Picture this: Your campervan is parked at a gorgeous beach campsite, the back doors are open, fog is rolling in over the jagged seaside cliffs, and the sun is beginning to peek out between the clouds. The air is crisp and you have the perfect piping-hot coffee in hand. Welcome to your van life morning.
Brewing coffee evokes all of the senses in such a unique way – the physical warmth of the steam rising from the water, the smooth, buttery smell of the roasted beans, the cracking of the beans as they’re ground, the spectacular sight of clear water passing through freshly ground coffee and transforming into a mug of magical bean juice right before your eyes. And, of course, the crisp and vibrant flavor of coffee on your taste buds.
There’s nothing like a steaming hot cup of coffee to warm up on a cold morning while camping in a van. Making coffee is an essential part of many folks’ morning routines, which often set the tone for the day ahead. You don’t have to build a fire or be a professional barista to craft a fine cup of joe in a van, though.
Here are some options for making coffee while camping in a van without a campfire. Read here for some more tips on cooking your own food while RV camping.
A pour-over is one of the most basic, but enjoyable ways to make coffee in a van. There’s something so satisfying about slowly pouring boiling water over the coffee, watching the steam rise up, and smelling your day beginning. Chances are if you’ve seen any “day in the life” vanlife videos, you’ve seen someone make a pour-over coffee!
Pour-over devices, or drippers, come in many different materials, such as metal, ceramic, plastic, and silicone. Filters are not always necessary, but I prefer one for easy cleanup in a van. Fewer dishes mean less water usage!
- Boil water, any kettle or vessel will do, but a gooseneck kettle works best.
- Place the dripper atop your coffee cup or mug.
- Pour a small amount of water over the coffee, enough that it gets evenly wet.
- Put ground coffee into the filtered dripper.
- Let the coffee bloom, or soak up the water for 30-60 seconds.
- Continue pouring water over the coffee from the center outwards and back to the center, evenly covering all of the grounds.
- Remove the dripper and enjoy!
I love the taste of French press coffee. It’s rich, flavorful, and strong. While glass is not the most practical in a van or while camping, I do prefer the flavor from a glass French press to that of the stainless steel French press. But that is just a personal preference!
For solo van camping, a single cup size French press easily fits in a cupboard or drawer, but a larger size might be a better option when you need coffee for more than one person. Just remember to keep your French press secured somewhere it won’t fall during those inevitable washboard roads on public lands!
- Boil water.
- Add ground coffee to the French press.
- Pour water into the French press carafe.
- Stir to combine.
- Wait for the grounds to rise to the top.
- Push plunger.
- Pour into your coffee mug and enjoy!
A mix between a pourover and a French press, this is my preferred way to make coffee while van camping. Choose to make it as strong or mild as you like. Filters come in large quantities and will last you an incredibly long time without taking up much space in the van. I haven’t had to replace my Aeropress filters in over two years! The best part is the easy clean-up. Just remove the filter cap and push the plunger to empty the grounds and filter into the garbage or compost bin.
- Boil water.
- Place filter in tray and screw back onto Aeropress.
- Set Aeropress on top of your coffee mug or cup.
- Add ground coffee to the Aeropress.
- Pour in water.
- Stir to mix thoroughly.
- Place plunger so that an airtight seal is created, but do not push down yet.
- Wait 30-60 seconds.
- Push plunger.
- Remove the Aeropress from your mug or cup and enjoy!
Handheld Espresso Maker
If you need a more robust pick-me-up, a handheld espresso maker might be for you. This nifty little gadget has all you need for the perfect pull in a compact and van friendly package. It only makes one shot, but if you do it right, that might be all you need! You can add water to the espresso shot to make an Americano or add traditional coffee to make it a red eye for those days you need an extra boost.
- Boil water.
- Put water in one end of the pump.
- Place finely ground espresso in the other end. (Some of these handheld espresso makers come with their own grinders, too!)
- Tamp, or pack, the espresso down and close up the espresso maker.
- Pump to pressurize and extract your espresso. Slower depressions make a stronger shot.
Electric Coffee Maker
When I lived in an apartment, I had this four-cup (two cups if yours are the size of mine!) drip coffee maker that took up minimal counter space and had a setting that allowed me to set it and forget it and wake up to a freshly brewed pot of coffee. I never thought I could have that same experience in a van, but I must admit that I have used it a few times.
When I’m able to plug into shore power and not worry about electricity, drip coffee from an electric coffee maker is my favorite guilty pleasure. It’s so nice to be able to treat myself to a warm up without having to boil additional water and go through one of the above processes just for a second cup. In very sunny environments where my solar panels are constantly charging my batteries, I can also use it without pulling too much power. While it’s not a necessity, it’s fun and makes me feel a hint of luxury while van camping.
- Add water to the reservoir.
- Add a filter and ground coffee to the filter basket.
- Close the lid and press brew.
- Pour yourself a cup of goodness and enjoy!
Not everyone likes piping hot coffee, especially on a sweltering summer day. While iced coffee is a favorite of mine, specifically an iced lavender latte, it’s a treat I only indulge in when visiting a local coffee shop since I don’t have a freezer to keep ice in the van. But even without a freezer or ice, there are still ways to enjoy cold coffee in a van. Here are some additional options.
Cold Brew Concentrate
The simplest way to enjoy a cold brew coffee in your van is to buy a cold brew concentrate, keep it in the refrigerator, and just add water to it each time you crave some cold caffeine. While this might take up a large chunk of your limited refrigerator space, it’s worth it if you’re a cold brew coffee lover!
- Take the cold brew concentrate out of the refrigerator.
- Add water.
- Cheers yourself for having the simplest campervan coffee routine!
Cold Brew DIY
Another option for the true cold brew aficionado is to craft your own cold brew coffee. While that might sound like a lot of work, it’s actually pretty easy. You can search the internet for specific measurements and flavor profiles, but the basic idea is the same.
- Add medium-coarse ground coffee to a pitcher.
- Add water and stir thoroughly to saturate the grounds.
- Let sit for at least 18 hours.
- Filter out the coffee grounds.
- Store in the refrigerator and enjoy!
Additional Tips and Tricks
While a handheld grinder is the most energy efficient in a campervan, a friend taught me a fun little trick for when you have to grind a lot of coffee. You can attach a drill to the grinder to speed up the process (if you’re willing to endure the sound of a drill in the morning)!
A USB rechargeable frother can help you whip up the milk of your choice to feel like you have a professionally crafted artisan coffee in a van.
Summary: Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or you’re an amateur coffee consumer, there’s a campervan brewing method that will work for you. You can keep it simple or opt for a more involved process depending on your preferences and the available resources where you are van camping. Most coffee supplies are relatively small and take up little space in a campervan, so having a couple options is also possible. One of my favorite parts of van-life and van camping is enjoying a cup of coffee in gorgeous locales all around the country. Coffee cheers to you and yours. Stay caffeinated, my friends!
Brooke is a full-time van dweller living in a 2018 Promaster with her 16-year-old scruffy sidekick, Tressel. She loves the arts, local coffee shops, craft breweries, live music, and farmer’s markets and prefers to take the scenic route over the highway. You can usually find her in the mountains, but once it gets cold, she’s anywhere there is sunshine, warmth, and good vibes.