What Was "Cowboy Coffee" Like?

You’ve all seen the Western movies, TV shows…a bunch of grizzled cowboys sitting around a fire, sipping coffee from enameled cups-with a coffee pot on the fire. What would their coffee have been like? I have heard that they would have ground their bean with rocks (smashed against another rock), with creek water, then boiled over the fire (in a pot that rarely got washed). So was this coffee pretty awful? Of course, at least it was safe to drink (the boiling)…at least yo didn’t get dysentery from it!

Wikipedia has a bit of info on it. You should make yourself a cup and report back.

I’m always the one tasked to make coffee when a friend, Jeff, has camping parties at his property. One year, a “new guy” (a friend’s new bf) woke early and took the initiative to make coffee. Then Jeff awoke, smelled coffee, and poured a cup.

He screamed, “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!?”

New guy said, “it’s cowboy coffee, I made it special”.

Jeff dumped the pot out and, in a rage, explained that, “Kayaker makes the coffee. Live with it or get the fuck out”.

And that’s cowboy coffee. It was burnt, thick, contained eggshells, and was unpleasant in general. My coffee was percolated on the campfire, had a dash of cinnamon, and wasn’t really all that good.

“Cowboy coffee is connoisseur coffee if made properly.”

So despite the rustic name, cowboy coffee sounds very similar to French press, just not pressed.

If you’re boiling it or adding eggs, it’s not being made properly.

I’ve alwas wondered about that eggshell thing - one thing I’d expect cowboys to have very few of is eggs, just because they’re so fragile to transport and I can’t imagine chickens would be happy participants of a bouncy trip across the countryside.

Gila Monster eggs?

Cowboy coffee can be very good stuff. The crucial thing is not to boil it; you have to keep it just below boiling. I suspect most who make coffee this way throw in too much coffee and boil the bejesus out of it. That’s Grade 5 on Heinlein’s scale.*

Dropping an eggshell in just as you take it off the fire will settle the grounds and keep them out of the pour, with no bad effects that I’ve ever been able to detect.

  • Coffee, java, jamoke, joe and carbon remover.

Good stuff. Boil the water, add coarse ground coffee, give it a stir and let it rest a bit. To sink the grounds, just add a little cold water, and they go to the bottom. Then serve.

Eggshells settle the grounds, as mentioned. I’ve also hypothesized that they may neutralize some of the acids, which is good or bad depending on how “bright” you like your coffee–I just know that when my dad made “cowboy coffee” when we were on vacation in Florida one year, it was the best, least sour coffee I’d ever tasted.

If you want to get really fancy and try your hand at making a fictional coffee beverage, there’s always klava

I’m fascinated by the comment about not boiling it. How does this affect the taste? Furthermore, didn’t the old percolators rely on water boiling?

It’s been established that the optimum temperature for brewing coffee is about 198 degrees. Ideally, the water should never exceed that temperature but if you can fake it by bringing the water to a low a boil as you can and allowing the action (such as bubbling it up a pipe and through a metal strainer) to knock a few degrees off, it’s pretty close. A percolator should perk very gently, not like a high school science experiment.