How to Grind Coffee Beans Without a Coffee Grinder

Whole bean coffee stays fresh longer than ground and produces a more flavorful cup, but it must be ground before brewing. Typically an electric coffee grinder makes short work of this task, but if you're in a situation where a grinder -- or the electricity to operate it -- isn't available or convenient, you can improvise.

With Electricity

If have access to electricity, you can grind coffee beans using other household appliances.

  • Household blender. Blade grinders operate on the same principle as a household blender. They have sharp metal blades that spin, breaking up the beans. This means that you can use your blender as a coffee grinder. You may need to grind more beans than you would in your grinder because the blender jar is larger than the bowl of a typical coffee grinder. The larger container allows the beans to fly out of the way of the blades. Adding extra coffee to the blender forces the beans to stay lower, near the blades.
  • Food processor. A food processor breaks up coffee beans just like a blender, except that it can only achieve a large, coarse grind. Coffee ground in a food processor will work in a French press but will not allow a drip coffee maker to extract as much flavor as it could otherwise. 

Without Electricity

If the power is out or you are in an area without access to electricity, you can grind coffee beans by hand.

  • Before there was such a thing as electrically powered appliances, people ground coffee the old-fashioned way. They pulverized the beans between two rocks, which eventually evolved into the mortar and pestle. You can do the same at home. The process is time  and labor intensive, but you can achieve a very fine grind.
  • If you don't have a mortar and pestle, improvise. Put your coffee beans in a bag that can withstand some pounding and beat them with a hammer or a large rock. Chances are you will not be able to beat the beans into a fine powder this way, but you should be able to crush them enough to brew a cup of French press coffee.

Match the Grind to the Brewing Method

One key to a great cup of coffee is grinding the beans correctly for the type of brew you want. Choose your improvised grinding method based on the type of coffee you want to brew.

  • French press systems need a coarse grind. Anything finer will sift through the filter and end up in your cup. 
  • Drip brewers can handle a wide range of medium grinds.
  • Espresso machines require a powdery fine grind.