Cowboy coffee brewing over the fire

When we were in junior high (that’s what we called middle school) and high school, we spent a lot of time with our grandfather Dick Holm. We always seemed to have an adventure when we were with him.  Papa was born in 1900 and was in his late sixties and early seventies during those years. Every morning he would wake at about 4:30 a.m., would get dressed, make eggs, bacon, and cowboy coffee, and then be off to work in the vegetable garden, fix fence, unplug the plumbing from a spring feeding a cattle trough, gather cattle, or whatever chores needed to be done that day. In the midafternoon he would take a nap and then get up and make some more cowboy coffee. He drank his afternoon coffee with a cookie or two. Afterwards he would continue working until it was time for supper. When we weren’t in school we would help him with some of his chores. Our favorite chore was anything that could be done on horseback, such as gathering cattle (if we weren’t helping our Granny in the kitchen or papa with his chores, we usually spent our days on horseback). Other times we would pick rocks out of the vegetable garden or pick tomato worms off the tomato plants. He paid us 25 cents for a bucket of rocks or for one tomato worm. It was during this time in my life that I started to drink coffee. Well, it was more like a little coffee with a lot of milk and sugar. 

Our grandfather Dick Holm riding a trike with his nephews in 1928

Cowboy coffee is made by boiling ground coffee. The grounds are not filtered, but egg shells are thrown into the pot before boiling to keep the grounds at the bottom of the pot. To scoop and measure the ground coffee, Papa used one of our grandmother’s Blue Denmark coffee cups, which lived inside the can of Hill’s Brother’s coffee and was missing its handle. He boiled the coffee in an old worn coffee pot. I can still smell the coffee as it boiled over on the stove, leaving coffee burned on the side of the pot and on the stove.

Today my sister Nancy and I still make cowboy coffee when we are camping or Dutch oven cooking, but at home I make sissy coffee with a filter in a coffeemaker and it is made with freshly ground beans. I have always hated grinding the coffee beans until I purchased a new coffee grinder at Costco in December. I bought a Krups grinder that has a coarse setting to select how coarse you want your coffee and a setting for the amount of coffee you will be making. Before I bought this grinder it was hit and miss for how my coffee tasted. Now it’s a perfect cup every time. But I digress . . . .

My new Krups coffee grinder

A good strong cup of cowboy coffee

Next time you are feeling a little droopy, give cowboy coffee a try–just be sure to check your teeth for grounds before going out in the public!

Cowboy Coffee


  • 2 quarts water
  • 3/4 cup ground coffee
  • 1 egg shell


Put all ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes. Let coffee sit for a minute or two for grounds to settle.


I believe humans get a lot done, not because we’re smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee. ~Flash Rosenberg