How to Brew Cowboy Coffee

A campfire staple that'll get you ready to explore the great outdoors.

The woods are quiet, save for some chirping birds. The lake is shimmering with the rising sun. The moss underfoot is wet with dew. And you're stumbling out of your tent, bleary-eyed and caffeine-deprived.

If you're gonna tackle the great outdoors for another day of camping, you need coffee. Cowboy coffee.

What It Is

Coffee that you brew over a campfire with limited supplies.

It's ideal for when you're camping, since the only supplies you need are things you probably already packed. It doesn't have the elegance or finely-tuned flavor of a good French pressed or pour-over cup, but it works well in a pinch.

How to Brew It

You're going to need:

  • Coffee grounds

  • Clean water

  • A campfire

  • A coffee pot

  • A mug

Don't have a coffee pot? Not a problem. You can use just about anything – a sauce pan, another mug, a tin can... hell, you can even boil water in a paper cup. So long as you can figure out a way to get the vessel on and off the fire without burning yourself, you'll be good.

Once you've got your campfire roaring and your supplies at hand, just:

  1. Decide how much coffee you want, and pour that much water into your pot. Put the pot over your fire until it comes to a boil.

  2. Take the water off of the fire and let it cool for about 30 seconds.

  3. Pour in two tablespoons of coffee grounds per 8oz of water, then stir.

  4. Let the coffee steep for 4-5 minutes, stirring at the halfway point.

  5. Add a splash of cold water, which will help settle the grounds, then pour very slowly so as to not kick the grounds back up into the coffee.

And there you go: fresh, fully-flavored campfire coffee with no fancy equipment necessary.

The Finer Points

Heat the Water, Then Add the Grounds

Some people say to add the coffee and water at once, then bring that to a boil. But as this camping blog points out, that gives the grounds too much time in contact with the water, over-extracting them and leaving you with bitter coffee. Adding the grounds only after the water has come off the fire and started to cool will give you a smoother flavor.

Patience Is All You Need

Yeah, you could swing your pot like a windmill, brew with eggshells, filter your coffee through a sock, or use any number of other "tricks" to help settle the grounds once you're ready to pour. But all you really need is five minute's worth of patience to let the grounds sink to the bottom of the vessel. And when you're tucked away in the scenic wilderness, sitting and enjoying the surroundings for a couple minutes is easy.

Pour It All

This is the same school of thought as heating your water before adding the grounds. If you brew a large pot, drink half, and come back for more a half hour later, the coffee will have seriously over-extracted, leaving you with a bitter and harsh-tasting second cup. Only brew as much as you're planning to drink right away, or pour your entire pot into a different vessel to avoid the excess sitting on the grounds for an extended period of time.

After a cup or three, you'll be wide awake and ready to enjoy another day conquering the wilds of wherever you are.

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