JavaGrind by GSI Outdoors
I’ve been using the JavaGrind coffee grinder for quite a few years now, and I have to tell you, if you like good coffee, this piece of gear is essential. Full disclosure: I may come across as a bit of a coffee snob.
What we don’t often think about, just a few generations ago there was no such thing as freeze dried, ready to brew coffee – nevermind “instant”. It didn’t come in big tins with factory sealing, and wasn’t filled with chemical preservatives we’ve all come to accept as normal. This is all to keep coffee fresh tasting. What’s better than fresh tasting? Fresh. What did they do back in the day for coffee? They took un-roasted (green) coffee beans, roasted enough for a serving over the campfire, ground them up on the spot and made themselves a cup of camp coffee. Sound familiar? Why that’s exactly the way of current trendy coffee connoisseurs – brew fresh, per serving. Suddenly there isn’t much difference between a guy who calls himself a “barista” and that old prospector living on the side of a mountain seasons at a time (although often they have the same haircut).
What I like about it
When I started to use whole beans, ground just before brewing, I never went back to pre-ground coffee. To better my camp coffee experience I tried to grind coffee the night before a trip, so that it was as fresh as possible, and while it was still better than something you buy in a tin, after a few days the coffee wasn’t as good. When I stumbled upon the JavaGrind, I was very eager to try it. It’s a compact grinder that holds about 350ml (1.5 cups) of coffee beans. It weighs in at 315 g, but more like 415 g with beans. Just fill it up, slide the lid closed and you’re ready to go. To keep it more compact, the grinder handle comes off and turned upside down folds nicely over the side.
How to use it
In another retro trend, fancy coffee machines and grinders use a “burr” grinding mechanism, that breaks down the beans better than the spinning blades – so again, better coffee, even at the campfire. The bottom is shaped in a kind of convex shape with steps which gives it the ability to sit on top nearly all cups or pots. So to use it, you simply need to pop it on your pot or cup – whatever you use to brew the coffee – turn over the handle and start grinding. Grinds will naturally flow out the bottom as you grind. You can adjust the size of the grind by tightening the fly nut at the top, which will also keep it closed tightly if you choose. No sense letting the crawly things get in there to get hopped up on caffeine. Better yet, I recommend keeping the rubber cap that comes with the grinder and covers the bottom. This way, once you’ve found the perfect size grind you can leave it alone. It only really needs to be just slightly open – unlike the picture above (opened that far just to show the mechanism). You’ll also notice that if the fly nut isn’t lined up to the square part of the bolt, the handle won’t fit on as easily.
It’s also pretty easy to clean, but I should also mention they don’t want you throwing it into the dishwasher. You can take it apart to clean it more thoroughly, but just watch you don’t lose the washers on the bolt. (I just fished them out of the sink, just short of them going down the drain. Whew.)
What I don’t like
It’s hard to think of too much wrong with the JavaGrind, considering the great coffee making it facilitates. Obviously, it’s a heavy luxury that non-coffee drinkers would gladly go without, and casual coffee drinkers wouldn’t bother with on a long backpacking trip. It’s also weirdly shaped, which can make packing it awkward. I keep mine in my food bag, as it’ll fit around naturally shape-able stuff. Remember that this counts as a “smelly” item that will definitely attract unwanted critters, so it’s best to go up the tree with the food anyway. Also, if you’re used to an electric grinder at home – or even if you don’t grind beans at all, tsk-tsk – you’re going to find it tedious or a little laborious. The first couple of times you do it, you’ll be grinding away for what appears like a good while, then look down and see very little coffee for the effort (it would seem). It may also be the last thing you want to do after a whole day of portaging.
Believe me though, it’s worth the effort. I like a good cup of coffee – spoiled really – and there’s really nothing like getting to camp, finding a nice spot to watch the sunset with a good – good – cup of coffee. It’s soothing and relaxing, and makes the day’s effort worthwhile. The better the coffee, the better the experience. To me, coffee is my luxury, like how others use chocolate or martinis to reward yourself, and I like to make my reward the best possible. JavaGrind makes that happen with freshly ground beans, full of all the flavour and tastes coffee was meant to have. But that’s just me.
Then again, maybe you shouldn’t. It may ruin you for the quick scoops you’re currently happy to throw into warm water. No… no you should really get yourself a camping coffee grinder.