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How To Grind Coffee Beans in a Blender

coffee bean in blender at coffee shop

You’re on vacation. You just checked into that pristine, near-perfect Airbnb. You’re looking forward to enjoying yourself. You start looking around and checking out the appliances. “This place has everything I need!” you say. As you’re getting unpacked you place your pound of freshly roasted coffee beans on the counter next to the French press provided by the host. You wind down and go to bed.

You wake up in the morning. “Alright! Time to get some coffee brewing!” But lo and behold, a grinder is nowhere to be found. What are you going to do? You’re in the middle of nowhere and the closest store is 30 minutes away. They might not even carry a coffee grinder. You begin to improvise. You find a blender in the corner cupboard. “Can this work as a grinder?”

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Can a Blender Be Used as a Grinder?

What is the purpose of grinding coffee beans? Technically it is possible to brew coffee with whole unground beans. But we grind our coffee beans because it is the most efficient way to increase the overall surface area contact of the coffee with the hot water. This allows the extraction time to be significantly less than if we were to not grind them. The finer you grind your coffee, the more surface area exposure to hot water you have. So, hypothetically speaking, whatever you can use to help increase the amount of exposed surface area is accomplishing the same task as a grinder.

But it doesn’t end there. The issue is not about if your coffee is ground, but how and when. Here is the short answer as to whether or not you can grind your coffee in a blender. Yes, you can grind your coffee in a blender, and it’ll work in a pinch. But for serious coffee drinkers or even for those who enjoy a quality brew, a blender is not a good long-term solution. But let’s take a closer look at what grinding coffee beans in a blender does.

 

Blender
Blender (Image Credit: ajay_suresh, Flickr CC 2.0 Generic)

Grinding Beans in a Blender 101

The rotating blades at the bottom of the blender pitcher do the hard work of grinding. In this sense, this is similar to a blade coffee grinder. The main difference is that in a blender you have much more room to grind coffee. This is a weakness of many household blade grinders—they don’t have enough volume. If you want to grind enough coffee for an entire pot, you may be going through a grinding cycle two to three times. Of course, this all depends upon your desired brew strength.

That being said, if you have a blender such as a Vitamix or a Ninja and like to grind coffee in large quantities, this may be the right fit for you, especially if you are accustomed to using a blade grinder anyhow. A blender can actually grind your coffee at a greater consistency than a tiny blade coffee grinder.

If you don’t mind pre-ground coffee, then you can avoid the hassle of pulling out the blender. However, if freshly ground coffee is important to you, then the blender can get the job done. Just know that the consistency is not going to be the same as pre-ground coffee that you can buy in a grocery store. But how do you get the most consistent grind? What other ways are there to grind coffee?

Is a Burr Grinder Better than a Blade Grinder?

If you haven’t heard of a burr grinder, it’s time you have. They come electric and manual. This is the best way to get a consistent grind for your morning brew. Blade grinders work the beans into specific ground sizes based on the length of time that the beans are ground. As a result, the beans are ground only mostly consistently. But a burr grinder grinds the beans against a burr so that only the proper size will be collected. This results overall in a more consistent grind. Your grounds of coffee will roughly be the same size.

There are two different types of burr grinders. Wheel grinders have a burr that spins like a wheel. The speed is usually faster. They are messier and louder. They’re also better for your wallet. Then there’s the conical burr. These are the best burr grinders on the market. It’s because they are so thorough and spin slower than the wheel grinder that they grind coffee less quickly. But if you enjoy the most consistently ground cup of coffee, this is your machine. It will pay you back in smooth and flavorful coffee to drink.

electric burr coffee grinder
Image Credit: Unsplash

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How Does Grind Size Affect Coffee Taste?

When it comes to choosing the right grind size, it depends on the method you are using to brew your coffee.

Brewing Method Grind Size
Cold Brew/Toddy Extra Coarse
French Press Coarse
Standard Coffee Maker Medium – Coarse
Pour-over/Chemex Medium
AeroPress Medium – Fine
Espresso Machine Fine
Turkish Coffee Extra Fine

We can see from the chart that you can make coffee from any grind size on this spectrum. The method will determine the size of the grind. There are also other factors such as water temperature and extraction times. But our focus is the grind size. How does it affect taste? Coarser coffee tends to be more acidic and can taste weak and sour. Finer coffee can taste too bitter. Again, this all depends on the brewing method. Just because you land on the spectrum does not mean you aren’t going to have these problems. This is why knowing the average particle size is important. This isn’t so you can measure it perfectly (we’re talking about fractions of millimeters), but that with time you’ll be able to train your eye to what looks like the right grind size for your preferred method.

coffee grinds
Image Credit: danramirez, Pixabay

How Do I Get the Proper Coffee Grind Size With A Blender?

The spectrum of grind size is a range that has a bottom and a top. Coarse particles have a size of just over 1mm per particle. Extra fine particles are just under 0.25 mm per particle. Since the grind size is so specific, and our eyes are not free of error when it comes to judging particle sizes, it is not recommended to use a blender or any blade grinder for that matter. Not only will you have a consistency issue with these machines, but you will have a hard time knowing what the average particle size is. This is why getting an electric burr grinder with preset adjustments is a must-have for any home coffee drinker. You don’t even have to be a connoisseur to appreciate it. With some machines, it’s as easy as turning the bean hopper from fine to coarse.

Is Pre-ground Coffee That Bad?

“I’ll just get pre-ground,” you say. If all this talk of different grinders has got you grinding your teeth or it’s just too overwhelming, you can always buy pre-ground coffee. But fair warning. It is not a replacement for grinding it fresh. We know that grandpa always loved his pre-ground Folgers. It worked for him. But from the taste of it, you’d think he missed the can and scooped from his ashtray instead. With all of the quality coffee out there these days, it’s safe to say that “the best part of waking up is not having Folgers in your cup.” Grandpa didn’t run across near as many independent roasteries that we have today.

Contrary to the belief of some, coffee is not a nonperishable item. You are likely not going to get sick from drinking expired coffee grounds, but it will taste stale. Some people drink stale coffee for years without realizing that coffee beans have a shelf life, whether whole bean or ground. Though once they are ground, that time on the shelf accelerates. What you stand to lose with pre-ground coffee is the ability to savor more flavors from the freshly roasted bean. Once coffee is ground it starts to release oils and gases that give the coffee its flavor and aroma. It’s like leaving a piece of bread on the counter.

But grinding the beans too fresh will result in ‘gassy’ coffee. The beans release a lot of carbon dioxide and other gases within the first few days after roasting. The beans need time to ‘settle’ before they are beverage ready.

pre-ground coffee
Image Credit: Martin Hetto, Pixabay

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Other Ways to Grind Coffee

You can’t find even a blender at your Airbnb? Look through the cupboards and see if you can’t find any of these items which can also get the job done.

Mortar and Pestle

You’re not going to be able to grind a lot at once, but it’ll work. Fill your mortar about a third full of coffee beans. Take the pestle and press hard with a twist. Keep repeating until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Be sure to stir the grounds for consistency.

Food Processor

Using the blade attachment, this can function just like a blender. Be sure to use the pulse blend button. This way you can simulate using a small blade grinder.

Rolling Pin or Hammer

Fill a Ziploc bag (not all the way) with your beans and using a rolling pin, roll over the bag repeatedly with pressure. Be sure there is room in the bag so that the grounds have room to move around. This same method goes for using a hammer. Just be sure to cushion your blows a tad so that you don’t damage the bag. A dishtowel works well for this.

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Conclusion

For the smoothest cup, it is not recommended that you regularly use a blender or a blade grinder. A burr grinder will produce the most consistent grind and particle size for your coffee. Grind fresh (within a few weeks of roasting) whole roasted beans, only grind what you need for that one brew, and use the machine presets to be accurate. This will set you on your way to having a delicious cup of coffee that you can savor, not gulp down medicinally.


Featured Image Credit: Suti Stock Photo, Shutterstock

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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