GSI Outdoors Java Press

Do you know why everyone loves going on portaging trips with me? The exotic locations? Good looks? Charming personality? Funny stories? Gratuitous nudity? Sadly, no. You know what it really is? I make good, good coffee. I mentioned in a previous review the first half of my secret, but the second is by using a french press, and the one I’ve been using lately is the GSI Outdoors Java Press.

Java Press by GSI Outdoors


Also, I’m kidding about the nudity.

Why a press?

I like my coffee, and I like it good. Having good coffee at the campfire is no exception. In fact, one of my favourite parts of portaging is sitting back, reflecting on the day with a nice warm coffee. It’s a nice moment. So you can imagine those moments are better with a quality cup of coffee, and over the years I’ve tried many different ways to brew a cup. I’ve filtered, dripped and used instant (bleh!) and I’ve even tried Cowboy Coffee, where coffee grinds are thrown into hot water, leaving the grinds to settle on their own. The latter is actually the better of those options, but much more messy, and more often than not leaves you spitting out grinds. Filters are okay, but paper seems wasteful and take away a lot of the oils that really make the coffee taste best. Permanent filters tend to have expanding or clogged pores after a while, and I haven’t found one that isn’t unnecessarily bulky or just breaks. I’ve concluded through a lot of trial and error that the French Press is the way to make the best cup of coffee.

Java Press disassembled then put back together again

What I like about it

I’ve tried several coffee (french) presses over the years, and most of them are big, bulky, heavy, leak, fragile or some combination thereof. Once I bought the GSI Java Press, I haven’t bought another one since. First off, it’s well made. The fact that I still have my original one says that on it’s own, considering how much abuse and negligence my gear gets. I first bought the 20 oz Personal java press (239 g). It comes with a coffee mug with lid (84 g) and the carafe, each having an insulated sleeve to keep the coffee nice and warm, and more importantly, you from burning your fingers. The press mechanism detaches so you can store the whole system inside the carafe. It also has a lip for easier pouring, and a lid that when turned closes the opening to avoid spills and keep the heat in. The filter of the press is also very good, something I’ve found lacking in other presses. One reason for this is rubber edges that create a water tight seal when the filter is being push down.

The bigger, 30oz version

This is the perfect system for your personal use, but I graduated to the 30 oz version (297 g) soon after, finding it a little cumbersome making everyone coffee 20 oz at a time. This one has a soft nylon handle for easier pouring, but doesn’t come with a cup. I like the one from the 20 oz version, and if I pack it right it can sit in the 30 oz version. I’ve since discovered a 50 oz version. However, it has a plastic handle that won’t fold down like the nylon, which I would think lends itself to breaking or at least awkward packing. Each version has the same features, only the size is different. Depending on how much your friends like their coffee, I find the 30 oz makes ample coffee for four to five people in two brews.

This is my well used filter, still making great coffee

How it works

To assemble the press, you just pull the pieces out, push the plunger through the lid and screw it into the filter. To make the coffee you dump the grinds in the carafe, pour in hot water and wait a few minutes. It’s best to put the lid on, with the plunger up, This will keep the coffee hot, and little floaties out (learn from my fail). Just like tea, the stronger you want it, the longer you should wait. I like to give it a little swirl to make sure the flavours are mixing in the water properly, but do so very gently, and make sure the lid is turned so that the spout is closed (again, learned this the hard way). When it’s ready – a couple of minutes usually – gently push down on the plunger Make sure not to fill it too full though, or push the plunger to quickly. Otherwise it might spill a little (yeah, I’ve done that too). When you’re done, simply wash out the carafe, dumping out the grinds and give the filter a little run through the water. I like to make sure to swish it in the water back and forth to get all the little coffee bits out on each side of the filter.

To close the spout, rotate the lid off center

To pack it back up, put the cup in first, then the plunger – handle down – and put the cup’s lid on. Then put the filter in and close the top. Any other order and the carafe’s lid won’t close properly. For the 30 oz version, filter first, then cup, aligning the plunger so that it just slightly sticks out of the spout.

What I don’t like

Okay, I’m going to split some hairs here, as all the complaints I have about the Java Press are hardly worth not having one. First, the cup’s lid is a little tight, and can be difficult to get off sometimes. The cup also gets stuck in the carafe if you put it inside wet. This can be a little problematic after washing and packing them without letting them dry, which takes a bit longer because of the insulation. They’re also much more bulky than some drip or filtered options out there, so you may think this as an unnecessary luxury on long portages or backpacking. I’d still bring it myself though. I do like my coffee, and I like it good.

So there.  Now you know my two secrets to great coffee. If you get yourself a good French Press and grinder, you won’t need me at all. Huh… maybe I’ll have to rethink the nudity.

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.

JavaGrind by GSI Outdoors

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).

JavaGrind fits over most cups or pots to collect the grids

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.

The burr grinder mechanism and the convex shape with steps

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.)

Fly nut adjusts the grind while the cover slides tightly closed

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.