A roasted coffee bean is, at maximum, 30% water-soluble when ground. The rest of the stuff, what’s over left after brewing, is essentially a material similar to wood, which does not dissolve.

Grinding coffee opens up the structure of the bean, expanding its surface area and giving the water more to work with. We grind coffee so that the water we use can extract as much of the coffee as possible.

What Is Coffee Grinding

Coffee grinding is the process of taking a whole coffee bean and cutting it up into small (preferably even-sized) particles.

We need to grind coffee in order to brew with it. If you were to throw a handful of whole coffee beans in a French press and add some hot water, the resulting brew would not be pleasant, nor something you would consider worthy of the descriptor: coffee. This is because hot water can essentially only dissolve a small amount of surface area of each coffee bean. 

Benefits of Coffee Grinding

Grinding coffee is absolutely essential. There is no brew method on the planet, nor will there ever be, which doesn’t need the coffee to be ground in order to produce a cup. Aside from the absolute necessity of it, grinding coffee fresh provides quite a few delicious benefits. 

Better Flavor Than Pre-Ground Coffee

When coffee is ground, it opens up the entire bean to attacks from the elements. A whole coffee bean, however, its insides are largely protected. The oxygen can really only get to the outside.

Oxygen, as well as moisture, direct sunlight and heat will rapidly degrade ground coffee. This is one big reason why it’s best to grind your own coffee, right before you brew: there is no time for the coffee to go stale.

Keeping the coffee bean intact until you grind preserves the flavors and aroma inside the bean. To make a truly delicious cup of coffee, you need to grind your beans fresh, directly before brewing. 

Increased Aroma

What could be better than the smell of freshly ground coffee? When we grind the coffee, hundreds of volatile aroma compounds are released from the bean. These aroma compounds really only stick around briefly before they are lost to the atmosphere. The only way to enjoy them is to grind fresh.

How Does Coffee Grinding Work

The one goal of grinding coffee is to smash up, chop up or slice up the coffee into small enough particles, so they can be used to brew some tasty coffee. This is usually, but not always, done using a coffee grinder.

A coffee grinder can be either hand-powered or electrical and comes in a huge variety of options and price points. Though there is a terrific range of options, the mechanism which they use to cut coffee will be either; conical burrs, flat burrs or blades.

Conical and flat burrs work like two apposing plates with teeth. They are very close together and when a coffee bean is pushed in between the two plates, the teeth slice the coffee very precisely into tiny pieces.

Blade grinders employ a spinning blade. The blade whizzes around and chops any bean that gets into its path. Blade grinders work in much the same way as a food processor. Burr grinders are considered the superior grinding method due to their level of control and how evenly they can cut the coffee.  

Pros and Cons of Coffee Grinding

Pros and Cons of Coffee Grinding

If you want a delicious cup of coffee at home, grinding your own coffee is the way to go (aside from drinking the world’s best instant coffee, of course). As you’ll see, the only cons are the effort it takes to grind the coffee, which is 100% worth it in most cases. 

Pros

  • Your resulting coffee will be brighter tasting, due to it being freshly ground.
  • You will get a chance to enjoy the glorious aroma pouring from the beans.
  • Keeping your coffee as whole beans will keep them fresh for longer.

Cons

  • You do need some kind of tool or device to grind the coffee.
  • It takes more effort to grind yourself, especially if you are going the unconventional no grinder route. 
  • Because of the need for a coffee grinder or tool, grinding your own beans can be a hassle when traveling. 

Tools for Grinding Coffee Beans

Chances are, you’ll have one of the following tools around the home. Many of these methods are not ideal, but will do the job in an emergency and will still taste better than using week old pre-ground coffee. Most of these methods will produce a grind size that would work favorably with the best coffee for cold brew.

Mortar and Pestle

A fun fact: Coffee originally comes from Ethiopia. In homes all over Ethiopia, a ritual known as ‘bunna maflat’ (meaning ‘to brew coffee’ in Amharic) or a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is performed. Bunna maflat involves washing green coffee beans before roasting them in a pan over an open flame or coals.

The roasted coffee is brought in the pan, to guests around the room so they can enjoy the aroma. Then, the coffee is ground using a wooden mortar and pestle and then brewed in a clay pot called a ‘jebena.’

Grinding using a mortar and pestle does take longer than blenders and food processors, but offers a decent amount more control. Plus, given what we’ve just learned about the Ethiopian traditions, this option does have a certain kind of romance to it, doesn’t it?

Best for: Coarse, medium and extra fine grind.

Tools for Grinding Coffee Beans - Mortar and Pestle

Meat Tenderizer

A meat tenderizer is made to tenderize meat by means of pounding it with a big sharp wide headed hammer. A meat tenderizer will work in the same way as a hammer does when grinding coffee: smash the coffee until you are happy with the particle size you’ve got. 

The advantage the meat tenderizer has over a hammer is that the tenderizer has a pretty large surface area on its hammerhead. This, as it turns out, is rather advantageous when smashing beans. 

The use of a meat tenderizer will be in conjunction with either cling wrap or ziplock bags, and a tea towel, in order to contain the mess and damage to the bag.

Best for: Coarse grind.

Food Processor

A food processor is much like a blade grinder in the way it works. It will, for sure, grind up your coffee, and it will be easy, but you will have little control over grind size. Absolutely good enough for cold brew, French press and possibly a filter coffee maker. 

Best for: Coarse grind.

Blender

For juice, smoothies and… coffee beans? A blender is a decent, easy option. Blenders grind coffee in a way similar to the food processor. Keep in mind that not all blenders are created equal, so check the manufacturer’s specs to be sure that your particular blender can handle the task.

Using a blender, you won’t have a whole lot of control over your grind size but will do the trick for a course and possibly medium-coarse grind size. The Nutribullet is included in this category.  

Best for: Coarse grind.

Rolling Pin

You should have the coffee beans in a ziplock between two tea towels, then we’ll smash and roll. Again, just work those beans until you end up with a grind size you’re happy with.

Best for: Coarse grind.

Hammer

Another blunt force grinding tactic. Smash away until desired results are achieved. Ziplock bags and tea towels are very necessary. This is best done with a wider head hammer, but really, any hammer will do. 

Best for: Coarse grind.

Knife

While it is possible to chop coffee using a knife, it isn’t ideal and could be a little dangerous. Here we employ more of a squash, the way you would a clove of garlic. The knife method will give you a course grind reasonably easily.

Best for: Coarse grind.

Hand Mincer

You might have seen these old-timers on the ‘antique roadshow.’ Hand mincers, otherwise known as meat mincers or meat grinders, are traditionally big old heavy metal hand grinders, normally used to grind meat and spices.

Some newer incarnations of hand mincers are plastic, but they do a similar job. How well this method works depends entirely on the mincer you have in your possession.     

Best for: Coarse, medium and extra fine grind.

How to Grind Beans Mechanically

Using a Blender

Step 1 – Measure out your coffee

Measure out only the coffee you need and transfer it into your blender. 

Step 2 – Blend

Use your blender’s pulse function to grind the coffee. If your blender doesn’t have a pulse function, pulse manually by turning the blender on for a second or two, then off, then on for a second or two, then off. Repeat this cycle until you’ve achieved your desired result. 

It is not recommended to run the blender like normal with the blades spinning freely, as this may burn out your motor and heat up the blades, which in turn may burn the coffee.

Best for: Cold brew and french press.

Tips:

  • Ensure your blender is clean before using it to grind coffee.
  • Check with the manufacturer that your blender can handle grinding coffee.

 

Using a Food Processor

Step 1 – Measure out your coffee

Measure only the amount of coffee you need for brewing and place it in your food processor.

Step 2 – Process

Emulate a blender with the pulse function. Continue to pulse process the coffee until it is to your desired texture.

Best for: Cold brew and French press.

Tips: 

  • If the coffee gets stuck to the bottom at any point, turn the power off and give the sides and bottom a scrape or shake to loosen everything up.  
  • Ensure your food processor is clean before grinding.

How to Grind Beans Manually

Using a Mortar and Pestle

Step 1 – Measure out your coffee

Using scales or a measuring cup, measure out only as much coffee as you need and transfer it to your mortar (the bowl).

Step 2 – Grind

Begin to crush the coffee beans using the pestle. Try to crush the beans evenly, not only focusing on the beans in the center of the mortar. Once the beans are all broken up into smaller pieces, continue to grind the coffee until you’ve reached your desired grind size.

Best for: Cold brew, french press, filter and Turkish.

Tips:

  • You can get extremely fine grind using a mortar and pestle, it will just take time.
  • Keep an eye on what you are doing. Make sure you don’t keep going and grind everything too fine. 
  • Make sure your mortar and pestle are both clean and free of any spices or oil residue before you begin.

 

Using a Rolling Pin

Step 1 – Prepare your equipment

Weigh or measure out the amount you need to brew and transfer it to a large thick ziplock bag. Release all the air from the bag before you seal it. If there is excess air present in the bag, the bag will burst as soon as you begin rolling.  

Step 2 – Roll

Place the rolling pin on the bag and roll out the coffee. Start gently, beaking up all the beans at first then slowly grind them down until you reach your desired grind size. 

Best for: Cold brew and french press.

Tips:

  • This may not work so well with lightly roasted coffee, due to it being denser than dark roasted coffee.
  • This method can be quite wasteful if you don’t reuse the bag. Please, do keep it and reuse it. 

Using a Hammer or Meat Tenderizer

Step 1 – Prepare your equipment

Weigh or measure out your coffee and transfer it into a thick ziplock bag. Push all the air out before sealing closed. Place a tea towel on whatever surface you plan to hammer on, and place another tea towel over the top of the bag. You don’t necessarily need to use tea towels for this, but using them will decrease the chance of getting holes in your bags.  

Step 2 – Hammer

Start gentle and try to smash all the beans evenly. First, start with the whole beans. Once they are smashed, work your way down to smaller and smaller pieces until you end up with the grind size you are looking for.

Best for: Cold brew and french press.

Tips:

  • Make sure you do this on a surface that can’t be easily damaged.

Using a Knife

Step 1 – Prepare your equipment

Weigh or measure out your coffee and transfer it to a large cutting board. Lay paper towel or a tea towel over the coffee. You don’t absolutely have to use a tea towel or paper towels, it just stops the beans from shooting out from underneath the knife and making a huge mess. 

Step 2 – Grind

Place the flat side part of the blade on top of the coffee. Use your hand to press down on the blade and start grinding. Once you’ve got the beans down to a smaller size, you can employ a push and pull technique. This is used by chefs in kitchens to grind spices and garlic and whatnot. 

Place your hand on the flat part of the bland, press and pull towards yourself. This will not only squash the beans but will grind them too.  

Best for: Cold brew and french press.

Tips:

  • This method is best done using a wide butcher knife. They have a wider blade and, therefore, surface area.
  • If you do decide to start chopping the beans with the sharp part of the blade, place one hand on the handle, the other hand on top of the blade and roll the knife back and forth like a see-saw. This way, you will be pretty sure not to lose a finger.

Using a Hand Mincer

Step 1 – Measure out your coffee

Using scales or a measuring cup, measure only the amount of coffee you need to brew with. It is always best to grind fresh.

Step 2 – Grind

Transfer the coffee into the hand mincer, place a container to collect the ground coffee and start turning the handle. 

Best for: Cold brew, french press, filter and Turkish.

Tips:

  • The results of this method and the grind size you end up with will totally depend on the specific grinder you have.
  • Ensure your hand mincer is clean. You don’t want any meat or spice remnants in your coffee! 

How to Choose the Right Grind

How to Choose the Right Grind

Choosing the right grind for your particular brew method is crucial to how your coffee will turn out. If you try to use a French press grind for espresso, your resulting espresso will taste awful. 

Each brew method utilizes a different mechanism to extract all the goodness from the coffee. Therefore, each method needs its own grind size to optimize extraction.

Coarse Grind for French Press and Cold Brew

French press and cold brew are both full immersion styles of brewing. Full immersion, meaning all the coffee is immersed in all the water for the entirety of the brew time.

The French press has the longest brew time of all hot brewing methods, sitting somewhere between 3 minutes and 9 minutes, depending on the method used. A batch of cold brew takes around 18 hours, give or take. If you haven’t tried it, you absolutely should. So easy to do, such glorious results. 

Add 100ml of cold brew concentrate, 100ml of tonic water, a splash of coffee flavoring syrup and ice to a glass and give it a good stir – you’ll be in summer coffee paradise. Coffee syrups give a special flavor to your cold brew.

Coarse grind size can be utilized in both cases because the water will have plenty of time to extract what it needs from the coffee. The grind texture we are looking for here is around the consistency of sea salt.

Medium Grind for Filter

Filter brewing generally refers to coffee brewed in the pour-over style. This also includes batch brew filter coffee machines. There are many styles out there to choose from. You might choose the Moccamaster or your choice could be Keurig k475 or k575.  

Pour-over brewing is done with the use of a brewing device (V60, Kalita Wave, Origami), a paper filter, a set of scales and a pour-over kettle. Pour over kettles are also known as gooseneck kettles

Medium ground coffee is added to the brewer then water is poured over the coffee bed within a specified time. This is usually done over the course of between 2 and 4 minutes. 

Medium grind size is used in order to have the water flow through the dripper slow enough to extract the coffee, but fast enough so the coffee won’t end up over-extracted. For a medium grind size, aim for the texture of brown sugar.

Fine Grind for Espresso

Grind size when brewing espresso is particularly important. Espresso relies on a very fine grind to create resistance against water. Pressure builds up above the water in the espresso machine. The pressure buildup forces the water through the puck of finely ground coffee. 

If the coffee is ground too coarse, there will be no resistance and the water will flow right through, taking with it little coffee flavor. On the other hand, if the coffee grind is too fine, there will be too much resistance, which will result in a very slow brew time, which in turn will contribute bitter, dry and astringent flavors – all signs of over-extraction. 

Micro adjustments are used in espresso grinding in order to achieve a specific brew time and to bring out desired flavors. For espresso, we’re looking for a grind the texture of fine beach sand.

Extra Fine Grind for Turkish Coffee

The preparation of Turkish coffee, which dates back to the 1500s, involves an extra-finely ground coffee (originally done in a mortar and pestle), which is then placed into a ‘cezve’ (essentially a small pot with a handle and a lip, specifically made for brewing coffee).

Warm water is added, then the cezve is placed either over a flame, or raked through very hot sand. Turkish coffee is very strong and is served unfiltered. Turkish coffee is known for having an extra-fine grind, which is around the texture of flour. 

 

What Makes the Best Coffee Grinding Method

There are a few things that separate the good coffee grinding methods from the bad. 

Required Contact Time and Flow Rate

First and foremost, your chosen grinding method needs to be able to create particles the right size for your chosen brew method. If a medium grind for filter coffee is necessary, but the trusty rolling pin can only provide the texture good for a batch of cold brew, then the rolling pin is pretty useless!

Contact time and flow rate are concerns for all non-immersion brew methods. These are called infusion brew methods. This will include all pour-overs and espresso.

The reason contact time and flow rate are important in infusion brewing is to make sure the water has enough time with the coffee to extract what it needs, but not so long that the coffee becomes bitter.

In infusion brewing, the grind size is adjusted in order the attain the desired flow rate, which will provide correct extraction.

As an example: A 40g shot of espresso is running through at 20 seconds, which is too fast. This shot will be under-extracted. It will be thin and will taste weak and sour. In this case, the grind will be made finer to create more resistance against the water and slow down the flow rate, which in turn will increase extraction, because the water will be in contact with the coffee for longer. 

The same thing, but the exact opposite, will happen if the espresso shot is running through at 50 seconds, which is too slow.     

Grind Evenness

In an ideal world, all the tiny particles produced when grinding would be the exact same size. No bigger bits (boulders), no smaller bits (fines) – ideally, they’ll all be uniform. 

Why? Let’s say you’re brewing up some fresh coffee. You could make your coffee in a pour-over coffee maker like a V60 or a Kalita Wave. You grind your coffee by whatever means you choose. 

Unfortunately, your grind isn’t even. You have boulders and fines all over the place. When we have boulders and fines all mixed in together, the water dissolves the two-particle sizes at different rates. The smaller particles are extracted quickly, the big particles slowly.

Long story short: the boulders will be under-extracted. The fines will be over-extracted. The coffee with a particle size between the two will be correctly extracted.

Under extracted coffee will is sour, weak, grassy and not very sweet. Over extracted coffee is dry, flat and bitter. Well extracted coffee will taste sweet, clean and transparent and will have nice complex acidity. 

While you will absolutely have a large portion of the particles correctly extracted, tasting nice and sweet and clean, the flavors will inevitably be muddied up by the under and over-extracted particles.

The more even your grind (coffee willing), the more clean, sweet and juicy your coffee will taste. It is good to have fines, you just don’t want them in excess. 

Do’s and Don’ts When Grinding Coffee Beans

  • Do make sure all your equipment– anything that will touch your coffee, is clean. Coffee soaks up other flavors and aromas easily, so if your mortar has leftover cumin seeds, you’ll end up with a spiced up coffee.
  • Do improvise. You know the goal: make the coffee smaller. What else could you use? A rock? A Brick? Drive over your coffee in your car? A steamroller? The possibilities are endless. 
  • Don’t be doing this every day. If you grind and drink coffee daily, you owe it to yourself to pick up a specialized coffee grinder. It is 100% worth it. They are inexpensive and can be used for pretty much all brewing methods. 
  • Don’t waste too many materials doing this. If you use a ziplock bag and it stays intact, reuse it — the same thing with cling wrap or paper towels.

FAQ About Grinding Coffee Beans

FAQ About Grinding Coffee Beans

Can you make coffee without grinding beans?

Not really. While it may be possible to get some kind of flavor and caffeine out of whole coffee beans using hot water, it won’t taste very good. To get a well-balanced cup of coffee, we need to extract a certain amount of coffee. When the coffee is ground, it allows us to penetrate more deeply into the coffee and extract what we need.

Do you get more coffee with whole beans or ground?

Coffee is always sold by weight, so you will receive the same amount regardless of whether the coffee is whole or ground. Because brewing is generally done by weight, not by volume, you will be able to make the same amount of coffee either way. 

How much coffee should I grind at one time?

Only grind as much as you need for brewing. If you grind too much, the excess can be kept in an airproof, lightproof container for a couple of days and generally no longer than one week.

Can you brew coffee with whole beans?

Short answer: no. Here’s why: When brewing coffee, the maximum we can extract from the bean will be around 30% of the beans total mass. For filter coffee, this percentage is around 20%, espresso is a little higher. The only way we can extract 20% of the mass of the coffee bean is by grinding it up.

By grinding, we are opening the bean up and exponentially expanding the surface area, making it possible for the water to extract more. While you could brew coffee with whole beans, it would take a long time and it would taste terrible.

Will putting the beans in the blender damage the blender?

So long as your blender can handle solids, and you use the pulse method (outlined above), your blender should survive the ordeal. If you are unsure, best to check with your blenders manufacturer. 

To what consistency should the coffee beans be ground?

Grind size will depend on the brew method. 

Grind Coarse (like sea salt) for French press and cold brew.

Grind Medium (like raw sugar) for pour-over and other filter coffee brewing methods.

Grind Fine (like fine beach sand) for espresso.

Grind Extra fine (like flour) for Turkish.

Do I still use a coffee filter after I crush the beans or just place them in the filter of the pot?

Most brew methods require a paper, fabric or metal filter. Machines like the Keurig K55 utilize a reusable metal filter. Check reviews of Keurig k55 coffee maker. The V60, Kalita Wave and other brewers alike all use paper filters. 

How long does ground coffee last?

2 days. Any longer than this and the coffee will have lost most of its aromatic compounds, and the coffee will have begun oxidizing. This coffee is still safe to drink, health-wise. It just won’t taste as good as it did when fresh.

Can you store coffee in the freezer?

Yes! Fully vacuum-sealed bags of whole coffee beans can be kept in the freezer and can remain tasty for around 1 year. 

Conclusion

While none of these methods are ideal, they will absolutely get you out of a bind if you find yourself with no grinder and in desperate need of a coffee. Improvise and have fun with it! Get creative!

Photos from: eAlisa / depositphotos.com, VadimVasenin / depositphotos.com, GrinPhoto / depositphotos.com, digender / depositphotos.com and derepente / depositphotos.com.