Quick Tip: Easy Cowboy-style Coffee

Few things are romanticized in the outdoors as much as the morning coffee.

Countless stories over the years about sitting around the campfire and making the morning brew.  Or perhaps contemplating the next step in a journey while sipping a morning cup.

There are many ways to make coffee while backpacking or camping.

Among the most popular:

  • Starbucks Via or similar
  • Instant coffee such as Nescafe’
  • French Press
  • A percolator
  • Cowboy Coffee

Starbucks Via or similar micro ground coffee is efficient and practical and tastes OK to even good. If somewhat expensive or labor intensive if DIY.

Nescafe’ type coffee is inexpensive and even more utilitarian. With even less of an OK to good taste. 🙂

And a French Press makes a very good cup, too. But it is extra gear and the amount produced is relatively small esp when sharing.

A percolator produces a delicious cup that seems to pair well with desert sunrises and winter camps. A robust and bold cuppa joe. But it is time-consuming and is an extra piece of gear to take. And you certainly can’t take it efficiently when backpacking. Cleanup is a bit of a pain in the field, too. But there is a certain romanticism about making coffee this way versus other methods.

“Cowboy Coffee” is super simple to make even backpacking.  All you need are coffee grounds, a pot, and a stove that can go to a low simmer (or a  campfire in popular imagination). And there is a romanticism about Cowboy Coffee that exceeds even the percolator.  Sit by the fire, sip the coffee, and look at the Milky Way above perhaps with a little nip of whiskey in the coffee.  But sifting the grounds through your teeth is not always fun. And the cleaning and disposing of the grounds can be a hassle.

But there is another method I learned about this past summer from a client.  Doug is an active outdoors person with much experience in the Boyscouts including many years attending, leading trips, and working at the famous Philmont Scout Ranch.

At some point during our trip, we talked about Cowboy Coffee. He shared a tip he uses. Essentially Cowboy Coffee without all the messy cleanup or chewy grounds. He even uses this method when he has house guests as you can make a very large batch easily versus the relatively small amounts of a drip coffee maker.

I think the idea is simple, functional, and cool! And wonder why I did not think of it earlier?!?!

So I thought I’d share this idea and spread the good word.

What you need:

At home:

  • Dole out coffee in the filter and make a sachet of coffee grounds with the twine or bands. That’s it!
    • I find two or four heaping scoops is best. Two scoops are good for one mug, a sachet of four scoops is good for two.
    • Make as many sachets as you need for the trip

In the field:

  • Add a sachet to your cook pot with water and place on low flame.

  • Heat until coffee comes to desired strength

  • Sip and enjoy!

You can use this method for backpacking if you have a leisurely morning and the fuel and definitely for car camping.

This method is superficially similar to the nasty coffee bags popular for backpacking about fifteen or more years ago, but this method is not instant.  In addition to being less expensive with this ersatz Cowboy Coffee, there is a much better taste!

Instead, this method is meant for leisurely mornings or getting up early to make the coffee before the day starts. Another advantage of this method is that you don’t have to grind or procure coffee different from how you make it at home. A lot less work than DIY micro grind coffee. 

Is this easy “Cowboy Coffee” a suitable method for all circumstances? Probably not.  This method uses more fuel than instant coffee and is more time consuming to prepare versus instant, too.

For me, I’ll stick to the Nescafe’ type when backpacking or need a quick cup while camping or on the road. But if I have a leisurely morning or the time, this method of making Cowboy Coffee an excellent way to go. Easy to prepare ahead of time at home or even in the field.

And it makes a good cuppa joe!

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5 years ago

A few years ago I discovered Medaglia d”Oro Instant Espresso, thanks to “sarbar” of trailcooking.com. It’s the only instant I’ve found that tastes like real coffee. I use it at home, too! My daughter, who’s even fussier about coffee than I am, also uses it. Obviously, individual tastes differ, but it’s worth a try if you want a decent cuppa with the convenience of instant.

5 years ago

Not being an addicted coffee drinker and therefore not having worried with coffee on the trail recently, what about disposal of the grounds and filter?

5 years ago

Thanks! Really appreciate your posts and site! Helped tremendously when planning our recent trip through Lost Creek Wilderness. Great recommendation from you, and an amazing place!

Axel J
Axel J
5 years ago

There is actually a technique to making proper cowboy (or bush) coffee as I discovered from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX91Nj0uItI&feature=youtu.be Start with cold water in a pot then add the coffee on top. Do not stir or use a lid! Bring to a boil. You will notice the water seeping through the grounds, then let it boil for one minute. After the one minute, remove from the flame then tap the side of the pot and add a dash of cold water to drive the grounds to the bottom. Remember, never stir the grounds into the water! I’m a pour over… Read more »

5 years ago

I’ve made coffee bags from cotton muslin. There are lots of ways to do this, but it can be as simple as hemming up a square like a handkerchief. Put some coffee grounds in the middle, fold it up and tie it off with some cotton twine. The spent coffee grounds can be shaken out and disposed of. The cloth can be dried out and reused. You can also form the muslin into a filter shape and use it to strain the grounds out of the coffee. Spent coffee grounds belong on the compost pile whenever possible.