I’ll admit that I like coffee. I might even admit that I can, occasionally, be a coffee snob. I like good coffee. I can’t stand terrible coffee (“instant” doesn’t even count as coffee in my book). When I’m camping, a great cup of coffee in the morning with breakfast can be a nice little luxury.
Over the years I’ve been through several different methods of making my coffee on the campsite, looking for an option that’s portable, easy to use and clean and produces a tasty cup. Here are my thoughts on the various options available…
The aeropress, designed and manufactured by the company behind the aerobee frisbee, is great. I’m so impressed with these that I have two and I keep one at work. It’s so simple but works so well. It’s little more than a plastic cylinder that you fill with hot water and finely ground coffee (I find that a grind slightly coarser than I’d use in an espresso machine works best). Leave the coffee to brew for a couple of minutes, then insert the plunger and push the coffee through a paper filter. Although the method sounds similar, don’t mistake the aeropress for cafetiere style coffee, the method of using the plunger to force the water through the coffee at relatively high pressure produces much more of an espresso style coffee. All in 2 to 3 minutes.
The aeropress is so well respected that people travel the world to compete in the Aeropress World Championships every year.
It’s all made of tough plastic, so no risk of damage or breakages. The only ongoing cost is the paper filters (unless you shell out for a reusable metal filter), but at around £4 for 350, it’s not going to break the bank. Cleanup is fairly straightforward as it pretty much cleans itself – just push the plunger out to eject the filter along with a small puck of dried coffee grounds and rinse the end of the plunger. You could even take this hiking with you along with a flask of hot water. The only slight inconvenience is that if you are making multiple cups of coffee, you either have to plunge into one cup and then divide the coffee into other cups, or make several batches. The aeropress costs from £25 (including a pack of filters).
A V60 works a bit like the coffee percolator that your parents might have had in 80s. Those machines got a bit of a bad reputation, but if you use good quality beans in your V60, and drink the coffee fresh (you can’t leave it sitting on a hotplate for hours like the old fashioned percolators) then you can make a very respectable cup of coffee. Like the aeropress, a V60 uses paper filters though these are bit more expensive at £5 for 100, but the initial cost is less as a plastic V60 (ideal for camping) comes in under £5.
The V60 sits on top of your cup. You drop in a paper filter and a scoop of coffee, then slowly pour in the hot water, making sure to cover all the grounds with water, and allow the coffee to drip through into your cup. It takes a little longer than with the aeropress, and on a cold campsite it might be more difficult to keep your water hot for long enough, but the method produces a very clear, crisp tasting coffee. One V60 makes enough coffee for one cup, so making multiple cups will take longer than some of the other methods here.
The Moka Pot (sometimes called simply a “stove top”) is probably the simplest of all the methods here. Fill the base with cold water, pop in the filter basket, add a scoop of ground coffee and screw on the lid. Then place on the stove and as the water heats the steam pressure will force water from the base through the coffee and in to the vessel at the top. When it’s done just pour straight from the pot into your cups. There are no paper filters here so you just have the one-off cost of the pot, and as they’re made of metal it will pretty much last for ever. The odd dent or scratch just adds to the character. Moka pots come in all sizes from single shot up to 12-shot versions. As this is an espresso style coffee, it’s best to pour a couple of shots into each cup and then top up with hot water for a long black. All you need is some form of stove so it’s great for the campervan or even more basic and remote camping as long as you have a burner – we even use ours for picnics on days out. To clean, just knock the coffee grounds from the basket and rinse with water.
We have a 2-cup moka pot for camping (around £15) and this is our current preferred brewing method.
This seemed like a great idea when it came out a few years ago. It promises proper espresso from a super portable device. Pop a small scoop of coffee into the (reusable) basket and a shot of hot water into the reservoir. Then pump it, literally like a bicycle pump to pressurise up to 16 bar (higher than some professional espresso machines). Once up to pressure, just position it over your cup and press the button to release a perfect shot of espresso. There’s two versions, one that takes a special kind of coffee pod, but you’re then tied in to buying a particular style and brand of coffee, and another that takes loose ground coffee. Great concept. At £80 they aren’t cheap though.
Unfortunately the reality didn’t quite match the promise. I had a few problems with it: It’s fiddly. You have to get the coffee into a tiny basket and try to tamp it down with the back of a teaspoon that doesn’t really fit, and then drop it into the handpresso without spilling any coffee. Then you have to pump it up to pressure – you’ll be ready for that coffee by the time you’re done! Finally you pour a (fairly small) shot of espresso, but then you have to start the whole process again for the next person who wants a coffee. There’s no way to make more than one shot at a time. On the plus side, it’s fairly small (though it’s made of metal so not very light), and you could throw it in a bag with a flask of hot water and make your coffee on the beach, up a mountain, or as demonstrated in the video below, in the forest. For me, it was just too fiddly, too expensive, and there were better options available. Mine didn’t last long before finding its way onto eBay.
Most people will be familiar with the cafetiere and maybe will have one in the back of a cupboard at home already. Probably best to leave it there though as they aren’t well suited to camping. Although they can be used to make coffee for several people at once, the glass carafe is not well suited for camping and they are a little messy to clean. Metal bodied variants are available though. I’m personally not a big fan of the taste of coffee brewed by cafetiere either as the large mesh filter tends to let quite a lot of residue through into the drink.
Coffee professionals would say that you must grind your coffee beans immediately before making your coffee to ensure the freshest quality ingredients. While this is probably true, it’s not the most convenient for campers. I tend to grind my beans before leaving home and store them in an airtight container for at most a couple of days while we’re away. If you wanted to take beans to grind, the Porlex range of hand grinders are highly regarded, but expensive. There are other much cheaper options though, just look for ceramic conical burrs to ensure the best quality.
By far the biggest factor in making great coffee is the beans that you use. Ensuring that you have fresh beans, recently roasted will make a massive difference to your coffee. We have a subscription with Pact – they send us a new bag of coffee every couple of weeks, and they are always roasted just a few days before we receive them.