Adventure and coffee have a long history, and that wild duo has helped shape the world we live in. Immediately after coffee hit the scene in the 15th century, it began making its way around the world. Explorers made grand voyages and spread it to Africa, Europe, and eventually, the Americas. A sack of coffee was quickly included on every adventure’s supply list. By the 18th century, coffee had become a catalyst for change worldwide, even sparking one of the greatest adventures of all time — the American Revolution! This powerful duo didn’t stop there, and coffee continues to fuel great adventures all over the map today.
In 1804, Lewis and Clark set out to map a travel route to the Pacific Ocean, but they didn’t dare try it without coffee. Their supply log on day 1 read, “50 pounds of coffee”. Not surprisingly, as the expeditions rations ran out, so did their morale. Their intentions were in the right place.
In 1869, John Wesley Powell set out to map the Colorado and Green Rivers in the American Southwest. At one point, as their expedition was creeping nearer to an end, Powell’s journal read:
”The party’s food situation is becoming desperate. The bacon is spoiled, the flour is musty, and only a few dried apples remain. On a higher note, there is still plenty of coffee.”
The Powell expedition appeared to have learned a lesson from their predecessors in the Northwest; when going on adventure, bring extra coffee!
These early adventurers were raw. They braved the elements, charted new paths, and most heroically, drank awful coffee. But drank it, nonetheless! We’ve evolved since then, and reached a point where we can cultivate killer coffee … and we can do it in many ways. From minimalist cowboy coffee to the splendors of french press java, this guide will prepare you for your next coffee-fueled adventure.
Included are a spectrum of brew options from basic, minimalist approaches to more sophisticated methods. Each approach contains its own set of pros and cons, and it’s up to the brewer to decide which method, and the necessary equipment, is best suited for their taste, pack space, and adventure needs.
1. Cowboy Coffee
The epitome of minimalist. Coffee, water, fire. I’ve used this method in the backcountry and have produced some decent cups of coffee. This is how many early adventurers did it.
- Walking in the footsteps of early adventurers
- Not easy to get high-quality taste
- Grinds can be swallowed
- More difficult cleanup
Materials: Coffee (fresh ground), fire, water, mug
- Heat water on flame
- Add desired amount of pre-ground coffee to the pot once the water gets warm
- Allow water to reach a boil and let boil with grinds for 2-3 minutes
- Remove, let sit 1 minute and drink!
- Pro-tip: Add a couple splashes of cold water to settle the grinds to the bottom
2. Tea Filters
If you prefer to avoid swallowing a few coffee grinds, you may enjoy this more than Cowboy Coffee. This method is great for backpacking.
- Prevents grinds in coffee
- Easy cleanup
- Sacrificing taste
- Single use per filter
Materials: Coffee (fresh ground), fire, water, mug, tea filters
- Boil water
- Fill empty tea filter bags with pre-ground coffee
- Once water reaches boil, let sit for 1 minute then drop closed bag into water
- Steep longer for stronger coffee
3. Pour Over
This will produce better tasting coffee, and although basic, it does require more materials than the previous two. I use this technique for car camping and weekend picnics because it requires a little more material and setup.
- Better taste
- Decreased bitterness
- Will draw out most flavor from the beans
- The brew process can be enjoyable
- Can brew multiple cups at a time
- Heavier setup
- Requires additional time and effort
Materials: Coffee, fire, water, brew basket (reusable filter), pot, mug
- Heat water on flame
- While water is heating, set up your brew basket (reusable filter) in your mug with pre-gound coffee in it
- Once water boils, remove from flame, let sit for 1 minute
- Pour into brew basket slowly
- Allow basket to sit in water as long as desired for preferred taste
- Pull basket and drink!
4. Immersion Brewing
Perhaps the best tasting, this method usually requires some equipment like an AeroPress or shatterproof french press. I have an AeroPress and I use it regularly for camping or when I’m on the road in my van. It’s a very versatile setup, and also light enough that it’s not much of a burden on a short backcountry trip. French presses are a bit bulkier, but great for car camping when multiple cups are needed at once. NEMO team camping trips are always fueled by a few large french presses that are on a constant rotation of delicious, freshly ground, french roast beans.
- Best tasting
- Strong coffee
- Aeropress can be used to make espresso
- AeroPress is indestructible
- Some french presses are heavy
- More time consuming than previous methods
- Can be difficult. Grind size and brew temp matter in results
- Takes practice to perfect
- AeroPress is a single cup serving
Materials: Coffee (whole bean), fire, water, Aeropress kit (multiple pieces), manual grinder (I use the Java Presse), pot, mug
- Heat water on flame
- Setup Aeropress on top of mug
- Manually grind one scoop of coffee to medium-fine and put grinds into Aeropress
- Pour hot water over grinds slowly and stir the slurry for 10 seconds
- Let it sit for 90 seconds, then stir again
- Add plunger and plunge slowly until it hisses
5. Camping Percolator
For a group brew, the percolator still reigns supreme. Plus, it looks pretty cool sitting on the bonfire remnants from the night before.
- Best for groups
- Can be heated on a fire
- Takes longer to brew
- Not as tasty as pour over or french press
Materials: Coffee (fresh ground), fire, water, camp percolator(multiple pieces), mug
- Fill with desired amount of water
- Add desired amount of coffee to the basket
- Pack coffee down and add basket lid
- Add basket to the percolator once water begins to boil and place percolator lid
- Let sit 5-8 minutes on medium flame
Tips & Benefits
- Pack it in, pack it out: No matter the adventure, take home whatever you brought, even the grinds.
- Avoid single use plastics: No plastic creamers, stirrers or filters.
- Use organic and fair trade coffee grinds: Coffee is one of the most heavily chemically treated foods.
- An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of perspiration: Do your prep work before you leave home, double check your packing list, and you’ll be ready to brew at a moments notice.
- Bulletproof coffee: Add a heaping tablespoon of coconut oil for all day energy and great taste!
The Benefits of Coffee
- Reduced exercise related muscle pain
- Promotion of fat burning for energy
- Increased athletic performance
- Decreased perception of difficulty of activity
- It just tastes so darn good
- Improved mood and strengthens social bonds
- Facilitates adventure!
My best outdoor adventures have always come after a cup or two of hot, black, caffeinated coffee. I don’t always need a high-quality cup — a cowboy coffee or coffee-filled tea filter steeped cup does the trick. Those methods fit firmly within the context of my minimalist adventures. A well-brewed pour over or french press cup is a beautiful luxury and one that I reserve for more social adventures and car camping trips. Whichever method you choose, just remember … a morning brew is a great outdoor tradition, and one we can enjoy in many ways. Whether you’re a gram counting minimalist or a coffee connoisseur, there’s a backcountry brew method that will provide you with a tasty morning cup and get your adventure off on the right foot.
J.J. Brooks is an outdoor adventure enthusiast from New England who dreams about the cup he’s going to brew the next morning.