Today we are celebrating cowboy coffee, a way of brewing coffee that dates back decades ago.
Cowboy coffee, dirt coffee, campfire coffee or whatever, it has been a pillar of American culture and represents that hard-working American character we all love.
Cowboys of the Western needed a more invigorating, heavy drink that could add a boost for their long days. At that time, they were the most devoted ones to drink a cup of joe: they used to drink coffee with every meal and whenever they had the chance to. They liked their coffee to be black, boiling and strong.
Generally speaking, cowboy coffee refers to coffee boiled in a big pot over an open fire (hence the name campfire coffee) poured straight to the cup once the extraction is done (and the coffee grounds sit at the bottom of the pot). Not a great reputation, right?
The idea of cowboy coffee is to enjoy a coffee while immersed in nature, camping with friends or like cowboys did when in-between exploring a new land.
It’s something that does not have much to do with the speciality coffee industry; that’s why in this article we are trying to see some common aspects of cowboy coffee that can be seen also in the speciality coffee industry.
Cowboy coffee or campfire coffee is basically the same thing. You name it.
I’d like to simplify things here: cowboy coffee it’s a kind of french press coffee without a filter that is mostly drunk without adding milk, sugar, syrups or cream (do not trust the ones that say you should add whatever you like).
Cowboy Coffee: how does it work?
Basically, coffee grounds steep inside a big pot over an open fire. Once the grounds reach the bottom of the pot, cowboy coffee is ready to be poured into the cup. Recipes vary, but mostly add cold water while extraction is in the process to help prevent the grounds to end up in your cup.
As you can see, It’s sound easy and that’s why it became so popular nowadays while hiking.
The idea of cowboy coffee is that you can enjoy coffee without all those skills required while making a pour-over coffee. In addition to this, preparing hand brew coffee for a bunch of people would be quite an effort and will take so much time.
Lastly, it doesn’t make sense to be such sophisticated as what you really need while camping is a caffeine boost to keep your day going.
Now, we have established a sense of drinking cowboy coffee while camping with a bunch of people. Let’s then have a look at a recipe that can be easily replicated.
I tweaked a bit from a standard cowboy coffee recipe which turns out to be too much astringent and of course, bitter.
I’ll leave all the negative aspects for later.
Cowboy Coffee recipe
To make a cowboy coffee you will need:
- freshly grounds of coffee (coarser than a drip coffee);
- a big pot, saucepan or any vessel with 1l of capacity (i would suggest an enamel pot);
- filtered water;
- a timer.
Here are the steps to make a cowboy coffee:
- First, fill your pot and bring the water to boil. You will need to boil roughly 900ml;
- Take it off the heating source as soon as it reaches the boiling temperature and wait up to one minute;
- Add around 55 grams of medium-coarse ground coffee into the pot, give it a stir and cover your pot. Leave it a couple of minutes before stirring again;
- Other 2 minutes and it should be ready to drink (4 minutes in total). Just make sure that all the ground sits at the bottom.
- Pour the leftover into some thermos so you can enjoy your cowboy coffee for later.
Downsides of making cowboy coffee
For the way cowboy coffee is brewed, there are a few negative aspects.
You will end up drinking an over-extracted coffee simply because you can’t control all the variables you would if you were brewing at home with a professional kettle. Your water will be hotter than normal extracting more than usual. Also, boiling water will create too much turbulence.
So, forget about a tasty result. The consequence will be an astringent and bitter coffee without fruity or floral notes in the cup. I would rather opt for chocolatey, nutty coffee beans.
As I said before, you just need a caffeine boost as you’re not looking to recreate the greatest coffee experience ever (It’s fine as long as you manage to reduce the bitterness). You can make it better though by choosing light roast coffee, grinding coarser and adding water at the end of the process if you feel it’s too heavy/bitter for you.
One thing that makes sense to me is to utilize a longer ratio than the usual 16 to 1 and much coarser ground size. The reason behind this is that you will balance the over-extraction and turbulence made by leaving your coffee steeped with hotter water than normal.
Anyway, brewing cowboy coffee over a campfire is more about the fun and less about the quality. It’s more about how you are spending the time with and where. Just think of it as the coffee for the special occasion and not your regular one.
I think it’s quite obvious if you have already hiked before but it would be great also if you have never done it before.
So, get ready with all the stuff for your next trip. Sometimes you can just appreciate the moment leaving the speciality world behind.
You won’t regret drinking coffee over a fire with some special friends.
I am an Italian coffee lover that pushed for the love of this “amazing drug” decided to come to London to study about coffee and its different extraction procedures and tastes.