I spent Aug. 10 - Oct. 20, 2018 attending Bushcraft School off the grid in Northern Maine. This post recounts part of that journey.
I spent 30 years of my life not drinking coffee. Sure I’d have the occasional cup of Joe when it was offered to me or when tea wasn’t an option. I didn’t like how the caffeine made me jittery and sweaty and I didn’t like the crash when it wore off. I know, I know, how did I make it through college, grad school and 8 years of teaching public school in Chicago without it? It wasn’t until I spent a year in Laos that I started drinking coffee every day, heating water in the electric boiler and pouring it over my metal cup and saucer filled will punched holes from Vietnam. The only tea I could find in Savannaket, Laos was yellow Lipton. It just wasn’t doing the trick.
When I arrived at Bushcraft School I was waking up at 5 a.m. with the sun shining through the leaves of the trees. Sleep was unpredictable and fitful depending on the coyotes, wind, rain and whether or not I was freezing in my tent hammock. I was almost always one of the first ones up and learned to make coffee boiled in a pail over the fire.
Called “Guide’s Coffee” by the instructors, it was more or less a gritty, watery, hot coffee-like concoction requiring nothing more than a pail of water and some coffee grounds. It’s fortunate that I’m not a coffee snob. While there was a 5-gallon bucket of sugar on the premises, milk doesn’t keep when the only source of refrigeration is a cooler and a brick of ice. I’ll take mine black, thankyouverymuch.
The Ashland Food Mart in town about 6 miles from camp had a sale on big 30 oz. containers of Folgers. I think almost everyone bought one at our first group shopping trip and tour of the one-stop-light town. The full containers held the life blood needed to get through brisk early Maine mornings and the empty containers held everything from toilet paper in the outhouses to keep the mice out to wire and tools and spices.
One cup of grounds will make a gallon of coffee or as our instructor Chris was fond of saying, “sprinkle enough grounds so a mouse could walk across the water.” Everything we ate was heated over an open flame. The giant quad pod over our cooking fire held pot hangers which in turn held the pots.
Guide’s coffee needs to come to a rolling boil for 60-90 seconds to brew. The grounds swirl around in the water and need to be settled to alleviate much of the grit. Once the coffee is off the heat the grounds can be settled a few different ways. Using a stick or a long spoon you can bang on the side of the pot, or stir up the coffee quickly to make a whirlpool that drags the grounds to the bottom. Pouring cold water into the hot coffee from a height of 2 or more feet shocks the grounds to settle but my favorite method is settling by centripetal force.
I was never brave enough to spin a bucket of scalding hot coffee over my head and around and around, but it looks so cool and works very well to separate the grounds from the goods. Our instructor Tim liked to pour the finished product though a coffee filter to further protect against a mouth full of grit. The majority of the cup would be fine, lulling the drinker into a false sense of security. Those who were prudent stopped drinking when half an inch remained in their cup. I was greedy thinking over and over I could take one more sip without getting a mouthful of grounds. Over and over I was proven wrong, spat out the dregs and vowed to the learn the lesson next time.
I never did.