Addendum: Some gourmet cowboys like to throw the white of an egg and the the shells into the brew just after adding the grounds, which seem to settle better because of the egg complement. Of course, the egg white brings an added flavor to the coffee that may or may not suit your coffee palate.
The tea-bag approach
The grandfathers of ground coffee—e.g., Folgers, Maxwell House and the like—now sell their product in immersible bags, just like tea. These prove incredibly light for the backpacker and very low in space consumption for the car camper. You boil your water, pour it into the mug and then drop in the coffee bag. Like a tea bag, the length of time you leave it in the water determines the strength of your joe.
If you can tolerate instant coffee, the most brainless way to enjoy your java at camp is to simply bring your preferred brand of these crystals in a jar. Of course, if you are hiking into your campsite, you must transfer these crystals into something less breakable than a jar. All you need otherwise is a camp stove or campfire and some kind of pan or kettle to boil some water.
The portable French press
Outdoor gear manufactures now make French presses for backpacking. They are plastic and work the same way as those you use at home. If car camping, you can risk the transport of a glass French press, of course.
As with all French presses, you insert an amount of grounds equal to the strength and volume of coffee you wish to drink or serve—perhaps two heaping tablespoons, three, four or more. Sizes of these presses range. Many coffee connoisseurs prefer pressed coffee over all other methods.
The easy-peasy, pour-over style
Many backpackers, in lieu of a French press, resort to this method of coffee making in the woods. Manufacturers offer a funnel-like insert to place on the top of your mug. It either contains its own drip filter or requires the insertion of a paper coffee filter, the ones you find on grocery store shelves.
You simply boil some water, scoop your desired amount of coffee grounds into the funnel filter and pour the water into the funnel to achieve a very quick brew.
DIY: Penny pinchers may want to opt for the makeshift approach for a pour-over brew. Bring some cheesecloth and a sturdy rubber band with your favorite ground coffee. Strap the cheesecloth over the rim of your cup with the rubber band, but make sure you punch the cloth down enough to form a basin for the grounds and incoming water. Your cloth serves as funnel and filter.
Baby Boomer Brew aka Percolator
If your moms and dads were born before World War II, you most certainly remember the old Maxwell House commercials with the plopping sound and closeup shot of brown water splashing up into a glass, see-through nubbin atop the lid of a coffee pot. These are called percolators, for those who were born more recently. You might call this method a refined version of cowboy coffee.
First, understand what a percolator does: It keeps coffee in a round, porous metal catch atop a thin, metal stem with a wide, round base. The catch and base fit snuggly into the pot.
Next, follow these steps:
- Step 1: Pour water into the pot but not beyond the point where the bottom of the catch or metal sieve extends.
- Step 2: Now insert the catch with stem into the filled pot and scoop your desired amount of grounds into the catch.
- Step 3: Bring water to a boil from your preferred heat source and wait.
- Step 4: You are waiting to see that highly anticipated spurt of water reach the see-through nubbin atop the pot. When it does, you can enjoy the advanced version of cowboy coffee.
If you want to get the full, robust flavor of grounds, you can buy stainless-steel grinders that crush beans via a hand grinder. You can also buy raised coffee makers that sport heat-proof legs or base that fits conveniently around the edges of a burner on your propane gas stove.
These are not methods conducive to the weight or space constraints of a backpacker, unless you are the mondo-pack kind who also likes to bring along your favorite pillow from home as well.
If you wish to keep up with camping coffee tech, simply browse around online and you might find a wilderness coffee device that meets your at-home standards better than the aforementioned methods.