Camp Coffee Six Ways

by Lauren Braden

in Camping and Outdoors

Camping Coffee Six Ways | nwtripfinder.comWhen I plan a camping trip there are a few comforts that are non-negotiable, even when hiking deep into the backcountry. One is warmth, and I have a ridiculously low-temp sleeping bag with a waterproof shell to ensure I will never again stay up all night shivering.  The other is hot morning coffee, preferably ready within 5 minutes of  getting out of the tent.

The truth is, coffee tastes darn good on a chilly morning after a night of sleeping under the stars, no matter how you make it.

There are probably a dozen ways to make coffee at camp, and every caffeinated camper has their own morning ritual. I have one myself and I call it “the cone” but I also love experimenting with new methods to make coffee at camp. From the classic cowboy method to fancy backcountry espresso, here’s how Northwest campers get their morning buzz in the wilderness.

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EASY: The Drip Cone

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.comDrip, drip, drip…

You may know it as the “pour over method” of making coffee. This is our go-to method of making coffee at home, and it’s easy to just pack the plastic drip cone and disposable filters for a car camping trip. This method is a cinch. Simply place the paper filter into the cone, add one heaping tablespoon of ground coffee per person (pre-grind your beans at home), position it over a cup or pot, and lastly add boiling water.

The red plastic cones are lightweight and cheap, but for backpacking trips when space is at a premium, try the GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip (shown on the left) made of silicone. It weighs in at 4.8 ounces.

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.com

 

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ULTRALIGHT: Instant Coffee

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.com

For backpacking I often keep it simple, meaning instant. And I don’t mean Folgers Crystals. Starbucks makes a variety of instant coffees called Via that will totally challenge your notion that “instant coffee sucks.” Via doesn’t suck. We even keep some around the house just in case we ever find ourselves out of beans. Although I would always opt for freshly-ground at home if given the choice, Starbucks Via is a fine substitute in the backcountry. Not only is it easy-peasy (just add boiling water, mix it right in your cup) and lightweight to pack in, there are no water-soaked coffee grounds to pack out.

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FAMILY STYLE: French Press

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.com

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.comMaking the morning coffee at camp for a crowd is always a little tricky, so I love this Thermos 34-Ounce Vacuum Insulated Stainless-Steel Gourmet Coffee Press.

French press makes the job of preparing a large batch of coffee a cinch, and this special vessel keeps it hot. And it is durable stainless steel, not glass–perfect for the rough and tumble of a lively campground.

If you aren’t familiar with using a french press, the main thing to know is that your coffee should be ground more coarsely than, say, drip coffee. I usually do one rounded spoon of ground coffee per cup.

You put the ground coffee in this thing, then fill it with boiling water and let it steep for exactly four minutes. Then, slowly press down the plunger, which has a very fine-mesh screen – this pushes all the coffee grounds down to the bottom. Serve it from the same vessel. See? Easy.

Clean-up tip: The only thing that isn’t so easy with french press is the clean-up; rinsing the grounds off the screen can be a pain at camp where there’s no running water and garbage disposal. Try dunking the plunger into a clean bowl of water and swishing it around to get the grounds off.

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CAMPING CLASSIC: The Percolator


Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.com

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.comWe used to “play camping” when I was a little kid in the 1970s, getting out all of our camping dishes and pots and chairs in the middle of winter. My favorite item was the old metal percolator. I loved assembling all of the parts and pretending to cook up coffee on our “campfire.”

If you’re looking for a dose of nostalgia in your morning cup of joe and don’t mind keeping an eye on the dome, try a percolator. One of these candy-hued enamel models from GSI will add a splash of retro to your morning picnic table.

To make the coffee, assemble the percolator and fill it with water to just below the basket insert. Then put the coffee grounds into the basket, about 1 heaping tablespoon of ground coffee per cup of water. Next, bring the percolator to a low boil. You can do this on a camp stove or over a campfire. You will know it is near a boil when you start to see liquid popping into the dome. From here, you want to lower the heat and just simmer for another 5-10 minutes. If you are using a campfire, move the percolator away from the direct flame so it can simmer instead of boil.

The trick to perfecting coffee in the percolator is to keep an eye on the translucent dome. If the coffee is too pale it won’t be strong enough, but if you let it go too long it gets dark, strong and very bitter. That’s because coffee in a percolator will continue to “percolate” through the grounds again and again until you stop the process.

Percolator coffee has a bit of a bad rap among coffee connoisseurs for being flavorless or charred, and of course the Northwest is a hotbed for coffee snobs. Again, the trick is to keep an eye on it, and your coffee will turn out just fine. So is anyone making camp coffee in the percolator here these days? Oh yes — for more see our reader responses below.

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EURO: The Moka Pot

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.com

Maybe you’re an Italophile, or perhaps you love things that are beautifully-designed, in which case I’ll bet you already have one of these beautiful little moka pots. My mid-century modernist self has had one of these on my covet list for years, but for some reason I’ve never taken the plunge and purchased one.

This is not a percolator. A moka pot operates in different way and the mechanism results in strong coffee that reminds me of espresso, but without the crema. These pots are often referred to as “stovetop espresso machines” though purists will argue that the result is not true espresso. Blah.

If it can go on a stove at home, it can go on your camp stove, and many campers love these because it means they can sip delicious espresso at sunrise in the backcountry. The pots feature a unique octagon shape first designed in Italy in 1933. To make coffee, you fill the lower chamber with water and the middle filter with ground coffee (a fine espresso grind is preferred). Then place the pot on the stove and heat it until the water boils. This begins a pressurizing process that forces the water up through the espresso and into the pot’s upper chamber, ready to be served.

Many popular manufactures of moka pots are still Italian brands, and you will pay a bit more for an imported one from Italy. Try the Alessi Moka Stovetop Espresso Maker or the Bialetti Moka Express Stovetop Espresso Maker (both make 3 cups).

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LOW FI: Cowboy Coffee

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.comThe first time I prepared cowboy coffee I was appropriately camped in a part of California that was notorious as a filming location for all those John Wayne cowboy flicks.  Out there on the wide-open range, cowboy coffee wasn’t half bad.

This preparation method is simple and requires no special equipment beyond what you’ll already have with you – a stove or fire, a pot, and some water. Boil the water in a pot then and add the ground coffee to the pot (the same ratio you would use for french press is fine – one rounded spoonful per cup of water). Remove the pot from the boil, give it stir, then let it all steep for about four minutes. The coffee grounds will have settled onto the bottom of the pot. Pour the coffee into cups, being careful not to disturb the settled grounds. The more careful you are, the fewer grounds you’ll be picking out of your teeth later. I’d recommend a course grind for the coffee, similar to french press. It the coffee is a drip grind it might have trouble settling.

Another option is to put the ground coffee into a vessel, such as a large jar or serving carafe  and then pour the boiling water on top of it. Give it a stir, let the grounds settle and the coffee will steep.

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WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:

How do You Make Your Coffee at Camp?

Six Great Ways to Make Coffee at Camp | nwtripfinder.com

Jill Jordan-Summers: “French press, but if in a bind instant coffee.”

Kim Sharpe Jones: “French press for car camping, Via instant for backpacking!”

Hannah Coffelt-Hollett: “Melitta Coffee Cone – grind my coffee before we leave the house – YUM!”

Susan White: “Any way I can! Usually boil water and use a plastic cup drip thing with #2 filter. One cup at a time. It’s wonderful that way.”

James DeVore: “We have a Coleman stovetop drip maker for our travel trailer.”

Susana Muñoz Meister: “We love our REI french press. Nothing like a cup of bold coffee sitting by the campfire.”

Angie Perry Wright: “French press. Easiest way ever!”

Craig Romano: “Just add hot water!”

Renae Meredith: “In the past I’ve taken my Italian Moka pot and used it on the camp stove. It worked great.”

Julie Smith: “Perk it over a campfire in a old-fashioned metal coffee pot. Best coffee ever.”

Jennifer Johnson: “I either use one of those old-fashioned percolators with the glass knob on top (did that this weekend) or if I’m in a hurry, I’ll use Via instant (that’s what goes backpacking).”

 

What about YOU? How do you make your coffee at camp?

photos of camping coffee via flickr creative commons. See the piping hot originals here:  bfowler, uncleweedvina.maemadame.furiefiederels, chiot’s runJABoycenebarnixmelonlemonlimelumachromeInspirationDCsmcgeeah_blakeSerenityRosechbrenchleyBrainsonic, AndrewYang, Kevin_Morris, deucer, dave_ewaldRishi SZhao ShourenDrBjorn, cafemamaZach BulickSynne TonidasThe Rocketeer, yoppy.

 

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer May 17, 2013 at 9:32 am

Great article! It’s cool to see how other folks do things. I might have to try out that cone thing. Sometimes the percolator can be a pain – like when it boils over. Or the time I lost the glass knob in the bottom of the trunk and didn’t have a backup method for making coffee. :)

Reply

Lauren Braden May 17, 2013 at 10:31 am

Jennifer I literally felt your pain at the thought of losing that percolator knob!

Cathy May 17, 2013 at 1:16 pm

When we travel (We sleep in our Honda Element) we mostly get coffee at coffee shops but it would be handy to be able to make coffee without boiling water and have a cold coffee with milk and ice. Does anyone have an idea on an easy way to do this? We’re going on a 12 week road trip in the fall and this would be useful information or us. We like to camp and eat simply while on the road.

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Bikejuju May 17, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Cold press! Make cold press concentrate in advance, just add hot water to dilute to desired strength. Tasty, smooth, easy.

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Stephanie - The Travel Chica May 28, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I didn’t realize there were this many options. Personally, I prefer the French Press or Moka Pot.

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Caanan @ No Vacation Required June 8, 2013 at 3:35 am

We don’t go anywhere without packing some via. This is a lifesaver (okay, that could be a bit dramatic) on the road and especially in the back country.

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Emily March 25, 2014 at 2:37 pm

We use the Instant Coffee. No mess, no hassle, easy to pack in and out and you can boil a lot of water for multiple purposes and just use some of it for your cup o joe.

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Tom F August 18, 2014 at 2:36 pm

We pre-make or pre-buy cold brew and keep it in the cooler. Add ice or hot water, depending on the day/weather and you get delicious, instant coffee.

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Amy August 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Our family recently did our first backpacking trip. I knew I’d need my coffee to remain a happy camper, so I measured Medaglia D’oro instant espresso and non-dairy creamer into a snack baggie and packed that with a paper cup. Boiled some water with the camp stove then mixed it with the espresso. When we camp in our trailer, where I use a French press and real soy creamer.

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Chuck Ludwig January 20, 2015 at 4:23 pm

In our hunting and fishing camps we simply boil up water in a pot. Put in the coffee, let it boil for a few minutes and then let it sit for a few more. Ladle in some cold water to send the grounds to the bottom of the pot. Or if you don’t want to cool off the brew and the pot has a handle, swing it with your good arm in a 360 degree spiral several times from your knees to over your head and the centrifugal force will take the grounds to the bottom of the pot. Guests are highly entertained. Make sure the pot has a good handle and an equally good operator. Then pour into cups. Serve it up with some pan fried lake trout cheeks. Then off ya go.

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masprema January 26, 2015 at 12:42 pm

I use an AeroPress. Cleans with little water, great coffee, can get a metal filter so there is no dealing with used paper filters. Have also used the Vietnamese phin. Loved the coffee, hated the water used to clean up.

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Teddykoz August 1, 2015 at 5:32 am

Love the old percolator…however I want Coleman’s drip system…

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Henry August 19, 2015 at 4:35 pm

I used to make a teabag out of coffee filters until one day when I ran out and forgot to buy more. The coffee had to go commando or I would not get any. So I tried it cowboy style in a cup. Best damn coffee i ever had even if it was folgers. I couldn’t believe how much taste gets trapped in the paper and WASTED!.

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silvergirl January 20, 2016 at 1:31 pm

While not exactly camping, it was camping for all practical purposes. At Burning Man this last year, I agonized over coffee preparation. I ended up bringing an old camp percolator for volume mornings with the camp, and used an Aeropress with the paper filters (easier to clean than the metal filter, and we had no running water). Only downside, had to bring out all the grounds with us (carry in-carry out). Aeropress far superior to the percolator, which was too bad, as it was in the 30’s every morning, and hard to coordinate before caffeination. I also brought freeze dried cream (we had no refrigerator) which I ordered as a treat from a cooking supply store. Yum.
Next year…will bring the Via, only because I can’t coordinate the process without the caffeine. Thanks for the article!!

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Brian Siebert April 28, 2016 at 5:28 am

Hi Lauren,
Great article. Thanks for sharing. I have used the Melitta Pour-Over cones, for years, and loved them. However, since I found the Press-Bot Coffee Press, I have fallen in love. The Press-Bot is the only Coffee Press that Brews in a Nalgene Bottle. Super cool. You can find the Press-Bot at http://canyoncoffee.us/
Happy Hiking,
guidebrian

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Misty R July 18, 2016 at 5:54 am

I was just talking to a friend about how amazing camping coffee is. We have a percolator which my husband prepares at zero dark thirty every camping trip. I loved the French press idea…I was surprised there is one with a steel carafe. Thanks for the great article

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Stephen Bivens July 30, 2016 at 3:23 pm

My wife, Caryn, and I go antiquing quite often. Just recently I purchased a nice Orange with black specks Percolator. It needed some TLC, but it had all the original parts. After some cleaning with apple cider vinegar and some boiling water my “new” Percolator is ready to make coffee. We love the nostalgia of it all.

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