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How to Make Cowboy Coffee that Actually Tastes Good

Make cowboy coffee that tastes good and doesn't leave you with coffee grounds in your teeth.

By: Alex E + Save to a List

What happened to ordering a plain old cup of coffee? With all these crazy coffee recipes out there, I can't keep track of all the options. Waiting in line for a simple cup of joe has become as long and elaborate as a 5 course meal.  I'm convinced no one orders a cup of black coffee anymore. Even the simple camping world is being over taken by crazy specialty coffees. While camping with friends and family, I watch as a french press, a science lab cylinder and special adapters for jet boils are whipped out.

Then my friends begin to take the long and painful process of making some specialty coffee at the campsite. It just doesn't seem right to me. If you ask me, I think plain old black coffee just taste better and is more enjoyable when you make it how it was intended to be made. Especially while camping!!! Ok, ok you caught me, I'm not gonna lie and say I never drink some fancy cup of coffee. I'm a sucker for a pumpkin spiced latte with extra whip cream sometimes, but come on, save that for dessert in town, not for the campsite.

Cowboy coffee, camping coffee, dirt coffee or whatever you call it has been a staple of American culture for a long time and represents that rough and tough, hardworking American persona we all love. But lately it has gotten a really bad wrap. People complain about its bitter taste, how easily it burns, or how you always end up spitting out coffee grounds. Well today is the day we bring this American tradition back to the campsite and stove top. 

I'm going to explain how a few small adjustments can help anyone make great tasting black coffee. Coffee that is unburnt, with no coffee grounds in your coffee cup and doesn't need milk or sugar. Making that warm cup of joe on that cold camping morning just got easier and more authentic. And now you get to leave all those fancy contraptions at home. The old man's camping coffee pot that is collecting dust in the garage just got some new life!

Gear Needed:

- Camping coffee pot

- Access to water

- Coffee cups

- Coffee grounds (fine or coarse are personal preference)

- Tablespoon or a way to measure (optional, but easier)

- Good gloves to handle the very hot pot

- Thermos (optional but will allow you to make more coffee that isn't bitter)

- Firewood

Step 1: Make a Fire.

Get a good fire going and get some good hot coals you can place you pot over to bring your water to a boil. Usually it is fairly easy to get the morning fire going with the coals from the previous nights fire.

Step 2: Measure Coffee and Water (2 tablespoons of coffee for every 8 oz of water)

Measure the amount of water you place in the pot or estimate. Obviously the more accurate you are with the the amount of water and amount of coffee you add will determine how strong or weak the coffee is. A good measure is 2 tablespoons for every 8 ounces, your Nalgene holds 32 ounces, so its easy to use for measuring. I've done it so many times there is a little coffee line inside my pot I just use as a reference. If you're not to picky about coffee taste, just eyeball it. But if you are with some coffee connoisseurs, then measure accurately.

Step 3: Bring your water to a boil.

Place your pot over the fire on a grill or some logs and wait for it to boil.

Step 4: Remove the pot from the fire.

Once you have a rolling boil, immediately remove the pot from the fire and let it sit for about 30 seconds to a minute. If it is quite cold outside, 30 seconds is about right. During the warm summer you can let it cool a little longer. Coffee brews best just between 195-205 degrees. DON'T EVER ADD COFFEE TO BOILING WATER. This is the biggest mistake, and what gives coffee its bitter taste. Coffee added to boiling water will burn. Its drinkable, but it taste terrible.

Step 5: Adding Coffee Grounds

After about 45 seconds add your coffee grounds. Many people will swear by two different grounds to add. Some say add very fine grounds, and others say use very coarse grounds. I've done it both ways with very similar results, but I feel coarse grounds have worked a little better for me. The few times I've had a few little grounds in my cup is when I used fine grounds. Nothing crazy or off putting, but coffee with zero grounds is best.

Step 6: Stir in grounds and wait 2 mins

Stir the grounds in well, cover, and let the pot sit for 2 minutes. *It will work uncovered as well.

Step 7: Stir again and wait 2 mins

After the 2 minutes is up, stir the grounds again, because they will rise to the top as the coffee brews.  Let the coffee sit for another 2 minutes.

Step 8: How to get rid of grounds.

This step is the most important step to keep grounds out of your coffee cup. The first option is the old trick to sprinkle a few drops of cold water into the pot. I usually just add some cold water in the palm of my hand and flick it into the pot. This will cool the grounds and make them sink to the bottom. It works fairly well, but not 100% every time.

The second option is to slightly tilt the pot towards the spout by placing a stick under the pot. Just an inch or two is enough. Wait for about 3-5 minutes. This will allow the coffee to cool slowly and the grounds will settle at the bottom, on the spout side of the pot.

Both work but based on the temperature outside, and how long you want your coffee to continue to brew will determine which method you use. The longer the grounds are in the coffee, the more of a chance for your coffee to be over cooked or bitter.

I prefer a combination of the two. A quick sprinkle of cold water and the tilt of the pot for a couple minutes. Test it out and find out what works best for you. You can practice on your stove top at home. Even though I've done this hundreds of times, sometimes little grounds still sneak in your cup.

Step 9: Pour coffee slowly and remove from the grounds

Pour the coffee very slowly and try not to stir up the grounds you just worked so hard to keep out of your cup. Pour the remaining coffee in a thermos so it will remain hot but not continue to cook in the grounds.

Step 10: Enjoy this American tradition

Sit back and enjoy the natural and authentic way this American classic was suppose to be enjoyed. A simple old black cup of coffee that cowboys have been making while camping all across this great country.

Remember to try this method a couple times and don't get discouraged by some bad coffee at first. Although this method is very simple, it can go wrong very easily if your not use to it. Once you have it memorized, you will enjoy making Cowboy Coffee for your camping guests and they will love it more than the best latte on the market. Nothing is better than that warm cup of coffee on that cool mountain morning.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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