How to Make “Cowboy Coffee”

Many of us like a good cup of coffee when we’re camping in the morning, if not to wake us up, then as a nice morning ritual we look forward to. You can just take a few moments, get your thoughts together, maybe watch the sun rise, or just look at the landscape as it wakes up to a new day.

Instant coffees are convenient, but they don’t have that “good coffee” taste. For me, dunking one of those coffee tea bags takes something away from the experience, and I refuse to lug a percolator with all of the filters and loose innards it requires into the woods. So . . . what would John Wayne do?

Well, pilgrim . . . he’d make a pot of “cowboy coffee”! It tastes good, smells even better, and you feel rugged making it. Here how to do it:

  1. Bring one quart (32 oz.) of water to a boil in an enamel coffee pot with a spout (or a pan, if that’s all you have).
  2. Add 3/4 cup (6 oz.) of ground coffee. That’s 3 tablespoons (1.5 oz.) ground coffee per 8 oz. cup. (Weaker coffee = 2 tablespoons or 1 oz. of ground coffee per 8 oz. cup.)
  3. Return to heat and bring to a boil.
  4. Immediately remove from heat and throw a cold rock (about the size of a walnut) in the pot.
  5. Put the lid on the pot.
  6. Wait until the grounds sink (approximately 5 minutes).

The cold rock will provide somewhat of a thermal shock to the water, and most of the coffee grounds will fall to the bottom of the pot. There may be a few “floaters,” but the majority will be at the bottom. You’ll need to take coffee with you on your trip. If you’re “bare bones primitive,” just take coffee beans and grind them between two rocks until they’re finely ground.

But for those of us who want a little more convenience, you can take the coffee already ground. The finer the grind, the faster the flavor will be extracted from the coffee and the easier the grounds will sink to the bottom of the pot after removing the pot from the heat. A coarse grind reduces the chance of over-extraction and bitterness, but you may have a few more floating coffee grounds in the pot.

There are a few tricks for keeping your coffee warm, too. One trick is to NOT keep it on the heat, since that will make it bitter. Placing the pot on the ground and wrapping a jacket or towel around it is a much better option. This is because the pot will warm up the ground under it and the jacket will eliminate any convection heat loss and provide insulation to keep the heat in. The more air circulating around the pot, the more quickly your coffee will get cold.

Another trick is to keep the grounds on the bottom. Try not to move the pot around too much. For your second cup of coffee, move the cup to the pot and slowly tip the pot to fill your cup, barely lifting the pot. If you can, set your pot down on non-level ground so that one side is lower than the other (and the ground will not be evenly settling across the bottom). The thicker accumulation of grounds on one side of the bottom of the pot will tend to hold together there if you do accidentally shake the pot a little.

So there’s your “cowboy coffee,” pilgrim. The Duke would be proud!

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