How to make coffee with whole beans was a question I was asked by James, a regular reader and commenter on our social media.
It’s a great question and there are many reasons for brewing up and making coffee with unground beans – we will talk about all of those in this article and show you step by step how to brew up a great cup of coffee using whole unground coffee beans.
Let’s get down to it and go with this article and get making some good technology-free old school coffee!
What Is Whole Bean Coffee?
Coffee beans that are freshly picked are coffee cherries and need to be processed to remove the coffee cherry to get to the inner seed, which is what you will recognise as a coffee bean. They still need to be cleaned and dried.
At this point, after drying, they are what we know as green coffee beans. They are still not ready to be brewed as you will end up with a very grassy tasting coffee. They need at this point to be roasted.
Roasted coffee beans are taken to 4 main roast levels, light roasted, medium, medium dark roasted and dark roasted coffee beans.
The roasted beans are then packaged as whole beans and shipped to their distributors where they will eventually end up in a coffee shop or retail outlet. They can, at this point, be put through a grinding process and ground to a predetermined grind size and then shipped to retail outlets or coffee shops via a distributor.
It is at this point that they are ready to be part of the brewing process and be ground to various grind sizes and turned into a great cup of coffee.
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Why Make Coffee With Whole Beans?
There are two main reasons why people want to brew a cup of coffee with unground coffee beans. The most appealing of them is pretty understandable – you, at least in the technical sense, get a much fresher cup of coffee.
The other main reason is related to grinders and inconsistent grind sizes which results in an imperfect brew due to an imperfect uneven extraction of the grounds.
Let’s dive a little into those for a moment.
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Reason #1 Post Grinding Deterioration Of Coffee Grounds
As soon as your coffee beans are ground, they immediately start to deteriorate due to exposure to oxygen. Oxidation accelerates and they lose their freshness and flavor. This is why I strongly urge you to buy whole beans and grind them immediately before you are about to brew your Cuppa Joe and not a second before.
Maximum freshness means maximum taste!
Carbon dioxide release is also accelerated when you grind your beans. This is something that happens even with whole beans, just at a reduced rate. Keep your beans stored in a vacuum airtight container that has a one-way valve. The valve prevents air from entering while allowing carbon dioxide to release.
You need the carbon dioxide as it stimulates the coffee oil to transfer from the beans to hot water. The less carbon dioxide in your coffee beans, the less of the thick crema and coffee oils and a less flavorful tasting coffee you will end up with.
Again, use and grind your beans only immediately before brewing, if you are to grind them. If you are going to buy and use pre-ground coffee, store them in a coffee canister that has been designed for that purpose – the storage of coffee beans or grounds.
A bag or an ordinary container is not going to store them nearly as well.
Moisture is also an issue of weakening the flavor of coffee. When your coffee beans have been ground, you increase the surface area and increase the contact that they have with the moisture that is in the air. Effectively, on a microlevel, a part of the flavor is being extracted.
Reducing the exposure to moisture can be achieved by keeping whole beans in a vacuum-sealed air-tight container and grinding them only when you are about to use them.
Also, when your beans have been ground, they are at greater risk of contamination, especially when poorly or incorrectly stored.
Coffee has a great ability to absorb the flavors and odors of nearby items.
Reason #2 The Issue With An Uneven Grind Size
This is not a particular issue for all types of grinders. If you have a good quality burr grinder, preferably a ceramic conical burr grinder, as with this type of grinder, you will get a good even grind quality.
With a blade coffee grinder, you end up with an imperfect, uneven grind of different sizes. This means that when you brew your coffee you will end up with some grinds that are over extracting and others that are under extracting, which makes it difficult for you to predict a good or perfect brew time for the best tasting brew.
When you are brewing coffee with whole beans, obviously this is not an issue at all and neither is the issue of quicker deterioration and degradation of your whole beans.
Whole Beans Vs Ground Coffee
In the battle of whole beans vs ground coffee, the winner is every single day of the week whole beans. For a start, you can make ground coffee from whole beans, but you can’t make whole beans from ground coffee.
Once they are ground, there is no going back. For the reasons that are mentioned above in the earlier and above sections, the reasons all boil down to freshness.
Coffee is best enjoyed fresh. This is why I put a great emphasis on brewing fresh coffee and using techniques and practices that ensure that my coffee is exactly that – as fresh as it can possibly be.
This includes not only using whole beans and grinding them immediately before I use them – literally seconds! It involves the best possible storage in an air-tight vacuum-sealed container with a one-way valve and keeping that container in the fridge for maximum benefit.
I also encourage you to join in on the new wave of the home roasting revolution and roast your own beans at home for greater freshness.
Stopping your coffee from going stale and doing everything that you can to keep your beans fresh makes a big difference to the taste of your coffee, and you will enjoy it for longer.
Pre-ground coffee, if you must use it, can also be prolonged with good storage techniques, but ultimately it will still go off quicker due to the oxidation process and enhanced release of carbon dioxide from the ground coffee.
There is no feasible way in which ground coffee beans can be fresher than unground coffee beans.
Coffee is a food product, and you should treat it as such.
Making Coffee With Unground Beans Cowboy Coffee Style!
This is an adaptation of cowboy coffee brewing method and is great on camping trips when or where you have no grinder at hand or even a coffee maker.
All you need is something to heat your water, medium-sized pot and whole coffee beans. A gas stove is ideal for bringing your water to the boil.
Measure your water and pay attention to the coffee to water ratio of 1:10. One part coffee to 10 parts water. For a good 16 ounce (480ml) man-sized cup of coffee, you will need 1.6 ounces (48 grams) of whole beans.
Heat your water. The temptation is to use boiling water; resist this as the ideal temperature is just below boiling point at 195F to 205F (92C to 96C).
Once you have reached the ideal temperature, put in your beans and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes and then strain them out using a sieve into your mug.
Optional for that authentic cowboy coffee taste, add a touch, a pinch of salt while simmering or egg shells.
Whole Bean Cold Brew
Making cold brew coffee with whole beans is easy. The brewing method is the same as you would make a regular cold brew except you will need to let your beans steep for 16 to 24 hours for the extraction process to be complete and give you a good quality coffee.
Making coffee this way, you can skip the use of any coffee filters as you are using whole beans – there is literally nothing to filter out.
A good coffee to water ratio to use is 1:8 that’s 1 part coffee to 8 parts water. Making 1 litre (32 ounces approx) you will need to weigh and use 125 grams (8 ounces) of whole beans.
For maximum freshness, I strongly suggest that you brew your coffee with cold water and use an airtight glass container like a large mason jar.
Fill your mason jar with 1 liter (32 oz) of fresh cold water, and add in your 125 grams (8 oz) of whole coffee beans. Close the lid. Place your coffee beans and cold water mix in your fridge and simply wait while they are extracting.
Typical extraction time will be up to 24 hours. Once your brew is ready, decant and remove the coffee beans.
How To Make Coffee With Whole Beans Without Grinding – The French Press Technique.
This one is a lot tougher to get right than cowboy coffee and cold brew, but it can be done. Using a 1:12 coffee to water ratio, measure out your water and coffee beans. For a 16 ounce cup of coffee, use 16 ounces (480ml) of water and 1.92 ounces (56 grams) of whole beans.
For this to work well, like the cowboy coffee technique, you will need to simmer your water, put your beans in and let it simmer for 2 minutes before transferring them to your French press.
Without this extra step, you will need to steep longer, by which time your coffee may be cold.
After transferring your hot water and grounds to your French press, place the press and place the plunger until it is submerged, just below the water line.
Let the plunger remain there for 1 to 3 minutes, testing the brew after 2 minutes to check to see if it is brewed to your liking. When it is to your liking, depress the plunger fully and then pour your coffee.
When the desired strength has been achieved, don’t leave the beans in your brew as they will start to over extract. You must remove them.
Frequently Asked Questions About How To Make Coffee With Whole Beans
Can You Use Whole Beans To Make Coffee?
Yes, you can brew coffee, and good tasty coffee without the need to grind your beans. Whole beans can be used to brew cowboy coffee or whole bean cold brew coffee. Due to using whole beans and the reduced size of the surface area in which your water is in contact with the coffee, the brewing process will take longer.
Can You Just Boil Coffee Beans?
You should never boil coffee grounds or whole beans as you will destroy the flavor compounds and extract too much of the bitter compounds. You can just heat your whole coffee beans with water to make a cup of coffee.
Can I Make Coffee With Beans Without A Machine?
Yes, both whole bean cold brew coffee and cowboy coffee are brewing methods that use whole beans and do not require the use of a coffee machine.
What Is The Ratio Of Coffee Beans To Water?
A good ratio to use for coffee beans to water is 1:17. For every gram (or ounce) of coffee beans that you use, use 17 grams (or ounces) of water.
Can I Grind Coffee Beans Without A Grinder?
Yes, there are many methods of grinding coffee beans without a grinder. A blender and food processor can grind your beans. You can use a mortar and pestle to crush them manually. Other methods include using a mincer and a rolling pin.
Just be careful as you won’t get a consistent grind size or have any control over the grind size.
Is It Better To Manually Grind Coffee Beans?
No, it used to be the case that manually grinding coffee beans was better due to a reduced build up of heat during grinding. However, improved technology, material science and the way in which the beans are ground make electric grinders a better choice.
A conical ceramic burr grinder produces less friction and heat build up than a manual grinder. Also, you get a better quality grind and a more consistent grind size. Therefore, by definition it is much better to use an electric grinder with a conical ceramic burr.
Frappé-Ing It All Up – How To Make Coffee With Whole Beans
You no longer need to wonder why or how to make coffee with whole beans. It is a very retro old school way of brewing and surprisingly, it does have huge plus points, namely in regard to freshness.
Try it: give a cowboy coffee or a cold brew with whole beans a shot.
The only drawback I think of against brewing with whole beans is the longer brew time.
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