Scenery in the wilderness: beautiful. Life in the wilderness: far from glamorous.
When it comes to outdoor adventures, the comforts of home are sacrificed in the name of convenience, practicality, and space. This means anything goes for a morning coffee fix, from packets of instant, to a ziploc of grounds brewed into the same mug you used for soup the night before. Caffeine is the objective, and taste tends to be a luxury.
But portable coffee has taken a turn for the better. New products in the instant coffee sector are revealing that soluble grounds can retain characters of their origin (such as the chocolatey notes of a Colombian coffee), can provide complexity and depth in flavor, and—perhaps most importantly—don’t taste like shit.
Professional climber Matt Segal co-founded Alpine Start, a company serving up convenient packets of instant coffee that easily stow. . . well, just about anywhere you have a sliver of storage space. If anyone knows about spending time outside and trying to brew coffee in ridiculous places (e.g., hanging cliffside), it’s Matt. So it comes as no surprise Alpine Start’s Colombian coffee is both tasty and convenient.
Other instant coffee solutions have come from inside the coffee industry. Finnish barista champion Kalle Freese co-founded Sudden Coffee, a Bay Area company delivering single-origins and blends in test tube–like packaging. The company releases new blends to its subscribers every few months, complete in a trendy drawstring bag with notes on origin, flavor, and recipe suggestions for brewing.
Bend, Oregon-based Voilà combined the best of both worlds—coffee expertise and knowledge of the outdoor industry. The packets (boxed in a cool box, á la retro cigarette packaging), are streamline enough to pack on any adventure, but also include information about the coffee’ origin and roaster. Voila partners with a variety roasters to offer soluble versions of well-known names like Ruby, Coava, and Huckleberry.
Note: Since we initially worked on this article, we've discovered a couple other awesome instant options. Check out First Ascent, Parlor Coffee instant, and Swift Cup.
If you haven’t yet heard, water is a pretty important part of coffee. We’ll spare you the science behind how water extracts the yummy stuff from coffee grounds, but having hot water is essential for traditional coffee preparations.
The Jetboil. Outdoorsy die-hards may already own a Jetboil (or after reading this, will likely want to add it to their arsenal of gear). Though not the most compact thing you’ll ever put in your pack, a Jetboil is a wonderfully handy tool for boiling water for cooking—hot water for coffee included. With a plethora of variations and accessories to choose from, this solution can be suit a variety of trip lengths and group sizes.
The Classic Thermos. Most instant coffee packets call for eight to ten ounces of water, which isn’t much. If you’re only planning to brew a single cup, a trusty old thermos might do the trick. Note: Temperature retention is the biggest challenge with a thermos. Depending on the quality of the product you’re using, you may end up with a tepid cup rather than one that’s piping hot.
Third Wave Water. As we already mentioned, you may be indifferent to the finer points of specialty coffee (if this is you, skip ahead). For those who geek out over brewing ratios, you might find a capsule of Third Wave Water to be a handy addition to your coffee kit. Each capsule turns the makeup of your water into the ideal profile for brewing. Pretty sweet.
What other steps can you take to elevate your outdoor coffee experience? Quite a few, it turns out.
The Hand Grinder. This is another one for the coffee nerds. If pre-grinding your coffee makes you sad, a hand grinder is your friend. Again, not the most efficient use of pack space, but options like the Porlex Mini-Grinder is small and lightweight, and uses two ceramic burrs to give you a high-quality grind.
The Portable Pour-Over. If you just can’t get on the instant coffee train, there are a number of pour-over options worth exploring, from completely disposable, to collapsible and lightweight, to compressible.
The Mug. We see the appeal of all-in-one solutions like the BOCO BRuX brewer, but we’re also biased and like the experience of sipping from a good old fashioned camp mug. Lightweight and nostalgia inspiring, the camp mug wins our vote for putting the finishing touches on a picturesque outdoor coffee scene.
Coffee outside may be the reward waiting at the end of a sunrise ride, or the early morning fuel you savor as you prepare for yet another tough day on the trail. Sure, you may be able to hold off on that first caffeine jolt until you’ve reached your venerable vista; perhaps you’re a glutton for misery, or find the withdrawals to be motivating. But most of us need a cup to get out the door: specialty instant coffee offers a convenient route to your second cup, no matter your location.