Thursday, January 28, 2016

The evolution of (campfire) coffee

"Campfire and coffee, from a tin cup in my hand,
Sure warms the fingers when it's cold."
- from the song, "God Must Be a Cowboy at Heart," by Dan Seals, © 1983

We've come a long way from the days when "cowboy" coffee was a camper's only choice. While an occasional tin cup of that strong but gritty brew is fine, today's coffee-quaffing campers have almost as many choices on the trail as do city-dwelling caffeine hounds.
Cappuccinos up!

Cowboy coffee pots

While it might be considered "retro", you can still use this old method of throwing grounds in boiling water, then drinking (and often chewing!) the results. All you need are a black enamel pot, a campfire and ground coffee

There are different schools of thought about the best way to brew campfire or cowboy coffee. Add a handful of fresh grounds to a pot of cold water and boil it; or, boil it then add the grounds (my preferred method). Some campfire chefs throw in crushed eggshells - or even a whole egg! -  to help the grounds settle, but I've never subscribed to that.

Whichever method you choose, when the grounds sink, the coffee is ready.

Coffee, percolator style

When my regular camping partner tired (very quickly!) of my cowboy coffee on our early trips together, we switched to a percolator to keep the grounds out of the water.
The coffee is a-brewin'...

I remember this as the preferred method on all our family camping trips. Of course, my dad wasn't a cowboy and the cappuccino craze hadn't hit North America, then. The first percolators were made in 1825, so it is a tried-and-true method of coffee brewing.

The method is simple: fill the basket with coffee, the pot with water, boil it then percolate it until the coffee is as strong as you like it. You'll need to experiment to determine how long to percolate it to reach the desired strength.

Campers can "espresso" themselves

These hit the market in the early 1990s.  My partner still wasn't crazy about my camp coffee, so I bought this little device for her birthday one year. (She's never complained about my coffee since - or about any birthday present, either.)

Brewing with this set-up is similar to using a percolator: fill a basket with espresso-grind, fill the pot with water, then heat it until the coffee is forced up through the upper chamber and nozzle into your waiting cups. Once the brew is out, there is still enough steam coming from the nozzle to froth milk if you want to turn your espresso into cappuccino.
Who's up for camp espresso?

 This works best over a portable stove, or a Coleman stove, than a campfire. Place a cup (metal!) on the lid to catch the coffee before it starts coming out, because when it is ready, it comes out very fast!

Press-ing on to new coffee frontiers

So-called "French presses" or plunger pots became all the rage in homes about the same time campfire cappuccinos became available. Now they are available for camping, either as plunger pots or press/cup combinations, in which the press/plunger doubles as a lid.

The method is very simple: boil water, add it to grounds in the pot/mug, steep to the desired strength, then press the plunger down. Pour it into a mug, and voila! - a strong cup of java without grounds. Aficionados claim it is closer to a "true" coffee taste, although having chewed a few chocolate-covered coffee beans in my time, I can vouch it still doesn’t compare to the taste (or kick!) of a few of those caffeine-packed goodies.

Whatever method you choose, a drop or two of Bailey's always seems to make it go down even better.

To put you in the mood, I'll leave you with this music video by Jerry Vandiver, dedicated to those of us who really appreciate their coffee in camp.

It's tough to beat the scenery and ambiance of coffee enjoyed in the outdoors.

(A slightly different version of this was originally published in Coast Magazine, July 2001, B.C. edition)

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