How to Grind Coffee Beans Without a Grinder: 6 Simple Ways (with your hands)
Grinding whole-bean coffee right before brewing ensures freshness, reduces exposure to flavour-destroying oxygen and helps to protect the natural flavours of the coffee from becoming bland and stale. But what if you don’t have a grinder? How can you grind fresh beans every morning for that all-essential cup to start your day?
With some simple kitchen tools and a little elbow grease, you can easily replicate the texture and consistency produced by a grinder without having to run out and buy one before breakfast. And even if it doesn’t brew the perfect cup, you are at least spared the shame of having to use pre-ground coffee or find a coffee shop.
Get the following items ready:
- Large butcher block, cutting board, or counter space, as beans have a tendency to fly
- A scoop (optional)
- Plastic Ziploc bags or large parchment paper sheets
- A selection of kitchen towels or paper towels to prevent scattering
- Elbow Grease
- Patience: grinding without a grinder is a labour-intensive process
You might want to look at our coffee grind chart, but since this is a ‘how-to hack’ article on alternative ways to grind beans without a grinder, it’s going to be hard to get your grinds consistent enough.
1. Mortar and Pestle
The mortar and pestle have been used by pharmacists and cooks for centuries to grind herbs, spices, and medicines into a fine powder. It combines a hammering and rolling motion to help create a consistent texture. Plus, the method gives you fine control for a range of grinds from French-press coarse to Turkish-coffee fine.
How To Do It
- Fill your mortar with a few small scoops of coffee. Don’t fill it more than about ¼ full for best control. You can always grind a second batch.
- Hold the pestle with your dominant hand; use your other to hold the mortar in place.
- Using the pestle, forcibly press down and crush the coffee beans with a twisting motion.
- Once crushed, use the pestle to roll the coffee around the bowl, until you see the consistency and texture you want.
- If you need to grind more coffee, empty the coffee you’ve already ground into a bowl (or your coffee maker) and repeat the process till you have enough coffee.
America’s Test Kitchen (Cook’s Country) has great insight (1) into using this technique:
2. A Blender
A blender is an adequate coffee grinder replacement in a pinch. The blender’s blade chops the coffee in a manner much like a blade grinder. It will never be as consistent as a burr grinder (2). But it’s a hack!
Some blenders, in fact, include a “grinder” setting that is meant for use on coffee. However, when using a blender, make sure only to grind in short, quick bursts rather than running the blender continuously. Because the blades move at high speeds and can heat the beans, this risks overheating the beans’ natural oils, which can deliver a harsh and bitter-tasting cup of coffee.
This on-and-off grinding technique produces the best results for a relatively coarse grind. Make sure you properly clean the blender so that it doesn’t take on the taste and smell of stale coffee. (Nobody wants a margarita that tastes like an unwashed percolator.)
How To Grind Coffee Beans With A Blender
- If your blender has a “grinder” setting, select it. If not, select a medium-high speed.
- Pour a small amount of coffee into the grinder and place lid firmly on top.
- Grind your beans to your preferred consistency, using a “pulse” technique, grinding in short, quick bursts.
- For best results, tilt the blender slightly from side to side while grinding; this causes the larger portions of the beans to move into the blade path, ensuring a more even grind.
- Empty the blender, add new beans, and repeat until you reach the desired amount of ground coffee.
PRO TIP: Make sure you keep the lid on the blender during grinding as the beans will have a tendency to fly out when the blender is running.
3. A Rolling Pin
The classic rolling pin is able to crush and grind beans at the same time. This helps produce a more even texture and also produces a finer grind than some other methods. Using this item does require a little elbow grease as well as an observant eye to ensure uniformity.
If done right, this technique can achieve a medium fine to fine grind, ideal for a drip or pour-over brewing method.
What You’ll Need
- Rolling Pin (This can be any durable cylindrical object like a wine bottle, can of food, or wooden dowel)
- Large cutting board or counter space
- Plastic Ziploc bag or parchment paper
How To Do It
- Place a measured amount of coffee into the plastic bag or between two sheets of parchment paper. Tip: To reduce scattering of the grounds, fold the edges of the parchment paper over to seal them.
- Lay the bag flat on the counter.
- Using the pin like a hammer, press down to crush your beans.
- Once crushed, roll the pin over the beans while pressing down hard enough to crush the bean fragments.
- Roll the pin back and forth over the grounds until they reach the consistency you prefer.
- Continue rolling and crushing if grounds are still too large.
4. A Hammer
A meat tenderizer, mallet, or hammer can easily crush your beans – and also your hand or kitchen counter, so use with caution. As you break down the beans, you can get more refined in your technique and crush the beans down closer to a fine powder.
But because of the jerky, explosive effect of the hammer (even though you won’t be whacking the beans!), don’t expect to be able to brew espresso with these grounds. At best, you’ll get a coarse to medium grind. Use this grind for cold brew, the Chemex, or drip coffee makers.
What You’ll Need
- Mallet, Meat Tenderizer, or Hammer
- Plastic Ziploc bag, freezer bag, or parchment sheets
- Large cutting board
How To Do It
- Fill the plastic bag with coffee, or place your beans between two sheets of parchment with the edges folded over.
- Using your hammer, press down firmly on the beans to crush them, until the desired consistency is met. Don’t hit the beans!
- For a more consistent grind, start crushing on one side of the bag and move gradually to the other side.
5. A Knife
The best way to grind your beans with a knife is to use the flat of the blade, not the edge. The design of a butcher knife or chef’s knife, with its slightly wider and stiffer blade, helps to provide extra leverage to improve the process of crushing and cracking the beans.
Crushing beans with the flat of the blade gives you excellent control and lets you produce a medium to medium-fine grind. The more time you’ve spent in chef school, the easier this will be. So if you’re like us and are nothing close to a chef, opt for a different method!
What You’ll Need
- Large butcher or chef’s knife
- Wide cutting board (to help catch runaway beans)
How To Do It
- Place your beans on the cutting board.
- Place your knife flat on top of the beans, being careful to place the sharp edge on the board. Tip: Lay a kitchen towel (or paper towels) over the knife, to help prevent flyaway coffee grounds.
- Place your flat palm on top of the blade and press down firmly to crack the beans. Don’t be tempted to strike the blade, as if you were crushing garlic: the beans will bounce and fly away, which not only means more cleanup, but you risk losing some of them.
- Once the beans are broken, continue pressing down on the blade, pulling the blade slightly towards you to make the grind finer.
6. A Food Processor
Like a blender, this is really a larger version of the blade grinder – you know, the kind that isn’t as good as a burr grinder for consistency of particle size or adjustability. However, this is all about survival, so if you’re stuck in a vacation rental with no way to make coffee grounds apart from a Cuisinart, here’s how to preserve your sanity without having to resort to the drive-through espresso stand every morning.
How To Grind Coffee With A Processor
- Pour a few scoops of coffee into the processor bowl and place lid firmly on top.
- Use the “pulse” technique on your processor, grinding in short bursts. For best results, tilt the processor slightly from side to side while grinding; this causes the larger portions of the beans to move into the blades.
- Empty the processor, add new beans, and repeat until you reach the desired amount of ground coffee.
That pulse technique is key to making a decent cup of coffee (if not a great cup of coffee). Grind in short, successive increments, and shake your blender in between grinds. Turning on your machine in short, quick bursts will coarsely grind up the beans closest to the blades, and then shaking will allow the larger pieces to fall closer to the bottom blade. Again, this isn’t optimal, but we’re talking about life and death here, right?
A final About Grind Consistency (and a cool hack)
According to Scott Rao, one of the most influential voices in the coffee industry, grind consistency and uniformity are critical to producing the best cup of coffee. A consistent grind not only helps evenly extract the desirable flavours from your coffee, but it also helps ensure that each cup you brew is as delicious as the last one. An inconsistent grind has a tendency to over-extract some grounds, under-extract others, and can leave the coffee with a “chalky” aftertaste.
The whole purpose of grinding our coffee beans is to increase the surface area coming into contact with water. And the finer or coarser the grind, the more or less quickly water can pass through it – affecting brew time as well as extraction efficiency.
If you do not have a grinder, the best way to reach a consistent grind in your coffee beans is to grind or crush only a few beans at a time. This gives you a much greater measure of control over how fine you make your grounds, as well as a visual cue for the texture and fineness you’re aiming for. For a truly uniform grind, go slowly and take care to repeat the same movements, whether you’re using a knife or a blender.
If you are not able to achieve a uniformly fine texture in your grounds, consider brewing your coffee using the French Press, which is known to perform better with a coarser grind and is more tolerant of inconsistencies. And as with so many things, repetition is the key to improvement.
THE HACK: watch this cool video by James Hoffman. He shows you how you can achieve a decent, consistent grind using any of the above methods:
Although there are many different ways to grind your coffee without a grinder, to truly achieve the right consistency and texture, the best option is a mortar and pestle, especially for a finer grind such as used in espresso machines.
Consistency is the name of the game (read why here), and this device is MADE for crushing nuts, seeds, and spices, so using it for grinding beans works like a dream.
When you are looking for a mortar and pestle, try to purchase one made of ceramic material as it will be less porous and will not retain the sour, stale flavours of oxidized coffee after each use.
So there you have it: how to grind coffee without a grinder. With the availability and superior quality of fresh whole-bean coffee, grinding your beans can soon become an irreplaceable part of your morning ritual. However, in a pinch, many tools available in your kitchen offer a great way to brew a freshly ground cup of coffee. Just remember to strive for consistency in grind size, don’t overheat your beans if you use a blender, and make sure you have a large workspace if you’re using hand tools.
Do you have any other ways to grind beans without a grinder? What is your experience with these methods? Let us know in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can grind coffee in a blender. Essentially, a blender is just a motor-driven, spinning blade (much like a blade grinder). Though these blades come in different shapes and sizes, it doesn’t matter much with coffee. As discussed in the article, however, a blender can run the risk of overheating the oils in your coffee, causing it to go stale more quickly. Grind in bursts, and shake the blender from side to side to help distribute the grinds evenly.
Yes, you can grind your coffee beans in a processor or any food processing apparatus that comes with a blade. You can use it to get a medium-fine grind with some consistency if you practice a bit. Let the processor go to work on your beans for a few minutes and you’ll get a medium-fine grind. This is perfect for most pour over brew methods, but it is a little too fine for a standard dripper. You can use this grind in a drip brewer, but it will give your coffee a stronger, more pungent flavour. To compensate, try slightly shortening your brew time or lowering the brew temperature.
A burr grinder is better for grinding coffee beans because of its design. In simplest terms, a burr grinder is two abrasive surfaces slightly spaced apart and rotating in different directions. The beans fall between these two surfaces, which break up the beans until they are small enough to pass through. Grinding this way allows substantial control and consistency of particle size. With a blender or processor, you have very little control and get little consistency in grind size.
You should grind enough coffee at one time for the amount you’re brewing. It’s tempting to grind up a larger amount at once since you’re roughing it by using some non-optimal grinding method to get your life-giving elixir. But that just means it’s more important than ever not to grind so much that the coffee loses its aroma and freshness – remembering that coffee starts to deteriorate within 30 minutes of grinding. It’s probably a safe guess that if you don’t have a grinder, you don’t have a scale either, so a good rule of thumb is to use about two tablespoons of coffee for every 5-6 ounces of water in your brew.
You can brew coffee with whole beans, but the resulting cup of joe is probably not something you’d enjoy. The problem is extraction time: brewed this way, extraction takes so long that the water will cool down, which extends the extraction time even farther. True, you could simmer the beans on the stovetop, if you have time for an interesting science experiment, but believe me, it’s much better just to mash the beans in a mortar and pestle or in a blender and brew them normally. Or you can just grab of a bag or two of these pre-ground coffee beans instead.
- Cook’s Country. (n.d.). Mortars and Pestles. Retrieved from https://www.cookscountry.com/equipment_reviews/2140-mortars-and-pestles
- Is it ok to grind coffee in a blender? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.quora.com/Is-it-ok-to-grind-coffee-in-a-blender