With so many ways of making coffee, why even consider making coffee the cowboy way? Well, making cowboy coffee has a few advantages and not only while camping, but also at home.
Cowboy coffee is the simplest way of brewing hot coffee! If you can think of a more straightforward way, let me know. All you really need is a pot that can boil water. It’s also a great way of making a large amount of coffee for a group.
The cowboy coffee method doesn’t take filters, pour-over housing, or a large pot with a spreader cover and pump stem like a coffee percolator. It uses an extraction technique called decoction. Cowboy coffee is intermingled with boiling water during the brewing process.
Sounds exciting; let’s get into making coffee the cowboy way!
What Is Cowboy Coffee?
Cowboy coffee is a traditional drink made by cowboys and hikers on the trail. It’s brewed by heating coarse grounds (see pictures below of the right grind size) with hot water and then pouring it into a cup after the grounds have settled.
You’ll get minimal to no coffee grounds in your cup if done correctly. It’s a great way of making coffee while camping because you’ll end up with a large quantity of coffee for everyone in your group instead of waiting for a pour-over or steeping coffee bags.
How To Make Cowboy Coffee
- Fill the pot with cold or hot water. Preferably hot, but that would add another step. Keep in mind to leave room to avoid spillover while heating.
- Put your pot of water on the flame. This can be high heat because we’re just warming the water at this point.
- Once the water starts to boil, remove it from the flame for 30 seconds. It will lower the water temperature to around 200 degrees (the ideal temperature for coffee).
- Add 2 tablespoons of coffee to your pot for every 8 ounces of water.
- Stir the grounds and let sit for 2 minutes.
- Stir the grounds for the last time and let the pot sit for another 2 minutes.
- With 4 minutes of total time, add a little cold water to settle the grounds at the bottom of the pot.
- Pour your coffee slowly so grounds don’t flow in your cup.
This is the best method that I’ve found. I’ve made cowboy coffee with my special pot with tiny holes coming out of the spout, as well as my jetboil. Preferably you’d have a cowboy coffee pot because it will catch any grounds that don’t settle down to the bottom.
Alternative Method: I tried this, but I thought it over-extracted the beans. After step 4, let the pot with the grounds you added sit back on the flame with the gas valve closed more (low flame). If you’re making coffee on an open fire, move the pot so it’s halfway off the flame. This will prevent boil-over while still keeping the water simmering.
You can find the cowboy coffee pot I use here.
Cowboy Coffee Grind Size
Just about every style of making coffee needs a different grind size. You can use a pre-ground coffee from a store that’s made for drip coffee, but you might end up with some of those grounds in your cup.
I used the largest grind size from my grinder, so the holes in the pot spout will catch any grounds trying to flow in my cup.
You can find a blade grinder if you don’t have a burr grinder; they are affordable compared to burr grinders. With a blade grinder, you’ll want to grind your beans for a few seconds only. My pictures below are about the best I can do trying to get coarse coffee grounds.
If you don’t have a grinder or want to grind fresh beans while you’re out camping, check out this hand grinder that is small and can make a coarse grind. Another nice thing about this grinder is its ability to get fine for espresso so you can use it at home too.
Get the Right Pot
As I mentioned above, one of the great things about this coffee method is you probably already have everything you need to make cowboy coffee.
I first tried this with my jetboil on a camping trip with my brother, and it worked. We did get some grounds in our cups because the jetboil isn’t very large, and there’s no strainer on the spout.
You can see from my picture that the inside of this dedicated cowboy coffee pot has these little holes to catch any floating grounds. This, combined with adding a few ounces of cold water to knock the grounds down, makes a clean cup of coffee.
Suppose you’re serious about trying this while camping with a group of people. I highly recommend getting one of these. This is the cowboy coffee pot I use here.
Why Would You Put Eggshells in Coffee?
Alright, this is a little weird. I heard about putting eggshells in the coffee pot from my mother of all places. She said my grandfather used to do it, so I looked it up.
Coffee is acidic at around 4 to 5 on the pH scale. For reference, water is at a 7 pH. Lower than 7 pH means it’s acidic, and bases are above 7 pH. Because coffee is on the acidic side of the pH scale, it can be bitter. If coffee were on the higher end of the pH scale, it would taste sour.
Now Alkalines. These are simply bases that are soluble in water and can neutralize acids. So, with coffee being acidic and eggshells being alkaline, you can see why eggshells will neutralize bitter coffee.
But do eggshells in coffee really work? That’s what I tested!
I could have tested this with making any coffee method, but cowboy coffee is the best way of testing this out because, by its very nature, cowboy coffee will have the highest chance of being bitter. Boiling coffee grounds and essentially re-cooking coffee in the pot can make a bitter brew.
Combined with the chance of over-extracting the coffee grounds by letting the pot cook your grounds for too long. When the extraction process begins, the good flavors we want from coffee come out first, followed by unpleasant flavors we don’t want.
It’s the same with making coffee with a French press; letting it sit too long will make your coffee bitter.
Eggshells in Coffee Results
It might have been in my head, but I tasted a difference. I also used Robusta coffee beans because they are more on the bitter side, with an extra caffeine kick. Will I make coffee with eggshells again? Probably not, but I would if I go camping with a group just for the novelty.
Robusta beans are usually only used for blending. Please take a look at my article, all about blending different coffee beans, for further detail.
Best Way to Adjust The Strength of Cowboy Coffee
As a general rule, it’s 2 tablespoons of coffee to your pot for every 8 ounces of water. This amount of coffee to water ratio will produce great coffee. If you’re the kind of person that likes a real strong cup, add more grounds to the pot and add another minute or two for complete extraction of the coffee beans.
Adding time will make a more robust cup, but it can make your coffee a little bitter as well. So, it might take some trial and error until you find your perfect ratio of time, grounds, and water.
If you want more caffeine in your coffee, check out this Dalat Highlands Robusta Whole Bean Coffee. This is the coffee that I use to test out all the different coffee methods in my articles.
Robusta coffee beans have almost twice as much caffeine as the generally preferred arabica coffee beans you’ll find in most stores or cafes.
If you still want more kick to your cup, take a look at my article about coffee-making methods that will yell the most caffeine per cup in my article, Medium vs. Dark Roast Caffeine!
How Does Cowboy Coffee Taste Compare to Other Brewing Methods
It’s just a stronger way to make a cup of coffee. It really reminds me of French press coffee, in that it’s a strong cup with all the oils from the beans still inside.
Cowboy coffee is by no means a “clean cup of coffee.” If you served someone a cup from this method along with a pour-over, even the average joe would know the difference.
How Does It Compare to a Coffee Percolator
Why not just use a percolator, so you don’t have to mess with the grounds?
If you have a coffee percolator and don’t mind messing with a few extra parts, then you might as well just use that. I’ve been drinking coffee with both of these methods for about a week now, and they taste just about the same to me.
This makes sense, though. Both of these brew methods will make a bold, strong cup of coffee. They are also reheating coffee already made, giving the final pot of brewed coffee the same flavor.
After drinking coffee from both methods, I think I like percolator coffee more. This might just be nostalgia, as this is how the adults made coffee while camping when I was little.
If you’re looking for a percolator, check out the one I have here.
What Kind of Camping Stove To Use With Cowboy Coffee
If you’re going to be using this method, you’re probably going to be car camping. I can’t imagine hiking with this pot hanging off my backpack, but maybe you’re into that.
Anyways, I wanted to show the size of the bottom of the pot on a camping stove.
My small MSR gas canister stove is a little too small. With the pot boiling and the water rolling, it did seem a little top-heavy. A wood-burning stove or a stove with a bigger base is probably a better option.
If you’re at a campsite without a firepit, you can use a portable wood-burning stove. They fold flat to stuff in a camping backpack, so they stay out of the way.
They make a few different kinds of wood-burning stoves: square and round ones of all different sizes. Click on the picture below to see every size and explain what they are all good for.
What To Do With the Left Over Coffee
If you make too much coffee, it doesn’t have to go to waste. Pour the leftover coffee into a container and put it in your cooler.
This will make great iced coffee for later that’s perfect in the summertime. It’s a great idea to use your brewed coffee for ice cubes so your coffee won’t taste diluted.
I wrote a detailed article on how to make the best iced coffee at home.
It’s fun to try new ways of making our favorite beverage. Even if you don’t make cowboy coffee daily, it’s a great way of showing off your skills when you get a chance when camping!
Please make sure to check out our article on how to make coffee camping or hiking. I break down the methods from the easier to the hardest (which is also the best way).