Every coffee expert will tell you that grinding coffee right before you brew is the best way to get the most flavor from the beans. With a bit of ingenuity, you can follow this advice even if you don’t have a grinder in your kitchen. If you’re looking for advice on alternative ways to grind coffee beans—and how to make sure you’re maximizing the beans’ flavor potential—this easy guide to coffee grinding will get you started.
Obviously, the easiest way to grind coffee beans is to use a coffee grinder, which is a worthwhile investment for anyone who plans to brew a lot of whole bean coffee. Along with being the fastest method, a burr grinder is the best way to grind coffee to a consistent size.
If you don’t have access to a grinder, you’re not completely out of luck. Lots of common kitchen tools and appliances can be used to crush or grind coffee. Let’s take a look at the 6 best methods.
This traditional cooking tool is just as effective for coffee as it is for herbs and spices. It’s also the alternate method that gives you the most control over the grind level. The longer you crush the beans, the finer the particles will be. Ceramic models are a better choice than stone or other porous materials since it won’t absorb the oils and flavor from the coffee.
It may take some practice to get a feel for how long to grind to get your desired fineness. When you’re first starting, it’s smart to go in 2-second bursts, checking the grind level between them.
A food processor is similar in design to blade-style coffee grinders and has the same pros and cons. On the plus side, it’s a fast, low-effort way to grind beans. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get a consistent grind size, so it’s not the best choice for espresso or manual brewing methods like pour-over.
Make sure you thoroughly clean the food processor and blades to remove lingering coffee oils.
Of all the alternative methods, a pepper mill is the easiest way to get a consistent grind level. Just make sure you wash the mill thoroughly both before and after. Otherwise, you’ll end up drinking pepper-flavored coffee and eating coffee-flavored pepper.
Another benefit of a pepper mill is its portability. Since it’s completely manual and relatively compact, it’s a great way to grind coffee while you’re traveling or camping.
Depending on the size of the pepper mill, you may need to repeat this process two or three times to grind enough beans.
A good old fashioned hammer can also be used following the steps outlined below. A meat tenderizer is a better choice if you have one, though, with a larger crushing service that will grind the beans more quickly.
This is similar to the meat tenderizer method above. While it does take more elbow grease, it’s also a bit faster than other ways of crushing coffee beans.
A frying pan might not be the most elegant way to grind coffee but it gets the job done, especially if you’re grinding a lot of beans at once. Grind consistency is the main downside, as it’s nearly impossible to control your grind level using this method.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the ideal ratio of coffee to water is 10 grams ground coffee for every 180 grams of water.
For those who don’t have a kitchen scale, that’s roughly 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every 6 ounces of water. Coffee scoops are made with this ratio in mind—one level scoop is equal to 2 tablespoons, making that the easiest way to measure out the right amount of grounds.
If you’re measuring using scoops or tablespoons, make sure you grind the coffee first. The density of a coffee bean varies depending on the variety and roast level, so a scoop of whole dark-roasted beans doesn’t contain as much actual coffee as a scoop of a dense light roast.
Conversely, if you’re measuring by weight you should weigh first, then grind. This will prevent you from wasting beans by grinding more than you need.
The finer the grind, the more surface area there is for the water to come into contact with, and the faster the flavor can be extracted. That does mean a finer grind will taste stronger than a coarser grind brewed the same way.
Keep in mind that each brewing method has an ideal grind level range. Using a fine grind with French press would give you a stronger flavor, but it will likely also taste bitter and over-extracted—and you’ll end up chewing your coffee more than drinking it.
Espresso and Turkish brewing have the narrowest grind level range and require the most precision. There’s more flexibility with pour-over, AeroPress, and drip brewing, which can use everything from medium-coarse to fine grinds depending on your preferences and the filter style.
Changing the style of beans you use is often a better way to get a stronger cup of coffee than altering the grind level. Generally speaking, the darker the roast level, the bolder the flavor. French, Italian, and Espresso roasts are ideal for those who like strong coffee.
If you do decide to tweak the grind level, keep your adjustments subtle. You might be surprised how much the grind level (and flavor of the brew) changes when you move just one setting up on your grinder.
Professional burr grinders can have up to a dozen fineness settings, sometimes with even more granular micro-adjustment settings in between them. These can be divided into 4 main categories when you’re pairing the grind level to a brewing or grinding method: Coarse, medium, fine, and extra-fine.
Grind size is closely related to brew time. The less time the water spends in contact with the grounds, the finer the grind should be to allow for an even extraction.
Some brewing methods are more flexible in this regard than others. A few fine particles won’t ruin your French press brew, for example, but coarse particles will ruin an espresso shot.
With that in mind, here are the 4 major grind categories, which grinders they use, and what brewing methods they’re ideal for.
Grinding methods: Any
Brewing methods: Cold brew, French press, percolator, cowboy coffee
In immersion brewing methods, the water is in contact with the coffee for the entire length of the brew. This brew time can be as short as 5 minutes for French press, or as long as 12 hours for cold brewing.
A coarse grind is also easier to filter out of the coffee after brewing, keeping you from having grit in your cup. More precise grinding methods will yield a cleaner cup.
Grinding methods: Burr grinder, blade grinder, food processor, meat tenderizer, rolling pin
Brewing methods: Drip, pour-over, Chemex, AeroPress, siphon/vacuum
The medium grind is the most versatile, both in terms of which brewing methods use it and how you can achieve it. Drip and siphon brewing don’t require as much grind consistency as Chemex or pour-over and are among the most forgiving brewing methods when it comes to the grind level.
Filter style is a factor here. Cone-shaped filters used in drip machines or pour-over drippers tend to do best with a grind on the finer end of the medium range. Flat-bottomed filters do better with a true medium grind. The grind for AeroPress can range from medium-coarse to fine depending on how you utilize it.
Grinding methods: Burr grinder, mortar and pestle, pepper mill
Brewing methods: Espresso, Moka pot
Particles in fine ground coffee should be roughly the same size as grains of table salt. You can use the “fine” setting on an all-purpose coffee grinder for stovetop espresso, Moka pots, and hand-held manual espresso makers.
For full-sized espresso makers, a dedicated espresso grinder is the best tool, allowing you more precise control. These grinders operate only within the medium-fine to extra-fine range and have more micro-adjustment levels than other grinding methods.
Grinding methods: Burr grinder, mortar and pestle
Brewing methods: Turkish
On some grinders, this setting is labeled “Turkish” after the brewing method it’s used for. Coffee ground extra-fine has the consistency of baby powder and is too fine even for espresso brewing. Aside from a high-end burr grinder, a mortar and pestle is the only way to get this consistency. You’ll find it’s even missing from some home coffee grinders—not a huge oversight, since this is a fairly niche brewing method.
There are plenty of options for grinding coffee beans, even beyond the ones we’ve mentioned here. The main thing you need to decide is how much precision you need in your grind.
Which brewing method you use is the main factor here. If you’ve invested in an espresso machine or want to brew authentic Turkish coffee, you’ll also need to get your hands on a high-quality grinder. More flexible brewing methods can accommodate beans ground in a food processor (or even crushed under a frying pan).
The bottom line is, you don’t need fancy equipment to enjoy fresh, delicious coffee. Whether you’re in your home kitchen or sitting by the campfire, these alternate grinding methods mean you’ll always have a way to go from whole beans to tasty brew.
9 Easy Ways to Grind Coffee Beans Without a Grinder
Specialty Coffee Association Coffee Standards
Coffee Grind Size for Every Brewing Method