Using your French Press While Camping: Better Cowboy Coffee

Using a French press while outdoors and camping might seem like a challenge versus the traditional cowboy or instant coffee routine that camping is so often associated with, but with a few key tips, you’ll be able to enjoy a nice, delicious, and piping hot press of coffee out of your French Press in no time.

Cowboy Coffee

Why use a French press when camping?

One of the main reasons is the quality of coffee that a French press can yield, which will make any camping guests happy, and the fact that a large amount of coffee can be brewed and prepared in one swing. Not only is the process quick, but you’ll most likely have most of the necessary equipment on a check list of stuff to bring.

Camping Considerations

To start, you will need a French press, a way to heat water, coffee beans or grounds, and serving cups. The choice of French press does matter, but only slightly. You will want a larger French press if you’re looking to serve several people and it also helps to have a press made out of a durable material, such as metal. A glass French press can also work well, but do keep its more fragile nature in mind, caring to wrap it securely in your backpack. There are outdoor specific French presses that come equipped with the ability to perform a variety of secondary functions, but these aren't necessary and any French press will work.

Two immediate concerns for using your French Press while camping are 1) how the water will be heated, and 2) how to prepare your coffee beans.

Campfire Coffee

For heating water, chances are you’ll already have a kettle that will sit right in a campfire, and if you don’t, there are several options for heating the water. One option is a metal kettle, another is a regular pot, and there are also gas-powered water heaters. Generally, the kettle is the most affordable option. However, if you plan on bringing an electric generator, a regular electric kettle will work just fine. 

When it comes to your coffee beans, initially the decision is whether or not you want to bring coffee beans and grind them on-site or bring pre-ground coffee.  Of course, to yield the best coffee, you could bring a scale, hand grinder, and a package of vacuum sealed beans to weigh and grind the beans prior to using them. However, such a method is cumbersome. Instead, bring a small portable grinder, substitute the scale for a tablespoon, and use a volumetric ratio. If packing particularly leanly, just bring pre-proportioned quantities of coffee ground at home beforehand.

Coffee Grounds

Brewing in the Outdoors

If weighing all of the ingredients, to produce about 1.75 cups (237 ml) of coffee, you’ll need 27 grams of coarsely ground coffee, and 400 grams of water; volumetrically, this amounts to 5 tablespoons of ground coffee and 1.75 cups (237 ml) of water. These amounts can be scaled up or down.

First start by heating your water. While the water is heating, put your french press a few feet away from the fire in order to get it slightly warm.  After a few minutes, dump the ground coffee into the French press while you wait for the water to hit a boil. After it boils, remove the water from heat and let it cool back down to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius).  While a thermometer is ideal to gauge the water temperature, it’s fine if you don’t have one. if you’re at an altitude that doesn’t impact the way water boils, let it reach a full boil, then let it rest for about 15 or so seconds. Be mindful that for every 500 ft above sea level you are, water boils at .9 degrees Fahrenheit lower (.5 degrees Celsius).  If you are at 8000 ft elevation, for example, water boils at just 198 degrees Fahrenheit (92 degrees Celsius), so you will want to pour the boiling water directly in.

Start a timer for four minutes, and then pour roughly a third of the water into the French press to let the grounds bloom. After a 30 second bloom, break the crust with a plastic or wooden spoon, and then finish pouring in the water. Place the lid and plunger on the press and let the remaining three and a half minutes tick town.

Chat with Friends

During this time, you can probably make some progress on breakfast, throw some more sticks in the fire, chat with your friends, and ponder life’s mysteries. Once the timer ticks, depress the plunger, and serve. After drinking, you’ll probably have a press full of spent coffee grounds.  However, part of the beauty of using a French press outdoors: you can just dump the grounds into the soil, and use a little bit of water to rinse out the press.

Now, you can enjoy a premium cup of coffee even if you are “roughing it”!