How To Grind Coffee Beans With Or Without A Grinder

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Two group heads with different grinds of coffee

You’ve got yourself a brand new coffee machine, and now you’re probably wondering how to grind coffee.

Maybe you’ve been using ground coffee your whole life, or perhaps the coffee grinder you normally use has just broken. Either way, this post teaches you all you need to know about grinding coffee, as well as how to grind coffee beans without a grinder.

But why is grinding coffee so important?

When coffee is ground, it creates more surface area for hot water to extract coffee oils and other molecules that make up the distinctive flavor of the coffee.

If we didn’t grind the coffee, it would be almost impossible to extract the flavor quickly enough for you to be able to have your morning coffee.

So why not use preground? Because as soon as you grind the coffee bean, its flavor begins to die. While sure, you’ll have a cup of coffee even if you buy ground beans, but you won’t get that vibrant, full flavor. Your coffee might taste a bit bland, and over time become a little funky.

Now we have the ‘don’t buy ground coffee’ PSA out of the way, let talk about the different ways you can grind coffee beans at home.

Two group heads with different grinds for learning how to grind coffee beans

Types of Coffee Bean Grinders

Burr Grinder

By far the best bit of grinding kit you can buy, a Burr Grinder will give you the most control over your grind. From super fine to medium coarse, the burr grinder will do it all. 

Furthermore, it’s also the only grinder on this page that will give you a consistent, even grind, as well as the only one that will likely get you a fine enough grind for espresso machines. 

Espresso is a very special cup of coffee. An ordinary coarse grind works great in a french press. But an espresso machine needs a fine grind. 

A bur coffee grinder among kitchen appliances

A fine grind increases the surface area for your espresso machine to extract your coffee. It does this by using hot, highly pressurized water. 

So if you’ve just sunk a good chunk of change into purchasing your very own espresso machine, you might as well spend the money on a decent burr grinder to go with it. That’s if you want to get the most out of your recent purchase. 

Better yet, if you’re still shopping for an espresso machine, you can actually get one with a conical burr grinder built in. They’re more expensive, but you’ll never need to worry about how you’re going to grind your coffee ever again. 

My only issue, which is a big issue, is the size of this piece of kit. Unless you get one built into your machine, or opt for a budget burr grinder (not recommended) then you’ll need the space for one of these bad boys. If you love coffee enough, you’ll find it. 

How Does A Burr Grinder Work? 

The best way to efficiently grind beans is to crush them between two surfaces. This is what the burr grinder does. Either with a flat or conical moving burr wheel and an opposing, stationary surface.

This motion gets a great grind for optimum flavor. As they’re electric, they can also usually handle quite a bit of coffee at once, although try not to grind too much for the week ahead.

Blade Grinder

The lesser, cheaper cousin of the burr grinder. Blade grinders get a bit of a bad wrap, and for good reason. 

Sometimes it’s very difficult to get a good, consistent grind out of a blade grinder. Often it takes a bit of playing around with it before the grounds are anywhere near uniform size. 

And even then, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a great fine grind, one that’s good enough to use in an espresso machine. 

A blade grinder with some roasted coffee beans

However, blade grinders are great for regular coffee machines. Like with espresso machines, many of these actually come with a blade grinder built-in. 

Blade grinders are also relatively inexpensive, compared to the burr grinder at least. And In my experience, they’re also a lot smaller. They’ll fit conveniently in just about anyone’s kitchen. The same thing cannot be said for the burr grinder. 

How Does A Blade Grinder Work?

Instead of using a crushing force like the burr grinder, the blade grinder makes use of a chopping motion. Much like a blender, blade grinders have… well, blades inside that turn at a high velocity. While a chopping motion might make sense, in reality, it’s much less efficient than a burr grinder.

Have you ever filled a blender, and found that everything under blades often doesn’t blend properly? This is the exact same problem with a blade coffee grinder. Anything that sits above the blades is fine, but the coffee below doesn’t grind properly. This leads to a very inconsistent grind.

Manual Grinder

Last but by no means least, we have the manual coffee grinder. But before we get into this, it’s worth noting that I can’t really tell you exactly how to grind coffee beans with one of these. Why? Because they’re all so different. 

Some manual coffee grinders are like hand-powered burr grinders. Others resemble more of a blade grinder. But suffice to say, you’re going to need a little elbow grease work one of these. 

So, having said that, these little gadgets are worth having, even if you’ve invested in either of the above two options. 

Imagine this. You’ve just flipped the switch on your new coffee machine and getting ready to brew your morning cup of joe. You go to your blade or burr grinder (whichever you have) and for some reason, it’s not working. You investigate, and turns out it’s actually broken. 

A manual coffee grinder with some coffee beans

Nightmare! No morning coffee for you! Well, unless you have a backup manual coffee grinder. Problem solved and you get your daily caffeine fix. 

Furthermore, a manual coffee grinder is great for anyone who likes to enjoy the outdoors. These are essential equipment for anyone who likes to camp in style and comfort. 

It’s also worth noting that a manual coffee grinder is better for the environment. Coffee is a very dirty industry in terms of Co2 emissions. Why make things worse with an electric grinder? 

Most manual grinders come with multiple grind settings. Want an espresso? Set it to fine. Using a french press or trying to get the best out of a stovetop Moka pot? Try the medium/coarse setting.

My only problem with a manual coffee grinder is… well, it’s manual! While I wouldn’t personally opt for this as my main grinding method, it’s great as a backup in certain situations. I always keep one somewhere in the house. 

How To Grind Coffee Beans Without A Grinder

Okay, so what happens if you don’t have any of the above coffee grinders? Or maybe the one you have has broken down and you’re waiting for a repair or replacement (should have got a manual grinder!). Well, there are a few things you can try. 

While neither of these two coffee grinding methods is ideal, they can totally help you out in a pinch. The only downside is they are very labor-intensive, and can take up a lot of time. You’re never going to get a fine grind for espresso, either.

But if you’re desperate to make use of your french press or drip coffee machine, these methods will help you out. 

Mortar and Pestle Method

The mortar and pestle is the original grinding method. Pharmacists have used them for centuries, and nowadays they’re often used by cooks to grind both dry and wet herbs and spices. 

But did you know you can use a mortar and pestle to grind coffee beans? If you already have one, you can put it to use for a medium coarse grind. 

The method is super simple. Just throw your beans into the mortar and go to town with the pestle. You’ll want to use your pestle in circular motions, with lots of downward pressure. This will help to ensure the most even grind. 

A woman uses a mortar and pestle

Don’t be tempted to just bash away at the beans. While this may appear faster, you’ll spread bits of coffee beans all over your kitchen. 

Once you’re done, all you’ll need to do is wipe away any residual coffee matter from your mortar and pestle. Simple as that. 

Rolling Pin Method

If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can always make do with a rolling pin to grind coffee beans. Sounds crazy, I know, but it works in a pinch. 

Simply lay out some coffee beans on a table and roll back and forth with your rolling pin until you achieve an acceptable grind. Make sure to apply a good amount of downward pressure as you go.

I must warn you, this method is both very messy and very time consuming. I would only go for this option if I literally had no other way of grinding coffee. Otherwise this method has no real redeeming qualities. 

A rolling pin surrounded by botanicals

You don’t necessarily have to use a rolling pin. Anything round and heavy will work fine. A wine bottle, for instance, will do the same job. 

The trick with this method is patience. If you try to work too quickly, you’ll spray coffee beans across your whole kitchen. Work slowly and methodically. Then after, go online and buy a coffee grinder because who on earth would consider doing this often?

How To Store Your Ground Coffee

Once you’ve ground your coffee, you have the problem of what to do with it. If you like to grind a bit of coffee for the week ahead, that’s totally fine. But I wouldn’t recommend grinding more than that. 

Remember earlier when I talked about how important it is to buy whole beans? Well, the same problem that befalls pre-ground coffee applies to your whole beans once you’ve ground them. 

As soon as you break up your beans, oxygen immediately begins to degrade the flavor of your beautiful coffee. What was once vibrant, flavorful coffee becomes horribly bland.  

Coffee and coffee beans spilling out

If you’re going to grind an entire bag of coffee at once, then you might as well save yourself money on a grinder and stick to pre-ground coffee. 

Now, what to do with that week’s worth of ground coffee? Best place for it is in an airtight container. I like to use mason jars. Glass is really easy to clean, you can put it in the dishwasher no problems. Ang you get a great seal on one of those bad boys. They come in all different sizes, too.  

Tupperware will work well also. Basically, anything that will stop air getting to your grounds. While an airtight container will keep your coffee grounds fresher for longer, it still won’t keep them forever. So throw out any remaining grounds at the end of the week and start fresh on Monday. 

Final Thoughts

So there we have it, 3 excellent ways to grind coffee beans at home, and 2 backup methods if you ever need them.

I hope, if you take one thing away from this post, is the importance of grinding coffee yourself. All these methods (even the rolling pin method) are preferred to buying the dreaded ground coffee.

Can’t see why? It might be that you’ve never tasted freshly ground coffee before. You’re not alone in this, many people haven’t.

Nevertheless, grinding your own coffee is something that everyone can do, even on a budget. In fact, why not take it a step further and learn how to roast your own coffee beans at home?

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Brian Wills
Brian Wills
As a qualified Barista, I've used coffee machines and espresso makers for many years. I'm now using this website to share my love of coffee along with my opinion on the best machines. I'll be documenting my experience within the coffee industry, and sharing a great deal of information on how to make coffee and espresso drink recipes.
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