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The Art of Making Campfire Coffee: A Step-by-Step Guide

Campfire coffee is a beloved tradition among outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. The aroma of freshly brewed java in the crisp morning air can be the perfect way to start a day of adventure. Unfortunately, making a cup over a campfire is easier said than done. You could start your day wrong without the right skills and techniques.

Today, we’ll share our step-by-step guide to making the best campfire coffee. With a bit of practice, you’ll have a perfect cup of Joe every morning. Let’s get started!

Testing All the Ways to Make COFFEE on the Trail | Miranda in the Wild

Coffee Over the Campfire Is So Good, They Made a Brand Out Of It

Some people love campfire coffee more than others. However, Quincy and Whitni Henry love it more than the average person. They love it so much that they made a business out of roasting their coffee beans over an open campfire flame rather than in an oven or pan. You can visit their shop, Campfire Coffee Co., in Tacoma, Washington.

While many Java shops rely on suppliers for roasted beans, that’s not the case for the Henrys. Quincy uses his previous barbecue experience and knowledge of cooking over a fire to roast the beans for their brews. He honed his skills and refined the process until the finished product was nothing short of perfection.

The couple took steps toward fulfilling their dream of opening a local shop in 2019 when they secured a location. However, the couple plowed through their setbacks, including all that 2020 offered, to open their shop in August 2020.

The Henrys weren’t the first to fall in love with this style of coffee. It has been a popular way to brew for centuries. Its origins date to early American settlers and cowboys who brewed their beverages over open flames while on long journeys or camping trips. 

The tradition became a staple of outdoor recreation, with campers and hikers brewing on portable stoves over campfires or using simple methods like placing ground beans in a cloth bag and steeping it in hot water.

Enjoying campfire coffee
Start your day off while camping with a cozy cup of campfire coffee.

How Did Revolutionary War Soldiers Make Campfire Coffee?

Soldiers have been making campfire coffee for centuries using various methods. However, they often didn’t get their coffee rations in ground form. More often than not, they would get the raw green coffee beans and have to roast them themselves. This meant roasting the beans over the campfire before grinding and brewing. Could you imagine having to roast your own beans?

Once the water began to boil, the soldiers would add the grounds directly into the pot. A standard ratio was one tablespoon per cup of water. They would stir the mixture and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

After brewing, the soldiers would remove the pot from the fire and give it a few minutes to steep. They’d then spoon the coffee into cups or tin mugs for everyone to enjoy. Some would add sugar or salt to enhance the flavors. Eggshells were sometimes used to keep the grounds at the bottom of the pot. Others even used cloth bags to filter out the grounds.

Today, You Can Make Any Coffee Over the Campfire

Making coffee over a campfire is much easier now than for soldiers over 150 years ago. Thanks to Folgers and Arbuckle in the mid-1800s, they answered the demand from California gold miners and Texas cowboys. The invention and distribution of mass-produced pre-roasted and pre-ground coffee made it easier to enjoy coffee almost anywhere without self-roasting and grinding.

Today, you can use any brand for your campfire coffee. The technique that uses the fewest pieces of equipment is best. This is now known as “cowboy campfire coffee” or “hobo coffee.” You only need a pot, water, a campfire, and coffee grounds.

Making campfire coffee
Making the perfect cup of campfire coffee takes practice but shouldn’t be intimidating!

How Did Cowboys Make Campfire Coffee?

Cowboys have a stereotype for being rough, tough, and strong, all words that could also describe their coffee. Typically, the hotter and blacker the brew, the better. As a result, if a campfire was going, a pot was likely boiling on it. Many cowboys treated it like water and drank it with almost every meal.

As you might expect, cowboys had little supplies on hand. They didn’t have a Keurig or French press; they had a campfire, a large pot, coffee grounds, and water. Cowboys didn’t carry measuring scoops or worry about ratios, either. They added however much they thought would do the job and mixed it with water.

They’d then place the pot over the fire and bring it to a boil. Once the water began to bubble, it was ready to serve. The cowboys didn’t worry about drinking grounds, either. You may be surprised to find out that this method of making coffee is still alive an well today.

Pro Tip: Camp like a cowboy with our guide on What Is Cowboy Camping and Should You Try It?

What Does Campfire Coffee Taste Like?

Campfire coffee has a unique taste that differs from brews using modern methods. The java brewed over a campfire tends to be stronger and often has a smoky or woody flavor due to using wood as the heat source.

The flavor can vary depending on the bean type, the water quality, and the brewing method. For example, using a French press or percolator over a campfire may taste different than using a simple pot and direct heat. Time to brew and temperature varies greatly rather than the controlled programmed temperatures of an electric coffee maker.

In addition, campfire coffee may have a slight grittiness or sediment at the bottom of the cup due to the lack of filtration. Some people enjoy this texture, while others may find it unpleasant. If you don’t want it, use an additional filtration method to eliminate as many grounds as possible.

Tea pot making campfire coffee
Campfire coffee will come with a rustic taste, perfect for enjoying in the outdoors.

How to Make Campfire Coffee

If you love camping or spending time outdoors, you know a hot cup of Joe can be the perfect way to get you going. There’s a simple and satisfying way to get your caffeine fix when surrounded by nature. There are a few ways of how to make campfire coffee, but all essentially come down to these basic steps:

Build a Campfire and Prepare Hot Coals

To make campfire coffee, you’ll need a campfire. Furthermore, you’ll need that fire to burn down a bit to give you a bed of hot coals. Depending on the size of the fire, this can take around 30 to 45 minutes. Once you have a bed of hot coals, you’ll have the perfect heating surface.

While an open flame can work, too, hot coals are a more reliable and consistent source of heat. Flames can scorch and have your pot boiling out of control.

Pro Tip: Before you get to enjoy your coffee, you’ll need a campfire. Use these 5 Best Techniques To Start A Fire Like An Expert.

Fill Kettle and Sit Over Fire

Fill your kettle with fresh water and place it over the fire. If you have a cooking tripod, it helps, but you can use rocks or logs as well. It will likely take anywhere from five to 15 minutes to reach a boil. However, the amount of time you’ll need to leave it in place depends on the temperature of the fire and how much water you’re boiling. Hopefully, you have a large pot for all the drinkers on your campsite.

Remove the Pot and Add Coffee Grounds

Once the water in the pot comes to a boil, it’s time to remove it from the fire. Be careful not to burn yourself or spill any of the water. You may need heavy-duty gloves or a pot lifter to remove it from the fire safely.

Now it’s time to add the coffee grounds to the water. How much you put into the pot depends on how flavorful you like your coffee. However, sticking with one or two tablespoons per eight ounces of water is typically best.

Some campfire baristas will place the pot back on the fire for a few minutes, and others will leave it off. Experiment with various methods and see which way you prefer. This might take some time to perfect, but it can be an excuse to drink more coffee.

Stir Coffee Grounds and Let Steep

Stir the mixture together, and then let it steep. Steeping means letting it sit in the pot undisturbed. This allows the flavors to react with each other. Typically, you’ll want to let it steep for two to four minutes.

Pour Carefully, Or Through a Strainer

Now it’s time to grab your favorite mug and fill it up. However, it’s essential to be mindful of the grounds at the bottom of the pot. Some will likely enter your mug if you don’t put the liquid through filtration.

For drinkers who prefer not to take a swig of coffee grounds when finishing each cup, use a filter. Cowboys used what they had on hand, typically a bandana. However, you can use a traditional paper filter if one is available.

Enjoy

Now you can sit by the campfire and enjoy your brewed beverage and the glow of the fire. You can think through the day’s events and devise a plan for accomplishing it all. However, if you’re anything like us, you need at least one cup before cementing any plans.

Sound intimidating? Don’t worry, there are 6 other great ways to make coffee while camping.

Coffee from campfire
If you don’t want to go through the process of making coffee over the campfire, try a single-serve coffee bag or dissolvable instant coffee.

Other Methods for Easy Campfire Coffee for Hikers and Campers

If you’re looking for an easier, cleaner, and faster way to caffeinate, there are some other manageable campfire coffee methods. These can be easier and ensure consistency from one cup to the next. However, you may miss out on some of the flavor and fun. Nevertheless, single-serve coffee bags and instant coffee are still popular methods for drinking coffee while hiking, backpacking, and tent camping.

Single-Serve Coffee Bags

For hikers and campers who love a good cup of Joe, various methods are available to make campfire coffee. One way is using single-serve bags. These pre-packaged filters contain pre-ground beans you can brew like a tea bag.

You only need to heat water over your campfire or portable stove, then steep the bag in hot water for a few minutes. Once it brews to your liking, remove and dispose of the bag.

Single-serve bags are an excellent option for those who want a hassle-free and convenient way to get your caffeine fix while camping or hiking. They are lightweight and easy to pack, making them a nice option for backpackers or those with limited space. Additionally, they are pre-measured, so you don’t have to worry about bringing a separate measuring tool.

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Instant Coffee

Another popular method for making campfire coffee while hiking or camping is brewing instant coffee. Instant coffee is pre-ground beans that have been freeze-dried or spray-dried into a soluble powder. All you need to do is add hot water to this powder and stir until it mixes evenly. The result is a quick and easy cup of coffee you can enjoy anywhere, whether on the trail or around the campfire.

Instant coffee is an excellent option for hikers and campers who want a quick and easy way to get a caffeine fix on the go. It is lightweight and requires no special equipment, making it an ideal choice for those who want to travel light. 

However, do yourself a favor and buy the highest quality brand. Trust us; it’s worth it. Budget-friendly brands will likely leave you very disappointed. Just ensure you do not boil the mixture, or it could scorch, worsening it.

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Camp Coffee

Camp Coffee” is a specific brand originating from Scotland. It is a quick and easy way to make a coffee-like drink while on the go. It is a blend of beans, chicory, and water, sweetened with sugar and flavored with hints of vanilla.

Camp Coffee was one of the original attempts at instant coffee. However, those who drink standard mixtures regularly will likely be very disappointed. Will it suffice in a pinch? Maybe. However, we won’t sugarcoat this one; while it may be an option, you might choose to go without.

Blind Coffee Taste Test | Best Instant Coffee for Camping & Backpacking

Make the Perfect Campfire Coffee

Making the perfect campfire coffee can be challenging at the start but also a rewarding process. Take your time and give yourself some grace when getting started. Whether camping, hiking, or just enjoying a day outdoors, coffee can be the perfect way to get going or take a break and relax by the campfire. You can also make it with very simple tools. So go ahead and try it–you might discover a new appreciation for it and the great outdoors.

What kind of coffee will you make over the campfire? Tell us your recipe in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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Jim Oswell

Monday 22nd of May 2023

Percolator over hot wood coals, best way to go.

Jeff Conlee

Saturday 20th of May 2023

Grew up in the 50's camping in Texas on the rivers and lakes with dad making camp coffee before he got fancy and got a percolator coffee pot. This was before RV's and we slept out on the ground looking up at the stars.