Six ways to upgrade your camp coffee (plus five mistakes to avoid)

Recommended equipment for great, fast camp coffee.

Sitting quietly in the morning woods with a fragrant, warm coffee can be a transcendent experience. You might surreptitiously watch elk, owls, moose, chipmunks, or small birds set about their search for breakfast. One morning a fawn was getting running lessons, sprinting behind mom back and forth across the well-worn forest trail behind our campsite. Early mornings are often the most inspiring parts of a camping trip. How will even notice if your coffee isn’t wonderful, or if you are still waiting for it to be ready? You need great camp coffee pronto.

Great camp coffee needs to be good, but it also needs to be fast. Bad or slow coffee can ruin your whole day. Plus, it’s probably chilly out, so you need to get a warm drink pronto. Really good, really fast, camp coffee can be easy, once you figure out the process. I regret that it took me so many frustrating mornings of trial and error, but I hope that others can learn from my mistakes.

Mistakes I have made:

  1. Heating water on a propane stove. – Slow, and frustrating!
  2. Using an open top pot to heat water. -Slow.
  3. Using a heavy pot to heat water. – After you spill the water, you have to start over . . . assuming you are uninjured.
  4. Letting the coffee go cold after it is brewed. – There’s likely no microwave out here . . .
  5. Pre-ground coffee will do in a pinch, but fresh ground will really make your day. – You probably slept on the ground, you deserve it!

6 steps to Upgrade Camp Coffee

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Fresh Grind Your Beans.

Fresh grind Arabica beans, by hand or using a small electric grinder if you camp near electricity. At home, I like a burr grinder, but these are bulky and expensive for camping. If you camp often or really enjoy camping, it is worth owning a small, portable grinder. Unless you camp with electricity, this step will not be fast. Hand grinding is worth the few extra minutes for those who use fresh ground coffee at home. Sometimes, I bring both whole beans and pre-ground coffee, so I can make the first pot in a hurry then hand grind the beans for a better second pot.

Brew in a Stainless French Press.

Brew in an unbreakable double-walled stainless French press, like this 34 oz. model from Bodum. I have been using mine for over a decade. Some people like pour over coffee. I find the process is slow anywhere. For camping, I dislike pour overs since the contraptions are top heavy until the water filters through. If you get a gust of wind, you could end up caffeinating the ground instead of yourself. A French press will keep the coffee hot, eliminate the need for paper filters, and provide a sturdy covered storage for the coffee until you drink it all.

Heat with a High BTU Butane Camp Stove.

Boil water quickly on a high BTU butane camp stove (also great for cooking). Boiling water at altitude is slow anyway, but if you have an underpowered stove or a stiff wind, it can be even slower. I lack patience until properly caffeinated, so I need quick access to hot water.

For years, I kept trying different propane stoves that I saw at camping stores, but it seemed to always take a half hour to get my coffee done. Then, in a cooking class, I discovered butane stoves and my camp cookery was transformed! Professional chefs use these as spare burners, to make table-side dishes or do omelets on a buffet. They are much hotter and faster than propane, and a basic model from Coleman, can be had for less than $30. The one trouble is that the fuel canisters are more difficult to find than small propane bottles. They are usually at kitchen supply stores but not big box outdoor stores, so are harder to replace on short notice. They seem to be available by mail order though, and they last pretty well.

Since most butane stoves are intended for indoor use, you may have to set up a wind block to keep the stove going. When I camp at a location with a barbecue grill, I often just set the stove on the grate so the sides of the grill provide a wind block. Last year, my old stove conked out. I treated myself to an upgrade since we camp so much more often now. My new, sturdier Iwatani model has more BTUs plus a built-in wind break. I love cooking on this thing, and it makes the fastest, easiest outside boiled water. Now, I don’t have to build wind breaks and keep relighting the stove before I have had my first cup. Yay!

Boil Water in a Covered Kettle.

Camp kettle in collapsed position.

You can boil water even faster using a camp kettle. The lid helps keep the heat in, and pouring is a breeze. I have a collapsible silicone kettle with a stainless base. This thing weights very little, collapses for easy storage, and does a neat job of pouring the hot water. In the past, I used to just use my small Dutch oven, but the water ended up spilling because it was heavy and difficult to pour. The bright green color isn’t strictly necessary, but it makes it so easy to find in the bottom of the cookware bin.

How to Brew French Press Camp Coffee.

The kettle and this French press hold about the same amount of water. This is great for efficiency of time and energy. No time wasted heating a second pot of water; no fuel wasted heating water you won’t use.

Fill the kettle with fresh water, and heat to boiling over your butane burner. While the water heats (probably 10-15 minutes depending on altitude), grind fresh beans in your hand grinder. You will need to fill the grinder twice to have the right amount of grounds for your coffee. When the water is boiling, pour over the grounds in the bottom of the French press. Allow the coffee to brew for 3 minutes, then push down the plunger. Your coffee is ready!

Keep Your Precious Coffee Hot.

Keep the elixir of morning hot, since there is probably no microwave to rewarm it. You worked hard to make good coffee, it would be a shame if you didn’t get to enjoy every drop! I pour mine into a Yeti mug to drink, but sometimes also put the rest into a vacuum insulated bottle so I can get started on the next pot. At home, I use the tall coffee cups that fit into cup holders. Outdoors, these are unstable. They take a tumble if it is windy or if your picnic table is rickety. For camping, I switch to a low mug with a lid. The stability is worth it, plus a mug doubles as a chili or oatmeal bowl. The lid is important for keeping airborne debris and bugs out of your brew.

Save some coffee to serve with dessert.

You are a smart camper, so you probably have a nice vacuum bottle handy. Fill that guy up from your second pot of coffee, and you will have a nice warm beverage to enjoy with your campfire dessert. Try some of the s’mores recipes on this blog. Mexican hot chocolate, blueberry pie, or coconut cream pie s’mores all go great with coffee.

I hope any or all of these tips make your outdoor mornings more enjoyable. Please share your experiences or tips for camp coffee improvement!

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