If you’re like most campers I know, the first thing on your mind upon zipping open the tent door just before full sunlight is a cup of dark, strong and hot coffee.
How you concoct your camp’s morning brew is a matter of preference, and in fact there are many methods from which to choose—from using a simple drip cone to a French press. The drawback with these is that the equipment takes up space in the camp box and they’re just more pieces that need to be cleaned and kept track of at the campsite.
Cowboy coffee requires only a pot, water and some grounds, and done right, tastes as smooth as anything you get from more complicated processes.
Start by using an 8-ounce coffee mug to measure and pour water into the coffee pot. It’s best to make just enough coffee to satisfy your crew for reasons explained later. Bring the water to a boil on the fire, then remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for a half-minute or so until it comes off boil.
Now add 2 tablespoons of fine-ground coffee—auto-drip grind is fine—for each 8 ounces of water in the pot. The grounds will want to float, so stir them in with a long-handle spoon. Replace the cover and let the brew steep for 2 minutes. Steeping the coffee, rather than boiling it, makes for a smooth brew, without the bitterness.
Gently stir the coffee again after 2 minutes, then replace the lid and let it steep for 2 more minutes. Don’t rush this step or you’ll miss extracting full flavor from the grounds. The grounds also mostly settle out of the liquid at this point.
After the second steep, adding a bit of cold water to the pot will cause the grounds to settle even more. It doesn’t require much—just a tablespoon or two. Certainly it’s not enough to cool the coffee. Also, take care pouring the coffee so as not to disturb and redistribute the settled grounds.
While cowboy coffee is simple to make, requires little equipment and has deliciously rich flavor, a second cup from the same pot—well, isn’t so good. While you and your campmates savor the first cup, anything left in the pot continues to steep, meaning a second cup will be strong and probably bitter.
If you normally require a double-dose of wake-up juice to prime the pump—make a fresh pot.