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Making Coffee When the Power is Gone

Coffee has been a staple for years, a part of the quintessential American experience from tales of cowboys around the fire, to busy executives trying to hammer out that new great idea. Making coffee without an electric coffee maker, however, is quickly becoming one of the lost arts.

Notes on Long-Term Coffee Storage

In order to make coffee, you first have to have coffee beans. While storing instant coffee might seem like a good alternative that also does not require a coffee maker, even the casual coffee drinker knows that instant just isn’t the same. Besides that, it will tend to lose its flavor faster over time than other options.

Your best bet for long-term coffee storage is to buy the whole beans. These will retain their flavor better over time. Like with any other food stores, protect the beans from light, heat, humidity, and oxygen.

Don’t forget to have an off-grid way to grind those beans!

Making Coffee the Old Fashioned Way

Believe it or not, there are many ways to make a cup of coffee that do not require the use of an electric coffee maker. The one thing you will always need is a way to boil water. Of course, this is important for many reasons, besides just making coffee, so it should be a primary part of your preparedness plan anyway.

Boil It

What you will need:

  • Pot to boil water
  • Strainer

Just like the cowboys on the open range, you could simply throw some coffee grounds and water in a pot, boil it, and then strain the grounds out with a strainer. Of course you have to be careful not to boil it too long, or your coffee will be quite bitter — 3 or 4 minutes should do it. Depending on how fine the grind of the coffee is, and how wide the holes in the strainer, you may also need to put a coffee filter or cheesecloth into the strainer before pouring out the coffee.

Pour It

What you will need:

  • Teakettle
  • Coffee filters or cheesecloth
  • Two pans to pour the coffee into

In a pinch, just do all the work of the coffee maker by hand. Simply boil water in your teakettle, then pour the water 3 or more times over the filter with coffee. The downside to this method is that you will probably need two people — one person to hold the filter with the grounds, and one person to pour the water to make the coffee. (This really is a downside, since if the whole world fell apart, the last thing you’d want to do is devote the energy of two people to making coffee.) Since you have to pour the water a couple of times, you will need two pans so that you have one to pour from and one to pour into for each round.

Stuff It

What you will need:

  • Clean (unused) sock or stocking
  • Pan for boiling water

If you don’t have a strainer or another person to hold filters, it is time to get inventive. Fill a clean sock or knee-high nylons with your coffee grounds and then place that in the boiling water to steep. You still have to make sure that you don’t steep too long or the bitter flavors will start coming out of the beans. Also, while it may seem like you are saving time by attaching the sock in some way to the pan over the fire while you are boiling the water, be aware that cloth can and will catch fire in an open flame. (Nylon is actually one of the most combustible substances, and should not ever be close to open flame.)

Press It

What you will need:

  • French press

If you want your coffee to be a little more gourmet than the above options, you might want to consider purchasing a French press. This is a non-electric coffee maker that is currently seen as a luxury item to make coffee-shop coffee at home, but is also a great off-grid coffee solution. It is small and light-weight, so travels well too. Put in your grounds, pour in the hot water, steep, then gently press out the coffee. Some coffee drinking connoisseurs swear this is the best cup of coffee you will ever make, and you might just decide to throw out the coffee maker now. The downside to this method is that it only prepares a single cup of coffee at a time.

Grounds for the Ground

Whatever method for coffee making you use (with or without a coffee maker) be sure to save your coffee grounds for your compost pile. They are high in nitrogen and wonderful for your garden.

Just because the world ends, doesn’t mean the little luxuries like drinking coffee have to.


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