The Grind: Converting Coffee Beans Into Happiness

By David / October 6, 2012
Image credit: Pen Waggener/Creative Commons

Image credit: Pen Waggener/Creative Commons

Much has been said about the proper way to grind coffee. The most obvious debate is, of course, to grind or not to grind. Purists will scoff at the idea of pre-ground coffee, opting for freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee each time. More casual coffee drinkers have their favorite pre-ground blends and are perfectly happy with each cup. Like wine, it really comes down to taste, experience, and expectations.

For the sake of the Grounds 101 series, we are going to assume you are getting fairly serious about your coffee drinking, and want to understand a little more about how to grind your beans properly. First, though, you will need to settle on a method of grinding.

Through history there have been quite a few utensils employed in the grinding of coffee – from rock wielding bedouins to belt-driven contraptions – the whole coffee bean has met its fate in a multitude of ways. Today, however, we generally have one of four avenues to effectively reduce coffee beans to grounds: blunt force methods, hand grinders, blade grinders, and burr grinders. In this first of several posts, we will be looking specifically at the blunt force methods.

While we have heard of blunt force coffee grinding taking many forms including hammers, rolling pins, and meat mincers, we would recommend taking a slightly more traditional (and safer?) approach by using a simple mortar and pestle. These sturdy kitchen classics come in a number of forms, including wood, ceramic, metal, granite, and marble. If you already have one, no need to purchase another, with one significant caveat. The pungent aroma of coffee that we all love can be a bane when it shows up in the wrong place. Your mortar and pestle may very well take on some coffee flavor that could surface later in your favorite dinner recipes. While some may not view this as a negative, we are guessing most will. Likewise, coffee beans and grounds tend to absorb the flavors around them. If you’ve just crushed garlic in your mortar, you will be brewing coffee potent enough to ward off the cast of Twilight.

To avoid this problem, consider a separate mortar and pestle for coffee crushing, particularly one made of metal or dense stone (like marble or hight quality granite). These materials are less porous than others and will be more resistant to absorption. In addition, they are durable and long lasting and should be a good investment. To help maintain your mortar and pestle, it should be cleaned after each use When properly cared for in this way, you should be able to minimize flavor transfer between uses. In addition to the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations, try crushing some uncooked rice to really scour the mortar surface. This, followed by a scrub with a stiff brush, will help keep the mortar surface clean and flavor-free. If using soap and water, try to use unscented soap to avoid any flavor tainting that way as well. Your cup of coffee at dawn doesn’t need to taste like a cup of sudsy Dawn as well.

So, for those who are short on time and want the basic facts, here they are:

The Metal or Stone Mortar and Pestle

Pros:

  • Relatively cheap
  • Not prone to mechanical failure, long lasting
  • Very green, sustainable option
  • A mini-workout and toned arms each time you crush coffee beans
  • Leave it out on the counter to look like a real foodie

Cons:

  • Carving out the time to manually crush beans, when all you want is a quick cup of coffee (consider one of these as your back up for coffee emergencies)
  • A little trickier to create consistently sized, fine grounds. This makes the mortar and pestle more attractive for the French Press, but less so for an espresso machine.

If you are ready to look at a high quality mortar and pestle, we would recommend one of these options:

ImportFood’s Granite Mortar and Pestle. This one is made with very dense (7+ on the Mohs Scale) granite and comes in 1.5, 2, or 3-cup mortar sizes.

The StainlessLUX Brushed Stainless Steel Mortar and Pestle. A very nice metal option that is easy to clean and nearly indestructible.

And, if you are looking for style and luxury, you won’t find better than a La Cornue Large Mortar & Pestle. At that price, though, it should come with someone to crush the beans for you.

Stay tuned as we continue the Grounds 101 series and next take a look at hand grinders – happy sipping!

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