I love coffee. I mean real coffee, freshly brewed. I do not drink instant. Ever.
So, when spending a great deal of time guiding and wild camping throughout Scotland and further afield, I still need to get my regular coffee hit. But, the coffee needs to be quick to brew, tasty, light and packable, and yet still easy to clean.
I have probably tried most gadgets that I am aware of, spending far too much money on kit in search of that illusive device that meets all of the criteria above. So, here is my list of the most common and available coffee brewing gadgets for the sea kayak wild camper.
Type 1: Pour Over/ Drip Coffee
There are a number of small, lightweight filter coffee brewers out there. The most simple and smallest is probably the GSI Ultralight Drip, a tiny, and I mean tiny lightweight solution that folds to practically nothing. It makes half decent coffee, so long as you have freshly ground coffee, ground to the appropriate size. Easily cleaned and reused, it is a perfect super lightweight solution for backpackers. Probably a little too simplistic for a sea kayaker who is less concerned about weight.
photo credit: GSI
There are plenty of other similar options that fit into a cup, or indeed come with their own cups making things a little sturdier and robust such as ..... The issue with all these types is getting the coffee grind correct, or else the coffee can be gritty. Leaving the brew to settle and develop flavour also helps.
Type 2: French Press
Again, there are a number of options. For many years I have used the super reliable GSI Java Press. This is a plastic insulated coffee press, which includes an insulated coffee cup. The press handle breaks down and I used to include another wee cup inside the coffee mug for my porridge, making it super light and easily
packable. My only complaint with these systems is that cleaning the filter is a bit messy. The coffee is tastes good and the GSI certainly filters well with few grains getting through for smooth coffee.
photo credit: GSI
Other similar options include the GSI Outdoor Press, which is a single integrated and insulated cup and coffee
press. This reduces cleaning, but can be a little less sociable as it really only makes coffee for one!
photo credit: GSI
Type 3: Aeropress.
Aeropress make a couple of options, but the Aeropress Go is ideal for outdoors living. Small, compact and neat with all the components packing into itself, the aero press makes outstandingly good quality and smooth coffee. This is now my wild camping solution, given
the quality of the coffee, ease and simplicity of the brewing and the super simple clean up. The tiny filter papers can be used multiple times with a wee rinse, the coffee grinds pop out with a push of the handle and there is very little to clean. Again, it only really makes a single cup for one person, although it is so quick and easy to use that it isn't really a hardship to make a second coffee for a tent guest.
photo credit: Aeropress
Type 4: Expresso Makers
There aren't very many portable expresso machines that make real expresso. If expresso is your thing, then the Wacaco Minipress is probably the only way to go. Small, super easy to pack, but a little heavier, the Wacaco can make real expresso. There are numerous version, one for ground coffee, one for filter pods, manual or electric pumps. The most reliable is the one with the hand pump where you manually pump the handle to create the significant pressure required for real expresso. I like this machine, and always have it in my
van as a treat at the end of a day on the water. I don't tend to take it camping though, as it really only makes small, powerful expresso - which is not ideal first thing in the morning. My only criticism is that the coffee is not always as hot as one would like, so it is always worth preheating the integrated cup (or using a stainless steel insulated expresso cup that I keep on the van). Easy to clean (especially if you use the Nespresso pods - although less eco), it is a piece of brilliant engineering.
photo credit: Wacaco
Type 5: Mokka Machines
I love a good Mokka coffee, there is something perfect about a milky mocha first thing in the morning to start the day. There are many copies of the original Bialetti machine out there, some are brilliant - but many are rubbish. If in doubt, you can never go wrong with an original Bialetti. The machines come in all sizes, thus there is a perfect size for your requirements. Traditional ones are hexagonal, but the modern round shape pack a little easier. Bialetti mokka pots are strong and robust and reasonably quick and easy to brew and to
clean. They are bigger, heavier and not so easy to pack though. I have seen one by nCamp that is made for camping and has folding arms so is easier to pack, but I haven't used it (yet). It comes with an insulated mug and look to be a great product.
Bialetti Mokka - photo credit Bialetti
photo credit: nCamp
Type 6: Integrated French Press
Many backpackers use either a Jetboil or an MSR Windburner stove, and both companies have a coffee press system that fits their stoves. As indicated in a previous blog about the best sea kayak camping stove, I prefer not to use these types of machine due to their instability, and inability to simmer to cook proper food.. I do use them for mountaineering, or on a day trip if I just want to boil water for a brew for my clients They make tolerable coffee, but are not the most efficient filters meaning that the coffee can be a little gritty. There is also a danger of stewing the coffee by brewing it too hard on these super efficient stoves. Make sure that once the water has boiled you let it settle before adding the coffee, and then leave it again for several minutes before pressing the coffee. As with all press systems, a medium/coarse grind will get the best results.
photo credit: MSR
7. Coffee Type and Storage:
Coffee is a contentious subject, but it is, I think, reasonable to assume that fresh coffee is best. My personal preference is to grind sufficient beans for my forthcoming trip at home, and pop them in to a wide necked Nalgene bottle. I do know another guide (who many of you may know) who takes it to another level, using a portable hand grinder to grind his fresh beans to the perfect grind size for each and every brew! The image below is a stainless steel grinder with a ceramic burr hand cranked grinder from TBBS Bushcraft, there are plenty of other models available online. I haven't used this particular model, but it looks to be ideal for packing away if you are a real coffee snob. It works well, albeit taking a little more time to prepare your brew.
photo credit: TBBS Bushcraft
So that's my take on some of the options to enjoy proper, real and delicious coffee whilst on expedition and wild camping. Here at Sea Kayak Argyll & Bute, we run courses for people who are new to wild camping, proving that you don't need to be frugal or uncomfortable when camping from a sea kayak: do get in touch if you are interested.
If you have any other options or opinions, do let me know in the comments below.