The Best Coffee Making Set-Up for Camping and 4WD Touring
Having a brand named Rough As Guts, that stands for proper bush living with an emphasis on just getting out there without worrying about decadent amenities, I was hesitant to write about unnecessary luxuries like how to make good coffee instead of taking instant coffee. However, a line must be drawn somewhere between being a weak suburbanite and being someone who is just trying to make life painful for themselves. I’m deciding to draw that line just on the other side of having nice coffee.
I used to only take instant coffee or tubes of condensed milk that are mixed with instant, but my wonderful sisters bought me a hand-held grinder and vacuum insulated stainless steel French press for Christmas and I haven’t looked back. Basically, I’m thinking of it like a pillow, you can get away without it but for the tiny amount of space it takes you may as well make life a bit nicer.
I actually had a brief stint doing retail sales for a prominent 4WD and camping brand some time ago. During that time, I had a lot of customers buying 3000W inverters and 200ah lithium batteries, so that they could take coffee machines with them. These people were without fail the most annoying, dweeb-like and suburbanite customers. While I am being a little bit hypocritical, my point is it’s nice to have a coffee routine in the morning when you’re camping, particularly as you’re enjoying not being rushed in the morning, but please don’t think you need to go to such expensive extremes to enjoy a good cuppa.
If you have a sweet tooth and don’t mind instant coffee, head down to Coles or Woolworths and grab a tube of Coffee & Milk by Nestle which is condensed milk mixed with instant. I don’t use it anymore because my sweet tooth has more willpower than the rest of me and that amount of sugar is not the best way to start your day.
It Starts With the Beans
Pre-ground coffee beans are certainly sufficient, but I find that a fresh grind makes for a big improvement. I have a hand-held conical burr grinder, from Laughing Pug Coffee co that packs up very small and does quite a good job. The best thing is that I can adjust the grind to suit the device I’m using. In this case it’s the French press which requires a much coarser grind, otherwise the coffee becomes over-extracted and you end up chewing the last few sips.
Keeping the beans fresh and dry is also important and I have a sealed container, also from Laughing Pug, courtesy of my sisters.
The Three Best Portable Coffee Making Devices and 1 Good Alternative
These are in order of my preference, starting with my favourite, but they all make an excellent brew.
The AeroPress is an exceptional way to make coffee. It requires a bit of nuance to get the most out of it, but that’s nothing YouTube and a bit of experimentation can’t fix.
The AeroPress comes with paper filters and you can buy a stainless steel reusable filter to use instead. While changing filters does change the flavour a bit, you can alter your brewing method and get an excellent cuppa. It might be a good idea if you’re trying to be environmentally friendly, but if you’re using the paper filters you can throw them in the campfire when you’re done and not worry about cleaning the metal filter.
A medium grind is best for an AeroPress, particularly with a metal filter, but you can get away with a fine/espresso grind with the paper filters.
The humble French press (is anything French actually humble?) makes for a much better coffee than most people realise. They require a coarse grind otherwise the coffee gets over-extracted and bitter, as well as you end up with a lot of grinds passing through the filter and ending up in the bottom of your cup.
A French press coffee made with an espresso grind compared to a coarse grind is chalk and cheese. The vast majority of pre-ground coffee available at the shops is espresso grind, so if you’re planning to use a French press, it’s best to consider getting a hand-held grinder as well.
Kmart offers very cheap stainless steel French presses and I’ve got the remnants of enough glass ones to know that a metal one is essential for camping. The main problem with these, particularly if you’re doing one cups worth, is that they get cold. With a coarse grind, you’ll need up to ten minutes of steeping, by which point it gets to the point where milk or cream makes it too cold. The vacuum flask stainless steel plunger that I have is ideal and doesn’t let it get cold.
Italians and lovers of espresso style coffee, fear not, you can get your ideal cup while camping.
Moka pots are a brilliant option for camping because they’re compact and are made of metal. They’re easy to use and they also suit a fine espresso grind making them the best option for pre-ground coffee beans that you can buy at any shop in a little country town.
Coffee “Tea Bags”
If you can’t be bothered with the rigmarole or expense of the options above, then tea bag style coffee bags are a good option. You can get boxes of the Robert Timms coffee bags from most shops.
They don’t lend themselves to a strong coffee without a bit of coercion, so I’ve found it best to put a few bags in a billy (camp kettle) and give it some time to really brew.
Use a Jetboil for 2 Cups or Less
Kettles are pretty slow and inefficient at the best of times, but particularly if you’re using a cooker that uses disposable butane canisters. Making hot water uses a lot of gas on these cookers and quickly renders them cost-ineffective.
If you’re making a cuppa a few times a day and have been considering changing your cooker, it might be worth getting a Jetboil to supplement your setup. They boil water ridiculously quick and for two cups or less are very efficient too. I’m most impatient first thing in the morning while waiting for a coffee, so whenever I’ve got a Jetboil with me I always use that for coffee.