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How to make coffee without a coffee maker

Think you’re up a creek because you don’t have a coffee maker? You’re not without options. No, really.

Consider, for a moment, that coffee has been brewed long before Keurig brewers stocked countertops or Mr. Coffee machines hit bargain bins on Black Friday. If not with the “cowboy coffee” once brewed over a campfire using grounds and cheesecloth, then with the deceivingly simple Turkish coffee that’s often dressed up with sugar and a demitasse (aka, an espresso cup). The point being, if you boast the adventurous spirit to rummage through your kitchen for the right combination of simple materials and coffee, you can likely whip up a cup of coffee that not only looks and smells right, but delivers an all-around palatable brew -- maybe not one with a taste as refined as what you’ll sip on at your favorite coffee shop, but one that will leave you with some intrigue all the same. And a bit of a caffeine buzz, to boot.

Method #1: Cowboy Coffee

First up, the classic. Imagine the challenge of being stranded in the wilderness, your surroundings illuminated by nothing but the sky’s nightlight and a simple campfire -- yourself equipped only with a knapsack’s worth of materials and nature’s elements. What is a caffeine-craving cowboy to do, then, but get scrappy? Basically, this is boiling coffee with fire and a pot. The most essential requirement, truthfully, being your willingness to persevere through some frustration and, well, pay attention.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
  • A pot or saucepan
  • A measuring cup
  • A spoon
  • A ladle or strainer (optional)
Cowboy method materials

Step 1

First, measure out your desired amount of cold water. If you’re just making a cup for yourself, keep it standard and go for 12 ounces, filling the measuring cup to about 13 ounces to account for evaporation and coffee absorption.

Step 2

Measure your desired amount of ground coffee. Typically, you’ll want about one tablespoon of grounds per 5 ounces. Combine water and coffee grounds in saucepan.

Step 3

Set the saucepan over medium-high heat on a stovetop (or over an open flame – use your judgment on that one, cowboy), and bring the combination to a boil.

Step 4

About 45 seconds after boiling, stir the mixture. Be sure to thoroughly shake loose grinds stuck to the sides of the saucepan.

Step 5

After two minutes of boiling, uncovered, remove the mixture from heat. Grinds should sink to the bottom. Let the mixture continue to brew for approximately three minutes.

Step 6

Pour the coffee into a cup. Use a ladle or a strainer to ensure your cup is not filled with unwanted grinds. Pour and enjoy!
Pouring turkish coffee

Method #2: Turkish Coffee

To know up front: “Turkish coffee” is not a type of coffee, but a preparation method. Popular in Arab countries like Yemen and many Eastern European regions, it’s a technique both simple and elegant – its preparation traditionally observed as part of the Turkish marital process when a bride and groom sort through whether they’re a match. In truth, this is not just a desirable cup of joe for the bootleg brewer – it’s an enjoyable coffee even with the luxury of having a Chemex or French Press lounging in the cupboard. And, with the resulting coffee’s small size, this brew is one that’s remarkably efficient. You’ll get a satisfying taste of coffee, to be sure, but also a shot of culture.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
  • A very small pot
  • A measuring cup
  • A spoon
Turkish coffee method materials

Step 1

Measure out about 5 ounces of cold water. You can do this precisely in a measuring cup, or eyeball it with an espresso cup. Then add the water to the pot and set to medium heat. Add one heaping teaspoon of coffee to the small pot. Do not stir.

Step 2

Add a desired amount of sugar, or about one tablespoon. Again, do not stir. (Note: You may add salt instead, if you’re aiming to go in the opposite flavor direction.)

Step 3

When water begins to heat to the point that the coffee naturally sinks and the sugar can dissolve, stir the two together and lower the heat. You’ll want this mixture to slowly simmer without ever coming to a boil.

Step 4

The mixture will begin to foam at the top. As it gets thicker and cools, pour into the cup. This will occur about two or three times before finishing. Be patient.

Step 5

Pour the mixture into the cup, letting it momentarily sit to allow the grinds to sink to the bottom. Sip and enjoy!

Method #3: The "Bag It" Method

Though it seemingly involves more effort, this method is about as simple as it gets. And, frankly, a lot better-tasting. The filter will keep the bitter at bay. (Contrasting with, say, the above cowboy method.) Think of this as tea-brewing, but for coffee. In which case, a mere filter is really the most portable coffee maker around. If you’re headed on a trip and not sure your destination will have a coffee maker (the in-laws’, a campground … your ramen- and Easy Mac-filled apartment), maybe be proactive and take some filters with you as a backup. You won’t regret it, and you’ll look like a real pro when someone watches you manhandle a filter and some string.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
  • A filter
  • String
  • A kettle or pot
  • A measuring cup
Bag it method materials

Step 1

Lay the filter on a flat surface and place your desired amount of coffee – about two-and-a-half tablespoons, for a single cup – onto the filter.

Step 2

Wrap the ends of the filter together and tie them together, careful to not leave any openings for the grinds to spill out. The final product should look like a dumpling – a makeshift tea bag, of sorts. Place the ‘dumpling’ into a cup.

Step 3

Independent of the bag, bring water to a boil. A kettle is ideal, but a pot would do the trick as well.

Step 4

For best taste, douse the bag of coffee in enough water to soak the grounds. Let these soak for 30 seconds.

Step 5

Pour the remaining amount of water into the cup. Let this steep for approximately four minutes, or longer if you want a higher caffeine content.

Step 6

Pour the remaining amount of water into the cup. Let this steep for approximately four minutes, or longer if you want a higher caffeine content. Scoop the bag out of the cup and toss. Then drink and enjoy!

The Takeaway: In a pinch, you don’t need a coffee brewer at all

But let’s not foolishly suggest you’d want most of your roasts without a coffee brewer, given the choice. Coffee-making is a delicate chemistry that accounts for brewing temperature, time steeped, roasting dates and cup temperature. There’s a way the cowboy made his coffee when forced to lasso up an alternative, but there’s a choice we often have that gives the world’s carefully grown and picked coffee the justice it deserves.
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