What Is Cowboy Coffee?

Coffee. A staple in the mornings of millions of people, and one of the most diverse beverages that can be brewed. There is a historic trail coffee, cowboy coffee, that is seeing a resurgence in popularity, with a multitude of websites dedicated to the old school brew. In this article, we’ll explore the traditional cowboy coffee and the newest takes on this traditional trail treat.

Cowboy coffee is a style of coffee that was traditionally made by cowboys on the trail, typically traveling with the “chuck wagons” that were driving cattle west. It is often thought to be stronger than regular brewed coffee, but that’s actually untrue. Real cowboy coffee, when made correctly, is relatively smooth and non-acidic. It is still typically served black, with no cream or sugar added.

What is Cowboy Coffee

What Is Cowboy Coffee?

Basically, if you were to make french press coffee without using a filter, it would be the equivalent of cowboy coffee. Cowboy coffee was made on the trail over an open flame and begins by boiling water in a large coffee pot. After removing the pot from the flame, ground coffee was then added to the boiling water and then stirred. After steeping for 2 minutes, it was stirred and steeped again, then cold water would be added directly to the boiling coffee mix. The cold water addition would force the coffee grounds to the bottom of the pot. Then the coffee could be poured slowly into a mug, and the coffee grounds would remain at the bottom of the pot.

There are a few other methods to keep the grounds from transferring over into the poured mug of coffee. One of which is to add crushed eggshells to the coffee blend. The alkalinity of the eggshells is also a good way to fight the acidity of the coffee bean. Another method of making cowboy coffee on the trail was to filter the grounds through a sock, using it as a makeshift filter. However, if you don’t know the origin of the sock, we don’t recommend using that method to make your cowboy coffee. 

An important part of making cowboy coffee is making sure that you are performing the steps at the correct temperature. You need to ensure that the water for the coffee is allowed to come to a full rolling boil, and it needs to remaining at a rolling boil for around 4 minutes. This ensures that the acidity is boiled out, which ensures a smooth coffee cup. Suppose you don’t achieve the rolling boil with your water. In that case, you’re going to end up drinking a very bitter and acidic tasting cup of coffee. Nobody wants to start a long day on the trail drinking bitter cowboy coffee.

Another critical aspect of cowboy coffee is using coarsely ground coffee. By using coarsely ground coffee, you don’t get a full extraction of the coffee from the beans when it is steeping in the boiling water. This gives a weaker and less bitter brew than you would achieve by using more finely ground coffee beans.

Do People Still Make Cowboy Coffee?

Cowboy coffee actually has a huge current following. There are a number of websites that are dedicated solely to the art of making a good cup of cowboy coffee. Many people who are hikers, campers, and mountain climbers use the traditional way of making cowboy coffee as the method for their morning cup of camp coffee. Even though camp stoves are often being used in place of the open flame traditionally used for cooking the cowboy coffee at camp, the brew method has essentially remained the same as those on the old chuck wagon trails.

History buffs and outdoorsy people

Many history buffs, and those who are into preserving the old American west culture, are big fans of spreading the cowboy coffee tradition. Many of those same camping and hiking enthusiasts are into conserving the old ways of doing things while living out on the land. It is part of their conservation efforts to leave no trash behind. When making cowboy coffee, there is no trash produced to leave behind that isn’t biodegradable and good for the earth.

Minimalists and traditionalists

Others who are getting into the cowboy coffee scene are the coffee lovers who aren’t fans of the new class of coffee that has added syrups, sugars, and flavors. Instead of tasting the flavor of the coffee bean, all that is being enjoyed are the additives that are overpowering the taste of the cup of coffee that they’re being served in. Instead, these coffee enthusiasts are getting back to the basic cup of coffee, served black, and enjoyed for the flavor of the coffee itself. They liken this style of coffee to enjoying a gourmet coffee, as they are served in smaller doses, without cream and sugar added to the brew.

How Can I Make My Own Cowboy Coffee?

You can find one of the old, metal coffee pots online; you just have to search in the right places. Some antique sites and eBay are your best options to find one of the old, metal coffee pots. Some newer style coffee pots are around, but if they are made of tin instead of steel, they aren’t going to hold up under the heat very well. You want to ensure that your coffee pot is made of metal so that it can stand the heat of the fire or a camp stove.

Secondly, your coffee grounds can be any brand that you prefer. There isn’t a specific brand of coffee that is used to make cowboy coffee. Even if you prefer to roast your own beans and grind them yourself, that works fine. The trick is to make sure that you’re dealing with a coarsely ground coffee, even if it’s just using a can of Folgers coffee. Whatever your coffee of choice, make sure it isn’t a powder-fine ground, or it’s going to leave you with grounds that will still be floating in your coffee instead of sinking to the bottom of the pot. 

How to make cowboy coffee

To make your own cowboy coffee, you need rolling, boiling water. How you get your water to a rolling boil, that’s up to you. You can use a camp stove, or you can boil your water over an open flame, or even use a burner on your stove if you prefer. The only thing that matters is that you have a full, rolling boil happening for around 4 minutes before you remove the coffee pot from the heat source, and allowing it to sit for a solid 30 seconds.

Now, add about two tablespoons of coffee grounds for every 8 ounces of boiling water. Stir the grounds into the pot, then allow it to sit and steep for a solid two minutes. After two minutes, stir the coffee again, then allow it to sit for another solid two minutes. Now, slowly stir between 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cold water into the coffee pot. Be sure that you pour it in very slowly, as the cold water is going to make the coffee grounds sink to the bottom of the coffee. Pouring it in too fast can prevent the cold water from doing its work.

Once you have slowly poured the cold water into the coffee, carefully and slowly pour the coffee from the pot into your mug. Be careful not to pour too quickly, as it will stir up the grounds from the bottom, and you’ll end up with a cup full of coffee grounds. Cowboy coffee is intended to be served black, without any cream or sugar. This is why coarse coffee grounds are used, so it is a weaker, less bitter brew. This type of brew is generally non-acidic and can be enjoyed without cream and sugar added to it.

Making cowboy coffee: alternative methods

Another well-known method of making cowboy coffee is by using crushed eggshells in the brew. Some cowboys added eggshells to the brew fro two reasons. Firstly, because of the alkalinity in the eggshells. This changes the water profile (makes it more alkaline) which results in a smoother cup of coffee. The alkalinity essentially suppresses bitter flavors and enhances the natural sweetness in the coffee. The second reason some cowboys added eggshells to their coffee while brewing is that the coarse eggshell help the coffee grounds sink to the bottom of the pot.

When brewing with eggshells, you brew just as you would regular cowboy coffee, and when you add the coffee grounds, you also add the crushed eggshells. Add the cold water to make the eggshell and coffee mixture to sink to the bottom, and pour out your coffee carefully. 

To ensure a particle-free cup of coffee, you could strain the coffee through a filter, or you use a ladle to dip the coffee out of the coffee pot to serve. 

Cowboy coffee brewing tips

One important thing to remember is that the longer the coffee boils, the stouter the taste of the coffee will be. If you want to have a weaker cup of coffee, you want to use the most coarsely ground coffee that you can find, or grind your coffee beans coarsely yourself. You can even use beans that you roast yourself, and they can be roasted right over the campfire. Remember that the more finely you grind your beans, the stronger and more bitter of a brew you’re going to end up with. As cowboy coffee is meant to be served black, you want to try to achieve the smoothest and least acidic brew possible.

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