Cowboy Coffee – What is it and how to prepare it

In this article, we’ll take a look at the traditional cowboy coffee and show you how to make it.

What is cowboy coffee?

Basically, if you were to make a French press coffee without a filter, it would be the equivalent of the cowboy coffee.

Cowboy coffee is a coffee-making method that originated in the old American West. This method of brewing coffee allows the coffee drinker to brew a very good cup of coffee using only an open fire, water, a pot, and of course, coffee.

This method requires no filter, electricity, coffee maker or other modern coffee-making luxuries, and still produces an excellent cup of coffee.

This method of brewing coffee is centuries old, but is still used today by many who enjoy a great cup of coffee outdoors or who don’t have access to modern brewing methods and equipment.

The History of Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy coffee owes its name to its fondness among real American cowboys.

Unlike the John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movies, life as a real cowboy wasn’t as glamorous. Cowboys took on the job to make money, as working as a cowboy allowed young men to earn between $25 and $40 a month.

That may not be a lot of money today, but it was a lot in the 1860s-1890s.

Cowboys built frontier towns, worked on cattle drives, repaired buildings and fences, and tended livestock, especially horses. It was hard work that the cowboys undertook and the working hours were anything but traditional.

To keep up their energy, they drank a lot of coffee. There were no coffee machines at that time.

So, the cowboys had to make coffee with the means at their disposal. That’s why the recipe for cowboy coffee is so rudimentary: you only need coffee beans, fire, salt and water.

How can I make my own cowboy coffee?

The method is very simple. You fill the coffee pot with water and place it on the stove. Once the water is warm but not hot, add the ground coffee to the water.

The coffee should remain in the pot with the hot water and be heated up slowly. After a while the water in the pot will start to boil. This is an essential part of making cowboy coffee. You can add a bit of salt here if you like.

Boiling the coffee removes the excess acidity from the beans, making the beverage much milder and easier to drink.

The coffee must then boil for at least four minutes. After four minutes, remove the coffee from the stove and let it cool for a minute or two.

At this point, you can add a small amount of cold water to the hot coffee to draw the coffee grounds to the bottom of the pot.

Then you let the coffee steep for a while so that all the ground coffee beans sink to the bottom. This procedure prevents coffee grounds from getting into the cup when pouring the coffee.

Both very large pots and a single cup of coffee can be brewed with this method. The method remains the same regardless of the amount of coffee produced.

The method of brewing cowboy coffee has remained virtually unchanged for many years. However, it has been refined over generations of coffee farmers.

Alternative methods for cowboy coffee

Another well-known method of brewing cowboy coffee is to use crushed egg shells in the brew. Some cowboys added eggshells to the brew for two reasons.

Firstly because of the alkalinity of the eggshells. This changes the profile of the water (it becomes more alkaline), resulting in a smoother cup of coffee.

The alkalinity essentially suppresses bitter flavors and enhances the coffee’s natural sweetness.

The second reason why some cowboys add eggshells to their coffee when brewing is that the thick eggshells help the coffee grounds sink to the bottom of the pot.

When brewing coffee with eggshells, it is brewed the same way as regular cowboy coffee, and adding the ground coffee also adds the crushed eggshells.

Add the cold water to allow the eggshell and coffee mixture to sink to the bottom and carefully pour in the coffee.

The method for the morning after

Take a pot of last night’s coffee residue, add water, bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add the fresh beans and follow directions as above. Reheat the leftovers from the night before and drink them the next morning to save time and energy.

The sock method

In this method, also called “open pot”, the coffee beans are placed in a (clean) sock and filled into the pot. Bring the coffee to a boil and follow the same brewing instructions as usual. Let the coffee steep.

Tips for making cowboy coffee

  • The longer you brew the coffee, the more intense the aroma.
  • The finer you grind the beans, the stronger and more bitter the brew will be.
  • If the coffee grounds remain in the pot with the coffee for too long, the coffee will over-extract and begin to taste undesirable.
  • Use a filter to prevent ground coffee residue from remaining in your cup.
  • Use fresh beans. Of course, fresh beans taste better than beans that have been sitting in the pantry for weeks or months.
  • Pour the coffee slowly. If you pour the coffee slowly, the coffee residue will remain at the bottom of the carafe, jug or pot you are using.

The best pot for cowboy coffee

Each pot has its own advantages and disadvantages. All you really need is a jug that does a good job of heating the water when it boils.

For this reason, stainless steel is generally preferred for bringing water to a boil quickly, but they are also much larger and more expensive than their aluminum counterparts.

On the other hand, aluminum is often preferred by those who want something lighter and cheaper.

Either way, you’ll see that there are plenty of options, and basically you can’t go wrong with any of them.


Cowboy coffee is one of the best ways to brew coffee with no filter, no machine, and even no electricity.

This method is used internationally by many people and some even prefer it to more modern methods of making coffee and choose to make coffee in this way even if they have access to modern conveniences.