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If you’re serious about your coffee, you’ve got a reliable grinder sitting on your kitchen counter right now. But a coffee grinder is mechanical, and no matter how great it is, it will eventually break down. Have you ever stood weeping in the darkness first thing in the morning, because your grinder gave up the ghost? Okay, maybe you didn’t actually cry, but we wouldn’t blame you if you did. A broken coffee grinder is not a good way to start your day. Neither is relying on gross, drive-thru coffee to keep you from falling asleep during your morning commute.
Even if you don’t have a problem with your grinder, you could just be somewhere you don’t have one handy. Whatever the reason—you’ve got coffee beans, water, and no coffee. Yet.
Fear not! We’ll show you how to grind coffee beans using tools you can find in most kitchens. Traveling? You’ll be able to find at least a few of the tools necessary for grinding coffee beans in a typical pharmacy or big-box store. Hey, if you’re really hard pressed for tools, you can always go full caveman and smash up your coffee beans with a big rock. But before you do that, consider some more civilized options.
Bean Grinding Tools
When you’re working with minimal resources for grinding coffee beans, you’ve got to get creative. Look around your kitchen or the corner store nearest your campsite, and see if you can find any of the tools you can use for grinding your coffee beans without a grinder.
- Mortar and pestle
- Hand grinder/mincer
- Zipper freezer bag and:
Grinding Your Coffee Beans
Obviously you want to turn your coffee beans into grinds you can use to brew a cup of coffee. You already know how to grind your coffee beans the usual way, the goal here is to get your beans as close to the usual consistency as possible, so you can brew an enjoyable cup of coffee. Otherwise, you could just run to the corner store and buy a cup of burnt coffee, rather than use a rolling pin for carefully crushing and grinding your coffee beans near medium-grind and brew your own.
With that in mind, the key to all of these methods will be making sure your beans are sufficiently ground or crushed without going overboard and turning them to dust.
This alternative is a little obvious. You’re trying to figure out how to grind coffee beans without a grinder, so you turn slightly to the left or right and grab your blender . Have you ever used your blender for grinding beans though? It’s a little trickier than it sounds.
Part of the reason is blenders work best when there’s liquid to help move around the solids you put in them. If you’ve ever made a smoothie or milkshake without enough liquid, you know how it can hang up your blender blades and overwork the motor. Do this too often and it can even burn up your blender motor.
To get a decent medium grind out of your blender, first check to see if it has a grind setting. If it doesn’t, or if you’re planning to use a one-speed personal blender, use this trick: Add a small amount of beans, then grind them to proper consistency using short bursts of power. Remove the grinds, then grind up another small serving.
This will take some time if you’re planning to brew a whole pot of coffee, but it can help prevent your blades from getting gunked up and stuck. If you throw half a bag of coffee into any old blender, you’ll have inconsistent grinds with chunks of beans throughout. Or worse—you could burn out your blender’s motor trying to do a task it’s just not up to.
Mortar and pestle
A far more civilized option than a small rock and big rock, but still pretty old school, is the mortar and pestle. This method of crushing things dates back to ancient Egypt. You may have one of these in your kitchen for making pesto, aioli, or chimichurri.
Or perhaps you’re a hobby chemist. If not, you can buy a mortar and pestle in the kitchenware section of most stores. You probably won’t achieve the perfect grind, but you’ll get grinds you can use in a pinch.
When grinding your coffee beans with a mortar and pestle , you’ll want to be careful not to crush them into un-filterable dust. You’ll need about two tablespoons of grinds per cup you want to brew. If you can fit it into your mortar, add as many beans as you need all at once.
Use the pestle to crush them against the bottom of the mortar. Stir them up a bit as you go to ensure you get all the beans crushed. Remember not to go overboard or you’ll end up brewing a cup full of mud.
Hand mincer or grinder
If you’re not familiar with this device, it functions similarly to the old, metal pencil sharpeners your elementary school teacher probably had on her desk. Hand mincers (also called meat grinders) are devices used to finely cut up all sorts of meat and vegetables.
It’s easy to see how to grind coffee beans with a mincer. It is a stainless steel or plastic machine with an internal blade assembly which you operate with a hand crank to chop up whatever you put in it—even coffee beans.
To get your grind on with a hand mincer, measure the amount of beans you want to grind. Be sure to place a bowl or measuring cup where it can catch the coffee grounds as they exit. Turn the hand crank while slowly pouring the beans down into the mincer. You can sift your grinds and put any large pieces back through the grinder a few times, if necessary.
Also called a meat hammer by those of us who enjoy laughter, this kitchen tool is a small, metal hammer used for softening and flattening cuts of meat. The head of the mallet has two flat sides covered in little bumps or spikes. You can probably guess how to proceed, but let us add a little useful advice before you begin your bean smashing.
Pour your coffee beans into a zipper freezer bag . Press all the air out before sealing the bag closed to avoid popping it like a balloon. Wrap the bag in a dish towel so you won’t puncture it with the meat tenderizer . Use just a little bit of force to hammer the beans as evenly as possible. Check your progress after every few wacks, so you don’t render your coffee beans useless.
As you can guess, this is the same tool you use to drive nails into things. While it doesn’t have nearly the surface area of a meat tenderizer, it will do the same job in the same manner. You will probably not get the best grind from using a hammer, but you’ll be able to brew some coffee.
It doesn’t matter much which type of hammer you use, but you probably want to avoid using a sledge hammer—for obvious reasons.
To crush your coffee beans with a hammer as neatly as possible, put them in a zipper freezer bag . Squeeze the air out and seal the bag. Place a dish towel around the bag. Hammer evenly, and try to avoid obliterating your coffee.
Whether you roll with the standard wooden model, a heavy marble one , or a shiny, stainless steel rolling pin, this kitchen staple will let you grind your coffee beans without a grinder. This method provides you a bit more even grind than hammers, while still using only things most people already have in their kitchens.
First you’ll measure your coffee beans, then pour them into a plastic freezer bag. Push out as much as as possible, then seal the bag closed. Begin rolling slowly, from one side of the bag to the other.
If you roll from the bottom of the bag toward the zipper, it may force your coffee beans out the zipper and make a mess. You can add a little extra mess protection by wrapping the bag in a towel, but the extra padding could also extend your rolling time.
If you don’t happen to have a real rolling pin, you could even use a sturdy glass or wine bottle to roll your coffee beans. Just be careful. No one wants broken glass in their coffee or their hands.
For a Small Fee …
You’ve got one more option if none of these are workable for you. If the idea of making do and grinding coffee beans without a grinder doesn’t appeal to you, drive to the nearest grocery store or coffee shop with a grinder, and grind your beans there. Just remember to ask first. They may not like you grinding up beans you didn’t purchase from them.
Some coffee shops may grind your beans for a small fee or require you to make a purchase. Of course, if you have a nearby friend with a grinder, they probably won’t charge you a fee.
No Grinder? No Problem!
Whether your coffee grinder kicked the bucket or you’ve found yourself without one for some other reason, you can still grind your coffee beans into brewable consistency. Whichever method you use, it’s important to be patient and apply pressure as evenly as possible to get the best grind you can.
Now that you’ve discovered your inner MacGyver here’s a paper clip and piece of gum. See what you can make with it—after you finish your coffee, of course.
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