Kitchn Love Letters

This $11 Gadget Makes Ridiculously Amazing Coffee

published Jun 2, 2021
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Around 2 p.m. every day, I need (okay, want, I want) a cup of coffee. However, I know I shouldn’t make a whole pot. Because then I’ll drink it all — and be up all night. Enter: My tiny, $11 backcountry drip coffee maker. It’s one of my favorite things ever (coffee and beyond). It’s light! It’s portable! It’s easy! It’s cute — er, i mean rugged! It makes a dang good cup of coffee!

I initially bought the GSI Ultralight Java Drip Coffee Maker for car camping, backpacking, paddling, and other outdoor adventures. While I still use it for those things — it weighs less than half an ounce and fits in my backpack — it’s also perfect for use in my home kitchen. I choose it, still, when I have electricity and other perks of home comforts like water from a tap.

It’s essentially a nylon mesh filter with three legs that attaches to nearly any mug (but one without a rim is best). Although it’s designed so you don’t need to use an additional filter with it, I’ve learned that, unless you have perfected the slow, controlled spiral pour from a gooseneck kettle (which I highly recommend!), a filter helps slow the brew time and leads to a more robust flavor.

Credit: Alyssa Walker

I typically use a regular ol’ paper filter. However, in a pinch (like, ahem, when I’m in the middle of the woods), I’ve also used paper towels and napkins, folding them so there’s at least two layers of filtration.

Because the brew time is fast, filter or not, I’m also careful about the grind. I grind my beans at home (fresher! Richer! Better!), but if you buy your beans at the coffee shop or grocery store, you should get one with a medium-coarse grind. (Read why evenness of coffee grinds matters here!)

And so, finally, you may be wondering: What does brewing a cup of joe with this contraption look like — from start to finish? Here’s how my typical mid-day Java Drip Routine goes: Grab my favorite mug, throw the Java Drip on top, add a filter and four tablespoons of ground beans, pack it down gently, and slowly swirl in some just-boiled water for as long as it takes the brewed coffee to fill my mug. I like to leave some time in between swirls of water to allow the beans to bloom. But that’s it! That’s the I-want-just-one-cup-of-good-coffee system that also fits in a backpack. Always ready for adventure — or just when 2 p.m. hits.

Do you have a favorite inexpensive coffee maker? Tell us about it in the comments!