How to make coffee with whole beans

Brewing coffee from whole beans over the stove
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I am the type of person who likes to do as much as I can without help from technology. Part of this is just my personality. The other part, however, is that I simply do not want to, or cannot afford to, spend money on certain “luxury” items like a high-end coffee grinder.

I get by with my inexpensive blade grinder, but when I first learned that it’s possible to make coffee from whole beans, with no grinder at all, I was intrigued. I thought surely the flavor would be watered down, it would take hours, and at worst, I would waste a morning’s cup of coffee beans. Nevertheless, I did some research.

And here is what I learned about brewing coffee from whole beans.

Why make coffee with whole beans?

You don’t have to worry about an uneven grind

Most blade grinders chop the beans imperfectly, which means all those bean fragments are a different size and they are going to brew at different rates. Some will be under-extracted (weak and sour), some will be over-extracted (strong and bitter). You kind of get the worst of both worlds, and it can actually cause the cup of coffee to taste worse than if you just brew it with whole coffee beans.

So if you accidentally bought whole coffee beans, you don’t have to try to grind your coffee beans without a grinder. You might be better off brewing them whole.

Coffee beans deteriorate after grinding

Oxidation. Carbon dioxide. Moisture. Contamination. These things sound horrible, right?

Well, when the beans are ground, oxidation occurs more quickly (oxidation is what causes apples to turn brown). Unless I were to brew my coffee immediately after grinding the beans, my coffee will taste less than perfect.

Carbon dioxide is what stimulates the transfer of oil from the beans to the water. Fortunately for me, I typically grind my beans once a week and store them in an airtight container. This helps to prevent the release of carbon dioxide and preserves some flavor. If, however, I were to buy pre-ground coffee and store the grounds in a loosely closed bag, I would lose more of the coffee’s flavor potential.

Moisture also weakens the flavor of coffee. (If you don’t believe me, try brewing a second pot using moist coffee grounds that have already been brewed once!) When I grind my beans, I am exposing the surface area to humidity in the air, which is essentially moisture. I want as much flavor in my coffee as possible, so I like the idea of minimizing exposure to moisture by keeping my beans completely intact. (See our earlier post: How Long Does Ground Coffee Last?)

And then there’s contamination. I cook with a lot of garlic. While my coffee has never even hinted at the taste of garlic, apparently grinding beans does make them more susceptible to soaking up the smells of the kitchen.

When I became convinced that whole bean brewing has a few things going for it, I wanted to know how to brew my coffee with whole beans.

What you need to brew coffee with whole beans

First I checked to make sure that I had all the supplies I would need:

  • boiling water
  • small saucepan
  • 1 pint mason jar
  • spoon
  • mug
  • strainer
  • whole bean coffee

How to brew coffee from whole beans

Then, I started brewing! First thing in the morning—like, as soon as I woke up—I stumbled out of bed, blind from the light of my bedside lamp, and made my way to the kitchen.

Step 1: Measure your beans

I put three-quarters of a cup of coffee beans into my mason jar.

Coffee beans in mason jar
© Bean Poet

Step 2: Top up with hot water

I filled my jar about three-quarters full with hot water, just off the boil.

Coffee beans in a mason jar with hot water added
© Bean Poet

Step 3: Immerse jar in simmering water

I placed the jar in the saucepan and filled the pot with water so that the water level in the saucepan matched the water level in my mason jar.

Mason jar full of coffee beans simmering in a pot of water
© Bean Poet

Step 4: Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally

I started simmering the waters. While I waited for my coffee to brew, I got back in my bed. I wrote in my Morning Pages book. Then I came down to give the beans a stir.

Stirring coffee beans in mason jar
© Bean Poet

This was at about the half-hour mark. You can see at the edge of the surface that the water is starting to look a little bit like coffee:

Coffee beans in mason jar after 30 minutes of simmering
© Bean Poet

Then I did some morning yoga. During those deep breaths, I couldn’t help but notice the smell of coffee wafting through the air. And finally…

Step 5: Strain and enjoy

After one hour, I set up a coffee mug with a strainer on top so I could strain the beans.

Strainer on top of a coffee mug
© Bean Poet

I carefully removed my jar using hot pads, and then poured the coffee into the mug through the strainer to capture the beans.

Lifting coffee from simmering water and straining into cup
Protect your hands while removing the jar from the simmering water! (© Bean Poet)

After I tossed the beans, I had a legitimate cup of coffee. I had expected it to be a bit weak, but this coffee was remarkably strong. I had to dilute it with a little hot water to get the taste I wanted.

Cup of coffee brewed from whole beans
The final cup, with a few splashes on the handle from straining. If it's too strong, add more hot water. (© Bean Poet)

I love brewing my coffee this way—when I have time. It is simple, dependable, and flavorful. I also now know exactly how I will make my coffee the next time I go camping, or overnight sailing, or if I am at the home of a friend who doesn’t drink coffee.

Not to mention, my taste buds have been awakened to the subtle differences in flavor offered by this brewing method. I sincerely hope you try brewing whole coffee beans yourself. It is worth the wait!

Welcome to Bean Poet!

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