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How To Make Coffee Without a Coffee Maker (5 Ways to Brew a Tasty Cup of Joe)

As a coffee fanatic, what’s your biggest nightmare? Mine has to be the day where I wake up all groggy, eyes bleary, without a brewer, drip coffee maker or any of my usual ways to make my morning cup of coffee. Heaven forbid, I might have to turn to instant coffee.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to drink instant coffee. I prefer to leave that s**t to nightmares. Brace yourself - I’m about to open your eyes to a few simple ways (5, in fact) of coffee making without a coffee maker.

What about cold brew? Cold brew is a great way to make coffee without a coffee maker - as long as you can wait 12 to 24 hours. But if you wake up to the unthinkable horror of a dead coffee maker, these techniques will get you caffeinated right now.

Things to Keep in Mind When Brewing Coffee Without a Coffee Maker

You've found yourself without a coffee maker, so chances are that the brew that you are about to create won't be one of your best - but there are a few simple and well-known steps you can take to make sure it's almost as good:

  • Use freshly ground coffee - this is an article of faith for the coffee devotee. Always use freshly ground beans. You only have about 15-20 minutes before your beans start losing some of that goodness that makes them taste the way they do.
  • Use freshly roasted coffee - a half-decent cup of coffee always starts with the beans. You'll want quality beans that have been roasted within the last 2 weeks.
  • The right water (Temperature and type) - Too hot (boiling water) and you'll scald your beans, too cold and you'll under-extract them. The right temperature varies depending on your brew method, but as a guide, the sweet spot is between 195 - 205 degrees. A simple way to achieve this (without carrying a thermometer) is to bring your water to the boil, and let it sit for 30 seconds (time it). For bonus points, use the right type of water for coffee.
  • Work with what you have - sure, there are plenty of coffee brewing methods that will help you brew amazing coffee, but you're limited to what items you have lying around. Be resourceful.

1. The Cowboy Method (Cowboy Coffee)

The Cowboy Method brings you back to the old-fashioned ways of good coffee brewing - your best beans and nearly boiling (or just boiled) water. Read our full guide here:  How to make cowboy coffee.

We'll show you how to do it from your home - you don't actually have to be around a campfire or be wearing a cowboy hat to make it. It's simply a matter of making do with what you've got - a pot, a heat source, ground coffee, and some water. It's perfect if you don't have a coffee machine, and it brews an excellent cup of joe. But of course, it's important to remember that the quality of coffee is essential (​1​​​).

“If cowboy coffee is brewed right, it should be smooth and pleasantly drinkable." - Anna Brones, Sprudge

What You'll Need

  • Ground coffee beans (medium/fine), about two tablespoons for every 6 ounces of water (​2​​​)
  • Stove/heat source (campfire?) to boil water
  • Pan or pot (it's easier with a small saucepan)
  • Coffee mug or cup

How To Do It

  1. Fill a clean pan with a bit more water than you normally use when you brew your coffee. For example, if you use two cups of water, add an extra 3/4 cup this time. With this saucepan method, some water will be left in the pan, along with the grounds/sludge.
  2. Place the pan on your stove (or campfire) and turn on the heat. When the water comes to a boil, add your coffee. A rough amount of coffee is about two tablespoons for every 6 ounces of water, but you can change that depending on how strong you want your coffee. Following cowboy tradition, I'm just doing it by eye.
  3. Remove the pan from heat and cover immediately. Wait four to five minutes before you uncover the pan. Once you see that all grounds have settled to the bottom of the pan, you’re ready to serve your coffee.
    If the grounds haven't settled, try sprinkling a little cold water on them to help them sink.
  4. No fancy kettles needed here - you can just pour the coffee off the top onto your cup. You can also opt to use a ladle for more ‘filtered’ servings.
Coffee in a saucepan
Stirring cowboy coffee
Cover the pan to brew
Grinds beginning to settle
Pour slowly to avoid stirring grounds
Use a ladle to help avoid grit

Next time you go camping, here's another list that shows you how to brew coffee in the great outdoors.


2. A Makeshift Coffee Filter

Makeshift Coffee Filter

Makeshift Filter - Kettle - Mug - Ground Coffee - Clips or band

No Hario, no Chemex, no Kalita Wave - how the hell do you create pour-over without one? Try this makeshift coffee filter, which lets you use this brewing method with materials you probably already have in your kitchen.

What You'll Need

  • Freshly ground coffee (go for a similar grind to a pour-over - medium-fine)
  • Hot water (just below boiling)
  • A standard paper filter (or something similar if you don't have one - see below)
  • Large coffee mug
  • Paper clips, binders, or elastics - anything to securely hold the makeshift filter in place
PRO TIP: If you don’t have coffee filters, try one of the following: a handkerchief, a cotton kitchen towel, a paper towel (great absorbency which is perfect for filtering; however, make sure that it's thick enough to avoid tearing) or cheesecloth (doubled or tripled to ensure no grounds find their way to your brew).

Ultimately, a handkerchief is best for this method as it is both easily available and durable enough to withstand the temperature and pressure of water being poured over. You might need to double paper towels to provide enough strength and for best extraction. In extreme situations, clean fabric of any kind can do the trick (3).

Using a hario filter

If you have a filter - great! This is me using a Hario Filter

using a clean handkerchief as filter

No filter? Try a hanky or cheesecloth, but make sure you wash it out first!

How To Do It

  1. Prepare your filter. Get your clean handkerchief (or alternative filter) and fold it into a square that will fit the mouth of your mug or cup. Make sure to leave a margin of cloth, around two inches, that should hang over the sides of your cup.
  2. Clamp the handkerchief securely to the sides of your cup. Check the tightness of the clips to ensure the cloth stays in place while you’re pouring hot water.
  3. Grind your coffee to a medium-coarse grind. It is best to use a good quality burr grinder that gives you consistent results.
  4. Depending on the grinder you’re using, grind until you reach the first marking or first cup symbol.
  5. Once you have enough coffee to reach the target measure, place the ground coffee onto your filter set-up. Give it a little shake to spread the grounds equally on the filter.
  6. Boil two cups of water. Once it reaches the boiling point, take it off the heat source. Let the water cool off for thirty seconds.
  7. Pour a bit of water on the grounds, just enough to wet the coffee. Let it bloom - a process common to pour-over methods, showing your coffee is fresh and is releasing CO2 gases - for about thirty seconds.

    Do four slow pours, one every thirty seconds, until you have used up all the remaining water. If you're using a thick makeshift filter, you may need to tease the grounds a little with a spoon to help the drip flow.
  8. Once this two-minute process is complete, all the coffee grounds should be fully saturated. When all the water has seeped through the handkerchief, you can carefully remove the clips and your makeshift filter.
Unfolded handkerchief
First fold, kerchief in half
Folded square handkerchief
Handkerchief with clips
Use the right coffee mill grinder to get the right grinds
The all important coffee bloom

Blooming

Pouring water over coffee

Pouring

Coffee brewing in handkerchief

Waiting

Stirring grounds

Teasing

Coffee in cup


And you've done it - if you followed the above steps + the 3 rules at the beginning of the article, you should have a nice DIY brew!


3. Use a Coffee Bag

ESE pods, not bags, but another option

This method makes use of your favorite coffee bag - it’s similar to a tea bag, but with coffee grounds inside. (Think of this as a Keurig without the K-cup.) It's one of the simplest and quickest ways of making coffee without a machine. Any coffee bag, along with hot water and your go-to coffee cup, is all that you need.

What You'll Need

  • Coffee bag (Buy from any supermarket)
  • Hot water (just below boiling)

How To Do It

  1. Heat water using a kettle, pan, or pot - or simply put your cup in the microwave. Boil water, then immediately turn the heat off. Let the boiled water cool for about 30 seconds.
  2. Place your coffee bag in a clean cup and do a slow pour of the water into it. Make sure to get your grounds-filled coffee bag saturated with the hot water, up to your desired level.
  3. Steep the coffee bag in the hot water for around 4 minutes. Adjust the strength of your brew by managing the steeping time: 2-3 minutes will give you a weaker cup, 5 to 6 minutes will yield a stronger cup.
  4. Once you’ve reached your desired steep time, carefully remove the coffee bag, and discard it.

Brutal? Maybe, but the lack of coffee makers won't be a problem. This method is quick, easy and does not require any coffee brewer.


4. Make a DIY Coffee Bag

DIY coffee bag

This method is very similar to the one above (The Coffee Bag) regarding the brewing process, with a DIY twist. What do you do when you realize you have no coffee bags left? No, you don't cry or drink instant coffee... just make a damn coffee bag yourself!

If you have any type of coffee filter lying around (and some coffee, of course) you easily can make a decent coffee.

You can even use a tea bag and carefully replace the tea with coffee grinds. I prefer this method to the store-bought coffee bag since you have the option to grind your beans fresh.

It's simple, really: you're making a tea bag and replacing the tea with medium-coarse coffee grounds.

What You'll Need

  • Hot Water (just below boiling)
  • A heat source (electric pot, stovetop kettle, saucepan, or microwave)
  • String (preferably not plastic coated or anything that will melt when heated)
  • Coffee grounds (anywhere from medium to coarse)

How To Do It

  1. Bring water to a boil using any available heating source. Once it boils, remove from heat immediately.
  2. Scoop out the amount of coffee grounds you use for your usual cup of coffee - around two tablespoons per 250 ml of water.
  3. Place the grounds in the middle of your coffee filter, then tie the top tightly with a length of string. Be sure not to pack the bag too tightly - you need room for the coffee grounds to expand a bit as they bloom. Leave a bit of free string long enough for you to easily pull the bag out of the cup.
  4. Place your coffee bag into the cup, and pour hot water directly over it. Fill the cup to your desired level, and make sure to completely submerge the bag to ensure equal extraction of your grounds.
  5. Keep your coffee bag in the cup and let it steep. Brew 2-3 minutes if you want a weaker brew, or 4-5 minutes if you want something stronger.
  6. When the steeping time is up, pull the string to remove your coffee bag, and enjoy your brew.

Making a coffee Bag:

Coffee bag prep
Coffee bag prep
Twisting the coffee bat
String holding coffee bag closed
Cutting off excess filter
A bag in the hand is worth two in the... sorry
PRO TIP: Give the coffee bag a bit of squeeze with the back of a spoon before pulling it out. This will get the remaining coffee juices out of the grounds into your brew, making it a stronger blend.

5. The Improvised French Press

Frothy, delicious coffee

This is for those times when your French press is not readily available, but you still want to enjoy the rich, oily and flavorful brew that French press coffee provides. It's similar to the cowboy method, with a little more finesse.

We'll mimic the French press process using readily available kitchen items such as mugs and hot water. It will be almost as good as a French press.

What You'll Need

  • Hot Water (just below boiling)
  • Freshly ground coffee (medium/coarse is best)
  • 2 clean mugs (one for brewing, one for drinking). If you have something with a spout, like a heatproof measuring cup, even better.

How To Do It

  1. Grind beans to a coarse grind. You're aiming for something to similar to sea salt. Grind about two tablespoons of grounds for every 250ml/1 cup of water, depending on how strong you like it.
  2. Place grounds in a clean, empty cup. Pour in enough hot water (cooled down for thirty seconds after boiling) to cover the grounds - you're just trying to wet them. Wait for about thirty seconds while the grounds bloom.
  3. Once the thirty-second blooming time is up, you can then pour the rest of your water onto the grounds in order to fill up your cup.
  4. Start your timers and let the coffee brew for about four minutes. (PRO TIP: If you want a stronger cup, extend this another minute; if you want a less aggressive brew, deduct one minute.)
  5. Once the time is up, slowly and carefully transfer your coffee to the cup you will be drinking from. This requires finesse, but it shouldn't be too hard with a steady hand. Your wet grounds will have sunk (mostly) to the bottom of the steeping cup, so don't pour in the last 30 or so milliliters. (PRO TIP: a strainer can help with this, as can a large spoon held at the edge of the cup you're pouring from, to help hold back the grounds.)
Coffee and Sea Salt: a comparison
Brewing coffee in first cup
Adding water to brewing cup
transfer, avoiding grounds

The Bottom Line

I’m not saying you have to start brewing coffee with a pot and pan. However, isn’t it great having the peace of mind? One of these tricks just may come in handy on the road, traveling somewhere, or camping with your buddies.

Even if you’re not into outdoor adventures, you’ll never really know when your coffee machine may decide to kick the bucket - and a saucepan, hot water, and your trusty coffee grounds may be all you have in left. And we'll keep getting your out of other sticky situations with other brewing guides here.

And that’s how to brew coffee without a coffee maker. What do you think about these methods? Do you have any of your own you want to share? Feel free to mention them in the comments. If you liked this article, share it and help your fellow caffeine addicts in there quest to brew awesome coffee.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make coffee without electricity?

How you make coffee without electricity depends on what kind of heat you have access to. If you’re camping, you can brew cowboy coffee over a fire, or on a camp stove. If you boil water over a fire, be sure you have a safe way to lift the pan of water off the flames after it boils. If you live in an area that loses power frequently, consider keeping a Jet Boil or other camp stove on hand to boil water for coffee. Some things are just too important to leave to chance.

What can I use if I don’t have a coffee filter?

You can use several things if you don’t have a coffee filter. Paper towels are usually available, though you will probably have to double them. Paper towels can also be trimmed to fit inside drip coffee makers if you ever run out of filters.

Paper napkins may not be suitable, as they can tear through when wet. A kitchen towel (as long as you don’t mind it being stained coffee-colored) is an excellent solution, as is a cotton handkerchief. With both, consider folding them twice for four thicknesses of filter.

Can you eat coffee grounds?

You can eat coffee grounds - though they can be a little gritty unless they’re ground very fine. (Try adding a tablespoonful or so of finely-ground espresso to chocolate cookies or brownies.) The small amount of coffee grounds you might consume in cowboy coffee or one of these other recipes are perfectly safe.

How do I brew coffee without a scale?

You can brew coffee without a scale by following a simple rule of thumb: use approximately two tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water. You may need to adjust the time with an immersion brew) to get the extraction you want. The best way to be sure is to sneak a taste with a spoon as you’re getting close to your brew time.


References

  1. The Lonesome Art Of Cowboy Coffee. (2016, July 05). Retrieved July 5, 2019, from https://sprudge.com/cowboy-coffee-94275.html
  2. Szerlip, S. (2013, May 22). Chef Hacks: How to Make Coffee Without a Coffeemaker. Retrieved July 8, 2019, from http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/05/how-to-make-coffee-without-a-coffeemaker.html
  3. How to make coffee without a coffee maker. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.deathwishcoffee.com/blogs/news/coffee-without-a-machine
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Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.

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