The Best Camping Coffee Makers
Nothing completes a morning quite like a perfectly brewed cup of Joe, and brewing is one of those morning rituals that many people don't like to go without, even if they are on vacation. Does backpacking mean you have to settle for yucky instant camping coffee? Or (heaven forbid!) do without? Luckily for you fellow caffeine addicts, there are actually a number of ways to get your morning fix, and it doesn't have to taste bad either. We found some top market contenders and ran them through the gauntlet with several blind taste tests, took them along on backpacking trips, and used them on numerous mornings that started in a sleeping bag. Read on to see how they compare.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Taste is the factor that we weighted the heaviest in our evaluation, because if we weren't concerned with quality flavor, we would be satisfied with instant coffee on those treasured outdoor mornings. But no, unfortunately those of us with refined palettes demand more from our morning kick-start than simply a caffeine jolt. We want rich flavor, we want refined perfection, and we want it while we are sitting comfortably in our collapsible camp-chair. In the words of one of our volunteer taste-testers, "Life isn't worth living without coffee."
With that attitude, we conducted several blind taste tests with like-minded coffee lovers, gathered opinions from others as they borrowed our makers or tried a new model over the course of a series of mornings, and we were finally able to evaluate which products brew the best. All of them make an acceptable cup, but a couple of them stood out for their ability to brew fantastic cups that are pleasing even to the pickiest coffee snob.
The AeroPress came out as the distinct taste winner, though the Hario V60 was a close second. (Let it be known that a few of our tasters did prefer the V60 to the AeroPress.) One taster began using the AeroPress at home every morning after the initial test because she loved it so much. The AeroPress brews a smooth, strong, cup without bitterness. By pushing water evenly through the grinds at a high pressure, the end result is more like shots of espresso than regular drip, giving it a more refined and clean flavor. By contrast, the Collapsible Java Drip brews a very bitter, almost sour cup, and the Personal Java Press makes a muddy, cloudy tasting cup.
When testing just the coffee made by the three pour-over style makers (the V60, the Melitta version, and the Collapsible Java Drip) the V60 was far and away the best brewer of this style. Similar to the AeroPress in flavor, the V60 brews a strong, clean-tasting cup with very rich flavors and less bitterness than the other drippers. The V60 has a significantly larger hole for more flow through, allowing the person brewing to customize brew time through the flow of water they add to the grinds. The vertical, pointed cone shape actually allows the water to sift down through the grounds longer, extracting more flavor than it does in the flat basket shape of the other two.
Special Note on The V60 and Pour-Over Method
How you use it will affect the taste dramatically, especially with the pour-over method used with the V60. There are many important variables: quality, quantity, grind size, when it was ground, how hot is the water, how fast do you pour the water. The below movie is the best example we have seen of how to make the perfect pour-over cup.
Ease of Use
If you are one of those people who can't quite wake up until after the first cup of caffeine, then the simpler the brewing process the better. Aside from V60, the pour-over style cones and the Personal Java Press are the simplest to use with a fuzzy morning brain, though the cones are much easier to clean (just toss the filter full of grounds) than the french press, where you have to scoop and rinse out used grounds. The AeroPress requires the most complicated process and involves a lot of little pieces, yet once you train yourself it is fairly easy. To its credit, the AeroPress is extremely easy to clean: just push the grounds and filter out the bottom and into your trash bag.
If you want to grind it fresh before brewing (check out our trial of the GSI JavaGrind) the Personal Java Press makes for the best companion to a hand grinder simply because it also serves as a container to grind into, whereas the cone style makers are much less stable.
Keep in mind that the V60 supposedly requires a special filter different than the typical Melita filter style. In our experience, however, you can pretty much use any filter with any of these cones. In the case of the V60, you may have to double up on the filter or pour the water very slowly if you are not using the Hario brand filter.
Run out of filters?
No problem, using a carefully folded paper towel is almost as effective as a coffee filter.
None of the products tested can quite compete with the negligible weight of a single Starbucks VIA packet, (0.14 ounces) but the makers can be reused indefinitely, making them more cost effective than VIA in the long run. VIA packets are the most desirable option for a backpacker planning to go light, although for a long-distance backpacker they would be on the expensive side. For a more economically minded car-camper unconcerned with weight, any of the coffee makers are a far better option.
After weighing each one individually on a scale, we found that the Melitta Ready Set Joe was the lightest, weighing 2.01 ounces. This is half the weight of the more packable GSI Collapsible Java Drip, which weighs in at 4.76 ounces. It makes for a strange dilemma that the most packable is not nearly the lightest.
The second lightest was the Hario V60 at 2.96 ounces, and the heaviest was the Personal Java Press with its included cup, which weighs 11.05 ounces.
Portability is similar, but slightly different than weight. Whereas weight is a defined measurement that backpackers find important, portability is our evaluation of how easy they are to pack and carry. As with the weight category, Starbucks VIA was obviously the most portable option. Even though the Melitta Ready Set Joe was the the lightest of all the actual devices, its awkward cone shape made it hard to pack inside a backpack or camp kitchen box. It does have a small handle that can be clipped onto the back of a pack and carried on the outside. The Hario V60 has the same problem as the Melitta version. The AreoPress is portable, but is made up of several small pieces, requiring a little more attention to detail when packing. Overall, the most portable model was the GSI Collapsible Java Drip, which squishes down into a disc about five inches in diameter, and can easily fit in a backpack, camp box, or grocery bag.
If you are planning a trip with multiple devout camping coffee drinkers and plan on making camping coffee, it is worth looking for a method that can brew for more than one person. This was an area where the AeroPress did not hold up as well to the competition. Since it only brews a few shots of espresso at a time, you have to re-brew for every person, which would become a tedious and time-consuming process. The pour-over style makers can be used for one or more people. The Melitta and Hario versions can easily brew for two at a time, but for more than that, you will need to start over with a new filter and grounds, so that the last person doesn't have painfully weak cup of joe. However the GSI Collapsible Java Drip has a much larger capacity than the other two pour-over makers, and could brew for 3-4 at a time if you put enough grounds in the filter. The GSI Personal Java Press is perhaps the best option for sharing between two people. The press comes with a separate mug, so aren't required to drink out of the press, as with some models. This means you can pour for yourself and pour some into your friend's mug from the same brew.
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— McKenzie Long
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