Drinking Cowboy Coffee Takes True Grit
The simplest brewing method under the lonesome sunrise
Being a cowboy is a tough gig. There’s all the rustling, riding, roping, looking impossibly handsome in jeans—and it’s not as if there’s a place to plug in a La Marzocco machine out there on the range. That kind of of physical labor takes plenty of energy, all day and early in the morning, and caffeine is not negotiable. It’s also notoriously not that great. Cowboy coffee is not especially lauded for its subtle flavor notes and complex aromatic attributes. It’s tough, grim-faced, clench-jawed stuff, brewed for utility rather than pleasure. There will be no foam flowers or almond milk option—just ground beans, water, and a crap-ton of grit. That’s just part of the cowboy coffee life.
So what is cowboy coffee, exactly? Welp, it’s coffee made over a campfire by heating coffee grounds in water, then doing your damndest to get the grounds to settle to the bottom and not pour into your cup—presumably because it’s wasteful and impractical to tote along a pack of filters. A clean sock is permissible, but per American Cowboy magazine, then it's called "hobo" or "open pot" coffee. Bonus points if this brewing is done in a speckled, tin pot. The rough ratio is one tablespoon of coffee grounds to one cup of water. Some people boil the coffee. Others maintain that it increases the coffee’s bitterness—a sensory challenge that a cowboy can presumably weather, what with the inherent stoicism and grizzledness and whatnot.
Many recipes (such as they are) call for the inclusion of half a crushed eggshell for each cup of water, operating on the principle that the albumen residue will clarify the coffee by making the grounds settle to the bottom. Should eggs and their shells happen to be absent from a cowboy’s satchel, pardner might instead allow the grounds to sit for a few minutes, then sprinkling a small amount of cold water onto the grounds to make them sink to the bottom of the pot. There will be grounds in the coffee, and it will taste mildly disgusting. Sugar: nope. Milk and cream are not allowed in cowboy coffee, unless a passing cow seems relatively compliant. A real cowboy will scorn such luxuries. There is no foam on this here range.