Coffee consumed indoors is life fuel. Coffee consumed outside? Well now, that’s just magic.
This summer I went on a five-day backpacking trip with a group of women I didn’t know beforehand. A week outside filled with physical exertion is a fairly intense way to get to know other people, and there are usually one or two things that become immediately noticeable about individuals and their personalities. For me, it’s clearly my coffee routine.
Some of the women on the trip were thru-hikers, and even on this short trip this led to an ongoing discussion of what trail names we had earned. Mine? “Second Coffee.”
This is because on the trail I am an advocate of not only the morning cup of coffee—that’s simply a no brainer—but the second cup in the early afternoon. Often after lunch, but sometimes just in a moment to break up a day of miles. Coffee outside is, after all, an excuse to slow down.
In Swedish, we call this “fika,” the iconic Swedish coffee break that’s done everywhere from the boardroom to the alpine hut. Fika is most commonly a cup of coffee and something to go with it (like a cinnamon bun or cookie), and there’s usually a social component to it. This makes fika the perfect outdoor activity. Coffee, trail treats and friends: what better combination can you ask for?
I turn the stove off and remove the kettle, slowly pouring over the grounds. The pungent steam rises into the crisp morning air, sunshine streaming through the pine branches.
When we’re off the trail, in the comforts of our own homes, coffee is often a way to speed up. It’s what we consume to get going in the morning. We can say we’re into it because we love the process, but let’s be honest, most of us are showing up for the caffeine. But outdoors is a little different. Here, we’re not in need of speeding up, of getting work done. In fact, we’re here to slow down. We’re outdoors to connect with the world around us, to be present in a beautiful place, and a coffee brewing ritual does exactly that.
I stash the thermos under the bungee cords on the paddleboard. I paddle out to the middle of the bay, open the thermos and sit down to watch the morning sky. A seal pops up so close to me I can hear it breathing.
The magic of coffee outside is that it encourages us to be in the moment, to sit and watch the world around us, to ground into our presence. In our busy, overplanned, distracted lives, we need more of that. If we brew coffee outside for no other reason than that it makes us happy, that’s reason enough: contentment in the present moment.
As the water boils, I take out my sketchbook and prep my watercolor set. Once the coffee is poured, I sit and draw and paint. I lose all sense of time.
Do you need a cup of coffee to do that? No. But it’s certainly more enjoyable with a coffee mug in hand. Coffee outside doesn’t require you to summit a peak, it doesn’t require you to engage in a sufferfest, it doesn’t require you to reach any goals. Coffee outside just requires you to show up, take the time to brew, and enjoy.
Coffee outside can be as simple as a thermos in the forest on a fall walk, or as complicated as an Aeropresss at altitude. Brew. Pour. Drink. You are here. Right now.
But wherever you are, go ahead, make that second cup. And be sure to share.
Tips for making coffee outside
Much like making food outdoors, any coffee is going to taste better outside than it does inside. That’s part of the magic of being outside. That being said, there are a few tricks for a serious outdoor coffee game.
- Brewing equipment
What you use to brew depends on your personal preference and what packs well. Most of the time I use a foldable dripper and #4 coffee filters, and then brew into a mug or thermos. If you’re going to geek out on outdoor coffee brewing, another item that isn’t essential but is going to make your life easier is a kettle because it makes the pouring part of pour-over coffee so much easier.
- To grind or not to grind
There are times when I pack a hand grinder (bike touring!) and times when I don’t (backpacking!).
If you measure water and coffee at home: regardless of whether you go with freshly ground or pre-ground coffee, figure out your coffee measurement ahead of time. I carry a small plastic container which I have marked on the side with various measurements, so that I know how much coffee I need to measure out depending on how much I want to make. It’s not probably not going to get you to the absolutely precise gram measurement, but hey, you’re outside. I promise it won’t be noticeable.
- Instant coffee
For a long time, instant coffee has had a pretty terrible reputation, and in this instance I would actually go against my above statement: bad coffee outside is still pretty bad—but at least the views are nice. Fortunately, these days if you’re thinking about weight, or just aren’t really interested in brewing coffee, there are lots of instant coffee brands to choose from. My personal favorite is Voila Coffee, who work with a variety of specialty roasters. Their packaging is also compostable, and even though I almost always opt for a pour over, there are always a few packets in my bag in case of an emergency.