Cowboy coffee step by step
When you’re in the wilderness huddled over a hot-burning campfire in the cold of the morning there’s nothing more satisfying than a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee. But before you rush off to buy the latest coffee gadget for your next camping trip, take a few minutes to learn how a sure-enough range-ridin’ cowboy brews his morning elixir. All you need is ground coffee, water, and a pot.
No filter necessary.
Now, there’s some disagreement over the proper way to brew cowboy coffee. Some say your brew must be boiled into submission. Others advocate adding crushed eggshells to clarify the slurry.
While there isn’t a single “right” way to go about it, there are, without a doubt, countless wrong ways to brew cowboy coffee that will leave you with a burnt-tasting tongue and a smile full of grounds.
When a few key steps are taken, however, making great-tasting cowboy coffee is as easy as it gets. Without the employment of a filter, all the flavorful oils and compounds within the coffee beans remain in the brew, giving you the richest, most full-bodied cup attainable. You could say it’s coffee in its purest form.
For camping, no other brew method compares to the ease of preparation and adaptability of cowboy coffee. The batch size can be increased to accommodate groups of any size simply by using a bigger pot and adding more water and the coffee grounds.
Moreover, there’s no waste to dispose of other than the spent coffee grounds, making cleanup a cinch.
As you get comfortable brewing cowboy coffee, you may find yourself tweaking the recipe and procedure to fit your taste and preferences. That’s both perfectly acceptable and highly encouraged. But to help you get started, let’s go over what’s involved in making tasty cowboy coffee that will delight even the most discerning coffee drinkers.
What it Takes to Make Great Cowboy Coffee
The Coffee Beans
Nothing has more of an impact on the final results of your brewing efforts than the quality of the coffee beans you use. This sentiment is summed up nicely with the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you start with stale, low-quality beans, you’ll end up with a subpar beverage no matter what brewing method you use — cowboy or otherwise.
So to ensure that your cowboy coffee tastes the best it can, you must first obtain high-quality coffee beans. For best results, the coffee should be freshly roasted, no more than 30 days old. You’ll know your coffee is fresh if it has a “roasted on” date clearly labeled on the bag. If you’re not sure where to find such coffee, your local specialty coffee shop is a great place to start.
Of course, if you aren’t picky, use whatever coffee you normally drink or have on hand.
Regarding roast style, medium to medium-dark roasted coffee generally works best when brewing cowboy coffee. Lighter roasts will work too but have a tendency to produce slightly sour notes if the grind isn’t set just right.
Ideally, you should keep your coffee in its whole bean form until just before brewing to keep it at peak freshness. To accomplish this while camping, you’ll need to bring along a hand-grinder such as the GSI Outdoors Coffee Mill.
If you don’t want to hassle with cranking away before brewing, go ahead and grind your coffee ahead of time. You’ll notice a slight difference in flavor if you’re paying really close attention, but perhaps not enough to warrant the extra effort of hand-grinding.
The second most important factor after quality and freshness of the coffee beans is the grind size. The size of the coffee grounds affects the rate of extraction during the brewing process, with the rule of thumb being the smaller the grind, the faster the coffee extracts. The faster the coffee extracts, the stronger and more bitter the brew becomes.
To achieve the richest and most balanced cup when brewing cowboy coffee, the coffee should be ground slightly coarser than what you’d use for a standard drip coffee maker or pour over. In other words, grind it exactly as you would when brewing a french press.
The dose, or amount of coffee you use, determines the overall strength of the brewed coffee and should be adjusted based on the total volume of brewed coffee desired. When camping, it’s a good idea to keep a standard two-tablespoon coffee scoop handy. For normal strength cowboy coffee, shoot for using one and a half to two scoops per 12-ounce cup of coffee (standard coffee mug size).
Play around with different doses of coffee until you find the strength that tastes the best to you and your fellow campers.
Brewed coffee is roughly 99 percent water, so the water you use naturally has a large influence on the taste of your finished product. For the best cowboy coffee, use clean, purified water either brought with you in bottles or purified from a nearby lake or river.
Just as measuring your coffee dose is important, so is measuring the volume of the water you use. Don’t just eyeball it or you’ll get inconsistent results. An easy way to measure water in camp is to use your coffee mug. Simply fill up your mug before pouring it into the pot as many times as needed. Remember how many mugs worth of water you added in order to measure out your coffee dose accordingly.
The Coffee Pot
You’ve probably seen those big blue enameled coffee pots perched atop a campfire. They’re the traditional vessels in which cowboy coffee is brewed. And if you’re serious about brewing your cowboy coffee in style, it’s worth your while to pick one up — especially if you plan on brewing coffee for more than one person.
However, if you don’t have a special cowboy coffee pot yet, just about any pot that can be used to boil water will work. That’s one of the wonderful things about cowboy coffee — you can adapt the procedure to use whatever tools you have available. Heck, you could even use a chili can if that’s all you have around.
The Heat Source
To go full-cowboy, you must brew your cowboy coffee over a well-made campfire. No exceptions. So gather up your tinder and kindling and get to work stoking up a nice little cooking fire.
But, if you’re camping in an area that prohibits fires or maybe you aren’t awake enough to build a fire before your morning intake of coffee, use your camp stove. Feel free to make cowboy coffee at home on your kitchen range as well. The specific heat source you use doesn’t really matter as long as it can bring water to a boil.
Other than the pot, the only other tool you need to make cowboy coffee is a spoon or something to stir the coffee slurry with. If you can’t find your spoon, use the nearest stick.
When it comes to cowboy coffee, timing is everything. Over steeping the coffee, even for 30 seconds, could mean the difference between a sweet, balanced cup of joy and undrinkable bitter sludge. So the last piece of kit you’ll need is a timer or stopwatch. If you have your iPhone with you, use the timer app.
From Fire to Mug: Cowboy Coffee Step by Step
Now that we’ve gone over the basic ingredients and tools involved, let’s walk through the process of making cowboy coffee step by step.
But before any brewing happens, you’ll need to secure your heat source. Build up your fire or get your stove ready to light.
Step 1: Measure and Grind Coffee
First, determine the quantity of brewed coffee you’d like to make. For each 12-ounce mug of brewed coffee, you’ll need to grind about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of coffee beans.
If you’re using pre-ground coffee, just make sure your coffee grounds are on hand and ready to be added to the water.
Step 2: Bring Water to Boil
Add the appropriate amount of water to your pot. Set over the heat source and bring to a boil.
Step 3: Add Coffee and Stir
When your water reaches a boil, remove the pot from the heat source and place on a stable, heat-resistant surface such as the ground or a rock. Immediately add your ground coffee and lightly stir to ensure that all grounds are wet and submerged.
This is where our method for cowboy coffee differs from others out there. Some say you should keep the water at a rolling boil after you add the coffee and keep it there for several minutes. Boiling coffee in this manner, however, severely over extracts the coffee resulting in very bitter, burnt flavors. That’s not what we’re going for here.
Step 4: Steep for 4 Minutes
After you add the ground coffee to the hot water and stir, cover the pot and set your timer for four minutes. Let the coffee steep undisturbed.
At the two minute mark, remove the pot lid and gently stir the coffee a second time.
Step 5: Sprinkle Cold Water Over Grounds
After all four minutes have passed, it’s time to finish off the brewing process. Ideally, most of the coffee grounds will have sunk to the bottom of the pot. But chances are, there will still be some stragglers floating on the surface.
To sink the remaining grounds, simply take a small amount of cold water in your hand and sprinkle it over the coffee pot. If you’re using a classic enameled campfire coffee pot, you can pour a small amount of cold water into the spout.
Sprinkling cold water slows down the extraction process so you don’t end up with overly bitter coffee and also helps draw the coffee grounds down to the bottom.
Step 6: Carefully Pour
Without delay, carefully pour your brewed coffee into serving cups. Pour slowly without disturbing or agitating the coffee to keep the grounds on the bottom of the pot where they belong.
Step 7: Drink Up
Congratulations! You just brewed coffee like a true cowboy! If all went well, you’ll have a full-bodied yet surprisingly grit-free mug of coffee in your hands.
Keep in mind that brewing cowboy coffee isn’t an exact science and takes some trial and error to perfect. But now that you know the basics, you’ll be well on your way to brewing gourmet campfire coffee that will gain the respect of the most rough-and-tumble cowpokes and discerning coffee drinkers alike.
Now, rinse out your coffee brewing pot with water and you’re ready to brew the next batch.
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