How To Make Cowboy Coffee That Actually Tastes Good (Video)

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Learn to make a great backcountry coffee the old-fashioned way for your camping adventures. This technique, often called cowboy coffee, has been used by wilderness travellers for generations. John Langford of Voyageur Quest shows us how it’s done on Surprise Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park near Access Point #1.

Brew cowboy coffee in 6 easy steps

Great brew without extra gear. | Photo: Max Finkelstein
Great brew without extra gear. | Photo: Max Finkelstein

All you need for a strong brew is water, coffee, a good pot with sturdy handle, a pair of sturdy gloves and a cooking fire. Not only does cowboy coffee free you from packing extra gear, it can also taste darn good. But you have to brew it right. Here’s how.

1 Add your grounds

Add medium ground coffee to cold water. Coarse grinds will work too, but don’t use fine grinds. The coffee pot should be tall rather than squat.

2 Get the right mixture

Use about one tablespoon of grinds per cup of water. Add an extra spoonful if you’re making more than four cups.

3 Bring to a boil

Gently bring to a rolling boil. If the brew boils violently the grounds will stick to the sides of the pot, and end up in your coffee. Reduce heat or move the pot so it simmers.

4 Add cold water

After five minutes of simmering, remove from heat and add one tablespoon of cold water. The colder the better. The cold water makes the coffee grounds sink.

5 Go for a spin

A more dangerous technique is to tie a short rope to the bale of the pot and whirl the pot of boiling coffee like a windmill. If whirled smoothly, the centrifugal force will keep the coffee in the pot, even without a lid. Make sure the bale is securely attached and that your partners are out of the way. Finally, weigh the relative pros and cons of coffee with a few grounds in it versus second-degree burns.

6 Enjoy your cowboy coffee

After a few dozen rotations, the grounds will have settled to the bottom, and you’ll need a cup of tea to settle your nerves.

person demonstrates how to makes cowboy coffee at a campsite
Cowboy coffee has been brewed by wilderness travellers for generations. | Feature image: Canoeroots/YouTube

Paddling Magazine Issue 65 | Fall 2021This article originally appeared in Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.


Cowboy coffee has been brewed by wilderness travellers for generations. | Feature image: Canoeroots/YouTube


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  1. Pour very slowly and without agitating the grounds at the bottom, of course. “Egg” coffee is one way to get rid of grounds – assuming you have an egg in your backcountry food supply. More practically around a base camp where you don’t have a coffee maker. Take one teaspoon of ground coffee per cup of water, plus one spoonful “for the pot”. Put grounds in a cup and break an egg into it, mixing well to form a thick paste. Scoop egg/coffee mix into a glob and plop it into a pot of BOILING water and immediately remove from heat. Let it brew for a few minutes and then pour. The egg coagulates and captures all the grounds in one lump – functions to brew coffee like a tea bag. It settles to bottom of the pot providing you with nearly all grounds-free coffee. I’ve made it for others, said it was pretty good. I admit I don’t personally know – I hate coffee!

  2. Noooo, you don´t have to boil 5 minutes your coffee…. You ruin it. You just need boil water, you don´t cook the coffee…
    Swing your pot it´s good for the video, but you don´t need to do so… just leave it, about 20 seconds, and the coffee goes to the bottom…


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