Good coffee isn’t just for coffee snobs anymore, and people are no longer restricted to specialty cafes when looking for something better than the average drip. Quality coffee can be had just about anywhere — including campgrounds.
“While camping, you have the convenience of making coffee similarly to how you would make coffee in the comfort of your own home, only you are in the great outdoors,” says Jackie Newman, vice president of the New Jersey-based specialty roasting company World of Coffee. “Surprisingly, not many modifications need to be made in order to do it right.”
To get the obvious out of the way, it’s not going to be like your home brew if you’re accustomed to using something plugged into the wall. Yet it doesn’t take much extra equipment. If you don’t want to deal with brewing at all, of course, there are the high-caliber canned options out there from Rise and La Colombe (as well as delicious alcohol-infused options like Newground’s Hard Dutch Latte). For some people, though, nothing beats a fresh-brewed hot cup of coffee in the morning.
We reached out to 10 coffee and outdoors experts to narrow down the best ways to make a cup of Joe at your campsite. They didn’t always agree, except when it came to the opinion that cowboy coffee (course grounds in water boiled over the open flame) is bad. Instead, go for these five expert-approved methods.
“If you’re keen to get back to basics and simplify life while, you know, getting back to basics and simplifying life by being out in nature, look no further than the trusty and wonderfully simple AeroPress,” says Jordan Rosenacker, co-founder of Atlas Coffee Club.
It’s lightweight, packs well, and you can use pre-ground coffee or grind your own beans.
“The hardest part of brewing with an AeroPress while camping is, well, probably just starting your fire to boil the water,” Rosenacker says.
“The AeroPress is an excellent option whether you’re camping, or just traveling in general,” says Asser Christensen, a coffee expert, freelance coffee writer, and founder of The Coffee Chronicler. “It’s lightweight, and you don’t need any accessories to brew a solid cup. For couples and solo campers, that would be the ideal choice.”
The key to good AeroPress coffee is a fresh grind. Christensen uses a manual coffee grinder, and suggests the Porlex Mini and 1Zpresso Mini Q as both fit inside an AeroPress. For something a little fancier, there’s the similar Delter Coffee Press.
Caffe Umbria’s quality and education specialist Antonio Madeddu also suggests an AeroPress, and is looking forward to a soon-to-launch travel version from the brand. Just don’t forget to bring a way to make hot water, a way to measure the water, and a filter (Madeddu suggests a reusable filter from AeroPress, Fellow, or DISC).
2. Turkish coffee
While not the fastest method in the world, Turkish coffee is a slow-burn option for a solid cup at the campsite.
“Turkish coffee isn’t meant to be instant and can easily take 20 minutes to prepare,” says Sam Maizlech, outdoors and survival expert for the adventure products company Glacier Wellness. “This method is ideal for camping because it utilizes the burning coals from the previous night’s campfire. Traditionally, Turkish coffee is made over hot coals that have burned for a while and begun to turn to ashes. Simply place your Turkish coffee pot onto the hot ashes and coals and carefully insulate the pot with more hot coals.”
This method does, however, require some special equipment. Turkish coffee is made in a similar way to the dreaded cowboy coffee with the grounds in the pot. But these grounds are extremely fine before being put in a sturdy Turkish coffee pot. Cold water is poured on top and the whole thing is put on the coals to slowly heat up. Take it off when it starts to foam — don’t let it boil. Carefully pour the coffee into a mug (Maizlech suggests the YETI Rambler Stainless Steel Mug) without disturbing the grounds at the bottom. And just like that, your very strong cup of Turkish coffee is ready.
3. New wave instant coffee
There wasn’t a single coffee expert out there who suggested traditional instant coffee, but the coffee style with the worst reputation isn’t what it used to be.
“Not the instant coffee you’re probably thinking of, the stuff that’s been around since 1890 that your grandparents drank,” says Jelynn Malone, co-founder of Mostra Coffee, a micro-roaster and coffee shop in San Diego. “We’re talking about the new wave of instant coffee. Instant coffee so good it tastes like a cup of coffee from you favorite Mostra Cafe, but with the convenience of brewing it anywhere by just adding water (hot or cold).”
Malone isn’t alone. Steve Silberberg, owner and head guide of Fitpacking, has found Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee a favorite for hikers and campers. He even adds, “Most of them prefer VIA to percolated Starbucks or French press coffee.”
New wave instant coffee has all the same benefits as regular instant (easy to make, convenient to pack, minimal equipment) without the bad taste. There are a number of companies producing premium instant coffee with quality beans and less harsh extraction now, including Alpine Start, Swift Cup Coffee, Sudden Coffee, and, in 2020, Mostra.
4. French press
“Using a French press is the best way to get a bold, delicious cup of gourmet coffee in camp, especially when car camping, RVing, or overlanding,” says Jess Nepstad, CEO of Planetary Design. “It’s a relatively compact and efficient brewing method, plus it’s simple to use — all you need is the French press, coarse coffee grounds and hot water.”
The downside to a French press is that traditional glass presses are too easy to break. For that classic French press flavor without the risk of broken glass, there are stainless steel French presses like the one from Planetary Design’s BruTrek.
Brian Abernathy, master roaster at Grumpy Goat Coffee Company in Bonita Springs, Florida, is another fan of the French press while camping.
“The reason being is that the morning after a day of hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities, the bold flavors that come from a French press are exactly what you need to get yourself ready for the day,” Abernathy says. “Additionally, this method requires the least amount of equipment and gear.”
5. Moka Express pot
The Moka Express is a small and lightweight option. Loved for decades by people short on space but big on espresso love, the Moka Express is one way to make your camp coffee not taste like camp coffee (though some, like Christensen, believe it’s a little too finicky for the campsite).
“As a hardcore coffee addict, I feel like getting my morning cup of coffee tasting as good as it does at home is the most important thing here,” says Shawna Newman, founder and editor in chief of Active Weekender. She adds, “Though it doesn’t make a lot of coffee at once, it makes a good, strong brew.”
The downside is the equipment needed. A Moka Express is small, but not as small as some other options. You’ll also need a consistent heat source and a bean grinder.
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