coffee. As a partner of the Panama Coffee Club, the founder of Coffeetologist Coffee Company, and co-founder of ​​Cruce Coffee Company, Barsallo really knows his beans. He also happens to be a globe-trotting photographer, meaning he too has gone through the horrors of slugging down a harsh cup of hotel room coffee just to get the day started. But hang on, because Barsallo says there's a better way of living.

Yes, he says, you can indeed turn hotel room coffee into something palatable. No, these tips won't turn your off-brand grounds into coffee shop magic, but they will at least make the mornings a little brighter. Read on for Barsallo's advice for making even the worst hotel room coffee taste just all the better.

Try adding an unexpected ingredient

One of Barsallo's favorite ways to mix up hotel room coffee is to add a splash of an unexpected ingredient — orange juice.

"My go-to is mixing it with cold orange juice and tonic water to make it a signature drink. Still get the caffeine minus the awful flavor," he shares with Food & Wine as a way to add a little punchy flavor. Alternatively, Barsallo says, he'll mix in other fruit extracts that he has handy. Check the mini-fridge to see what juices your hotel may have available to mix in a little flavor.

Add a sprinkle of salt

If there's no juice around, Barsallo suggests sprinkling a little salt into the grounds before brewing, which he says "usually works for darker roasts" to help cut the acidity. But don't expect this tried-and-true hack to be a magic bullet.

Of course, you can always add "good old brown sugar or simple syrup" to the final product. If the hotel has a restaurant or bar attached, they likely have both, so it's OK to call down to the front desk and just ask.

Use bottled water — and less of it

Bottled water is a powerful ally when brewing coffee in a hotel room.

"I definitely recommend using bottled water," Barsallo shares. "Usually tap water, depending on the destination, might have excess calcium or chloride. I recommend finding bottled water with higher magnesium content and lower calcium and sulfate content. Magnesium improves the mouthfeel, texture, and overall sweetness of coffee."

Speaking of water, he also suggests cutting the ratio of water to grounds to improve the boldness of the flavors.

"After roasting, there's not much you can do, but you can try making the hotel coffee on a shorter ratio to have a balanced mouthfeel and a nicer aftertaste," he says.

Bring along some extra equipment

If all else fails, or if you're a purist regarding your caffeine intake, Barsallo says you may want to create a "to-go" kit for your coffee needs while traveling.

"Taking your coffee gear is one of the best options if you don't know what kind of coffee experience you're going to get at your destination," he says. "I usually travel with a Carter mug that keeps my water hot for sixteen hours, an Aeropress, an Acaia scale, and my Comandante grinder."

Barsallo also suggests looking into more practical options like drip kits, specialty coffee capsules that work with most instant coffee pots, and, he shares, "there's a pretty interesting movement on ultra specialty coffee solubles," aka instant coffee.

"Depending on the destination, sometimes it's a hassle to take my gear with me," Barsallo says, adding that while it's a little extra to pack, it works miracles in the morning. "I must say it was life-changing."

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