If you’re a true coffee lover, you’ll appreciate that pre-ground beans do you a disservice.
Why is this?
Well, when you grind coffee beans, you expose more of the surface area to environmental factors. When exposed to oxygen, coffee beans degas with carbon dioxide being released. The longer ground coffee is in contact with the air, the more chance the end result will taste stale and flat.
Also, if moisture penetrates ground coffee, this will impair the oils and, in turn, the flavor.
Extreme temperature swings and excessive light will also cause ground coffee beans to degrade even more rapidly.
So, by grinding your coffee beans directly before brewing, you’ll minimize this exposure to the elements and maximize your chances of that perfect golden cup of coffee.
Traditional Method of Grinding Coffee Beans
While the purpose of our study today is how to grind coffee beans without a grinder, it is the grinder that’s the prevailing method.
With a simple manual grinder, you can enjoy great coffee on the go. Small enough to pop in your luggage and requiring no electricity, you’ll get a whisper-quiet kitchen assistant without spending a fortune.
If you dislike the idea of the physical effort involved, opt for an electric coffee grinder instead.
With electric grinders, you can choose from a cheaper blade grinder, or the far more efficient burr grinder. We would recommend avoid blade grinders completely. They produce far too much heat and static. Consistency is also questionable. Do yourself a favor and dig deeper for an electric grinder.
Here’s a great guide to using a coffee grinder.
Now, we’ll assume you understand the importance of grinding your coffee beans right before brewing.
What can you do, then, if you find yourself without a grinder to hand?
Maybe you’re away on vacation for a month and the rental doesn’t come with a grinder.
Perhaps your grinder is broken and you’re waiting for a replacement.
Or it could be you just fancy experimenting with coffee in as many ways as possible. We admire and applaud that. If you’re a true coffee lover, embracing every element of the brewing process can lead you to some unexpected discoveries.
How can you grind coffee beans without a grinder, then?
How To Grind Coffee Beans Without a Grinder
One of the most common ways to grind coffee beans without a grinder involves a knife but we feel that’s a questionable method.
Instead, we’ll focus on the following 5 alternatives to a coffee grinder for lovers of freshly-blitzed beans:
- Grinding Coffee with a Blender
- Grinding Coffee with a Food Processor
- Grinding Coffee with a Meat Tenderizer
- Grinding Coffee with a Mortar and Pestle
- Grinding Coffee with a Rolling Pin
1) Grinding Coffee with a Blender
If you consider the average kitchen blender, this operates similarly to a simple blade grinder. While you could never hope to achieve the consistency delivered by a burr grinder, using a blender is a serviceable substitute for a cheap blade grinder.
One word of warning: you should use a blender to grind coffee in short, sharp bursts. Resist the temptation to leave it running in the background. You’ll end up overheating the beans and potentially stripping some of those valuable oils.
Given the stop-start technique you’ll be forced to employ, using a blender is best if you want coarsely-ground coffee. You’ll struggle to achieve even a medium grind so this method is ideal for French press fans or anyone who enjoys the occasional cold brew coffee.
What To Do
- Choose medium-high or the dedicated blender setting
- Pour in enough coffee beans for your brew and close the lid
- Use a pulsing technique to grind your beans to a coarse consistency without scorching them
- Tilt the blender gently from side to side while grinding to encourage even grinding
- Clean the blender thoroughly after use
2) Grinding Coffee with a Food Processor
Much like the blender we just outlined, food processors are fundamentally oversized blade grinders. You can again benefit from harnessing this power to slice up your coffee beans even if you don’t have a grinder to hand.
By respecting the same process as when using a blender, a food processor can be encouraged to perform more consistently when grinding coffee. Shaking it periodically as you grind helps to push larger pieces of beans toward the blades. When you pulse the food processor in intensive bursts, you’ll notice the beans are efficiently and coarsely grind without getting clogged up. Technique is everything.
What To Do
- Decant your coffee beans into the food processor and secure the lid
- Grind in brief bursts while gently shaking the food processor from side to side
- Make sure all debris is removed and then clean the appliance thoroughly to prevent the smell of coffee seeping into the plastic
3) Grinding Coffee with a Meat Tenderizer
Do you have a mallet or meat tenderizer in the kitchen? If so, you have the makings of freshly-ground coffee even if you’re grinders kaput.
It goes unsaid that the brute force of using a hammer action to pound up coffee beans is not a delicate method. Use caution and try to avoid damaging the beans with excessive force. The goal here is not to hammer as hard as you are physically able. On the contrary, you’ll be using the tenderizer to push down upon much more gently.
Where using either a blender or food processor is only useful for coarse grinds, you can achieve a medium grind with a meat tenderizer. This is perfect for drip coffee.
What To Do
- Pop your coffee beans into a Ziploc bag and seal it. If you don’t have a suitable bag, you could use parchment paper at a pinch but you’re likely to make more mess
- Press down firmly on the tenderizer using the force to pulverize the coffee beans
- Resist any temptation to hit the bag with the tenderizer. This will damage the beans.
4) Grinding Coffee with a Mortar and Pestle
The classic mortar and pestle is a staple of kitchens the world over. Typically used for grinding herbs and spices, you can easily take advantage of this primitive but effective tool to grind your coffee beans.
One of the key advantages of using this method is the complete versatility you will get. You can confidently prepare anything from a superfine Turkish or an espresso grind to a medium and coarse grind at the other extreme. This gives you more flexibility than some electric grinders provide.
The significant downside, as with all manual methods of grinding, is the lack of consistency afforded by this method. Each time you grind, it’s a question of trial and error. Using the best burr grinder, you can dial in your preference then replicate this with ease and total precision.
What To Do
- Add some coffee beans to your mortar. Do not use too much. If you need more coffee, you’re better preparing it in batches
- Press down on the coffee beans with the pestle as you twist
- Keep pushing down until you reach your desired consistency
5) Grinding Coffee with a Rolling Pin
Operating on a similar principle to the meat tenderizer, you can employ a standard rolling pin to grind coffee beans in the absence of a proper grinder.
By crushing and grinding the beans simultaneously, you should find you can get the beans down to a pretty fine grind. This is ideal if you want some espresso although you might struggle to get a fine enough grind for Turkish coffee.
What To Do
- Pour some coffee beans into a Ziploc bag. As above, you could substitute the bag for 2 sheets of parchment paper. You goal is to protect the coffee beans from impact
- Press forcefully downward on the rolling pin so you crush the beans inside the bag
- Roll back and forth over the ground beans several times
- Inspect the grounds for consistency
- Continue rolling if necessary or fire up your hot water and get that coffee brewing
Now, you should have no shortage of options next time you want fresh coffee and you can’t find a grinder.
To round out today, we’ll assemble answers to the most frequently asked questions about grinding coffee.
1) Is it really necessary to grind my own coffee beans at home?
We wouldn’t claim it’s necessary, but it will certainly result in coffee that tastes fresher and better. Coffee beans degrade dramatically when exposed to the air, extremes of temperature, or moisture. The longer from grinding to brewing, the more the oils will be impaired, and the more chance the coffee beans will taste stale and flat. Grinding fresh beans directly before brewing mitigates much of this degradation.
2) What makes burr grinders better than blade grinders?
Blade grinder are cheap so we can understand their popularity. The problem is that they produce too much static and heat when grinding. The harsh action also damages the coffee beans. Even though burr grinders are more expensive, you won’t regret the money spent.
3) How much coffee do I need to grind each time?
The key is to only grind as much coffee as you need for each use. Grinding up a supply in advance defeats the object of grinding your beans. Do this and the stored ground coffee will degrade in much the same way as the pre-ground you could have bought instead. As a benchmark, coffee will start to spoil within 30 minutes of grinding. It really starts going bad that quickly. So, while it’s fine to make enough for a couple cups before you head out for work, it doesn’t pay to grind a large batch to see you through the day.
4) Do any of these crude methods of grinding really work?
They certainly work. We have tried to outline fully the advantages and drawbacks of each method. Also, be aware you’ll never achieve the same consistency as you would with an electric burr grinder. If you have a little patience and you don’t mind experimenting to get the grind size you need, all the above methods can be confidently used to varying degrees of effectiveness. Think about the grind size you need and choose your alternative grinding method accordingly.
5) Why can’t you just use whole beans for making coffee?
You could do this in theory but the extraction time would be so long that the water would start cooling. There’s a good reason beans are ground for coffee.
6) How should I store my whole coffee beans?
Keep the beans an airtight container, ideally opaque. Transparent containers will allow too much light to penetrate. This will spoil the beans. Strive for room temperature or similar. Stick to these guidelines and your beans should last the distance. All you need to do then is slip out enough to grind up for your brew each time and you’ll get gourmet coffee without leaving home.
Well, even if you don’t want to buy the best coffee grinder, there’s no excuse not to enjoy freshly-ground coffee. If you still haven’t taken this important step toward complete mastery of brewing coffee, perhaps today’s guide will inspire you.
As you can see, there’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on dedicated grinding equipment. There’s every chance you’ll have several of the pieces of kit above in the kitchen.
Before you head off, don’t forget to bookmark LaMano. We’ve had some time off recently but we’re back in action now and ready to send plenty more informative guides your way. Never be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get back to basics when you’re making coffee. Just like using a traditional French press or moka pot can generate impressive results, so using a crude grinding method can still yield delicious coffee. We’ll see you soon!