How to make coffee that doesn’t suck: The French Press

I don’t sleep well when I’m camping. I never have, and I probably never will. When I go to camp, I don’t go so I can spend the whole time in bed. Oh no sir. When I camp, I like to be all full of piss and vinegar, and coffee sure makes an awful lot of piss.

To be honest, I had resigned myself to drinking terrible coffee at camp. Instant or percolated, it was always just terrible. Bitter, gritty, and acidic. I just accepted it and drank it anyway. Then, the day I married The Patient Wife, someone gave us a French press. After a scan of the instructions, I made my first cup of French press coffee at camp.

I took a sip.

Holy crap. It was GOOD.

The problem I was running into at camp was that I was relying on boiling water to make my coffee. There’s never electricity in a campsite, and even if there were, I wouldn’t drag my espresso machine into the woods. Boiling water has a nasty tendency to over-extract the coffee, which explains why I was so used to it tasting like bitter vinegar. Milk would help cut the acidity, but in the summer, storing milk just isn’t an option.

Enter the French Press.

1. Grind your beans to a coarse grind. This is crucial, because if your grind is too fine, you’ll get more and more grit at the bottom of your cup, and you’ll get it floating in your coffee. It’s nice and manly to spit out a wad of coffee grounds, but let’s be honest. Grit blows. I follow the rule of 2 tablespoons of beans per 8 oz of water.

french press coffee camping outdoors ground scouts scouting
See those chunks of coffee beans? That means I need a new grinder. I’ll be getting a burr grinder.

2. Heat your water. Either boil it and let it cool for a couple minutes or use a thermometer to get it between 195-205 degrees. If it’s at a rolling boil your coffee is going to be bitter and suck mad hard. Give yourself a couple minutes and let it cool. While it’s cooling, cover the bottom of the French Press with your coarse ground coffee. My French press will hold 5.5 cups of water, so we’ll do 11 tablespoons of coffee in the bottom.

french press coffee camping outdoors ground scouts scouting water boiling tent MSR stove camp stove pota
It puts the water on the stove or else it gets the hose again.

3. Pour the ALL of the NON-BOILING water over the coffee.

french press coffee camping outdoors ground scouts scouting water boiling tent MSR stove camp stove pota
If I have to tell you to be careful while you’re pouring hot water then you probably shouldn’t be playing with a stove. Moron.

4. Let it sit, stirring occasionally, for a full five minutes. After the five minutes, stir and really mix up the coffee with a non-metal spoon. Stir some more, maybe another minute. If you use a metal spoon, ninja kittens with tear our your eyes and feed them to goldfish as treats. Also, you’ll scratch and break your French press. If you’ve done the stirring right you should have a layer of foam (referred to as “the bloom”) on top. This is good. This means that we’re on the last step.

french press coffee camping outdoors ground scouts scouting water boiling tent MSR stove camp stove pota
See the foam on top? There’s our bloom.

5. Now comes the fun part. Put the top of the lid onto the jar portion of the lid. Push gently but firmly DOWN. When the screen hits the bottom, just pour and serve.

If you’re an ultra-light backpacker, it’s probably not the best route to take, but for someone who doesn’t mind a few extra ounces in their pack, it’s a GREAT way to make delicious, mellow coffee without the nasty vinegary taste of traditional camp coffee.

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Author: El Chris

I'm full of snark that doesn't always come out. I have a soft spot for kids and people with special needs. I'm a disability advocate by day, and a coffee roasting photographer by night. You'll love me, but your parents will love me more.

5 thoughts on “How to make coffee that doesn’t suck: The French Press”

  1. If you pour the boiling water into the french press before the coffee, it’ll heat up the glass and cool down the water enough that you can pour the coffee grinds in once the press is filled with water.

    1. Interesting. I’ve done that before, but never studied it. I quit doing it because there was significantly less bloom when I put the coffee in AFTER the water, but now it looks like I’ll need to test it.

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