Coffee is a great way to wake up at a campsite or fill in the time spent pleasantly between hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Hopefully, you already know how to make cowboy coffee right on the campfire. Many campers have found inventive ways to get that hot cup of joe that goes so well with meals at the campsite. Depending on personal taste, there are many types of coffee and methods of brewing it that produce a bolder, stronger taste or a lighter, gentler aromatic experience.
More than just an energy boost, camp coffee is a great way for backpackers and campers to sit back and enjoy the nature surrounding them. Ultralight packers may not want to carry around all the various accouterments required for brew methods like a french press or AeroPress coffee, but even they are likely to add a small sachet of instant coffee to their rucksack to enjoy out in the backcountry.
For longer camping trips and large groups at big campsites, brew methods that can produce more than one cup of coffee at a time are definitely required. A french press is too delicate and slows a brew method and most percolators are not quite large enough to produce a single batch of coffee large enough. Large groups of campers will probably want to either make a huge amount of cowboy coffee in a big pot or invest in special equipment like a huge Moka pot. Coffee drinkers know that the right roast jumps out at you at the first sip and there’s no reason not to expect that same quality in a cup of coffee at a campsite just the same as you might from a barista at the local cafe… especially when you are using a great camping coffee maker!
Coffee drinkers who are picky about how their coffee tastes can rest assured that there is a coffee bean out there that has exactly the right combination of body, aroma, and flavor that will put them at ease on a bright morning or calm afternoon at the campsite. There are many heat sources beyond the standard campfire for more involved campers who have a camping stove at their campsite.
Passing around the coffee pot or french press or standing around chatting over cups of coffee around a dripper will add a social and communal atmosphere to the entire campsite and give campers the opportunity to take it easy and really consider living in the moment. It’s more than just a side dish at breakfast; camp coffee is a soothing ritual that will bring you closer to your fellow campers and give you time to reflect on the natural world.
There’s more to consider than just the coffee beans if you want to know how to make coffee while camping. Read on for our full rundown on a backcountry cup of joe, from cowboy coffee to campfire espressos.
Picking the right coffee beans for your campsite
Coffee beans come from one of several origin regions around the world and which one can determine the quality, flavor, and effect the coffee bean has on the drinker. From Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans to Sumatra from Indonesia, the variety of coffee beans available in the world can be a little overwhelming.
It could have you heading for Folgers or instant coffee crystals. We think the more you know about the different types and flavors of coffee, the better prepared and less overwhelmed you’ll be when it comes time to make a decision about which one is coming to the campsite with you.
Since we can’t categorically list every single coffee bean in the world, we have to settle with telling you about all the general styles of coffee beans you’re likely to see. There are four of them: arabica, robusta, liberica, and excelsa.
They differ in how delicate they are compared with one another, what their flavor and aroma are, and how common they are in the world. Arabica is the most delicate and the most common. It has a bright flavor, low acidity, and a full body. Arabica coffee beans have a great flavor unless you serve it cold.
Robusta, as the name implies, is quite robust and has about twice the caffeine as Arabica beans. For campers who need a ton of energy in the morning, robusta coffee beans could be ideal. Robusta is smooth and has almost a chocolate flavor on the higher-quality end of the spectrum. These coffee beans are strong enough to maintain their flavor even when other flavoring agents are added, so coffee drinkers who enjoy milk, sugar, or more complicated coffee-based drinks should try out a robusta coffee bean.
Liberica coffee beans are fairly rare in the coffee market today because of trends in the market and economic specificities. If you can find them, they have a floral and fruity taste that’s almost smoky, and the coffee beans themselves have an irregular shape. Excelsa is also much rarer but it has a tart taste and is a much darker roast than the other three kinds. If you can manage to find it, Excelsa is a great morning wake-up coffee.
Methods to brew coffee at a campsite
There are many ways to brew coffee that some campers prefer or swear by based on the resulting flavor and the ease of packing the necessary materials to bring to the campsite. The most portable method is a sachet of instant coffee, of course, but there is a range of more involved methods like a percolator, French press, or pour-over.
Some are simply far more practicable at a campsite, some are better suited for large groups of campers, and others are just straightforward and require no additional equipment. Campers might use one method at one campsite and switch it up the next time, or they may swear by one of these brew methods and never stray. We recommend you start out with the simplest method, which is by far cowboy coffee, and then try the other brew methods to see which produces the cup of joe you want in a practicable manner.
French press for camp coffee
A french press is a really simple device to use. Like almost all of these brew methods, you’ll need to boil some water. If at all possible, you should wash the french press in warm water to get the material of the french press conditioned to the boiling water that’s about to be poured inside it to brew the coffee. Remove the lid of the french press and pour the dry coffee grounds inside.
Dump boiling water in and replace the lid but don’t sink the plunger just yet! Let the coffee brew for a few minutes, perhaps up to five. When it’s steeped for a good amount of time, sink the plunger. The plunger has a screen that filters the coffee and pushes the coffee grounds down to the bottom of the french press so they don’t wind up in your coffee mug. Pour the coffee into a mug and add whatever you want and that’s the simple process of brewing coffee with a french press.
Many people obviously don’t carry a class and stainless steel french press with them to their campsites because it’s simply too fragile to put in a large rucksack. For that reason, many manufacturers are developing backpacking and camping-specific french press-esque devices like plunger attachments that turn any container of appropriate size into a french press.
Add hot water to coffee grounds and use a plunger attachment and the whole process is essentially the same. Using one of these french press plunger attachments on cowboy coffee can give you a zero-grounds coffee at the campsite without much more additional equipment than the french press plunger itself.
Pour over camp coffee
This isn’t a huge leap from the french press method except the coffee grounds are placed in a paper filter and the hot water is poured over them. The hot water filters through to brew coffee and then seeps out the bottom to make a hot cup of joe. Alternate pour-over methods can be accomplished with cheesecloth.
The ground coffee beans and hot water can be mixed together and then poured through cheesecloth to filter them, or the grounds can sit on cheesecloth that will work the same way as a paper filter when it’s poured over. Camp coffee made using the pour-over method are usually single-serve mugs of coffee for one or just a few campers. The paper filter will not be big enough to make enough camp coffee for large groups, but a DIY method with a big piece of cheesecloth could potentially get that job done.
Using a percolator to make camp coffee
A percolator is probably the easiest method for brewing camp coffee for large groups provided the percolator is large enough for the task. A percolator has a few main parts, which are the basket, stem, basket lid, and the coffee pot itself and the lid to the coffee pot. It’s really easy to use. While some campers might think a percolator and a Moka pot are the same, they do have slight differences. If what you have is a classic percolator, then here are the steps to use it:
1. Get your heat going until you have a large bed of hot coals in the campfire.
2. Take the coffee percolator and have cold water standing by. The percolator should have its own measurements, you know, up to what level you can fill it with water. About 6 oz of water should be enough for one cup of coffee.
3. Get your coffee now. This should be about 2 tablespoonfuls of ground coffee per cup of water. Thus, if you have measured 6 cups of water, that should be 12 teaspoonfuls of coffee. Place the coffee in the basket and then cover it tightly with its lid.
4. Place the basket on the stem, tighten the lid and then place the coffee basket inside the pot with the water. Gently place it on the hot coals and as you wait for it to boil, you can prepare the cream, sweetener, and the milk.
5. Once it starts boiling, get your coffee out of the fire. It is ready. You should not let it boil over. Your coffee is ready to serve and drink, piping hot and delicious. Now, that is how to use a percolator without the many important once filters and speaking together.
Setting the temperature to brew camp coffee
Some campers swear that you don’t have to get the water as hot as a standard percolator or stove would get it. The brew temperature has some differences and it can improve as the temperature is worked out. For campers who drink coffee, choosing the heat source is mainly just about what’s available at a particular website and not the result of things beyond their control. Making a cold brew will require higher temperatures in the brewing process, for example. Using a stovetop espresso maker like a Moka pot will reduce the amount of necessary heat.
How to use an AeroPress to make coffee
The AeroPress is a relatively new method of brewing campsite coffee but it’s very similar to the processes we have already covered. It’s for single-person servings of coffee in a single mug so don’t expect to be able to satiate the caffeine needs of large groups. That being said, for ultralight backpackers and campers by themselves in the backcountry, the AeroPress is essential knowledge.
All you need to do is boil the water, then soak some coffee grounds just enough for their aroma to begin escaping. After those grounds have sat around for a minute or two, add the rest of the boiling water and then stir twenty times. Add the plunger and press down until the water is forced through the filter.
The AeroPress is really helpful but in the end perhaps not worthwhile to campers to don’t have that much gear to carry. Coffee drinkers will appreciate having the option, and in our opinion, the AeroPress works out better than an old-fashioned percolator. If it isn’t being brewed for a large group, the AeroPress is a great way to make a single-use cup of joe.
No camping trip is complete without a coffee maker and a pitch-black cup of joe to wake up in the morning or to enjoy a calming afternoon chill session. Almost all camping coffee makers are easy to clean up and easy to operate, even french press coffee and the AeroPress will put out stupendous camping coffee and clean out in no more than a few minutes. Some campers have taken to bringing a coffee grinder with them, but you can almost always grind the beans have them before you go out to the campsite to save some weight in your rucksack.
Good coffee is really easy to make if you have an RV or you are car camping and can bring along a camp stove and maybe even some coffee bags. Every brewing method is very similar once the water boils, no more difficult in a coffee shop than it is with a coffee press at some snow peak or deep in a forest. Whether you’re making a single cup or a carafe, camp coffee should be robust enough to match the natural surroundings.
Backpackers often lament that they have given up some comfort or other if they are on a long thru-hike or haven’t been out of the backcountry in a while, but the methods of making coffee while camping ensure that a hot cup of joe is not going to be one of those impossible things for campers anytime soon.
There are plenty of DIY tweaks to the processes we’ve discussed in this guide, such as a sock method that works the same way it would if you were making cowboy coffee. Essentially a clean sock is used as a coffee filter to brew a cup of joe without the coffee grounds winding up in the coffee mug in the end.
You’ll be the star of the campsite at least through breakfast if you can brew camp coffee and know how to keep the flavor in and the coffee grounds out. The comforting warmth and even the bitterness common to most blends of coffee are usually dependable mainstays for coffee drinkers who look to the energizing beverage to perk them up before facing a long day. There’s a lot of small, specific details but now that you’ve finished our guide you know the basics of how to make coffee while camping.
Bonus tip: How does the AeroPress actually work? Watch this short video to see just how!