Sierra Nevada Airstreams -> TT Owner's Guide -> Living

Enjoyment of the whispering winds, the zephyrs, the airstreams of the Sierra Nevada and Great Basin areas of the United States in a recreational vehicle.


Also see the 2014 June 05 entry on coffee water

One of the more popular morning social drinks is a cup of coffee. Whether it is warm cup for cold hands or a bit of caffeine to invigorate the body, or just a pleasant smell, a cup of coffee can be a good way to start a day, even while on the road. Making a cup of coffee is a rather simple matter. Even a fairly good cup of coffee isn't much trouble. It's just a matter of mixing coffee grounds and water and then separating the liquid from the grounds so you can drink it instead of eating it.

Campfire coffee just boils some grounds with water and then uses something like eggshells and careful pouring to separate coffee from grounds. This tends to make a rather bitter coffee that might also be rather strong depending upon how many times the grounds have been used in the past. This is probably not the preferred method for most of us.

In your RV, you have most of the conveniences of home. For some, this means firing up the genset and making a pot of coffee just like at home. Again, for most of us, this is probably also not a preferred option. So let's look for something in between campfire coffee and connoisseurs coffee -- something that doesn't stress either our need for RV equipment or our early morning state.

Supplies and equipment

The guiding principle is 'Keep It Simple Stupid" -- the KISS principle. What we want to do is to mix coffee grounds and water in a way that will result in a decent cup of coffee. The separation method should be easy to clean. And we want to be able to enjoy a cup a little bit later in the day, maybe, without having to make a new pot. Fortunately this is easy to do and doesn't require much in the way of special equipment. The idea is to boil some water and pour that through a filter full of grounds to a dewar flask (more commonly a Thermos or vacuum bottle - see

Using a flask for your coffee will also reduce oxidation. This is what causes coffee sitting in heated carafes to get bitter after a couple of hours. Creamer put in oxidized coffee is not a golden color but rather a brackish color. So a vacuum flask will not only keep your coffee hot but will also help keep it fresh.

First -- the water: The water you use to make coffee has a major impact on the result. You don't want water with a lot of flavor but then you don't want distilled water either. Just good drinking water that is neither too hard or too soft. You will want to prepare your coffee with water that is just off boiling in temperature or at boiling if your altitude is at typical Great Basin elevations (4,000 feet).

Second -- the coffee: a generic drip grind grocery store coffee will do in most cases. Coffee connoisseurs will cringe, but pre-ground generic coffee in a can stored at normal room temperatures for a week or so will usually make an adequate cup of morning coffee. Use between a quarter to half a measuring cup of grounds for a quart of coffee (see measurement). The 'official' recipe calls for two heaping teaspoons per 6 fluid ounces or 55 grams coffee grounds per liter of water. If you like weaker coffee, still brew it to full strength and then dilute with hot water. Brewing with too little coffee will result in over-extraction which means bitter coffee. At official recipe ratios, a pound of coffee will make a bit more than two gallons.

Third -- hardware: You will need something to boil water in, a filter holder, filters, and a vacuum bottle to hold the coffee. The only special item in this list is the filter holder and filters. Filter holders to fit common vacuum bottles can be found in many large grocery stores. You can also rig your own from, for instance, an old drip coffee maker. The primary problem is stability. Most vacuum bottles are tall and skinny so sitting a filter holder on top of them can be a rather precarious setup unless some additional support is provided.

The size of your filter basket and the type of filters are important factors in the amount of coffee you brew in each batch. The filters will become clogged after a few minutes slowing the flow through them. When this happens, you won't be getting much more coffee made without making a new batch. This is why you will find makers such as Melitta provide a whole series of sizes (they also provide matched filter holders and vacuum bottles for making coffee).


Brewing is the process of dissolving stuff out of the coffee grounds. Coffee has very many different complex chemical substances and each of these dissolves in water at different rates depending upon temperature (see Research at Mr. Coffee -- examined how more than 50 chemicals in coffee are extracted in a brewing process over time). Most people like coffee that has brewed for about five minutes at about 205 degrees.

So, to make your coffee, put a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. If you are between 2,000 and 5,000 feet, this boiling pot of water is at optimum brewing temperature. At lower elevations you might stop the boil for a minute before brewing, At higher elevations, you might need to add grounds to get a full brew. Cooler water doesn't extract enough caffeine/essential oils from the beans, and the acidity increases wildly above optimum temperature.

Before you pour hot water into your filter full of grounds, you might want to wet the filter and the grounds with a spritzer first. Otherwise you will need to be very careful to keep clumps of coffee grounds from floating or the filter from collapsing. When brewing, keep the filter basket nearly full by adding hot water in small amounts every twenty or thirty seconds or so. Make sure all of the grounds participate in the brewing by pouring water on any dry grounds that stick to the filter or float. Plan on spending 4 - 5 minutes in the brewing process pouring hot water through the grounds into your thermos.


Over time, the vacuum bottle and the filter holder will need cleaning. These will accumulate some oils and coffee crud over a few days of use that may start to impinge on the flavor of your coffee. Soap won't cut it to clean this stuff. Detergent is a much better choice. The detergent sold for automatic dishwashers will usually work well to clean coffee oils. Use a couple of tablespoons of detergent with a half thermos of hot water. Shake it up to dissolve the detergent. Fill the bottle with as much as it will hold and let it sit for ten or twenty minutes. If your bottle was really scrungy, you will see a scum layer form at the top of the detergent solution. You should also wash the bottle stopper and the coffee filter holder with a hot detergent solution to clean them as well.


Some folks prefer their coffee as is. Others like to sweeten it a bit, or calm down the acidity or bitterness, or just use the coffee as a base for flavoring another drink. Oftentimes it is an acquired taste. My Dad got used to canned milk flavored coffee (or vice versa) as a weather officer in the Aleutians during World War II. The stores are full of all sorts of interesting flavors to add to coffee. If you are providing coffee for others, it is usually a good idea to have sugar and a plain powdered creamer available as generic condiments.

Connoisseur coffee

If your taste buds are very talented, coffee making can move to being a hobby or an obsession. You will need fresh beans from your favorite region, roasted to the style you most prefer bought as fresh as possible. You will keep these in an opaque, airtight container at room temperature and grind them to just the right consistency just before you brew your coffee. The water in your coffee will be selected as carefully as the beans. The apparatus used will be scrupulously cleaned. The choice of brewing method and equipment will also be carefully selected for your particular tastes. Instead of paper filters, you might use a gold filter. Or you might use the French press method of making coffee or some other method.

This can be a lot of fun, and quite educational, but most of us really don't find the difference in taste over a well prepared drip brew worth that much effort and trouble.

On the other hand

If the idea of dealing with filters, grounds, and thermos (or vacuum or dewar) bottles is a bit too much for you, there is always instant coffee.

From the folks at

Geezer recipe: Lost Art of Coffee Perking in a glass pot -- Put 1 tablespoon of coffee per cup of water into the strainer. Bring to a boil. As soon as you see coffee dripping down into the water turn the flame down to low and let it perk for at least 5 minutes. -- Boomer addition: Put a paper filter into the strainer before adding coffee -- Naturopathic addition: Make it a brown filter. -- New Age addition: Use freshly ground coffee, double the amount. -- Signed: Certified Geezer (sneaks, Encinitas CA )

When we started camping again, we had to re-learn how to make percolated coffee. One tablespoon for each cup and we perk it until we can smell the aroma filtering around the campsite outside, usually 20 to 30 minutes start to finish. We also use Starbucks French Roast ground which makes it plenty strong for our taste. We use a Coleman percolating coffee pot stainless steel which we bought in the camping supplies section of Wal-Mart. Tastes pertty good. Imagine...we both forgot what it was like since Mr. Coffee, Krups, Braun, etc., came on the market. Boy, have we gotten spoiled. -- (VeryOldDog, Morristown, TN )

I gave up on percs long ago -- my FIL showed us how to make *Cowboy Coffee* in an enamel pot. I use about 3/3-1/2 coffee scoops of coffee, add cold water to just shy of the pour spot. Bring to boil, boil one minute. Remove from heat, pour one cup cold water down the spout and then enjoy. There's always that crunchy stuff at the bottom, but we just dump that out. We can get a good sized pot this way and, once you get the hang of it, it's just as good as the drip. It's sort of like the French Press coffee, but without the press. If nothing else, they do make a plastic version of the French Press -- grounds, boiling water and then a press to make sure the grounds don't mix with the brew. (3-2-Go Aurora, IL, USA)

don't forget to crush up a stick of cinnamon into that coffee basket and place it at the bottom. When you can smell the cinnamon, over the coffee, your done! makes great cafe' mexican style! -- (hsmunoz, livermore cal)

Make life easy. Coleman has come out with a coffee maker just like you use at home. If you EBAY at all search for: COLEMAN DRIP COFFEEMAKER. They are around $20 on EBAY and can be found cheaper, Coleman website lists for $36, & the sporting goods store here in Montana sell the same thing for $50. It's easy to use and makes life great at 0600 when the youngin's get up. It has pause and serve and all that stuff, doesn't use electricity, just stove burners, campgrill or such. Just thought I would pass this on. -- (pagtton, Great Falls, Mt )

You can easily roast your own coffee. Essentially, coffee beans all start out the same. It's in the roasting where the light, espresso, dark come out. So, using some green beans you can use a cast iron fry pan or dutch oven. I use the Dutch oven. Over a fairly high but gentle heat, use a wooden spoon or branch to stir the beans. Keep stirring so that they don't burn from the hot metal. For a couple cups of green beans, you'll have to roast for about 20-30 minutes. You'll see the change of colour and can decide for yourselves when to pull the beans off the heat. It's pretty smoky, so don't be doing this inside. This is neat to do and to have your own roasted beans is pretty cool too. - Gary Haupt

Measurement confusion

A coffee cup as a unit of measure is even more confusing than the teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups measures found in cooking recipes. A coffee cup is supposed to be about 6 ounces but a quart of water in my coffee decanter comes just short of 7 cups of coffee by its measure. That is about 5 ounces per cup. Since a liter is just a tad more than a quart, a liter fills my coffee decanter to near the 8 cups of coffee mark.

Health concerns

Perhaps the most significant health concern in coffee consumption is that of sanitation. Are you using a properly sanitized cup? Another health hazard from coffee is the possibility of burns or scalding if you spill it or take a gulp of a very hot cup.

It seems that something as enjoyable as a cup or two of coffee must have something wrong with it. But so far many studies, including a number of long term studies, have not been able to establish any significant general health maladies attributable to moderate coffee usage. It seems the biggest problems are likely to be short term anxieties or inability to sleep if someone drinks too much coffee at the wrong time.

In fact, coffee seems to be mostly a beneficial drug. It is a mild stimulant that may help increase your alertness for several hours after drinking a cup. It may reduce headaches by increasing blood flow. It is also a diuretic which means that you better plan on a potty stop a bit after drinking a cup. The worries that the diuretic effect may contribute towards dehydration is balanced by the fluid content of the coffee. Other worries are that coffee may inhibit the ability to absorb nutrients in food. But more than 50 years of trying to find some solid basis for worry really haven't found anything.

So, enjoy your coffee and don't worry about too much unless you spend all day with a mug in your hand.

For more information

Coffee Research .org on brewing coffee

Alton Brown's Good Eats on brewing coffee

Fortune's Coffee

Sally's place on choosing a method to make coffee

Health information about coffee - Pressure (in. Hg) = 29.921* (1-6.8753*0.000001 * altitude, ft.)^5.2559

Boiling point = 49.161 * Ln (in. Hg) + 44.932 suggests "Like coffee & get frustrated with cone filters that get plugged? Try paper towels: take 2 squares, place on over the other, with 1 turned 45 degrees relative to the other. Put the paper towels into the filter cone & add coffee. If it seems to clog, tug gently at one of the top corners. Works like a charm, saves a bundle!" - but if you do this make sure you get paper towels without any additives else you will get strange tasting coffee. - - chem lab gravity filtering - -

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