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How Do You Make Cowboy Coffee?

Cowboy coffee, coffee’s that’s made around a campfire with nothing more than beans, water and a pot, can be terrible. It also can be as good as the coffee you made from hand-ground beans carefully brewed with 200-degree water in your artisan glass French press. Below are two recipes for cowboy coffee. One’s for when you want to send those pesky campers who invited themselves to your fire back to their own campsite, spurting grounds out of their teeth. The other’s for when you want to enjoy a fine cup of coffee around a peaceful fire.

Serving Up Bad Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy coffee isn’t known for tasting good, because many people make it using this recipe. If you want to taste truly awful coffee, just follow these steps:

  1. Disregard the coffee-to-water ratio guidelines, because the coffee won’t be good enough for the ratio to matter. Just add some grounds to a pot and fill it with water.
  2. Place the pot on the fire and bring the water to boil. When done correctly, the grounds will float to the top, so most of them aren’t being brewed, and the pot will boil over.
  3. After burning your hand while trying to adjust the pot so that it doesn’t boil over again, let the “coffee” sit for a few more minutes.
  4. Remove the pot from the fire, and sprinkle a handful of cold water into it. Not only will the cold water help the grounds settle on the bottom, but it will also give the appearance that you know what you’re doing. Perhaps you’ll recover some of the dignity you lost in Step 3.
  5. Serve the coffee. There are two strategies for this step. You might pour your cup first, so you have as few grounds as possible in your mug. Alternatively, you can save yours till last, hoping that the coffee will be gone by the time you get to your cup.

Brewing Great Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy coffee doesn’t have to be bad. After all, you have all the supplies needed to brew great coffee: high-quality grounds, water, a heat source and a pot for brewing. Here’s how you can make cowboy coffee that would rival what you brew at home:

  1. Add water to your pot and bring it to a boil.
  2. Once the water’s boiling, remove the pot from your fire and let it sit for 30 seconds. This will lower the water temperature to 200°F — the perfect temperature for brewing coffee.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons of finely ground coffee for every 8 ounces of water. (You may want to measure how much water your pot holds and how much coffee a spoon you bring holds before going camping so you can measure accurately.)
  4. Stir the grounds into the water.
  5. Let the brew sit for 2 minutes and stir again.
  6. Let the coffee sit for 2 more minutes.
  7. After a total of 4 minutes of brewing, sprinkle a little cold water on the grounds. Yes, this actually does help them settle to the bottom.
  8. Slowly pour the coffee, so the grounds remain on the bottom of the pot.

Your coffee will taste best if it’s poured immediately after brewing. Coffee that sits in a pot with grounds will quickly become over-extracted and bitter. If you’d like a second cup, either brew another pot or pack a thermal carafe to keep your coffee hot in.

Although cowboy coffee gets a bad rap, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy great-tasting coffee while camping. You have everything you need to make a good cup with you already. Just follow the second recipe, not the first one.

Do you make coffee while camping? What equipment do you use? We’d love to hear in the comments section below.

Author Scott

Scott is a professional writer for Driftaway Coffee. He worked as a barista for eight years, but today prefers to enjoy his beverages from the other side of the counter. When not drinking Driftaway Coffee, Scott usually has a mug of his own roasted coffee nearby.

More posts by Scott
  • krustykrull

    Percolators make a good clean cup, and they’re cheap and easier to not screw up. It’s the least finicky brewing method I can think of…and you can do it right over a fire. I used a percolator the last time I camped, and I was so impressed with the coffee it made, I’ve been using it at home ever since.

  • Elliott Brooks

    I used the first method while working as a fire fighter. It always worked. I tried the second method once and never got the grounds to settle. I think the boiling them over helps with their settling after sprinkling water.

  • Maxwell Ziesler

    Use coffee that comes packed in ring shaped filters, toss in a pan, bring to boil wait till the water is brown, fish it out, done. No coffee grounds mess, in pan or cups. This will not help you get rid of coffee moochers, sorry. You can of course be fancy with the 200 degrees not boil but most of my camping coffee is a soon as I get out of the sleeping bag thing. Maxwell house and folgers sell coffee this way, great for backpacking or any “space is at a premium” camping, traveling. Put as many filters as the trip requires in a zip lock bag. Light and small.

  • JA

    I use my keurig and a 30 mile extension cord.

  • Euclid A. LoGiudice

    Accidentally smashed my French press this morning so had to make Cowboy coffee…the grounds never sunk because I didn’t know about the cold water at the end…I don’t have anything to sift the grounds..so..had a bunch floating on the top of the cup…did some spitting at first…but once I got through the grounds; the coffee tasted surprisingly delicious! Thanks for the tips because I can’t get to the store right away to purchase a new carafe…..

  • http://www.ownmainerealestate.com/ Andrew Mooers

    Loved your post!

  • Matthew Chambers

    Once while on a camping trip I spooned my coffee into a bandana and let it seep just like brewing tea. It was surprisingly good as well! Just another idea if you don’t bring coffee in a filter and/or don’t want to spit every time you take a sip.

    • Donald St Clair

      Just make sure it’s not the bandana you just wiped your nose with..

    • Devin Thornquest

      I just tried your bandana thing I live in Las Vegas in an extended stay suite without a coffee pot . I can’t afford one right now this method was brilliant . I just used a pot the stove top and a bandana and made it like tea . Thank you very much 😊

  • Campinggramps

    After many trials & errors this is the one I finally settled on.

    ‘Cowboy’ coffee (Start each cup with clean equipment)

    Step 1 – Bring 3 cups water to boil (approx 10 min)
    Step 2 – Add 4 Tbsps ground coffee, stir
    Step 3 – Let boil 1 minute, remove from heat, stir
    Step 4 – Stir at 2 min intervals (6 min steeping).
    Step 5 – Pour from pot through strainer into cup (I use a 20 oz cup), enjoy.

    The fresher the grounds the better the coffee.

  • Skippy IstheMan

    Thank you Scott, I’ll have to keep the first method in mind for relatives that overstay their welcome around holidays! :)

  • Thomas Amnesia

    Excellent idea for making hot coffee while camping off the grid! I think I would pack a coffee pot, the basket, and some filters. Put a filter in the basket, set it on top ot the pot, then pour the cowboy coffee into the basket. Stir with a spoon to keep the grounds “suspended” and they won’t clog the filter.

  • Lago

    I use a Bialetti espresso 3 cup, i took the plastic handle off and replaced it with an extended metal arm to put on and remove from fire. Its a great little firetop espresso perculator.

  • BigSmiler

    I have a French Press designed for camping.

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