Camping can be hard enough without the proper morning caffeination. For some, it can be down-right dangerous. Fortunately, making coffee in the back-country isn't difficult, and in fact, can be better than the cup you brew at home. Let's forget for a moment that you can simply pour a packet of Starbuck's Via into a cup of boiling water and have a decent cup of coffee. What's the fun in that? Here are some quick and easy techniques for making coffee the camper's way.
Wrapping the bottom of the pot with tin foil makes cleaning easier — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
In backpacking and camping, weight is always a consideration. Kudos if you lug your favorite espresso maker and a generator into the wilderness. But for lightweight, nothing is simpler than boiling water in your titanium mug, then throwing in a handful of coffee grounds to taste. If you want to get fancy, boil your coffee in a pot, then pour into your mug through a coffee filter. Coffee filter weigh too much? Work out more, or simply use the pot lid to carefully filter out the grounds without burning yourself and spilling your precious coffee all over.
Real mountain men and caffeine addicts chew on the coffee grounds left at the bottom of the cup. If you don't like sucking coffee grounds out of your teeth, measure two or three tablespoons of coffee into a coffee filter, tie the filter into a little sack and use it like a tea bag. I like to use dental floss, because it's stronger than string, and I can floss afterward. You can also add a splash of cold water before drinking, and that should break the surface tension and help the grounds to sink.
There's no real recipe for campfire coffee, but start with boiling about four cups of water, then adding a palm of grounds. You can let boil for about four minutes, and then judge the color to your taste. If you need cream and sugar, a film canister or similar container makes excellent storage for powdered products.
French presses make a restaurant-quality cup of coffee in the wilderness — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
Our ancestors used to use a percolating coffee pot in their cave homes all the time. This primitive technology was not only fool-proof, it produced really good coffee. You can still find these antiques new in camping stores. The downside is that they tend to be heavy, especially if they're made out of stainless steel and not aluminum, which I try to avoid as I worry about the health of what's left of my brain.
The upside is you can make a lot of good coffee, and you can use the pot to store other cooking items. The percolator's cousin, the French Press, is a darling of the yuppie camping crowd. It's basically using the above Mountain Man Method, in which you throw coffee grounds into the pot, pour in hot water, let steep, then press the grounds with the plunger to filter the coffee.
Small camping espresso makers pack a punch in a small space, but only make one cup at a time — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
Also sold in camping stores are small espresso devices. Pack in your coffee grounds, fill up the water reservoir, screw it all down tight and place on a cook stove. The water percolates through the grounds and drips out of the curved tube into your cup, producing high-octane Java one cup at a time. It takes a lot of ground for one cup, but it packs a punch, and is small, light and boils water quickly.
Your local outdoor store probably stocks many types of devices, such as this coffee grinder — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
Whatever method you use, even Via, remember to use filtered water, even though you're going to boil it. Pack out trash like a good camper, and don't leave any food stuff near your tent where animals can help themselves. Bears are enough trouble without a caffeine buzz.