Celebrated “Twin Peaks” director David Lynch once said, "Even a bad cup of coffee is better than no coffee at all." No truer words have been spoken for those who have the habit, especially many of us who rely on liquid jumper cables before we hike, bike or even think about starting our day. After all, the best part of waking up is coffee.
The idiosyncrasies of crafting the perfect cup of outdoor joe have evolved side-by-side with the skills of the most skilled baristas, while at the same time, car camping has made it easy to mirror your method of home brew.
Cowboy coffee is probably the most authentic (and the easiest) way to channel your inner John Muir, but sip with a toothpick because you're likely to end up with a grill full of grounds. These days, percolators, Moka pots and pour overs are more commonly used by the glamping set; in fact, Steve Paul of Campfire Adventure Coffee swears by his Chemex to fully realize the potential of his bloom, but chooses Moka on the go.
When surveying your brewing options, it really boils down to your personal preference but say the words "self-contained coffee kit" and the game changes entirely.
Here we present a few options and some advice from three roasters for making quality coffee in the backcountry, on a moto trip, snowshoeing or just about anywhere you need to have a solid shot of high octane bean juice.
"Before I hit the road, I always pack a bag of our Dogspeed Blend, one of our trusty Rise 'N Grind Camp Grinders, my Kalita dripper, and my FTC enamel camp mug," says David Weise of Austin, TX’s Flat Track Coffee.
"When I'm ready to brew, I'll grind roughly 24 grams of coffee (approx. 4 tbsp) and boil 9/10 oz of water,” he explains. “While waiting for the water to drop down to a temperature just below boiling, rinse the Kalita filter then place it in the dripper and add the grinds. Next, I'll pour 1 oz of water over the grinds, followed by a 30 second break. Over the next 60 seconds, I will slowly and evenly pour the rest of the water over the coffee. Once it finishes dripping, I'm set to kick back and enjoy a solid cup of joe."
The pour over method is perfect for solo missions or when you really want to zen out with your coffee process, but it does require some patience and the correct kit. Start with a packable lightweight kettle or a high-efficiency way to bring water to a boil.
Add a couple tablespoons of fine-to-medium, hand-ground beans to your preferred pour over method with some hot water and let it percolate into the mug below. Nerdy coffee types like to let the coffee bloom, a process that begins once 50 to 80 grams of hot water touches the beans. Give it a minute to fully release the CO2 gasses and oils from the roasting process before you add the remaining water.
GSI makes great lightweight kettles as well as Snow Peak, who also shrunk the design of their Pack & Carry Fireplace to create a bulletproof collapsible coffee drip. Just remember to add a filter. Roasters like Los Angeles-based Latigo and Santa Cruz’sVerve also recognized a need to make disposable pour over systems for a less messy, weight-saving option.
Invented by the genius who created the camp favorite Aerobie Frisbee, the Aeropress is equal parts French press, pour over and pneumatic press. They have a cult-like following and anyone who uses one will preach the gospel of their portability and ease of use.
For a clean tasting cup, the experts at Latigo recommend a burr grinder to ensure uniformity, as the Aeropress compresses the grounds into a puck after you push the water through the unit making for quick clean up. The easy method only has a few steps: add the filter, the grounds, a splash of water to bloom and then the rest before depressing the plunger. Loyalists add all kinds of science behind grinding time, water temperature and how many minutes the process is supposed to take. Become an overnight expert by following this advice.
Bialleti Moka Express
"I personally enjoy the 3-Cup Bialleti Moka Express accompanied with the JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder,” offers Paul of Campfire Adventure Coffee. “Grind the coffee beans fine to ensure a nice espresso extraction. Pour water into the base of the Moka Express and add the grounds into the basket above. Add to the portable stove and heat until you hear the espresso extracting in the top canister.
"As I mentioned before, some may disagree with me for using the Moka Express backpacking versus the Aeropress, but I really enjoy the espresso from the Moka Express the most," he adds.
"I rarely venture into the backcountry without a trusty Jetboil,” says Latigo’s Mark Finster. “As the dedicated ‘coffee person’ of the group, there’s a bit of an expectation that I make (and share) delicious coffee first thing in the AM. The Jetboil coffee press addition works great. My go-to move is measuring and grinding the coffee ahead of the trip (roughly 43g of coffee for the standard Jetboil Flash), then storing each individual batch in snack-sized ziplocks. Easy peasy!"
If we had you at "French" then you know how sexy-looking these units can get. The only problem is that the fragile carafe is a ticking time bomb and the only thing worse than stepping on broken glass is mourning the loss of your coffee kit.
Luckily, the market is chock full of durable French press options for all kinds of outdoorsy types. To echo Latigo’s Finister, double dip on coffee and cooking duty with the JetBoil (for extra convenience, you can even pick up the Flash Java Kit) that boils a half liter of water in 100 seconds. Like with any French press, just add grounds, plunge and pour. The caveat here is that this method uses a lot more grounds than the other two, so keep in mind that you'll need to carry more beans – which, for the record, is never a bad idea anyway.
All photos by Dustin Beatty.
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