It seems odd to me that I get more questions about grinding coffee than any other single subject. Yet then again, thinking about it, grinding is, in fact, one of the most important parts of brewing a good cup of coffee. But what if you don’t have a grinder; then what? You might want to know how to grind coffee without a grinder. Or you might want to know, how much is a grinder?
Work With What You Have
A few years back, our neighbor was having his kitchen remodeled. One of the carpenters saw me struggling with my lawnmower. He walked over and helped me out. That same week, after roasting, I ended up with an extra ½ pound of fresh roasted coffee. I asked him if he liked coffee and he said, “Absolutely. I have a pot brewing right now”.
So, I gave him my leftover beans. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a grinder. But what he did have was a hammer. So, we put the beans in a gallon sized Ziploc bag and proceeded to crush the beans with the hammer. It worked.
The moral of the story is this, work with what you have. It may not be optimal, but let's face it, we’re not talking brain surgery here. It’s just coffee.
Coffee Purist Sacrilege
I know that some of you coffee nerds are screaming at this point. You’re probably pretty sure that I’m not a coffee nerd. And you’d be right. I barely know the difference between an Americano and a Latte. Hell, I can barely spell latte.
Then again, it’s French, right? And as we all know, it doesn’t matter what you say in French, as long as it’s pronounced correctly. (Update - "latte" is actually Italian. Whatever. The point still stands).
Look, what I’m about is coffee. Not just coffee but good coffee. No I take that back. I’m about, well my business is about, damn good coffee. Now would someone please explain to me what “good” means.
Good Coffee Grinding
Some people love burnt and bitter industrial coffee. Good for them. But that’s not for me and I’m guessing that’s not for you either, or you wouldn’t be listening to me ramble on.
I love smooth coffee that’s not burnt. So, guess what I make and sell. You guessed it, smooth coffee; 1 bean (Costa Rican) and 4 roasts (White, Medium, Barely Dark, and Decaf). That’s it.
So, it’s no wonder that I don’t get hung up on fancy-dancy / foo-foo coffee drinks or how the heck you grind your coffee. So, How To Grind Coffee Without A Grinder, though important, isn't the end of the world. That doesn’t mean I don’t have some suggestions for you. So, here goes.
How To Grind Coffee Without A Grinder - Options
- Two Rocks - Seriously, I once went backpacking and forgot my grinder, but so I found two relatively flat rocks and pounded the roasted coffee beans until they looked about right. It was quite easy and did a good job. Besides, how do you think Cain and Able made coffee for Adam?
- Hammer, bag, and concrete floor - Yep, I did this too. I gave a bag of coffee to a guy working on remodeling the house next door. He lamented that he didn't have grinder. I ran home and grabbed a zip-loc bag, stuck some beans in the bag, asked him for his hammer and in about 30 seconds ground the beans to a perfect medium grind. Easy-Peasy.
- Rolling Pin & Bag - Never done this, but it's got to be easy and effective.
- Mallet & Bag - Same as Hammer & Bag
- Mortar & Pestle - This is just plain obvious
- Manual or Electric Meat Grinder - Never done this one, but it should work. A coffee grinder is just a different form of meat grinder.
- Food Processor - Yep, done this too when taking coffee as a gift to friends that drank industrial coffee. Well, they stoped that nonsense as soon as they tasted my coffee ground with their food processor.
- Blender - Yep, same story as the Food Processor
- Bullet (Frankly, I haven’t a clue what the hell a bullet is, but I’m guessing some kind of blender), so it should work great.
Pre-Ground or Whole Bean
OK, I’ll admit, this is where I get nerdy. Pre-ground coffee beans suck. The words “pre-ground” and “fresh” are an oxymoron. The moment roasted coffee beans come out of the roaster they start to turn stale. Granted it takes time, but there’s a discernable difference between today’s roasted beans and beans roasted a week ago.
Go a month out from roasting and the beans will turn noticeably bitter, i.e., stale. That’s why most roasters burn their beans, so you can’t tell when they’ve gone rancid.
If you have the beans pre-ground, then the decaying process only accelerates, thus making the beans bitter faster. Therefore, always grind your beans within minutes of brewing them. Fresh roasted coffee just tastes better.
Fine, Medium, or Course Ground Coffee Beans
How To Grind Coffee Without A Grinder depends largely on how fine and how consistent you want your grounds. Conversely, how finely you grind your beans will depend on what brewing method you will be using and what taste you’re trying to produce. (For more on the following brewing methods, click here. For more information on brewing equipment recommendations, click here). The list below is from my favorite to my least favorite.
- Cold Brew – The smoothest, least bitter, naturally sweet brewing method know to man. Course ground all the way to heaven. Let it sit over night.
- AeroPress – In my opinion, if you’re looking for super smooth, i.e. non-bitter, this is the second finest brewing method on the planet, right behind Cold-Brew. You can change the flavor of this method a lot by the grind. I go medium-fine. If you want the coffee even smoother, go medium-course.
- French Press – Typically produces a bold, in-your-face cup of coffee. To soften that blow a bit, I’d go with a medium grind.
- Drip Machine – Lazy man coffee. But it does get the job done. I hate to admit it, but I have one and use it when I have company. Lets face it; most people wouldn’t know a good from a bad cup of coffee anyway. Hey, I love my company, but not enough to make a hand pressed cup of coffee. Medium grind.
- Pour Over – It doesn’t matter what you call it, this is little different than a drip machine; same mechanics. Yes, it’s a little less bitter, but still not my cup of tea. Set your grinder at medium to medium-fine.
- Moka Pot – Medium Fine grind produces a strong and somewhat bitter cup of coffee.
- Espresso Machine - For instance, if you’re using an espresso machine (may God save your eternal soul – sorry, I’m being judgmental) and you like bitter and bold coffee, then you’ll want a fine grind.
How Much Is A Grinder
You can spend nearly zero on a grinder or hundreds of dollars. Grinders come in two major types; blade and burr. Burr grinders are preferred and of course more expensive. If you can see the blades, then it’s not a burr grinder.
When wondering how much is a grinder, keep in mind that a blade grinder runs only around $15 - $25. The only positive I see is their cost. On the down side, you end up with grounds of varying sizes; power, fine, medium-fine, medium, medium course, and course all in the same batch. If you don’t care what your coffee tastes like and don’t mind every pot of coffee being different, then how much is a grinder isn't too important, so you might as well get a blade grinder.
Burr grinders work exactly like your pepper grinder. The technology has been around for 1,000 years. Basically they’re a metal cone inside a second cone, with groves and the beans between the two cones. The down side is cost. They run anywhere between $50 and $150.
The upside of burr grinders is that they last a very long time, especially good ones. I spent $65 on mine, 6 years ago and it’s still going strong. Since they last so long, my recommendation is to buy a used one. You can find them at half price on Amazon from time to time.
For more information about brewing equipment, I've created a page specifically including my recommendations on the best brewing equipment; from grinders and brewing equipment, to mugs and gooseneck tea kettles. (Click Here) or go to the "Shop" tab and select "Brewing Equipment Recommendations".
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