For an update on the Javagrind, which failed on its second use, please go here.
Earlier this winter I bemoaned (to no one in particular) "what this country needs is a hand operated coffee mill for camping." What I didn't realize at the time was that one already existed.
The GSI Javagrind ($17.50 at Mountain Equipment Co-op) is a small hand cranked coffee mill (burr mill), and I ordered one as soon as I had learned about it. I also ordered GSI's Java Press french press at the same time, but more on that a little later.
First a short primer on why you'd want to grind your own coffee out on the land anyway. Coffee spoils rapidly and there are two rules you should follow if you want to drink good coffee, be it at breakfast in your house, or while sitting at a stream pouring forth from a canyon while you watch a Peregrine Falcon stoop at Snow Buntings. First use freshly roasted (good quality sustainable) coffee. Once the roasting process has started coffee begins to oxidize and break down. The second rule is grind your coffee just before brewing. The process of spoilage really accelerates once coffee is ground, and (it was surprising to me until I did a quick experiment at home) the difference is noticeable quickly. Think about it in these terms, say you enjoy a fine wine and want to have some on the land, would you uncork the bottle and pour the wine into a plastic container to sit for days before you drank it? Or would you take along a corkscrew.
But back to the coffee mill, it is solidly built, though a little larger than I imagined. This isn't a major issue with me, because once again I don't backpack that much. The body of the grinder is stepped so it can sit right on brewers or containers of different diameters. A rubber dust cap sits over the mill and exit port proper, so it would removed and the entire mill is set down on what ever you are using to catch the grounds. The coffee beans would then be measured into the mill (whole beans measure out the same as the finished grounds - which is darned convenient) through a large sliding door on top and the handle cranked until all the beans have been ground. The handle reverses for storage. It all comes apart for ease of cleaning, although be careful as there are some small parts, springs and washers.
I found the grinder easy to use and quick. The coffee ground to a consistent size which is adjustable by means of a thumbscrew. Worked like a charm actually.
I wish I could say the same for their french press, but I can't. The GSI Java Press ($20.00 at Mountain Equipment Co-op) was disappointing. It is simple in design and seems robust enough for camping, the body and plunger are plastic and it fits into a neoprene sleeve, which functions as an efficient insulator to keep the coffee warm and at the same time protects the brewer. The problem is with the plunger of the French Press, which creates the "seal" with two plastic split rings. The seal was not very good, in fact the plunger "plunged" on its own about halfway just by force of gravity. After the coffee had steeped for the four minutes I could push the plunger the rest of the way with very little resistance. I suppose that one should expect a little bit of sludge in their coffee while camping, but I prefer leaves and pine needles and will look for a better brewer to take with me.
The other aspect of the Java Press that I didn't like was the webbing handle. I realize, of course, that this is a piece of equipment meant for camping and portability, but it was awkward to pour with, and I just gave up and grabbed the body of the press to pour with it.
So all in all the Javagrind is good piece of equipment that I'm looking forward to using in the great out doors, the Java Press not so much. I'm looking for another press to take with me.
Oh, and in case I haven't made this point often enough, no matter where you drink you coffee - at home or in the great outdoors, make a point of drinking sustainable coffee, coffee that's gentler on the environment and better for producers. Many of the neo-tropical migrants, those birds that give us so much joy during the spring, summer and fall, are losing critical habitat to non-sustainable, monoculture coffee. For a wealth of information on coffee and the environment I urge you to visit my friend Julie's blog, Coffee and Conservation. Everything I learned about coffee I learned from her.