Posted June 9, 2017 – Narrated by Jim (updated November 2018)
One new domestic skill I’ve contributed to our LIB lifestyle is providing the necessary morning beverage. Carmen claims I make the best coffee she’s ever had. I’d blush if it weren’t true.
In the last fifteen months, I’ve reached java enlightenment and the effects have facilitated better health habits.
As the early riser, I was elected barista.
Before Living in Beauty, I retired to bed between 9-10 PM and woke at 6 AM to start my day. And, before Living in Beauty, Carmen retired around 3 AM and woke at about 10 AM to start her day.
Even on weekends, I’d leash Pico de Gallo, and we’d quietly slip out the door and walk to Starbucks for my cup of medium-strength black coffee. Hours later, Carmen would rise and brew her own full pot of strong coffee and whiten it with copious amounts of whole cream.
Once we started living on the road, our different circadian rhythms and polar-opposite coffee preferences pretty much remained static (confirming my philosophy that wherever you go, there you are – place doesn’t change people as much as people change places).
But when I began mastering my brewing technique, Carmen started waking up earlier and earlier to the intoxicating aromas of coffee-wizardry.
Here were my challenges.
Due to limited space, I needed:
- One way to brew coffee,
- One coffee we both liked,
- A way to keep the brew fresh and hot for hours,
- It had to be compact and not dominate our counter space,
- And low-tech is a “must” since our power is often limited.
On non-travel days – due to our heart conditions – we have to settle for decaf. But, on moving days, which begin early (for Carmen, at least) a nice carafe of screaming caffeinated makes for a safer and more pleasant travel with Little Miss Sunshine.
Good brewed coffee is hard to find when you’re living on the road and coffee-shops are usually 10 to 20 miles away and even farther when we dry camp or boondock off-grid in secluded and isolated places.
When we were on BLM land a few weeks ago, the nearest place was about five miles away and today at Gros Ventre campground (pronounced GROW VAUNT), we’re 11 miles from the nearest commercial area in Moose, Wyoming, population 18.
There are many ‘secrets’ to brewing a great cup of coffee, but I’ve found it’s the orchestration of best practices that makes a java masterpiece, time after time.
The items we use:
- Good whole bean coffee
- Coffee grinder
- Tea pot
- French press
At the very core of my process is good coffee – high quality, fresh whole beans that I’ve properly stored and never in the refrigerator. The beans are best kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. And (should go without saying) no pre-grinding at the store because the rich flavor and aroma begin to dissipate within minutes.
The brand we like is Ruta Maya Organic Decaf Whole Bean Coffee which also comes in Ruta Maya Organic Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee. (we’re Costco members and both of these are available for a good price at Costco.com)
Ruta Maya coffee comes in a special bag that is not only airtight, but it uses a one-way valve that slowly lets carbon dioxide gas out of the bag while preventing oxygen getting in – and, there is no degradation of the freshness of our beans over the weeks it takes to go through a 2 lb. bag.
We like this decaf roast because the taste is incredible and it uses the Swiss water method – not chemicals – to decaffeinate.
The Right Amount
The beans-to-water ratio is a very personal matter based on how strong one likes his or her coffee. Once, we were opposite in our tastes for strength, but we’ve slowly reached a compromise.
We experimented a lot and agreed on a dark rich coffee which, at first, I would add a splash of hot water to adjust to my taste. But, over time (maybe due to the low acidity of this process) I’m enjoying it full strength and Carmen now takes hers black without heavy cream.
I use 6 tablespoons of beans to 34 ounces of fresh filtered water … a ratio of 1 tablespoon of beans for every 6.25 ounces of water. Some use more, some use less.
After finding the right coffee, my next decision was the grinder. Of the two major categories of coffee grinders, blade or burr, I decided on a ceramic conical burr grinder.
I wanted to use the french press brewing method which requires an even grind size – and pretty much everyone agrees that a blade grinder’s heat destroys flavor.
There are hundreds of choices for a burr grinder from small to large and electric to hand ground.
Since we never know where we’ll be or if we’ll have access to electricity, I decided on a hand grinder made in Japan called the Porlex JP-30 Coffee Grinder.
It has the perfect size capacity for our french press, comes apart quickly, cleans easily, and is stainless steel.
It takes under two minutes to grind my beans and I find it to be a pleasant part of my morning.
As I grind, releasing the umami-esque aromatics on their path to Carmen’s olfactory sensory neurons … I listen for her to stir.
For a french press, the coffee grounds must be very coarse – about like coarse bread crumbs or coarse sea salt.
Ground too fine, it’s a gooey mess of coffee because the grounds will seep through the strainer.
Update November 5, 2018 – Many folks have contacted us since this blog post was first published and asked what grinder would we buy if we had electricity. Under normal conditions, we still use our hand grinder, but we researched and found the highest rated electric grinder on the market. We bought the Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder and have found the consistency of the grind to be amazing. For a French Press, we have set it at ’28’ and the size of the grounds is perfect for our tastes. When we need to make several pots of coffee for guests, we bring this baby out and can grind whole bean coffee in just a matter of moments, instead of minutes with the hand grinder.
The French Press
Because road travel is our lifestyle (potholes, speed bumps and braking for moose) glassware is not advised. So instead of the traditional glass french press, I use a Secura Stainless Steel French Press.
Here’s My Process
First I make sure the french press is totally clean. Very important. I measure the beans, but before grinding, I put the 2-Quart Whistling Tea Kettle on and wait for it to boil (whistle).
Once it’s boiling, I turn off the heat and fill the french press about half full to ‘pre-heat’ it. Then toss a thermometer into the tea-pot spout and start grinding.
Once the beans are ground, I pour the ‘pre-heat’ water out of the french press and toss in the ground beans.
Then, I check the temperature of the water and make sure it’s 197 degrees. If not, I wait for it to cool or put it back on the stove.
When the water is 197 degrees, I start the timer (using the clock app on my iPhone) and pour the hot water on the grounds, filling it about ½ of the way.
Then, I wait for 30 seconds for what is called the ‘bloom’ to happen.
The ‘bloom’ is when the carbon dioxide gas trapped in the beans is released, producing a better tasting coffee.
After 30 seconds, using a spoon, I break the ‘bloom’ crust by gently stirring the water and grounds, and then I fill with the remaining hot water and cover.
At 4 ½ minutes, I slowly press down the strainer to almost the bottom, but not all the way.
This stops the strainer from disturbing the grounds that have settled on the bottom.
I immediately pour the brew into a thermos carafe to preserve the flavor and temperature. We love our Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Carafe, but there are hundreds to chose from.
No overstatement, the brew stays fresh and hot in the carafe for hours.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2017 – We now use the Oxo 3″ strainer every time we pour our french press brewed coffee out of the press into the carafe.
It has a fine mesh that catches any escaping coffee grounds and perfectly rests on the carafe opening for ease of use.
If it’s a travel day, we make a place in the truck for a full, fresh carafe.
Nowadays, we don’t even entertain the notion of asking our Garmin where the coffee shops are … because it just doesn’t get better than this!