It’s cowboy style, and it can be adventurous…
Image courtesy arizonametalart.com
If you’re camping, or just find yourself without your coffee-making apparatus of choice, you might wonder how you’re supposed to get started in the morning. Maybe there’s no electrical outlet for your Keurig, your decade-old drip coffee maker just breathed its last, you’ve dropped and shattered your fourth French press, or you’ve run out of filters for your trusty pour-over. Despair not (really; cut that out). Learn how to make Cowboy Coffee and you’ll never have to do without your morning java again. Here, sans cowboy puns and horsing around (well, aside from that bit) is our guide to making cowboy coffee.
Start, as always, with your beans. I’m going to suggest going with a light or medium roast, since they will be a bit more forgiving if you err on the side of over-extraction (a dark roast can be pushing your luck). The other key, as with any other brewing method, is the grind. A coarse grind like you’d use for espresso (try our Ground Coffee Packs, which won’t take up too much room in your backpack) is preferable for optimal extraction; more on that in a bit.
Next, figure out your pot. If you’re camping, you’ll want something that’s compact (the less space it takes up in your kit, the better), serves multiple purposes, and is suited to your heat source. If you’re cooking over a portable gas range, nearly anything will do, but if you’re cooking over a campfire, you’ll want to make sure your pot can handle an open flame. Your nearby camping store (or one with an online presence, like REI, Campmor, or Eastern Mountain Sports) will have plenty of options.
Now, measure out your coffee and water. If you want to get fancy, you could measure out 1.5 to 2 grams of coffee per ounce of water.* Since we’re roughing it, however, let’s throw caution to the wind. Use two heaping teaspoons of coarse ground coffee per eight ounces of water (if you have a coffee scoop, that’s two tablespoons). Next, bring your water to a near boil. Remove from the flame, add the coffee grounds, stir, and cover.
You can, if you’d like, stir every minute or so ’til the grounds start to settle. Many recipes call for bringing the whole mess — water and grounds — to a boil, but that’s abusing perfectly good coffee; it’ll be overextracted, burnt, and bitter. Some recipes also call for the use of clean, crushed eggshells (one eggshell per pint of coffee) to help the grounds settle; others will suggest throwing a handful of cold water in to stop the brewing process and settle the grounds. In practice, neither one makes much difference. You’re going to have grounds in your coffee.** Bear in mind also that the grounds will still be steeping in the water, so leave plenty of room for cream (if you’re using it) if you decide to go back for seconds.
*Just borrow measuring spoons from a passing elk. Not bears, though. Bears are cranky, and they’re terrible at the metric system.
**A small, fine wire mesh strainer will help in keeping stray grounds out of your cup if you have your limits when it comes to roughing it.