I love having my daily cup of coffee — for the caffeine, but also for the ritual involved. That's why, when I set off on a two-week bike trip at the end of summer, I brought along a pretty serious coffee setup. Taking a normal ritual and doing it somewhere entirely different is special, which is why I'm such an advocate of making coffee outside.
So what do you need to make good coffee outside? Well, there's one secret you should definitely know — plus a few more tips and tricks of the trade.
The Secret to Brewing Good Coffee Outside
The main secret to good coffee outdoors is the same secret for coffee indoors: good beans. You can have all the fancy outdoor coffee-brewing gear in the world, but if the beans are bad, the cup of coffee will be too. Bring along beans from your favorite roaster, or use your trip as an excuse to find beans from a roaster you've never tried before.
Of course, it also helps to have good gear, but I've brewed cowboy coffee on numerous occasions, and as long as you are using good coffee beans, you'd be surprised at how good of a cup you can brew. All you need is coffee, water, a pot, and a stove.
There are two camps on making coffee: those who add the coffee grounds before boiling the water, and those who add the grounds in after. With both methods, after a few minutes of brewing time, you can sprinkle a little cold water on the grounds (which helps them settle) and then pour slowly so as to not get too many grounds in your cup.
The Right Gear for Brewing Coffee Outside
If you already brew coffee at home in anything other than an electric coffee maker, you probably already have gear that can be used to make coffee outside. I've seen plenty of people gently wrap a French press in a towel and take it on car camping trips. Moka pots are also popular with the espresso-loving crowd.
But if you're planning on making coffee outside often, having durable, lightweight gear that's intended for travel can be worth the investment. Of course, the right gear depends on how you like to brew your coffee. Here are my top picks, according your method of choice.
If you like pour-over coffee ...
Pour over is an easy method to pull off outside (and also to clean up) since the filter holds all of the grounds. If you're making single cups of coffee, you can brew directly over the coffee cup, but if you are making coffee for a crowd, consider having a Thermos or larger vessel that you can brew a batch of coffee into.
MSR makes a pour-over filter that fits directly into your coffee cup, GSI Outdoors has a collapsible one made out of silicone, and Snowpeak makes a collapsible coffee dripper that folds down flat and is pretty lightweight (this is the one I travel with).
If you use a French press ...
French press will always be a tried-and-true method for me, although there is a drawback: It's a little more involved to clean out the grounds, and if you are using a press that fits directly into a pot that you will also be using for cooking breakfast or any other meal, you will have to plan accordingly. On the other hand, as mentioned above, if you're car camping and willing to be gentle with it, bring your at-home French press — no need to spend money on a camping version.
Personally, I travel with a titanium French press from Snowpeak, which is lightweight and very durable. If weight isn't a concern and you're looking to serve a crowd, try this one from Planetary Design. Primus makes a version that fits directly into various kettles and pots, as does Biolite and Jetboil.
French Press Options
If you use an Aeropress ...
Aeropress is popular with the coffee-outside crowd for two reasons: It's easy to make and easy to clean. You can also invest in a reusable filter, like the Disk Coffee Filter from Able Brewing, which keeps you from having to carry a stock of filters with you.
Buy it: Able Brewing Disk Fine Coffee Filter for Aeropress, $13
If you use a grinder ...
I always carry a grinder with me when I travel, which allows me to have freshly ground beans wherever I brew, but it's definitely optional. If you don't carry a grinder, make sure you have a sealable container for your coffee grounds, and try to keep it out of the sun.
Psst! There's a second secret.
Find an outdoor kitchen with a view!
Find more outdoor cooking tips and recipes in Anna's new book, Best Served Wild: Real Food for Real Adventures.