How to Brew the Perfect Coffee

How To Brew Great Coffee Without a Coffee Maker?

I have a confession. My day doesn’t begin until I’ve had my first cup of coffee. Till that happens, I’m a zombie looking to down that first cup. The caffeine gets me going with my day. It’s not just the caffeine, though. It’s a habit, a ritual I go through every morning that gives my day direction.

Occasionally, however, I find myself waking up in a place without a coffee maker. It could be at a friend or family member’s place who doesn’t drink coffee, or while camping. It even happened in my own home recently, when a glass Chemex was knocked over and shattered. It’s the worst feeling.

Thankfully, coffee can still be brewed without a coffee maker. After all, people drank coffee before electricity. It’s actually surprisingly easy to make great coffee without a coffee maker. All you need is freshly roasted coffee, a grinder, hot water and a mug. If you have a filter, toss that in the mix too.


The Importance of Freshly Roasted Coffee

Even though you don’t need a coffee maker, you’ll still need freshly roasted coffee beans. The quality of a cup of coffee is largely determined by the quality of the coffee used to make it, and nothing is better than freshly roasted beans. The taste of a cup of coffee is about 80 percent aromatics, which dissipate as roasted coffee ages. If coffee sits for a long time after roasting, it will taste stale. Put another way, the freshest coffee makes the best coffee.

Try to use coffee that has been roasted within the past two weeks, and you’ll have a delightfully aromatic cup of fresh coffee. If you are hitting the road or going camping, pack your whole bean coffee with you – it doesn’t take much space!

The Need for a Coffee Grinder

You’ll also need a coffee grinder, so you can grind up the beans and release all of their aromatics.

Today, you can’t call on a housekeeper to furnish a grinder when staying at someone else’s home, so you should probably pack your own grinder. Two manual grinders that I like are the Hario Mill and the Porlex Mini. Both are burr grinders, so they’ll produce a nice, consistent grind, and they’re relatively compact.

The Final Ingredient: Hot Water

Finally, you’ll still need hot water, just below boiling. Coffee should be brewed with water that is between 195 and 205°F, as this is the best temperature range for extracting solubles from coffee grounds. Within this range, water won’t scald the grounds, but it will draw out their flavors and aromatics.

You don’t need to check your water’s temperature with a thermometer. Who carries a thermometer around anyway? Just boil water and let it stand for 30 seconds. Any utensil with a handle can be used as a kettle to heat water.

Now to Brew Coffee without a Coffee Maker

There are two ways to make coffee without a traditional coffee maker. The method you’ll want to use will depend on whether you have a filter. With a filter, you can create a makeshift pour-over. If you don’t have a filter, an immersive brew, similar to a French press, will work best.

Creating a Makeshift Pour-Over

To create a makeshift pour-over, place your filter on top of the coffee cup. It doesn’t matter whether you have a thick or thin filter, but it does need to be clean. Paper filters are cheap, easy to find and carry. If you don’t have one, use a clean cloth and tie it to a sieve. Once the filter is in place:

  1. Rinse the filter with hot water and toss the rinsing water
  2. Measure a tablespoon of coffee for each cup of coffee you want to make
  3. Grind your coffee on a medium, sand-like grind
  4. Wet the grounds with a little water and wait for at least 30 seconds (longer if your beans are very fresh)
  5. Pour half of the remaining water over a 30-second duration
  6. Pour the rest of the water in three or four smaller increments

There you have it – your own cup of great coffee to get you going for the day! If you think it tastes too bitter, add more coffee. If it’s too sour, reduce the amount of coffee you use.

How to Make an Old Fashioned – The Drink That Originated in the 1800’s

Sadly neglected these days, the Old-Fashioned is the ur-cocktail. Originally — in 1806, at least, which is good enough for us — a “cock tail” was a morning drink (ah, America!) made up of a little water, a little sugar, a lot of liquor, and a couple splashes of bitters. Freeze the water, make it with whiskey, and you have an Old-Fashioned. And a mighty fine drink it is: strong, square-jawed, with just enough civilization to keep you from hollerin’ like a mountain-jack.


  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 3 Angostura Bitters
  • 1 L Club Soda
  • 2 oz. Rye Whiskey
  • 1 old-fashioned glass


  1. Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass
  2. Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda
  3. Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, cartridge case, whatever
  4. Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining
  5. Add a large ice cube
  6. Pour in the rye (or bourbon)
  7. Serve with a stirring rod

The Wondrich Take:

The now customary fruit garnish — all those orange slices, cherries, pineapple sticks and whatnot — is, according to Jack Townsend, former head of the Bartenders Union of New York, Local 15, A.F.L., an example of the indignities that so many American cocktails had visited upon them under Prohibition. Anything to hide the taste of the liquor. A special no-no is the common practice of muddling the fruit with the sugar before pouring in the hooch. This turns a noble drink into a sickly, sweet, gooey mess.

Finally, the great debate: rye or bourbon? North or South, East or West, Kentucky Colonel or New York Knickerbocker? Since you can make a fine-tasting drink by subjecting almost any of the manly liquors — brandy, rum, gin, Irish whiskey (but not Scotch, which is too manly) — to this process, it doesn’t really matter. But we like rye, if we can find it, or Canadian Club, if we can’t. (CC has a lot of rye in it.) Cheap bourbon’s already sweet enough, and good bourbon doesn’t need any help going down.