As a born and raised Pacific Northwesterner, I really appreciate a good cup of coffee to get me going in the morning.
I love the smell, taste, and ritual of drinking a great cup of black coffee; the morning caffeine jolt is an obvious benefit, but so too perhaps are the other purported health benefits of coffee consumption.
So what’s an avid coffee consumer to do when they’re out in the wilds, far from their favorite barista?
How can you make the world’s best cup of coffee while camping?
There are a myriad of camping coffee makers on the market that enable you to brew in the frontcountry and/or backcountry, from portable french presses, to white gas powered drip coffeemakers, to percolators, to various instant coffee variations, and many, many more options…
Some are super heavy, some are ultralight friendly, some are more convoluted to use, or a hassle to clean.
So how does one go about making the World’s Best Cup of Coffee while not only considering the ease of use and cleanup, but also the simplicity that most of us seek while out in nature?
I titled this post “How to Make the World’s Best Cup of Coffee While Camping” since this blog is outdoors focused. But if length weren’t a factor, I would have more accurately titled it “How to Make the World’s Best Cup of Coffee While Camping, Road Tripping, Travelling, or (Yes) Even at Home”.
While there might be a little bit of hyperbole in that, I truly believe that there is one device that fully delivers in all those environments and makes one of the best cups of coffee you will ever have.
I’m happy to say that I’ve found that coffee maker… And I used it while exploring the American West for a year, backpacking through Colombia–even using it at 13k feet in the Andes, and during our six months driving through all of Central America.
So what is it, you ask?
The Aerobie Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker
I hadn’t heard of the Aeropress Coffee Maker until reading Tim Ferriss’ book, the Four Hour Chef. He described it as a quick, simple, easy to use, and highly portable coffee maker that baristas frequently use while travelling.
So easy that you could make an exceptionally delicious cup of coffee right on the tray table of the middle seat of an airplane. Some boutique cafes and coffee shops even offer Aeropress brews at their stores.
This discovery was prior to departing on my Epic Dirtbag Adventure, but immediately the bells were going off in my head that, if true, this would be the ideal coffeemaker while dirtbagging, travelling, and living life on the road.
Fast forward, and I’ve been using the Aeropress now pretty much every day for the past few
months years , and I’m more than 100% sold.
It consistently delivers a delicious, fresh, clean, and flavorful cup of coffee with none of the bitterness that you often find with over-steeped and over-extracted coffee brewed by other means.
It is quick and easy to make, and thankfully, clean up takes all of ten to fifteen seconds. I cannot recommend the Aeropress enough.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of glowing reviews on Amazon.com, many of which say something along the lines of “I own a French Press, drip coffee maker, and high end espresso machine, and they have all been retired and relegated to the basement thanks to the Aeropress.”
No joke, read them here.
If it delivers coffee that good in a home environment with an ease of use and portability that enables the same results at your campsite or on the tailgate of your truck?
And the thing costs less than $30? Count me in.
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How is the Aeropress Different?
The Aeropress is a unique plunger type of device that utilizes air pressure and a paper microfilter (or third party metal filters) to produce a coffee that is lower in acidity and bitterness than other conventional methods of brewing.
It looks sort of reminiscent of a French Press, but combined with the paper filter of a drip coffee maker…
The Aeropress differs from other coffee makers in a few key areas: conventional drip coffee makers tend to over-extract the beans where the hottest water contacts (at the top and the center of the grounds) while under-extracting other areas (like the sides and bottom), it is the over-extraction that produces bitterness in the finished product.
The Aeropress uses full immersion of the grounds, similar to a French Press. However, the French Press requires a coarse grind to be filtered, and thus requires a longer steeping time.
Increasing the steeping time, or (if you don’t decant it) allowing the grounds to continue steeping, produces bitterness.
Not only this, but an uneven grind also allows fine grounds to pass through into the finished product, producing the unpleasant grittiness that can be found in a French Press cup, and which will become over-extracted as you drink your cup.
Beyond the beans and grind, there are a few key variables that change the taste of the finished product.
Namely by changing the temperature of the water, the time that you allow the grounds to steep, or the coffee grounds to water ratio, you can produce a cup of coffee that exactly suits your tastes.
The Aeropress easily allows you to modify the above variables, where other conventional brewing methods do not.
By utilizing the ideal water temperature (175 degrees F), limiting steeping time so as to not over-extract the grounds, and using a paper filter to produce a pure and grit free product, you’re left with a truly delicious cup of coffee.
Are there downsides?
The Aeropress is best used as a single cup coffee maker or for a couple (just double the grounds), and is not ideal for making coffee for large groups. The paper filter also removes the oils in the beans that you would find in a French Press or similar method.
So perhaps most accurately speaking, the Aeropress produces the best single serve, paper filtered cup of coffee you’ll ever have.
I most often use it to make an Americano style cup of coffee (diluted with hot water), but it can be used to produce an espresso-like, concentrated brew.
They do also sell reusable metal disc filters for the Aeropress which obviously reduces waste, while also allowing the retention of the essential oils of the bean in the press.
I haven’t used the metal discs at this point in time (it came with like two years worth of paper filters), so I can’t comment on quality or clean up.
UPDATE: Since January 2014 I’ve been using the S Filter ultra fine stainless steel filter for my coffee down, and I can definitely say that the coffee it produces is as good or better than the paper filters.
I haven’t however had the opportunity to do a side by side taste test of each since I left my paper filters at home. I simply wanted to not have to deal with carrying a stack of filters in my pack or possibly eventually running out of paper filters.
Obvious PROs of the metal disc: only one filter, no need for replacements, it is durable (no visible signs of problems or damage after six months), and it allows essential oils to pass through the filter.
Obvious CONs of the metal disc: only one filter, so if I lose it here I’m in trouble; it is slightly more work to clean, you can’t just pop it off into the trash, usually some coffee grounds stick to it that you have to brush off and wash.Buy the Aeropress on Amazon.com
How to Make an Aeropress Cup of Coffee While Camping
What You’ll Need:
- Aerobie Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker (comes with paper filters)
- Hario Mini Mill Slim Coffee Grinder
- Whole coffee beans – buy small amounts and buy freshly roasted.
- Stainless Steel Travel Mug
What I Also Use:
- S Filter metal disc filter (to replace the paper filters)
- Jetboil Sol TI Stove for hot water
- Espresso Thermometer
- Reliance Fold-A-Carrier 2.5 Gallon Water Carrier
It may seem like a lot of steps, but I’ve really broken down the process here. Besides the boiling time and the steeping time (depending on taste), it’s actually really quick and simple.
1) Get your hot water going. I start to boil about 16 oz of water (for an Americano) in my Jetboil Sol TI.
2) Grind your beans fresh–this is important. I use a hand cranked burr grinder to produce a single serving of grounds every morning. The Hario Mini Mill Slim Coffee Grinder is the one I’ve been using, and it’s great.
3) Insert the plunger into the end of the Aeropress unit and flip it upside down–this is what is referred to as the ‘inverted’ brewing method, and is not the method described in the Aeropress instruction booklet.
4) Dump your serving of grounds into the top of the Aeropress.
5) Once the water reaches 175 degrees F, turn off your stove and pour the water over the grounds up to the halfway mark of the Aeropress.
Side note: I use one of those thin espresso thermometers to determine optimal temperature. It fits nicely in the hole on the Jetboil’s lid and ensures I’m not “overheating” my water too far past 175 degrees F (and thus also wasting fuel). With no thermometer, you can bring it to a boil and then let the water cool down for a couple minutes. The cooler brewing temperature reduces the bitterness extracted from the grounds.
6) Stir the grounds and hot water for 10-seconds or so, then top off the remaining space with hot water. Allow to steep for the desired amount of time–this is dependent on taste, but I do about 2 minutes for an Americano. If you are drinking it espresso-style, you will probably want a short steep time (some people press immediately).
7) While the coffee steeps, insert a paper filter into the lid and wet it with a little water (this keeps the filter in place for the inverted brewing method).
8) Secure the lid with filter on the Aeropress.
9) Using two hands, flip the Aeropress over on top of your coffee mug. Using just one hand, depress the plunger slowly and steadily over about 20-30 seconds. You will hear the remaining air escape at the end of the press.
10) It’s ready to drink espresso style or you can top it off with your remaining hot water for an Americano. If you want to get more elaborate you could use warm milk to make a latte.
11) Twist off the cap and (over a garbage bag) fully depress the plunger to eject the filter and coffee ‘puck’.
12) Give the end a quick rinse with water or wipe down with a cloth or paper towel. That’s it, clean up is done. 10-15 seconds tops. The plunging action has already cleaned the coffee grounds from the rest of the device.
13) Enjoy a delicious cup of coffee along with the morning glow of an awesome sunrise in a spectacular and wild setting.
The process is pretty much exactly the same in your kitchen as it is above, but replace the Jetboil with an electric water kettle.
Video Guide to Making an Aeropress Cup
I’ve been using the Aeropress almost daily for the past few years and I really, really love it.
I have brewed up a killer cup of coffee at highway rest areas, beside some of America’s most beautiful natural wonders, in the middle of the desert, the freezing Canadian Rockies, and even at 13,000 feet in the Colombian Andes.
It is quick, convenient, and easy to use. the two biggest selling points in my eyes are:
- The superior cup of coffee it produces
- The super easy cleanup method.
I’ve definitely converted a few people to the Aeropress method of brewing during my travels.
It’s an ideal car camping and traveling set up, in my opinion, and meets almost all of my needs–although it’s not as well suited as a backpacking or backcountry companion, at least not for the alpine or ultralight backpacking crowd.
The plunger unit and end cap weigh in at only 8 oz flat–so it’s not too heavy, actually (a little more than a plastic Nalgene bottle). If I’m pushing the miles or elevation I would certainly ditch the Aeropress in favor of some ultralight Starbucks VIA packets in that scenario.
But if you are going to climb Denali or Everest expedition-style or you’re doing a casual backpacking trip and dragging along the DSLR camera, then what’s another 8+ oz in your pack for some truly world class coffee? 🙂Buy the Aeropress on Amazon.com
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Relevant Coffee Resources:
- World Aeropress Championships – Yes, it’s real. Get the preferred brews, methods, timing, and recipes from the connoisseurs.
- Dropping the Drip: How to Get Started with Better Coffee – A good overview from Lifehacker about how to make better coffee at home, including different devices like the Aeropress, and some blind taste tastes. The Aeropress usually topped the taste tests, and was their overall preferred choice on the “Taste to Fuss Ratio”.
- Check out my guest post for Kaffeologie on Three Reasons to Take Your Aeropress Camping.
- Stumptown Coffee’s Aeropress Brew Guide
- The Beautiful Cup – A good overview from Mike Clelland of Backpacking Light on various backcountry coffee options.
- Camp Caffeine: Lessons in Outdoor Brewing – Gear Patrol put together this post of some different methods.
- 8 Ways to Brew Coffee While Camping – A decent round up of various methods to make coffee from Roasty.
- Top 10 Backcountry Coffee Makers – an overview of some good and some absurd backcountry coffee options.
Disclosure: I bought the Aeropress, grinder, and other associated items with my own hard earned money. None of the companies advocated for nor contributed to the above review. This post contains affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I’ll get a small commission if you purchase after clicking through my site–thank you for the support!
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