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Coffee and the outdoors go together about as well as any two things can. Whether it is on the side of a mountain, a patio at your favorite cafe or at home on your back deck, the fresh air was never quite so sweet and the coffee never lasts quite long enough when the two are paired together. You gotta love coffee outside.
While the “coffee outside” genre encompasses a great many different ways to prepare and enjoy coffee and the outdoors together, I want to focus on the brewing and enjoyment in a general sense without talking specifically about camping, backpacking or other sub-genres. While this post will certainly touch on aspects that can be applied to them all, this is about getting outside and enjoying coffee exclusive from other pursuits that coffee outside is often added onto. (You can hopefully look forward to a post on coffee and bicycle touring in the near future)
The Setting- Early Mornings, Crisp Air and Hot Coffee
If you have never partaken in this quintessential part of the coffee experience, it is a good time of year to give it a try.
Around here, the mid-August mornings are starting to feel a little crisp and cooler. The sunrise is slated to be a little after six o’clock and getting later by the day. The birds are cheerfully chirping, breaking up the morning stillness.
Enjoying coffee in the outdoors doesn’t have to be a big production. If there was a flow chart for coffee outside, the first question would be: Do you already have a cup coffee? If yes, go outside and enjoy it.
It doesn’t matter if you made coffee at home or you picked it up at a coffee shop. Find a patio, park or nature preserve, sit down and enjoy the fresh air and your fresh cup of coffee.
For Your Consideration- When to Simplify and When to Complicate
If you would like to brew your coffee (manually of course) outside in addition to consuming it outdoors, the rest of this article is for you. I highly recommend the occasional transplant of your manual brew bar to an outdoor setting.
Besides being something I enjoy for it’s own sake, brewing coffee outside helps me to let go a little bit and relax. When you are brewing outside, leave your love for precision, repeatability and consistency in your kitchen. Coffee outside is about holding everything loosely and enjoying an organic process. This is the time to eyeball it, drink the results and savor the sheer unrepeatability of it all (for better or worse). It is the free spirit coffee brewers dream.
At the same time, there are some things you can do to prep ahead of time if you are lacking in equipment or time. Here are a few more questions worth considering.
Do you have a way (and the time) to heat water?
Without hot water, your brewing outside experience will not go very far. There are several ways to heat up water out in nature.
The least technical (but by no means the easiest) would be over a campfire. This method requires hot coals, a metal vessel or kettle and patience. You will also have the unpleasant task of dealing with a soot covered kettle when you are finished. For camping, a campfire is fine but for a simple outdoor morning coffee excursion it is far less than ideal.
A better option would be a camp stove. These range from the large, bulky and abundant Coleman double burner stove to the compact and cool Jet Boil backpacking stove. There are pros and cons to each and if you would like to go this route, I recommend you assess your personal situation and choose what works best for you. I personally use the WhisperLite.
Do not buy a camp stove for the sole purpose of one brewing coffee outside excursion. If you are curious about the experience and don’t want to break the bank or spend all morning babysitting a campfire, consider bringing hot water from home.
While not an ideal solution, it is possible to transport near boiling water to your outdoor location with minimal heat loss. Depending on your situation, a vacuum thermos filled with boiling water could be sufficient. You may want to consider a brewing method that uses lower temperature water such as the Aeropress if opting for this route. Either way, remember what I said about letting go and enjoying the experience? It still applies.
Do you have a portable hand mill?
If you have a portable hand mill such as the Hario Slim Mill, this is the perfect time to use it. Grinding enough coffee for 1-2 cups takes a negligible amount of time and it is a fun step to add to the process.
If you do not have a portable hand mill, grind your coffee at home or have it ground at your local coffee shop. It isn’t a big deal. Your coffee is still going to be great.
Feel free to pre-weigh your beans before you head out, especially if you are grinding them at home. (You don’t have to let go of everything)
How to Brew Coffee Outside- Gear and Methods
When it comes down to it, brewing coffee outside is no different than manual brewing in your kitchen. The goal is to pass a slurry of ground coffee and water through a filtering medium and drink the result.
There are still some methods that work better than others and a few that seem ideal. I have broken the brewing devices into a few categories based on their suitability for outdoor coffee brewing.
Don’t let this list be the end-all be-all for you. If you want to brew with a siphon brewer at your local park, go for it. It kind of makes sense actually, especially if you have the alcohol burner. (This may bring you under suspicion by anyone passing by)
The No Gear or Low Tech Set up
If you are new to manual coffee brewing or coffee in general and want to try an outdoor brew session, don’t let the fact that you don’t have any gear stop you. Cowboy coffee is the most low tech option there is and it requires no gear. You could actually brew it in a tin can. It makes a pretty descent cup of coffee as well.
If you are interested in my cowboy coffee experience, you can read about it here.
Less Than Ideal- Brewers That are Breakable, Hard-to-Clean and/or Bulky
If you are brewing your coffee in your backyard, you can obviously take this category with a grain of salt. If you are taking your manual brewing show on the road (or mountain pass), you may want to leave the breakable, hard-to-clean and bulky brewers behind.
Brewers that I consider breakable range from very breakable to pretty durable but still at risk. Hard-to-clean and bulky are pretty self-explanatory. Here are a few of the brewers I would leave at home:
- French Press
- Woodneck (Nel Drip)
- Siphon Brewer
- Ceramic Manual Drip Cones (Can be brought depending on your situation)
Ideal Brewers- These were made with portability and ease in mind
I would recommend any of the below brewers as they are easy to use, clean and pack away. There is also minimal chance of them breaking. Here are my top coffee outside brewers:
Also Don’t Forget- Water and a Mug
Bring some water for brewing. A few liters of the water you use at home should be plenty. There may be no water or water of questionable origins at your brewing location. It is best to come prepared.
Don’t forget to bring a mug. For brewing and enjoying coffee outside, I prefer one of the iconic baked enamel mugs. It’s doesn’t have to be as basic as the speckled blue mug though. Here are a few baked enamel mugs that will elevate your coffee outside game (in theory):
My Coffee Outside Story
Recently, I got up early one Sunday morning with the sole purpose of brewing coffee outside with a few friends. We loaded up our bikes with brewing gear (and a camera) before sunrise and rode six or seven miles to a nearby prairie nature preserve. As the sun rose and started burning off the morning fog, we brewed a Honduras appropriately named “Cual Bicicleta,” took a few pictures and enjoyed the beautiful morning.
This post was already written and awaiting a photograph but I felt compelled to add a short afterward.
The pictures for this post were taken by my father-in-law. Check out his Flickr page to see more of his awesome pictures. Hopefully I will be showing off some more of his work in the future.
It doesn’t take much to get a few people together for a coffee outside excursion. You don’t need to ride your bicycle. You can walk, drive or even take a canoe. Find some open space, a few friends and do it. There are still some beautiful days left to the summer and you don’t want to miss them.
Do you have experience with coffee outside? Have you ever tried it? If you haven’t given it a try, what is holding you back? Start the discussion and share you tips and ideas below. Cheers!