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Coffee is one of my essential items of gear on any camping trip.
Whether that’s a week away with the family, a weekend backpacking trip with friends, or a backcountry bikepacking jaunt.
Over the years, I’ve tried the full range of options for getting coffee to-go on a camping trip, but I’ve only recently discovered my go-to coffee solution: the VSSL JAVA manual burr coffee grinder, teamed up with the Stanley Classic Perfect-Brew Pour Over set.
Instant “coffee” granules make me want to barf. Coffee bags never give the depth of flavor or color (or caffeine hit) that I’m looking for. Pre-ground coffee is fine for an overnighter but I find that it rapidly becomes stale and loses its punch by the second night.
So, for me, taking whole beans and grinding them by hand just before brewing gives, I think, the freshest tasting coffee on tour.
I’ve been using an electric burr grinder at home for some time and been impressed by the consistency of the grounds vs my old blade grinder.
With camping season due to start, I’d been on the lookout for the best compact burr grinder for my bike touring and backpacking expeditions. And, that’s when VSSL came calling and asked if I’d like to review their new JAVA portable burr coffee grinder.
So, grab a mugful of your favorite brewed beverage and we’ll dive in and take a look at the JAVA. I think you’re going to like it.
We’ll cast our eye over what VSSL say about this hand coffee grinder. Then we’ll see what I think about it and how I recommend using it. Finally, we’ll explore a couple negatives.
Is the JAVA the best manual coffee grinder for camping? I don’t know, but I do know that it’s now become an important part of my camping kit list.
What VSSL say about the JAVA
“Engineered for folks who give a damn about their coffee”
“Built with military-grade aluminum and best-in-class stainless steel to last a lifetime”
“Conical burr grinder balanced by dual bearings to create the smoothest, most consistent grounds”
“designed to fit comfortably in your hand”
What I like about the JAVA
There are three color options in the JAVA range: Carbon Black, Tusk White, and Predator Green. I’ve been testing out the Predator Green – it’s a mid-green color, not too shouty and blends into the forest nicely when you’re camping under-the-radar.
The weight is around 418g / 14.7 oz, including the carabiner end cap and brush. If you’re trying to keep the weight down as low as possible, then you could leave the end cap, brush, and grind catch cup at home and cut the weight to 328g / 11.6 oz.
Dimensions are around 15.3×5.2×5.2cm or 6x2x2 inches with the JAVA folded up for travel.
Hold the JAVA in your hand and it just feel right. It’s the perfect size for my palm. The weight is just right too. Sure, this is no ultralight coffee grinder (at a touch under 15 ounces), but then it has a solid and durable feel to it that I love. I know that this will handle the bumps and knocks that inevitably come with a camping trip.
Take a close look at the JAVA and you’ll begin to appreciate how well-thought-out and engineered this manual grinder is.
The handle folds back on itself and locks to form a carabiner-style attachment that will secure the JAVA to your backpack straps.
Give the quick-release top a quick twist with your finger and it’ll spin and spin. That’s thanks to the dual ball bearings in the central column that make the movement so beautifully smooth.
Press the central release button and lift of the JAVA top and you can see how the burr grind mechanism operates – turn the central grinding bolt and watch the conical stainless steel burr rotate relative to the corresponding burr ring held in the primary cylinder of the JAVA body. I warn you – it’s mesmerizing to watch!
Uniform grain size
Flip the JAVA upside down and unscrew the grind catch at the base. Inside, you’ll find the adjustment nut that allows you to choose from one of 50(!) different grain sizes for your coffee grounds.
Perfect, whether you want coarse grains for ‘cowboy’ style coffee or fine grains for your Aeropress.
Note: the JAVA makes great coffee grounds for an Aeropress, but won’t fit inside the Aeropress for minimalist camping packing. What I like to do to save space is put my coffee beans in a plastic bag and stash them in the body of the Aeropress ready for use in my JAVA.
At only 6”x2”x2”, the JAVA has a fantastically compact package.
Small tools can sometimes be fiddly to operate (Swiss Army Knife: I’m looking at you). However, the JAVA bypasses this with a useful extending handle.
To find it, unscrew the carabiner locking nut and flip the handle over. You’ll then see that you can slide out the end of the handle by a further 20mm / ¾”. Not only does this slide out with a satisfying ‘clunk’ but it also gives a torque boost when you’re grinding a particularly tough batch of beans.
How do you use the VSSL grinder?
So, what’s the best way to make coffee whilst camping?
Look, I’m no coffee expert and I’m constantly learning new and improved ways to brew my beans, but, here’s how I do it with the JAVA and my Stanley pour-over brew set:
- Unfold the JAVA carabiner handle – extend the handle fully and fit the end cap
- Press the central release button on the top cap and lift the cap/handle off the body
- Fill the body with coffee beans – 20g / 0.7 oz is the maximum you can fit inside the body and this goes to just under the rim
- Put the top cap back on and click into place
- Turn the JAVA upside down and locate the grind nut – adjust to your preferred setting, I like a medium/fine grain to go with the Stanley pour-over set
- Turn the JAVA back around and turn the handle clockwise to start grinding your beans – this takes around 60 seconds for a 20g batch on a medium/fine grain setting
- Unscrew the grind catch compartment when finished and empty the grounds into your coffee maker of choice
- For the Stanley pour-over set, boil water to your required temperature
- Pour the water over the grounds in your coffee maker
- Let the coffee fully drip through into your mug
- Lift the filter section off the mug and set down on a drip proof surface (it will still have a drip or two of coffee to come out!)
- Drink your fresh coffee
Are manual coffee grinders hard to use?
No! As you’ll have seen from the process above, it’s so simple to do.
The precision engineering and smooth bearings of the JAVA make it easy to use and the telescoping handle means that it hardly takes any effort at all.
What I don’t like about the JAVA
For all its plus points, there are a couple niggles to be aware of.
First up is the weight. Precision stainless steel engineering means that this isn’t the most ultralight of coffee grinders. That said, because it’s stainless steel and not cheapo plastic, the JAVA is durable. And, when you drop things as much as I do, this is an important feature. So, I’m happy to take the extra weight in my pack when I know that this grinder is going to stand up to the rough ‘n’ tumble of a camping expedition.
Second is the 20g bean capacity. This is the perfect size for one cup and will give you a great full-bodied brew. More than one person though and you’ll need to reload and re-grind. Having said that, given that it only takes 60 seconds to grind a fresh batch of beans, this is no big deal.
Are manual burr grinders worth it?
Based on the JAVA, I say yes they are.
Not only has this proved to be worth its weight in gold on the trails, it’s now also being used more and more in the kitchen at home.
The JAVA is premium-priced, sure, but it’s a precision tool that your coffee beans (and you) deserve.
p.s. you can now get 10% off your first VSSL order to use for a new JAVA (or anything else at VSSL) when you subscribe to the VSSL newsletter. Check out the details here.