Brew a Cup of Coffee Without Electricity!

So, wether you’ve blown your house’s breakers while cranking up the power on your latest project or a storm has brought low the local power grid, what do you do if you desperately need coffee with no electricity to power your coffee maker? Make like [austiwawa]: crack it open and bust out the tea lights.

Removing the bottom of the coffee maker is simply done, exposing the resistance heating element. Improvising a jig to hold the coffee maker over an arrangement of five tea lights, the candle flames slowly do the work of heating the element to set the maker in motion.

It’s a solution for after the apocalypse… as long as you can find tea lights, coffee plus a grinder, and for some reason don’t want to use the quick and efficient method of brewing over an actual fire (though kitchen hearths are a rarity these days). Now we kind of want to see this adapted for all kinds of other heat sources. Reflected sunlight anyone?

As you can imagine, this takes significantly longer to brew your coffee — [austiwawa] doesn’t tell us how long it took — but sometimes beggars can’t be choosers. For more power-friendly means to fueling up, check out this quartet of Hackaday approved coffee hacks.

[Thanks for the tip, Austin!]

66 thoughts on “Brew a Cup of Coffee Without Electricity!

  1. Thou cool that he made this machine work on candle power, I am assuming efficient use of resources was not a top priority for this mod.
    Cause if it was a better use of those candles would be to heat a tea kettle of water and then use a French-press to make coffee.

        1. Have you seen the hillbilly hydroelectric power source? Apparently you can hook up a paddle wheel to your old truck’s (aka lorie) alternator (aka genny), prop it up it in a local flowing stream and you got power. If the regulator is inside, like of most American brands, that means 13~14 VDC power. Add a power inverter and you can get 110 VAC or higher. Add a lead acid battery in charging mode and you have a better regulated 12 VDC and a temporary backup in case of water flow stoppage.

          1. You need to get it up to 1000 rpm or you won’t be making much power out, and it won’t work without a battery.

            Putting a paddle wheel on it will just empty your battery because the speed is too low and it pulls current from the battery for the field coils.

      1. 70% isopropyl alcohol is only 0.88 cents (USD) at Walmart too. Makes a nice fire. Tall Arizona Ice Tea cans 0.50 cents and Great Value Tuna 0.68 cents. I think the fish oil may burn too – not sure. You can get a flint fire starter in Sporting goods for under $5 (USD). I think Walmart is international too? Not just an American (Yank) thing :-)

        1. If it’s denatured camping fuel with that emetic stuff that keeps hobos from drinking it (though they still do and then smell of cat piss), then it’s going to evaporate and coat everything in a bitter residue that tastes like kerosene. That’s why it’s only supposed to be used outdoors.

  2. I wonder how many here have ever used a percolator. I bought mine for camping only to realize that I liked the coffee it made better than what I ever got from my electric coffee maker anyway. Then I quit drinking coffee and found it works great with loose leaf tea too.

  3. Great article James. Java is not only a computer thing…

    However, there are many ways to heat up coffee like a 21st century McGyver (who? Americans TV viewers know who he is). I don’t recommend pouring motor oil on some rags in a metal barrel and waiting for the toxic-laden heat. But you could take a clue from military MRE’s. Fire is not always practical as it’s hard to make in wet environments (Watch TV show Naked & Afraid). Also if your trying to lay low and don’t want your camp fire noticed. Also some American towns have open-fire ordinances, especially the smokey kind. Also some landlords and HOA’s frown on BBQ pits and grills etc.

    Ever see those HAND WARMERS at the Dollar Stores? Below is how they work from Wired Magazine . Think about it:

    The Chemical Reactions That Make Hand Warmers Heat Up
    Julia Greenberg – 12.26.14 Wired Magazine

    IRON POWDER

    Oxygen in the air reacts with this powder to yield iron oxide—rust—and heat. These hotties can reach up to 163° Fahrenheit (73° C); military-grade warmers (for heating MREs) can get to upwards of 200° F (93° C). Manufacturers produce iron powder by either crushing iron or spraying a molten stream with water. Fun fact: We eat about 2 million pounds of iron powder each year in our favorite (fortified) breakfast cereals. Yum!

    MICROPOROUS POUCH

    Open the plastic packaging and air seeps in through the fabric pouch, setting off the chemistry that heats things up. More pores mean more air, so the pouch for toe warmers has more holes than the one for hands (since, you know, tight stinky snow boots have less circulation).

    ACTIVATED CHARCOAL

    This porous material holds the water necessary for the oxidizing reaction to occur. It’s also thermally conductive, so it helps spread heat evenly. To make it, heat charcoal in the presence of an oxidizer. It expands to create millions of tiny pores between its carbon atoms, increasing the surface area to as much as 2,000 square meters per gram. A pound of activated charcoal has the same surface area as six football fields—that’s a lot of crannies for storing water.

    SODIUM CHLORIDE

    Like in your kitchen, salt amplifies things. As a De-icer in snowy cities, salt can cause car underbellies to corrode. Here too NaCl (with an assist from H2O) is a handy catalyst that kicks the rust reaction into gear.

    VERMICULITE

    With a name derived from the Latin word vermiculus, little worm, this hydrated magnesium aluminum silicate expands when heated and looks like, well, worms. The result is a light, highly absorbent, chemically inert, odorless, and fire-resistant super-material. It’s a great insulator, both here and in some building materials. Along with the activated charcoal, it helps diffuse the iron powder so the filings don’t burn too quickly (and sear your skin). Herpetologists use this stuff to keep incubating reptile eggs cozy—your warm-blooded hands should be no problem.

    Remember this is only a copy & paste from me so don’t flame me for perceived scientific, syntax, spelling, or grammatical errors… (LOL)

      1. Leithoa – I agree. But some people need to learn what NOT to start a fire with. Leaves is one of them. They tend to smoke up like crazy. I watched a neighbor in his yard with friends lighting up his BBQ with something inappropriate (leaves maybe?). The subsequent huge smoke trail into the street prompted a full emergency response from the fire house just across the street from his party. Can you imagine his embarrassment when they showed up and it was only him trying to fry up some burgers and hot dogs (no coffee)? I’m sure he was fined by the fire chief too. There’s no exemption for moronic incompetence. Also some morons will light a fire INSIDE a house! They have no understanding of carbon monoxide dangers…

  4. There’s a bit of a decision tree though following the realisation, “The power is out, should I make coffee?”

    i) Some moron darwinned on a utility pole: Go for it.
    ii) Maintenance, scheduled or not: Go for it.
    iii) Windstorm, lightning or other weather event, mild weather: Go for it.
    iv) Blizzard, ice storm, or midwinter wind event: Crank your AM radio and attempt to discern whether the event is local, regional or half the country, local, probably sorted out in a day: Go for it… regional, widespread loss of power and deep snow, sever cold, could mean you’re in for a 3 day minimum, assess whether you have enough tealights to keep the freeze off, and whether you might want a coffee later on to warm up. Half the country… yeah, that only more so, you might have to hunker down for a week, assess how you are going to ration your coffee, fresh water and any and all sources of power, light and heat. This may also apply for regional and wider flood or hurricane scenarios.
    v) Earthquake.. richter of 5 or 6, probably just slapped lines together and popped something, maybe one pole down: go for it. 7, 8, 9 seeeerious damage potential depending on how large an area affected up to weeks, assess and ration supplies.
    vi) EOTWAWKI, nukes, zombies, nuclear zombies, whatever, the power ain’t coming back on, may as well give up caffeine now and use whatever coffee you’ve got left as high value trade goods in a couple of weeks when everyone else has run out… if you survive that long.

    1. RW – Coffee tends to encourage the “poops”. I just hope the WC (aka the crapper) is still working during that disaster. Or for that matter what if the city water is off or toxic (non-potable)? You can’t make coffee or use the Loo! Better learn how the military uses the head. Think self-dug latrines and portable buckets. You don’t want to know how it’s done elsewhere like Asia. Indigenous Bedouins don’t usually bother with those pesky toilets or loos when going walk-about in the desert. In parts of India and in Hong Kong you need to have very good aim when you go slumming with the natives … (LOL)

  5. Hmm, I wonder if there are any projects out there for a dipped-in pipe flame-based water heater? I never heard of one but it could be made as a sort of Russian Samovar kettle, only without a kettle of its own :-)

    Basically, that should consist of a U-shaped pipe, in one leg there should be a place for tea-light right where the curved part ends, and that branch would be the one which heats the water around it, hot air rising up along it, … basically it would be a chimney. The other leg would be a snorkel – it would allow fresh air to reach the flame from surface, down one leg, through the curve, then up. At the top of apparatus there should be either a float to keep it on surface, or a girder to keep it seated over the rim of the kettle.

    Now, in order to light it up, or to replace a tea light, there should be a long (as long as single straight part of the tube) holder for it that would be inserted in “chimney” leg from above, placing the light at the bottom.

    Such water heater could be used to boil water (or any other non-flammable liquid, such as soup, stew, or milk) in containers made of any material, e.g. in clay jugs in remote third-world villages, even in one made of paper or plastic, in anything that is stable up to boiling temperatures. I guess that would be a big deal anywhere where metal pots are too expensive to buy. Besides, being submerged, it would transfer most all of the heat to the liquid surrounding it, so it would save the cooking fuel, too.

    If anyone have ever seen such contraption already existing, please respond. If not, please share the idea with whoever might need it.

  6. I’ve made a miniature moonshine still that runs on tea candles and ran some water through it to calculate the efficiency.

    A tealight makes about 32 watts of heat, although it varies considerably. Five candles makes about 160 Watts and the 1 liter pot was placed above the candles very similiarily to the video, with the pot surrounded by a flue made of layered aluminium foil to keep radiant heat inside and let the hot air rise along the sides. The whole thing was topped with a layered aluminium foil hat with vents to the side.

    It was roughly 50% efficient calculated from how much water it was able to evaporate.

    A coffeemaker doesn’t evaporate water, but simply brings it to a boil so the bubbles cause the water to rise up the tube. Bringing two cups (500 ml) of water to a boil takes about 200 kJ of energy, and give 80 Watts of useable power from five candles, the brewing process would take somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-45 minutes.

    Another lesson of my still experiment was that it’s very easy to start a molten paraffin wax pool fire with 5-7 candles in such a burner configuration. I had to keep them in a cookie tin lid with water around to keep the entire thing from catching flame.

    1. Though your efficiency is dependent on the rate you’re bleeding heat to environment. Efficiency can improve dramatically therefore when you apply more heat at once, to a point. Just a quick thought experiment example on that, say you’re putting in 35W and radiating (Or convecting, conducting, however the hell you’re losing it) 35W, so it boils never, 0% efficiency, then you put 70W in, and 35W is actually going to heat the water, 50% efficiency, long time to boil… add another 35W and efficiency jumps to 66.6% percent because you’re gaining on the losses, and it takes half as long to boil because double effective energy input, add another and you’re up to 75% etc. But of course that is true for narrow temperature ranges and rate of heat loss will increase at higher temperatures over environment to which it is losing it.

      Anyhoo, have also done some comparable dicking around, though with a coffee perk and a fondue set fuelled by methanol. Estimate of burner output was higher than a few tealights but the fondue stand was a chunky piece with lots of area and I think most of the energy escaped into heating that, which lost it again just as quick… on my round tuit list to fab up a better stand, maybe with a chimney/shroud as you mention.

      1. Though you forgot that adding more heat in the form of candles also results in a stronger updraft and more heat loss by convection.

        “on my round tuit list to fab up a better stand, maybe with a chimney/shroud as you mention.”

        If it hadn’t been for the shroud, the pot would barely boil. The moonshine was terrible peppery rotgut, took three hours to drip through, and wasn’t much better after a second time through, and I ended up with about a hip flask full of the high proof stuff. For what it was worth, the cost of the candles would have bought you twice as much everclear.

  7. How about getting a Fresnel Lens from a reader sheet or from a big screen TV. Mix your instant coffee in a small black ceramic or metal cup with cool potable water. Make a aim-able stand for your lens and aim it at the cup. Now take it out on the porch facing the east rising morning sun. Focus the beam on the cup top wearing sunglasses. As the sun rises, the beam will move downward. Not sure how hot the coffee will get. Make sure you cover it to keep the cat and dog out of it as caffeinated coffee is dangerous for them. Also you don’t want bugs in it either. Or use the rig to set fire to some dark-colored wood shavings and kindling for a campfire.

    1. I heard that a certain group of sans-freedom Americans use hot tap-water from faucet and instant coffee (sweeteners optional). And they also find a way to make potable ethanol with pilfered raisins from lunch, tap-water, soda-pop can, and strike matches and toilet paper. It’s amazing what you can do when you have nothing else to do.

      However, this doesn’t explain why public-servants and LEO’s drink mud-coffee… (ugh!) – (LOL) I would call mud-coffee “the rookies revenge” as they invariably get stuck with coffee-maker detail in the AM. Next time just send him on a mission to DD. MickeyD’s, or Cumby’s and black-coffee only! He can bring the java-condiments separately. :P

      1. I think the the raisin “wine” your referring to is called Pruno, here’s a lovely recipe for it – http://www.blacktable.com/gillin030901.htm

        But Turkish coffee, although it may look like mud can really be the nectar of the gods, and the can is simply a good replacement for the briki (turkish coffee pot), here is how to make this drink of Sultans and Kings.

        http://www.turkishcoffeeworld.com/How-to-make-Turkish-Coffee-s/54.htm

      2. Prisoners are ingenious, and mostly it comes purely from necessity, and a big enough group of people. You can boil water just by sticking a mains cable into it. Indeed Big Clive has shown an awful Chinese cup heater, and a Turkish kettle that works the same way. No element, just zaps the water.

        For alcohol, they tend to use bread. Far as I know, baking bread kills the yeast, so it’s pretty stupid. But you can use apples, after all they don’t add yeast to make cider (over here “cider” is always alcoholic). Then chuck in whatever’s got sugar in it. Apparently doesn’t taste too bad.

        1. Bread is smarter than apples, because apples ferment with methanol. See “apple palsy” that results from hard cider.

          Wild yeasts are everywhere – you just need to leave a cup of fermentable liquid on a windowsill until it starts to bubble. That’s basically how lambic beers are started.

      1. Sorry, but you said it so I have to tell the joke…

        The Lone Ranger and Tonto are visiting Tonto’s village, and as Tonto was talking the Lone Ranger was walking around just looking, when he’s about to step in a big pile of Buffalo shit an Indian pulls him aside and says, “Watch’em out Cowboy, you almost step’em in Kimosabe!”

    1. If we’re talking about whether it’s absolutely necessary to dedicate ourselves to a hot beverage, then you’re probably right. Though not quite as ridiculous as ‘needing’ to use ‘unnecessary’ and ‘grammatically incorrect’ ‘single-quotes’.

      Here’s a little math to help you understand:
      C+E=Y
      Your: [C]ommunication skills + [E]xpert Opinion = [Y]ou

      Y<B
      where B= "hill of beans", and "beans"= coffee beans.

      We can draw 2 conclusions:
      1. You(r opinion and communication skills) amount to less than a hill of beans,
      2. If YY === B(coffee)>Y(ou) ===>> Coffee is greater than you.
      Coffee>You

      P.S. Thankfully I’ve had my coffee already, or this may have turned out decidedly more violent. (New ad-campaign: “Coffee- bringing about world peace every morning, one cup at a time”)

      1. its odd that coffee is one of the few addictions that people seem proud of, boasting about how much coffee they drink or how much they need coffee to function is somehow good?
        you are proud that you need coffee to not be violent?

  8. Why not use alcool or high % alcool drink in a stove? and why not petrol? it’s quite cheap right?
    I guess it would be even faster and a lot cheaper than all the other methods.

  9. Cold brew coffee anyone? You just soak the grounds in water for 10 hours and filter it. No heat needed. I can’t tell you the water/grounds ratio thigh because I eyeball it every time

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