If you’re like me, it doesn’t matter where you’re starting your morning, it doesn’t start until your first cup of coffee. When you’re at home there are a million delicious ways to draw a cup rich with flavor. However, on the trail, it’s not always so easy.
Deciding how you want to brew in the backcountry is a big decision for any coffee drinker. However, the good thing is that modern technologies are making it easier and easier to make delicious coffee on the trail.
Today we’ll cover three of our personal favorites. We’ll explore what makes a really great cup of coffee and why these three methods really hit the spot. However, it’s not just about what makes the best coffee, it’s also about what works best when you’re camping. After all, if I could take my espresso machine camping, I probably would.
The percolator kettle is the least portable method of brewing we’ll cover today. If you’re going backpacking, you’ve got to be pretty committed to pack your percolator. But trust me, both myself and my friends have done it. It’s worth it. Most percolators are reasonably small and composed of three metal pieces. No filters mean it reduces waste, and most models are really easy to clean.
What I like best about a percolator kettle is the flavor of the coffee it produces. When you learn how to use a percolator kettle just right, it tastes as good as espresso.
That’s because there’s no paper involved and it is technically a steam extraction. Although the steam isn’t pushed through the coffee grounds at quite the same pressure as an espresso, it still does a pretty good job.
A percolator kettle works by packing your grounds into a chamber above the water, which is in the bottom compartment. Then, as it begins to boil, steam is forced up, through the coffee beans and into the top chamber where your fresh coffee collects.
Because there is no paper filter involved, all the oils extracted from the coffee beans make it into your cup. That’s one of the biggest differences between a good Americano and a normal cup of drip. Paper filters grab a lot of the oils that are essential to full flavor.
Percolator kettles may not be the ideal backpacking coffee maker. However, they are the top of their class when it comes to car camping and group camping. As a rock climber, my percolator is invaluable. Me and my buddies are usually camped in and around our cars somewhere in the backcountry. Whoever wakes up first gets the big percolator pot packed and by the time we’re up, there’s strong, and deliciously dark coffee ready for everyone.
AeroPress was designed specifically for the espresso addict who lives out of their pack more than the parking lot. It’s a compact, and completely ingenious way to take near espresso quality coffee on the trail with you. In fact, the primary complaint I hear about AeroPress isn’t about its design, convenience, or longevity. Usually, people complain that it makes your coffee too strong! In my book though, there’s really no such thing.
The way an AeroPress works is by combining steeping (like cowboy coffee) with a pressure extraction similar to espresso. There are a lot of variables that go into brewing the perfect AeroPress brew. Water temperature, brew time, coffee grind, and wetting your filter in advance all play a part. You can get special, non-paper filters which will greatly enhance the quality of your brew as well. Remember how paper filters out the oils essential to the best espresso flavors?
Anyways, you pour your hot water into the tube on top of the coffee grounds. Stir it gently and let it sit for around fifty seconds. You’ll have to decide how long you like.
Then, having assembled the filter on top of the tube, you flip it and plunge it into your cup. Don’t plunge too quickly. The best method takes up to thirty seconds to plunge. And don’t squeeze the grinds at the bottom if you want the best flavor. If you just want the most drugs, well, plunge away.
My favorite part of the AeroPress is the cleanup. Unscrew the cap, grab your (reusable) filter and then you have a small puck of organic waste to dump. A quick splash of water and it’s ready to pack away. You should clean your AeroPress thoroughly from time to time, but when camping, it’s one of the easiest cleanups in the coffee game.
Cowboy coffee is great because it requires no extra utensils, equipment or expertise. Just your cookpot and ground coffee. Some people call it Turkish Coffee and brew it in a special pot called an ibrik. However, the main feature that sets an ibrik apart is just its shape. The tapered sides make it easier to pour off the liquid while keeping the grounds in the pot.
So, as you may already know, or might have guessed, cowboy coffee is made by just dropping your coffee grounds straight into your pot and boiling. It can produce really delicious coffee because there are no filters to remove any part of the flavor. However, you also don’t have as much control over the water temperature and brew time which are both essential to getting what many consider to be the ideal flavor. For that reason, cowboy coffee can often taste sharper than espresso.
The obvious bonuses to this method are how easy and customizable it is. Brew it in any cook pot with any amount of water, to whatever strength you desire. When it’s done boiling, let it settle for a few minutes so all the grounds sink to the bottom.
Then, pour carefully and slowly so most of them remain in the pot. Before you drink your cup, let it rest a moment too. That way any grounds that made it into your cup settle on the bottom where they belong. Just don’t drink the last sip or two.
This is a popular method all over the world from Latin America to Eastern Europe. It’s both the most basic way to brew coffee and the most adaptable. It’s a great method for backpacking because you don’t have to bring extra supplies. However, sometimes it’s nice to not have to use your only cook pot for coffee in the mornings. After all, maybe you wanted to make oatmeal as well.
The best camp coffee
Obviously, just like everything else in this world, the perfect coffee is a point of preference. If you’re an espresso drinker, you’ll probably prefer the percolator or possibly the portable AeroPress. If you’re used to it, cowboy coffee will offer you a flavor that other methods simply can’t. No matter how you like your coffee to taste, it’s all good, and it’s up to you.
If you haven’t tried any or all of these three methods, though, you definitely should. Not only do they all brew exquisite and unique flavors of coffee, but they are also some of the most portable ways to make great coffee camping. Try them each out and decide what works best for you. Hopefully your summer season will be filled with exploration, adventure, and excellent coffee.
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