Cowboy coffee is popular among campers and hikers. In this guide, you’ll learn how to make it (traditional, campfire, and stovetop), how to remove grounds, and the best gear to use. Plus, a popular alternative to cowboy coffee.
Cowboy coffee is boiled coffee, traditionally over a campfire. It is popular for its “make anywhere convenience.” All you need is boiled water and ground coffee. It can be made without electricity or even filters. While it can be disgusting and almost undrinkable, if made correctly, it can make a rich cup of coffee.
Cowboy coffee is a great way for real connoisseurs to be able to enjoy part of coffee’s history that can be surprisingly gourmet. Let’s dig into how to make this delicacy for those who really enjoy this beverage for its history and its rich flavor.
What is Cowboy Coffee?
Cowboy coffee is a traditional brewing method once used by traveling cowboys. Coffee grounds are added to boiling water and then served once the grounds have settled.
Traditionally, cowboy coffee is made over an open fire with a pot. It can also be made on an electric stovetop or propane cook stove. It is identified by the boiled grounds without filtration.
How to Make Cowboy Coffee
Cowboy coffee is a quick but slightly more involved approach than today’s insta-coffee machines. It’s not as simple as adding water, grounds, and pressing a button, but the finished product can be even more satisfying.
Here’s the easy process to make your cowboy coffee brew:
- Bring your water to a boil – this step is the most important.
- Remove the pot and let it rest for 30 seconds
- Add your coffee grounds, and stir.
- Let rest for two minutes.
- Stir again.
- Let rest for an additional two minutes before pouring the coffee into your mug, leaving behind any grounds.
Want to see how this all comes together? In this video, watch Cowboy Kent Rollins make a pot of cowboy coffee.
These are the basics, but everyone prefers their coffee like their cereal; with their own perfectly devised ratio.
Over cowboy coffee’s lifetime, coffee lovers, backpackers, and hipsters alike have found that there are many ways to tweak this recipe and get a perfect cup of coffee every time.
Making Stovetop Cowboy Coffee
While it might seem like a different process, making stovetop cowboy coffee is actually the same.
Just fill up your pot or kettle and follow the process above. It really is that simple.
There are two differences: you can boil water in just a few minutes (no need to make a fire) and you won’t have the taste of the outdoors. This will change the flavor – wood smoke and river water will produce a different cup of coffee than filtered tap water.
4 Tips for Making Cowboy Coffee
Although their richness may vary, they can all agree on a few things that make cowboy coffee so legendary:
- Use water just after it has started boiling when it is at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The coffee is less acidic and often provides the preferred flavor.
- For a standard brew, coffee fiends have found that using 2 tablespoons of grounds and 8 ounces of water is the perfect ratio.
- Be advised: when roughing it, your grounds might be more coarse, so you may need to add additional grounds to get to your desired level of richness.
- You don’t need to spend too much time grinding your beans. Grounds the size of coarse rock salt work splendidly and are easier to strain when it comes time to savor a cup. Here’s how to grind your beans without a grinder.
4 Ways to Pour Cowboy Coffee Without Any Grounds
There is a huge cultural appeal in this traditional-styled beverage, but its gritty reputation can often deter newcomers and many coffee drinkers from giving it a fair shot. After all, coffee filters and french presses have been used for decades to solve this problem.
Your coffee doesn’t have to be gritty when you’re out on the trails, without filters, power, or you’re just craving a rich cup of coffee. There are a few ways to separate the grounds after brewing that have been successful in the wild west, hiking trails, kitchens, and homes worldwide.
Here are a few of those tricks:
- Cold Water: When you pour cold water in the pot (after brewing), the denser cold water will sinks to the bottom, taking the grounds with it. This makes it easier to pour the hot coffee out, ground free. Some people add more grounds because they’re concerned their coffee will be too weak and benefit greatly from using cold water.
- Egg Shells: Cowboys have used this technique since the first shell fell in. Science has since proven that because eggshells are alkaline when crushed, they help settle the grounds, but they also help reduce acidity levels and enrich the overall pallet. You don’t need many; just a few crushed shell pieces do the trick.
- Salt: Adding a pinch of salt for every cup of water also causes the grounds to settle before you fill your mug.
- Time: Allow the coffee to brew for five extra minutes to give the grounds more time to settle. After they’ve settled, it is much easier to top off your cup, ground free.
Cowboy coffee is just one way of many to make coffee while camping.
Cowboy Coffee Made Easy
Cowboy coffee is distinguished by the boiled water and coarse grounds. It’s frequently used by backpackers, campers, frontiers folk, and people on the trails. It’s also appreciated by coffee drinkers, coffee lovers, and people all over the world because of its very low requirements for gear.
All you need for a satisfying cup of cowboy coffee is 3 ingredients: coarse coffee grounds, water, and fire. Of course, you’ll also need a pot to boil water in and a mug to drink out of.
A few tools have been made to help make cowboy coffee. You can find kettles, infusers, or even a combination of the two: the Cowboy coffee pot.
Part of cowboy coffee’s tradition and enjoyment is that it can be made anywhere, with just the basics! No electricity, filters, or k-cups are required.
Cowboy coffee truly exemplifies that there is beauty in the simple things – boil some water, stir in some grounds, and have a taste to find out!
If you don’t want to worry about grinds in your cup, you might consider bringing along a coffee sock. Here’s how to make camp coffee with a coffee sock.
Keep reading: The Strongest Coffee in the World
3 Best Cowboy Coffee Pots
So while almost any pot will make a batch of cowboy coffee, some make the job a little easier.
Please note that these are not coffee percolators, but just a basic coffee pot for making cowboy coffee. While percolators look similar (like this one) they have an additional strainer/basket for containing the grounds. You can use most percolators without the filter basket.
Here are our three picks for the best pot to make cowboy coffee.
- GSI Outdoors 6 Cup Cowboy Coffee Pot: 6 Cups (48 ounces) This is great for one or two people. It is lightweight and made with enamelware. This same GSI pot is available in 3 and 8 cup sizes.
- Granite Ware Coffee Boiler: 12.5 cups (100 ounces) This is a great unit for a large family or other gatherings. It differs from enamelware – it is heavier and has a carbon steel core to boil liquid at a constant rate. It is dishwasher and metal tool safe.
- Stansport Cowboy Coffee Pot: 20 Cups (160 ounces) Use this pot if you’re making coffee for a crowd. It holds a whopping 4.7 liters of water (1.25 gallons). It comes well-reviewed on Walmart. It stands 12 inches high and doesn’t come with a stem for a percolator basket.
Not all Cowboys Have Time for Coffee
For those cowboys and hikers short on time, missing that cup of coffee in the morning can really rain on your parade. Cowboy Coffee Chew can be an alternative. For that great-tasting coffee, a caffeine pick-me-up, and cowboy feel, these coffee chews are the next best thing.
Cowboys, hunters, and outdoorsmen are known to love chewing tobacco, and coffee chew might help to kick the habit. For a different rush, an all-natural caffeine buzz, this dip snuff alternative tastes just like that old-school brew.
An Unorthodox Alternative to Cowboy Coffee
For some, their morning coffee is their breakfast, and without it, they may feel hungry and off. Cowboy Coffee Chew is actually hunger-suppressing and nicotine-free!
Because it’s nicotine-free, this tobacco alternative truly helps to curb those cravings. By being able to continue the act of dipping, your habits don’t change all that much while your body adjusts to the decline in nicotine, making quitting easier.
Not only does it help those who want to quit regular chewing or smoking tobacco, but its caffeine boosts are known to help burn unwanted fat cells. Each tin is equivalent to about 3 cups of coffee, and many feel that the taste is identical!
Cowboy Coffee Commence
Your coffee doesn’t need to be rushed in the morning and spilled down the front of your shirt. Neither does it have to cause stomach pains because you slammed a cup too fast. Cowboy coffee is not only a great way to enjoy your liquid energy, but it’s also a great experience.
Cowboy coffee is deeply rooted in tradition and is meant to be enjoyed outdoors, so to really do the recipe justice, boil your water over the fire out in the fresh air.
Really connect with coffee drinkers past, and share this recipe with friends and family; see just who can make the richest, smoothest cup!
- About the Author
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Bryan Haines is a co-founder and writer on EnjoyJava – and is working to make it the best coffee blog in the world.
He is a travel blogger at Storyteller Travel and blogs about photography at Storyteller Tech. He is also co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.
Thursday 4th of March 2021
When we go camping we make cowboy coffee, but we use a sock to hold the coffee. In that manner you can drink the coffee steaming hot, but it does taste different depending on who's making the coffee that day.
Saturday 6th of March 2021
True, it can be an art over the campfire.