I confess, I’m a bit of a coffee addict. I like my cuppa Joe, and I like a good one – at home we have myriad coffee machines, a French press, a burr grinder, and good beans. So during the summer, when we go camping or on road trips or rent a cabin, access to a good cup of coffee can be tricky. The solution? Cold brewing — done simply by steeping freshly ground coffee in water in a container overnight, then filtering it in the morning. Cold-brewed coffee has a lower acidity and less bitterness than the heat-brewed coffee we’re accustomed to, allowing for flavor nuances in the beans to come through. Without a need for expensive equipment, nor use of any energy, it’s a very green way to make coffee too. I may just start using this method even when I’m not camping!
There was a great story in the New York Times a few years ago about cold brewing – and to me, it was a revelation to learn it’s possible to “brew” a great cup with nothing but ground beans and a jar.
At home, I buy good-quality beans, and store them in heavy duty resealable bags, like Hefty Slider Bags; as you may have noticed, I take my coffee seriously, and don’t want to fork out for the best beans and then have them dry out and lose their flavor. I discovered, though, that the same bags I store my coffee in, which we always have on hand for road trip snacks, are sturdy enough to use in place of a jar for cold-brewing.
Of course they’re far more compact than a jar — lightweight, and unbreakable — perfect to pack for camping and road trips. So to cold-brew your own coffee, here’s what you need: medium-ground coffee, water and a Hefty Slider Bag (jumbo for a big batch, or a smaller one for a smaller batch). The ratio is half a pound of coffee to 5 cups of water (or for a smaller batch, 1/3 cup coffee to 1 1/2 cups water); stir them together in a Hefty Slider Bag, seal and let the mixture steep overnight, or for up to a day. Put it in a bowl if it makes you feel better, but I’ve never had any leaks.
It will look like a muddy mess — it’s impossible not to when mixing ground coffee and water. There is some debate over whether a 12 hour vs. 24 hour soaking time is best; either way, you have a 12 hour window in between, which allows about as much flexibility as anyone could ask for.
At some point after 12 hours and before 24, strain the sludge; I do it through a fine-meshed sieve lined with a paper coffee filter or piece of cheesecloth, to get rid of every iota of grit. You’ll wind up with a sort of coffee concentrate. Dilute it 1:1 with hot water from the kettle, or cool water or milk for an iced coffee, or pour it straight over ice and spike with cream for an iced latte.
Last summer we actually preferred this method (in a beach taste test) to coffee made in the regular drip coffee maker, even using the concentrate that we had strained in the morning, drank a cup of and then let sit around until the afternoon. You get lazy after several hours in the sun and wind at the beach. Turns out a cup brewed using the cold method has about a third less caffeine too.
Cold brewed coffee will also fit the bill if your goal is to make your own Ice Cap: in a blender, combine ¼ cup concentrate, ¼ cup coffee cream (18%) or half & half (10%), 2-3 Tbsp. sugar and 5 ice cubes, and pulse until it’s a slushy, sippable consistency.
Happy (caffeinated) camping!