It can happen. And it usually happens when you least expect it.
Maybe your drip brewer died in the night, leaving you with no way to make coffee in the morning.
Or while fumbling in a pre-coffee daze, you break the glass of your French press or Chemex.
Suddenly you’re faced with making coffee without a coffee maker.
If there is a coffee shop within a short walk of your home, that’s probably your best bet. If not, it’s time to improvise.
There are two simple ways to do this, depending on whether or not you have any paper filters at hand. If it’s a drip brewer that just died, you’ll almost certainly have some filters. You can use one of those, without the brewer.
If it’s your French press or Chemex that went to meet its maker, you’re going to have to make your coffee without any filters at all.
Let’s figure this out, with and without the filter.
1. Making coffee with a paper filter and a short length of string.
First, without the string.
Put the kettle on and bring some water to the boil.
Next, dampen the filter under the tap.
Put the filter in your coffee mug, so it’s supported. (See photo at the top of the page.) Then tip a full scoop, or two tablespoons of ground coffee into the filter.
Once the ground coffee is in the filter and the water is just off the boil, pour the water into the mug slowly, ensuring all the coffee grounds are covered.
Leave the filter and the coffee in the mug for between 3 and 4 minutes – depending on how strong you like your coffee - and then carefully lift the filter out of the mug and dump it into the trash.
This can get messy, and there is a danger that you’ll burn yourself on the hot water.
That’s why we have the string.
With the string we tie the top of the filter closed after adding the ground coffee and before pouring the hot water. After leaving the coffee to brew in the mug for 3 or 4 minutes, we lift the “coffee bag” out of the mug using the string. Much less chance of making a mess, or burning your fingertips.
If you don’t have any paper filters, you can make your “coffee bag” with a cotton handkerchief.
2. Making coffee with no filter at all.
This isn’t as weird as it might sound. Professional coffee cuppers make coffee this way all the time.
With this method you simply add the scoop of ground coffee to the bottom of the mug, pour in the hot water and wait 3 or 4 minutes.
At the end of that time, some of the coffee grounds will be floating in a foamy layer on the surface, and some will have sunk to the bottom. There will be almost no particles in between.
Once the brew time is up, take a teaspoon and scoop the foam off the top.
At this point you can either slowly and gently decant the coffee into another cup or mug, being careful not to disturb the ground coffee at the bottom, or you can drink your coffee direct from that mug.
Just stop drinking before you get to the ground coffee particles at the bottom.
Will this taste exactly like your regular coffee? Almost certainly not.
One other thing to note about this last method is that you’ll find it easier if your coffee is coarse ground, like you’d use for a French press. Coarse coffee grounds are more likely to settle at the bottom of the mug and stay there.
Whichever method you choose, good luck!
And if you don’t want this situation ever to arise, go get yourself a $10 filter cone and a small box of paper filters. Put them in a cupboard somewhere and keep them as your brewing system of last resort.
Mind you, you can make a great cup of coffee with a simple filter cone, at any time.
Drip brewers, single serve brewers, pour-over brewers, the French press. So many choices! Find out which is best for you...
About the author: Nick Usborne, aka Coffee Detective, is a writer and long-time coffee enthusiast. Read more…