I have to admit, I am a bit of a coffee nerd. I am pretty picky about my morning coffee. Also, if you don’t know me, I get really into the things that I love 🙂 I have tried pretty much all of the options for the outdoor coffee enthusiast so I thought I would share some of my findings.
The most simple and lightest weight option is instant coffee:
Instant coffee has come a long way since Folgers Crystals, but it still just doesn’t do it for me. I just can’t get over the slightly burt flavor and bitterness compared to coffee brewed with fresh beans.
I used to use a french press like this one:
It is called the GSI Outdoors Java Press . It only weighs 10oz and will make 30 oz of fresh pressed coffee. All you need is access to hot water which is fairly easy to come by if you have a camp stove. I have used this for many years and it has been my main source of morning coffee while camping or backpacking up until recently. For some reason, I have never really enjoyed french pressed coffee as much as the drip coffee I make at home every morning, and my wife hates it. It just seems too bitter and over extracted for my taste. I have tried everything too, including a more course grind, shorter brewing time, etc, and, I usually drink my espresso straight so I am used to a pretty strong product.
This year I set out to see what other options are out there. My first thought was to try and seek out a drip coffee maker that would run on 12 volts for use while camping in our [email protected] travel trailer. A quick search on Amazon revealed that this wasn’t the best option. There were few available and they all had pretty bad reviews. I also learned that, due to the large amount of current they draw, the only way to make coffee from a home drip coffee maker in the outdoors is to have a huge power inverter of a couple thousand watts, and a bunch of 12 volt battery’s. Needless to say, not an option either.
All this digging around lead me to a method of brewing coffee that I had heard of in past but never really tried. The “pour over” method. I guess I always thought it would make bitter coffee just like my french press. But, oh boy was I wrong. I have recently come to the conclusion that in my opinion this the best tasting and most compact method for making coffee in the outdoors and at home. This method of brewing coffee involves manually pouring water over the grinds though a filter and filter holder, allowing complete control over the brewing process and highlighting the unique character of the coffee. After some extensive research, I learned quite a bit about this technique. It is actually kind of an art form. Check out this YouTube video and you will see what I mean. Many of the products are Japanese and they even have brewing contests in Japan for this method of brewing coffee! The best thing about it is, it is cheap, portable, and very tasty. There are a couple of things that are very important keep in mind when brewing pour over coffee. The first is kind of obvious. Start with fresh quality coffee beans and clean tasting or filtered water. The next thing is the grind. It would be easiest just to forgo the grinder and buy pre ground beans, but freshness starts to suffer almost immediately. It is important to use some type of burr grinder. Hand burr grinders are fairly inexpensive and readily available on Amazon. They take a bit of elbow grease, but I don’t mind that too much. The first one I tried is the very popular Hario Skerton. At about $25 this produced pretty good results but its main flaw was that the burrs didn’t line up very well so the grind was somewhat inconsistent. Further research lead me to the Porlex JP-30:
This one is a little bit pricier at about $50, but the results were far superior to the Skerton. Its capacity is just enough for one generous 16 oz cup of pour over coffee. At 11oz, this is even an option to take backpacking if you are a real coffee nerd.
If you have access to a power inverter that is at least 200 watts wired directly to a 12v battery, and have the room, an electric burr grinder is also an option. I tried out two different burr grinders, first the $50 Cuisinart Supreme Grind Burr Mill, which was lacking in consistent grind and very noisy. The next grinder I tried out and am very happy with is the highly recommended Baratza Encore. At $129, this grinder is more expensive but well worth the extra money. It produces a very consistent grind, and is quite a bit more quiet than the Cuisinart. Build quality is also top notch.
Next, on to the coffee maker. For lightweight travel I use the very compact GSI Outdoors JavaDrip:
At $12.95 you can’t beat the price, and at 4.8oz it is extremely portable. For filters, I recommend #2 unbleached paper cones. This device sits directly over your favorite lightweight coffee mug. My mug of choice is the GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug.
I like this method of brewing so much that I have invested in the iconic Chemex pour over coffee brewer for use at home:
At $40, this won’t break the bank and should last forever if the glass doesn’t break.
I you are a real nerd like me, you might want to invest in a gooseneck kettle like this one. This allows for more precision during the pour. It isn’t absolutely necessary, and is not really an option while backpacking, but can be used at home and for car camping. The last piece of equipment that isn’t totally necessary but I have found very helpful for determining coffee amounts is a cheap gram scale like this.
That is basically all the equipment this really needed to start brewing pour over coffee in the outdoors. The process is fairly simple and I have found it to be very satisfying.
-First, start with the proper amount of freshly ground coffee. I use about 30 grams for a 16oz cup. This is about 1/4 cup of beans. The grind should be medium to medium course, about the consistency of sea salt.
-Next, warm up to a boil 16oz plus a little extra for wetting the filter and warming the brewer and cup.
-Once your water has reached a boil, remove it from the stove and pour the extra into the empty filter to rinse and warm, leaving about 16oz behind.
-Pour the grinds into the filter and add enough water to soak the grinds and let them “bloom”.
-After about 30 seconds, start slowly pouring water in a circular motion over the grinds until all of the water is gone.
That is basically it! The whole process should take about 3 minutes from start to finish. If it takes longer, grind a bit courser, and if it is too quick try a finer grind. If you are a real nerd, for a more detailed description of the process check this out.
Hopefully you have found this helpful, and I highly recommend that you give the pour over method of brewing a try sometime.
Chip Phillips began his relationship with photography in 2006 when his father gave him his old Pentax Spotmatic film SLR camera. Chip was immediately hooked and soon made the transition to digital. Given his lifelong love of the outdoors, he naturally made the progression to focusing on landscape photography. A professionally trained classical musician, Chip also performs as Principal Clarinet with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and is Adjunct Professor of Clarinet at Gonzaga University. Chip resides in Spokane Washington with his wife and son.