What do you do when you have coffee beans, but no coffee grinder?
That is the position I found myself in recently. I wanted my caffeine. The only way I could get it was to somehow pulverize the bag of coffee beans I had in my freezer.
I had run out of ground coffee. All I had left was the bag of beans someone had given us as a gift. There was a time in my life, before the kids arrived, when this would not have been a problem. In those days, I had my own personal grinder, and a morning coffee-making ritual. I would shuffle into the quiet kitchen, pull out a handful of beans and turn them into aromatic dust in my little grinder. The noise of mill battering the beans disturbed me. But I was willing to put up with the shattering of morning calm because I knew I was capturing volatile oils from the beans.
To make sure these precious oils didn't escape, I rushed the freshly crushed beans to freshly heated water. And, as a wonderful perfume filled the kitchen, a cup of freshly brewed coffee was born. It was so good, and so civilized.
That was some time ago. Since the kids have taken residence, the household order has changed. The grinder, actually a coffee mill, has suffered the same fate as the transistor radio, the good scissors and countless numbers of water glasses. It is missing in action. Now instead of regarding the sound of an appliance at work as an annoyance, I regard it as cause for minor celebration. The noise is proof that, despite the odds, it is still alive. I make coffee in a simple coffee maker.
The last sighting I had of my coffee mill was somewhere in the pantry. So that is where I began my search. The pantry was once a source of culinary pride for me. A visitor who toured it had said it was a "proper pantry," away from the corrupting heat of the stove. The perfect place for spices. The spices are still there, but nowadays the coriander has been joined by bags of marshmallows. And as I poked around the pantry looking for the coffee mill, I had to step over stray sneakers, lacrosse sticks and an entire bag full of clothes that have recently been declared too small to wear.
Soon I gave up looking for the coffee grinder and began considering other ways to bash the beans. As I looked around the kitchen, my eyes settled on the food processor. My wife, the protector of the food processor, might object to grinding coffee beans in it. But she wasn't home. She was working. That is one of the trade-offs of being a working woman. Once you leave the house, men will come in and mess with your appliances.
To guard against getting into trouble for improper use of the food fTC processor, I enlisted an accomplice, our 6-year-old son. Not only did this kid like noise, he knew how to run the food processor.
So we ground the beans together. The food processor had two blades. First we used the plastic blade. It turned the beans into chunks of coffee. Next we brought in the stainless steel blade. It reduced the coffee chunks into coffee nibs. They still weren't small enough. So again I looked around the kitchen for bashing equipment, and this time my eyes settled on the mortar. I am not sure how we got the mortar, a white thick bowl that pharmacists use, along with a pestle, to crush ingredients. No one in our
family ever owned a drugstore.
But when my wife and I got married, we somehow ended up with two mortars and two pestles. Only one mortar has survived. It is used primarily for storage for lost keys and coins.
The other day I tossed out the keys and coins and pressed the mortar into coffee-grinding service. In place of the missing pestles, I used the rounded bottom of the handle of an ice cream scoop. I poured some coffee nibs in the mortar and started pounding.
It was loud, dirty work. Ideal for a 6-year-old. Soon he took over, reducing the bean bits and volatile oils to powder.
A few hours later, I decided there was nothing as good as a pot of coffee made from beans you have battered yourself. However, I was not anxious to repeat the process. So I went looking for expert advice. I got some. Ruth Nuhn, manager of the Coffee Mill, a Baltimore shop that sells and grinds coffee beans, gave me two tips.
First, she said that if I wasn't in a hurry, I could simply take the bag of beans into any store that sells coffee. These stores, she said, grind coffee the old-fashioned way, in a machine designed for the job.
Secondly, she said if I was in a hurry I could try grinding the beans in a blender. She said tossing the beans in a blender sounded easier than my multistage food processor and mortar method.
I have a blender. The last time I saw it was somewhere in the pantry.