A well-tried way to make coffee without equipment

by Stephen Hewitt | Published 3 June 2022

Figure 1: All that is needed to make coffee in the way described here. This mug of about 300mL and this ground coffee were used in the demonstration photographs below.

Starting with ground coffee but without equipment such as a filter or a cafetière, here is a simple way to make a cup of coffee. It is a method with which I first experimented over ten years ago and that I have used almost every day for the last six months.

Figure 1 shows the only things needed: ground coffee and a cup or mug.

The method is to put the ground coffee into the cup and then add the hot water and then wait while the coffee grains sink to the bottom. The wait is of the order of five to ten minutes. Figures 2 - 7 are a sequence of photographs illustrating this process of the grains settling.

When putting the water onto the coffee I pour quite slowly and direct the jet over the coffee in a circular motion, trying also to to break up any clusters of grains that are floating raised out of the water. If an aggregation of them is allowed to float like this, the grains in it avoid thorough wetting. An alternative to this directed pouring might be to stir the coffee, but I do not do this.

The motivation for thorough wetting of the coffee grains at this point is the following observation. It is possible for the coffee to get into a state where it takes a very long time to settle, to the point where the drink is almost cold. This has happened to me and is something of a mystery, but I suspect it is related to the grains not having been wetted thoroughly at this stage.

While drinking, a certain amount of care, but not much, is needed to avoid disturbing the coffee grounds. More difficult perhaps, is to resist the temptation to extract the maximum amount from the last dregs at the bottom of the cup. A small amount has to be abandoned if you want to avoid the risk of ingesting coffee grounds. Apart from this I do not notice any difference between coffee made like this and coffee made in a cafetière.

Things that I cannot say:

  1. What the effect of adding milk at any stage would be.
  2. Whether the method would work with the fine-ground coffee intended for espresso.
Figure 2: The liquid in the mug just after pouring hot water onto the ground coffee, the surface covered in foam and floating grains of coffee. The photographs that follow show in sequence the changes over the next minutes as the coffee grains settle to the bottom. The time in each photograph is given relative to this starting point.
Figure 3: At 2 minutes 25 seconds after the first photograph
Figure 4: At 4 minutes 1 second after the first photograph
Figure 5: At 4 minutes 51 seconds after the first photograph
Figure 6: At 6 minutes 29 seconds after the first photograph
Figure 8: At 8 minutes 11 seconds after the first photograph. The surface is clear of coffee grains but this photograph is showing six grains in the foam around the edge at about the 12 o'clock position and a few more near the mug handle at 3 o'clock. If there are usually such grains, I don't notice them when I drink. If I hadn't been making this photographic record, I would probably have started to drink the coffee by this point.
Figure 8: The coffee used in the demonstration here, with “CAFETIÈRE GRIND” on the packet. I have not tried this method with the finely-ground coffee intended for espresso.