How to Make Coffee in the Backcountry: Gear and Methods
Oct 31, 2019 at 1:12 pm #3616646
Yeah, I pretty much agree with Roger. There are a few cases that grounds are not good for natural conditions: On a rock face, at altitude, or, in the stream. (Even in the stream doesn’t do any real damage, but it can influence local bacteria. Here in the ADK’s, with all the natural tannin in the water, even that can be ignored, but it creates an unsightly mess.)
In the woods, it is easy to simply walk 20-30yd from a camp site and give the grounds a good toss, effectively scattering them around on the forest duff. Basically, once brewed, they are simply a woody product subject to natural decay. Just do NOT leave grounds in piles. They are effectively sterilized and it can take a while for any decay process to utilize them.
I gave up on that stuff a while ago. Both GSI types were fairly messy to dear with. After the third spill, I just tossed the stand up drip filter when I got home. The other “collapsible” one didn’t work as well. Anyway, instant requires like a spoon and a half for a decently strong cup of coffee. The drip brewer always required three spoonfulls of finely ground coffee. So, the weight was a factor. Usually in the morning, I am busy packing. I get the stove going to boil the first cup, and pack my sleeping bag. I then roll up my pad and go back to mix up my mud, and start the full pot. As the cup cools, I change my cloths and finish packing all my dry gear, often delaying the final compression step while I have my jacket on. As I finish my first cup, I usually have my shoes changed and watch the critters for a few minutes. Then I turn off the stove and fix my second cup, and put the remainder under my hat. As my second cup cools, I usually UV one water bottle for hiking, and, dump in coffee and cocoa in the second. Then I pour in about a cup into that bottle and mix it. Then I take the tarp down and roll it up (if it isn’t raining.) Then I drink my second cup and fix my third cup, adding any remainder to the coffee bottle, reserving just enough to rinse stuff out/brush my teeth. I just sit and enjoy the surroundings as I finish my coffee. I do my morning clean-up chores then. I pack up all the odds and ends (stakes, tooth brush, paste, food bag, top off my coffee bottle, etc) and strip off my jacket, and compress my jacket, sleeping bag, long johns & socks and start packing my pack. Everything is pretty much ready to drop in. Compression sack, food bag, ditty bag (stove in the ditty bag,) spoon, stakes, tarp gets rolled into my pot, Pad slips onto my cup, sweater goes on top and I close it up. Drop my water bottles in one side, and fuel, windscreen, saw in the other. I sling it up and fasten it down, grabbing my staff, ready to hike. I take two or three steps away and stop to survey the campsite, insuring I didn’t forget anything. Instant coffee just makes it all go much easier than fiddling around trying to make 5 cups of coffee in the morning any other way. At 1000 on the trail, it is nice to have a still warm drink, unless it is cold out. Iced mocha is good anyway.Oct 31, 2019 at 1:40 pm #3616648
Roger, thanks! Yeah, you’re probably right, I’m likely overthinking the impact of leaving some spent grounds behind.
I’m going to try a few brews without the extra paper filter and see how it goes… less waste is better too as long as the drip rate doesn’t get reduced to “painfully slow” I’m willing to give it a try :-)Oct 31, 2019 at 3:43 pm #3616673Simon WeissBPL Member
@simongtrLocale: Bay Area
On this topic, vacuum packaging doesn’t prevent off-gassing/volatilization. IF anything, pressurized, nitrogenated packages should be used. But that may be enough to make the pre-ground coffee passable for backpacking. For it’s rarely worth the extra equipment required to brew.
Either I’m willing to take a grinder and all the supplies to brew fresh-ground coffee, or I’m concerned about weight and volume and will go with instant.
Btw, not the lightest, but best portable grinder I’ve used (really for travel or car camping): 1Zpresso grinder is amazing. Better than Lido 1 or Lido 2, the porlex grinders, and some other fancy portables.Oct 31, 2019 at 4:20 pm #3616676Joe GaffneyBPL Member
I’m a decaf drinker, so my options are more limited. I tried the Starbucks Via for a while, but I found that Mount Hagen is better. You can find it in jars at Whole Foods, but the decaf packets are available on Amazon (what isn’t?).Oct 31, 2019 at 5:18 pm #3616685Dondo .BPL Member
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
Another Mount Hagen fan here, caffeinated in my case. Tastier than Via, and a better deal. I found it at Natural Grocers both in the jar and in single-serve packets.Oct 31, 2019 at 8:32 pm #3616730Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
IF anything, pressurized, nitrogenated packages should be used. But that may be enough to make the pre-ground coffee passable for backpacking.
Actually, now I check, my preferred brand is not packed under vacuum. Maybe nitrogen? The other one is, or at least at low pressure.
CheersNov 1, 2019 at 12:15 am #3616769Nov 1, 2019 at 12:26 am #3616774
I drink around three in the morning. I leave camp about an hour after dawn or so. Then I hike a couple hours and drink my coffee from the water bottle. I don’t drink anymore coffee till the next day. I am good till about 1700 or around 15mi at around 1.5-2.0mi/hr. Used to do more, but I am getting older. No, I am not quite mainlining, but I have thought about it.Nov 1, 2019 at 2:07 am #3616810Brett ABPL Member
Yet another Mount Hagen fan. Tried the single serve “regular octane” packets on a whim after seeing them at Whole Foods. Cheaper than Via and found I liked the taste MUCH better. Best instant I’ve come across. Will be my new gotoNov 1, 2019 at 3:00 am #3616824Ryan JordanAdmin
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
I drink around three in the morning.
Very impressed, that’s an awfully early start 😂Nov 1, 2019 at 3:32 am #3616835
“Very impressed, that’s an awfully early start”
Sounds like a climber to me.Nov 1, 2019 at 10:39 pm #3616914
Ryan, Daybreak is my normal awake time. Summers is close to 0430, fall and spring closer to 0630. I’ll leave the winter stuff to you.Nov 13, 2019 at 8:22 pm #3618527
As for the cowboy coffee, we included the method for that in one of our previous coffee editions and it seemed redundant to include it again. It’s included in the first link. Good cowboy coffee doesn’t come at zero weight in my experience, it needs a good pot, (which is exclusively tied up for coffee for a while) good technique, and even then it will have some grounds in it. I’m fine with grounds (I eat the beans after all) but many of my hiking partners are not. The other serious buzz kill with cowboy coffee is the cleanup, which is the main reason I stopped doing it.Nov 13, 2019 at 8:49 pm #3618538
As to the freshness of pre-ground coffee there is some validity to it not being as fresh. Unroasted coffee beans retain freshness for up to five years. As soon as the oils in the beans are heated during the roasting process the beans start to go stale at an increased rate. Grinding the beans, of course, increases oxygen exposure and further escalating the process. Of course, freeze drying coffee after it has been roasted, ground and brewed also degrades freshness.
Coffee beans are at the peak of freshness for a week to two weeks after roasting. The only way to ensure peak freshness is to roast and grind your own fresh beans or find a small batch producer who can give you fresh roasted beans. Grinding and brewing pre-roasted beans can help but not significantly.
If you want to pull full on coffee snob, get fresh beans, a chestnut roaster, an espresso grinder, and handle production on your own. If you are roasting your own beans the day before you head out, you can probably get away with grinding a weeks worth of coffee and still have fresher coffee than anything you can buy. (Yes, I’ve done this.) A fresh batch of ground coffee straight from a roastery would likely be a pretty close second.
Here is the catch, people who have never experienced fresh roasted coffee from a country which produces coffee don’t know the difference fresh beans make.
Almost every coffee drinker can tell when someone brews a good cup of coffee or not. Brewing technique is just as important as bean freshness in making a great cup of coffee.
Another wildly important point here is some water makes better coffee than others. Soft water (usually high in things like soda or sulphur) makes terrible coffee and tea. Hard water (high in minerals like iron and calcium) makes better coffee. Water type and flavor easily impacts coffee quality as much or more than the beans.Nov 14, 2019 at 3:20 am #3618586
“Water type and flavor easily impacts coffee quality as much or more than the beans.”
Would distilled water make for a better cup? Thinking home use here, as it would not be practical in the backcountry.Nov 14, 2019 at 4:25 am #3618628Todd TBPL Member
@texasbbLocale: Pacific Northwest
As a recovering coffee snob I concur with everything Emylene said. For years I roasted, ground, pulled my own shots. I quit after wearing out my third cheap roaster and decided not to buy a fourth till I could afford the one I wanted (which would require some mods to the kitchen). Then I decided I didn’t want to afford that, so I’m too embarrassed to say what I drink now.
For backpacks longer than a couple days or with a high-ish degree of difficulty, I wean myself off coffee and don’t drink any while I’m out. For shorter trips, it’s Starbucks Via.Nov 14, 2019 at 4:32 am #3618630Ryan JordanAdmin
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
Tom (K) – I don’t have any data to prove it, but anecdotally, using distilled water has resulted in more bitterness, all other things being equal, when I’m making a pour-over at home. Not sure if that’s valid for machine coffee as well.
When comparing distilled to carbon-filtered (and softened), carbon-filtered (not softened), and (hard) tap water at home – I prefer carbon filtered and not softened. Tap water chlorine bothers me, and softened water doesn’t pull as much flavor out.
Again, this is all with manual methods through plastic manual espresso pumps and ceramic pour-over cones.Nov 14, 2019 at 5:06 am #3618632
In my experience, distilled water makes better coffee than soft water. I still prefer a good cup of hard water coffee though. I think the calcium is the main source of neutralizing the bitterness. (Which is also why some cowboys put eggshells in their coffee and why milk is a popular additive.)
I’ve tried little carbon filters for my back country water bottles and they do help neutralize some mineral flavors which detract from coffee and tea.
Distilled water also makes a superior cup of tea. Try any herbal tea in hard, soft and distilled water and you’ll find soft water has an odd flavor and discolors herbal teas to a grayish color, hard water reacts with the tannins and leaves ‘tea scum’ in your cup. Make a blueberry tea in the distilled water and the color will be reddish purple and there will be no ‘tea scum.’Nov 14, 2019 at 11:31 am #3618657
—?—Question for coffee experts—?—
I always buy whole beans for home use and grind each batch just before brewing. For backpacking trips I grind beans the morning of, or evening before, a trip. Because of work and family I rarely get into the backcountry for more than 3-4 nights at a spell.
My question is how long do you suppose it takes for the freshly ground (organic, fair trade, pre roasted) beans to lose their vitality? Is it overkill for me to bring a grinder into the field for just 3-4 days? I’ve personally never noticed a huge difference in taste on day 4 but would consider bringing a grinder if A) it’s relatively light and B) can actually give a very fine grind. The Coarseness of the grind greatly affects the potency for my preferred home and backcountry brewing method, Pour-over. If the grind is too coarse the brew comes out weak and insipid and wouldn’t be worth the extra weight of a typical hand-crank grinder.
thanks in advance from an unrefined coffee drinking Mainer! <[8^)
on an aside, for tea, blueberry sounds delightful! I bring turmeric and a chunk of fresh ginger and mince it up in the field. I add it to whatever tea bag I bring. It really lifts my spirits after a long hike and it helps aid muscle recovery. It also aids in digestion of all those energy bars :)Nov 14, 2019 at 2:26 pm #3618663
I’d say the answer on that depends on your taste buds, the beans you are grinding, and the grinder you use.
Organic, or not, likely has little impact on the degradation rate, though there may be some ‘freshness enhancing’ additives in non-organic coffee though I can’t say as its on the label of most coffees. Roasting has the primary effect on coffee beans going stale. ‘Peak freshness’ is about up to a week from roasting. (As a result, most coffee drinkers have never experienced ‘peak’ freshness and don’t know the difference.)
If you are buying pre-roasted (or pre ground) beans from a grocery store, they are probably already past ‘peak’ freshness. In fact, unless a coffee shop has a roaster on site, those beans are probably also past ‘peak’ freshness too.
As a Canadian, I get most produce, including coffee, past its peak. It’s a long way to Canada from places that grow fresh produce in January. Unless you live in Washington State, Nevada, Pennsylvania or South Carolina, Starbucks coffee beans have been roasted for quite a while before you get them. For a while, my tiny little Alberta hometown had a roastery. I didn’t care for their roasting technique though. Since they didn’t stay open, I suspect I was not the only one. (Which, of course, makes another point, roasting technique also plays a role in coffee flavor.)
In my experimentation, my tastebuds said coffee ground within a week of consumption is almost as good as coffee ground just before consumption. The flavor degrades a bit from there but not enough I will turn my nose up at it, it still tastes better than instant.
I’ve never justified a hand grinder on the trail because I have yet to find one that does a good (espresso or otherwise) grind. I’m toying with trying a pepper mill. It take forever to grind enough coffee though so I’ve been dragging my heels. I found a tiny mill though, the size of a salt shaker, I just have to take the pepper out.
So in answer, for 3-4 days, if you can’t taste much difference, don’t worry about packing a grinder. I spent 2 weeks in the NWT this summer with pre-ground espresso and it was just fine. I can taste the difference but that doesn’t mean there is enough of a difference to justify packing more stuff. Especially, if you are craving simplicity. Just because the coffee isn’t and ‘peak’ freshness doesn’t mean it tastes bad, it could just taste better. I’m of the opinion that coffee is nature’s perfect supplement, even stale coffee beats no coffee.Nov 14, 2019 at 2:28 pm #3618664JCHBPL Member
“..even stale coffee beats no coffee”
Truth. Coffee is Now!Nov 14, 2019 at 8:08 pm #3618712Todd TBPL Member
@texasbbLocale: Pacific Northwest
Once again I’m in agreement with Emylene. Unground coffee does last a little longer than pre-ground, but only a tiny bit. I personally would never bother taking a grinder into the backcountry. It’s roasting that triggers the slide to staleness. Coffee needs to “rest” for one or two days after roasting, then it’s good for one to almost two weeks, depending on the bean and the roast. Not the question here, but I’ve tried all kinds of vacuum storage, refrigeration, freezing, and other voodoo, but nothing will extend the life of roasted coffee.Nov 14, 2019 at 8:28 pm #3618715Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
The local roastery whose coffee I buy makes several blends. I find which one I use and how much ground coffee I use per cup to be equally important factors. I carry the ground coffee in an airtight container, which seems to do a decent job too.
After that, I find the locale for morning tea to be just as important to our enjoyment. After all, good coffee is good coffee.
CheersNov 15, 2019 at 3:58 am #3618823
“When comparing distilled to carbon-filtered (and softened), carbon-filtered (not softened), and (hard) tap water at home – I prefer carbon filtered and not softened. Tap water chlorine bothers me, and softened water doesn’t pull as much flavor out.”
I was just wondering, as I have never tried distilled water. We use a Brita filter to remove the obnoxious chlorine taste from our water, and it seems to work fine for coffee. In the backcountry, I brewed cowboy style for years with Sierra creek water and found the results to be delicious. But much of that may well have been very careful selection of variety and roaster, to my taste, not to mention the surroundings. Everyone has their own feelings on that score, so my comments are just my contribution to the growing body of anecdotal evidence. Coffee is sooooo personal. ;0)Nov 15, 2019 at 1:46 pm #3618935
Yeah, great pic roger !
and thx, Emylene, for your thorough response! I will forgo a field grinder for now… Living in Northern Maine in a border town where freshness is lacking also and unfortunately the only roaster here isn’t that great…
-aside- My father is notorious for leaving a full pot of brewed coffee in the carafe for up to a week. Yuk! It tastes like excrement… He says mold is good for you!!! But he also will eat moldy bread… he grew up poor with 11 siblings so if he didn’t want to starve he just ate whatever before someone else did. His immune system is probably quite robust! And his taste buds are likely non functioning xD
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Our Community Posts are Moderated
Backpacking Light community posts are moderated and here to foster helpful and positive discussions about lightweight backpacking. Please be mindful of our values and boundaries and review our Community Guidelines prior to posting.