For the Love of Coffee

Whether you are having an alpine start or pouring your cup just before noon, we all have a preference around how we like to best enjoy our cup of joe. During a cross country, road trip or a weekend trip to the mountains, it is so nice to sip from your favorite mug while taking in the views. Coffee lovers tend to hold conviction around how it should be made. Especially, up here in the Pacific Northwest. Which method brings the most flavor to the coffee? Which is fastest and gets the caffeine into your system ASAP? Which method gets you the strongest cup?

Let’s talk about a few of the best ways to make coffee during your van adventures. Below, we will review some of the classics: French press, Aeropress, pour over, Italian press, canned coffee and instant. We are going to summarize some of the positives and negatives of each method. If you are looking for an instructional, pick a method that sounds best to you and then maybe continue your google search to ‘how to’.

Here at Freedom Vans, we have a full staff of avid adventurers, past vanlifers, and outdoorsy folk. We will also get to hear some insight from our crew on their favorite tactics for the coffee game. The team here has also shared some game changing tips and a little advice on avoiding mishaps.

 Best Ways to Brew

Now, don’t let this spark arguments with your spouse on who knows how to brew the best cup. Each approach has its ups and downs. Some of us don’t want to think in the morning when we are getting to the first sips of caffeine. Others like the ritual of grinding the beans by hand for twenty minutes. There are many options as to how you go about it. Feel free to comment your favorite coffee making way, as well! 

First, let’s talk about what your setup is. Anyone can make a great cup of coffee with electricity, a gas stove, or a Jetboil. If you are in a van with a power set-up, you might consider an electric kettle to get water boiled nice and easy. You also might prefer a classic, drip coffee maker for your morning ritual. Some like to have an electric drip coffee maker connected to their battery system, and are totally happy with the quality. 

Many of us don’t have access to electricity while we are out adventuring. There are plenty of other, power free options for this. All of methods listed below can be made with some kind of camping stove to boil water. Or, a fire pit! It seems many prefer using a Jetboil camping stove, because it is small, light, and boils water very quickly. Other options are a one or two burner, propane camping stove. You can even bring a cute, camping kettle which makes it easier to pour your hot water. One small tip is to bring an insulated coffee mug with a sealable lid. On the road things can be a bit bumpy, and it is always sad to drop a fresh cup of coffee all over the van floor. 

French press: French press is a go to for those who like strong coffee and at least two cups in the morning. You can find different types of French presses, some are insulated which is nice to keep coffee warm a bit longer. An upside to this is that most presses make six cups, so it can be great for a larger group. You can also make it fairly strong by adding as many scoops as you need. For best taste, try to let your boiling water cool for five minutes before pouring it. 

Aeropress: Aeropress is a favorite because it makes one flavorful, strong cup of coffee. Aeropress tends to pair well with a quality blend of coffee. Some even go so far as to get a really quality blend and then use a hand grinder to grind the beans fresh, just before you’re going to brew. Some claim Aeropress as making the best quality cup of coffee. The coffee making device is light and compact. A possible downside is that it makes one cup and it would take a bit of time to make coffee for more than two people. 

Pour over: Pour over seems to be almost at par to quality as the Aeropress. Coffee brewers can get incredibly precise with selecting the right blend, temperature of the water, length of time to pour over the beans, etc. In general though, good beans and just below boiling water make for a great cup of coffee. There are few options for pour over devices, and a popular one for campers is an ultralight pour over with a reusable filter. It is also fairly easy to make a few cups of coffee at one time, just add water to each persons pour over set-up and you’re good to go. 

Italian press: This Italian press is a coffee making device known for making, close to espresso, strong cups of coffee. If you pack the right amount of an espresso blend with the right amount of water, you can essentially have a double shot espresso. You can find these in different sizes for making one cup at a time or a larger press that makes up to four cups. These tend to pair well with cream, foam, or even adding extra boiling water to create an Americano. You need a stove top for this method, as you let the water boil thru the beans in the device. 

Canned Coffee: We could not forget that there are a huge selection of tasty, canned coffee drinks out there these days. You can always throw a few canned coffees in your cooler or your backpack. If you like a cool coffee drink in the morning or the afternoon, you can pretty much find any flavor these days. Mochas, lattes, oat milk latte, almond milk & espresso, espresso and cream, americanos, you name it. And, there are companies these days that are stepping it up with quality ingredients. Freedom Vans loves Rise Brewing Co., who have a variety of tasty coffee drinks to choose from. 

Instant: Last but not least, instant coffee. Now, there are instant coffees out there that don’t really taste like coffee. If you have travelled in some other countries, you might have become familiar with the classic instants like, Nescafe. These days though, there are a few companies making high quality, instant varieties. If you are going on a long backpacking trip, instant coffee definitely solves the weight problem. If you enjoy a simple and quick way to make coffee in the morning, then this could be your solution. Alpine Start is one company that has found a niche for tasty, instant coffees for the outdoor adventure community.

Insight from Our Freedom Vans Crew

Our team of craftsman, designers, photographers, and founders are all rad individuals who have had their fair share of on the road adventures. Here is some insight from some of them who have their coffee game dialed and also some tips on what did not work. 

Tom and Kyleigh, founders of Freedom Vans, have a preference for French press while they’re out in their van. In their early, vanlife days they used a glass French press. As we have all done, they had a few presses accidentally fly off a counter top when they drove off. It can be so hard to remember to clear the counter before hitting the gas. So, they switched to the plastic and metal insulated presses. They keep your coffee hot longer and are more durable for the road. 

Seth, our Lead Carpenter, offered the tip of making sure you have some ventilation when boiling water in the mornings. Without air flow, condensation builds up fast while you’re making coffee on the cool mornings. When his partner and him are backpacking, they prefer the ultralight, pour over cones. 

Hannah, our Sales & Marketing guru, has a few approaches. If she’s van camping in a town with a cute cafe, she will likely go in and get herself an espresso. If she’s out in the backcountry on an adventure, she goes with a nice, organic instant coffee. 

Sydney, one of our Van Builders,  prefers French press for a morning in her Astrovan. Her secret tip is to add a spoonful of brown sugar into the coffee to brew with the press. It adds a bit of mellow sweetness. She also recommends going with pour over for a single cup of coffee in the afternoon, if you need a pick me up. 

As for myself, during the few years in my van, I went with pour over. It was tasty and simple for making one cup. I made the mistake at least a few times of pouring hot water when my cup was on an uneven surface. It’s silly, but I suggest making sure your cup is on a sturdy, flat surface. For my slow mornings, or extra tired mornings, I made coffee with my single cup, Italian press. It made an extra strong cup, and I would add a teaspoon of honey for an extra boost. 

Best of luck!

Best of luck to you in your coffee discoveries. Coffee and adventures go hand-in-hand. I truly could continue this blog post for five more chapters, but for now, I’ll leave you with this. Please, feel free to comment and offer your own tips and tricks for the coffee game.