Coarse Ground Coffee: Why Size MattersCLICK HERE to subscribe to our weekly emails on finding and brewing amazing coffee!
So-called coffee connoisseurs are always talking about which grind you need to be using for each type of brew. But there is precious little information out there going into why you should be using coarse ground coffee over fine ground coffee and vice versa.
That’s where we come in! Below, we are going through the full discussion on coarse ground coffee, which is a necessary part of two of the most popular manual brewing methods out there (cold brew and French press). We’ve got everything from how and why it brews differently to how to actually get a good coarse grind.
What are you waiting for? Read our comprehensive guide on why exactly (grind) size matters when it comes to brewing your coffee.
Let’s start with the basics. For those of you who are wondering, yes, your grind does matter and does affect the final outcome of your brew. You may be able to get away with using a medium to fine grind in place of the required coarse ground coffee.
Will brewing be easy? Probably not. Will the results. taste as good? Also no. So, make your life easier and use the correct grind.
Disclaimer: When we say “correct grind,” we are referring to a grind range, not just one very specific size. Otherwise, grinders would only have six settings, and even the more basic ones have about 16. So there is definitely still room for experimentation, but you also shouldn’t be using something with a smooth, table salt texture in place of an extra coarse grind.
Why is that?
It’s all about surface area and extraction time. Too-fine coffee will extract too quickly due to the increased overall surface area and the smaller surface area per granule. The result will be bitter, over-extracted coffee. In some cases, it will also clog up your brewing tool or simply not get filtered out.
Alternatively, if you use one of the types of coarse grind we describe here in something like a semi-automatic espresso machine that requires an extremely even, fine grind, you are going to brew some nasty coffee. It’ll be under-extracted, weak, and flavorless.
Coarse vs Fine
Just to give you a quick visual of what we are talking about, you should know that coarse grounds (especially ones you grind at home) will have more color variation than a fine grind. There will be distinct, chunky bits of coffee bean in there. And you should be able to grab and/or easily distinguish different granules.
On the other hand fine grins will have a much. smoother texture in your hand. Depending on the exact fineness, it can be anywhere from difficult to impossible to pick up, separate, or even distinguish individual granule.
In between those is a medium grind, which will have a gritty texture with visible granules but not entire chunks.
Why Use Coarse Grind?
Using a coarse grind is great for slow extraction. So any type of immersion style brew will likely do well with a coarse grind. Essentially the larger surface area per granule and lower overall surface for coffee to eater contact means that it takes longer for the water to extract all the flavor from the grounds.
As a result, any method where you steep the grounds in water before filtering things out is perfect for a nice, chunky coarse grind. Two of the most popular methods that use this type of grind are French Press and Cold Brew.
Let’s start with the French Press. For those of you who aren’t familiar with how this method works, here is a quick overview. Grounds are placed in a chamber that usually just looks like your typical carafe, and hot water is poured over them. The barista waits a few minutes as the water and grounds steep and interact, creating the coffee brew.
Then, the user puts on a top that has a filter plunger (usually stainless steel). This pushes all of the coarse grounds to the bottom of the chamber while allowing the brew to flow through so you can pour and serve.
There are a couple reasons why we recommend using a coarse grind for French Press. The main one is what we mentioned earlier about steeping, because a few minutes fo steeping is pretty long for a hot brew. However, with this brewing method you also need to coarse grind so that the grounds actually get filtered out.
The absence of a paper filter means that it is easier for tiny grounds to make it through the permanent filter and into your cup. Yuck!
Another common brew that uses a coarse grind is the immersion style cold brew. There are a couple of different tools that can be used to achieve this brew, including a French Press. But the thing they all have in common is that they hold cold or room temperature water in a large chamber with your grounds.
This is a long steeping process, which is why you need a coarse grind. Cold brew can take anywhere from 14 to 20 hours to brew. You can use a plethora of different filtration levels from reusable fabric or metal or single-use paper. However, if you use a finer grind, you coffee will over extract.
Percolators & Cowboy Coffee
These are two less common brewing methods, but they also work best with coarse grounds so we’ll go over them briefly for you.
For a percolator, you should use medium-coarse to coarse grounds because water filters through them multiple times. If your grounds are too small, you runt he risk of over extracting them and creating some serious bitterness. Plus, like with the French Press, there is the chance of getting silt on your coffee if they aren’t big enough to filter out.
On the other hand, for cowboy coffee you need an even coarser grind. Cowboy coffee is essentially a coffee method that you can use while camping or are otherwise in a pinch without your usual brewing tools. The coarse grounds are necessary for this method because they need to sink to the bottom of your pot. That way, you won’t accidentally pout them into your cup.
What Does it Look Like?
One of the biggest issues that people run into when trying to find the right grind size is knowing what exactly they are looking for. You might see words like “coarse grind” or “fine grind” floating around. Heck, you probably even know which one you are supposed to be using.
But how do you know if what you are using is actually the right size, especially if you are grinding at home? Here’s a pretty easy comparison guide that we use to help ourselves out from time to time when grinding.
- Extra Coarse: Rock Salt (very chunky)
- Coarse: Sea Salt (visibly chunky)
- Medium-Coarse: coarse or rough sand (less chunky)
- Medium: Kosher salt/ regular sand
- Medium-Fine: Between Kosher and table salt (small granules)
- Fine: Slightly finer than table salt (difficult to feel granules)
- Extra Fine/Turkish: Flour or powdered Sugar (silt-like)
Of the three coarse grinds, medium-coarse is the easiest to achieve with even entry level burr grinders. Extra coarse, on the other hand, tends to be rather inconsistent unless you have a more specialized grinding tool.
How to Get it
One issue that a lot of people run into when it comes to coarse ground coffee is finding a good pre-ground option. While pre-ground isn’t ideal for the sake of freshness, it is a necessity for some people’s budget or routine.
As we’ll discuss later, getting a consistent coarse grind can be a bit of a hassle if you don’t have the right kit. So many opt for a pre ground for the sake of convenience and simplicity. For that reason, we’ve pulled some of our favorite coarse ground coffee for you so you don’t have to compromise too much on flavor.
If you are looking for the best coffee for cold brew specifically, we’ve covered it in the linked article.
Stone Street Cold Brew Reserve Colombian
First up, we have a single-origin Colombian Supremo from Stone Street Coffee. While it is sold as a cold brew, it is actually one of our favorites to use for a French Press brew too. It has a nice, low acidity with a slightly sweet flavor, those the brew is still bold and well balanced.
The beans are 100% arabica and the coarse grind is pleasantly consistent, perfect for slow extraction. It’s a Dark Roast.
Cafe du Monde Chicory Coffee
Next, we have this Chicory coffee from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, LA. It is a blend that works well with milk for those café au lait lovers out there. Hot milk really brings out the chocolate notes of this rich, full-bodied brew.
These grounds come in large, yellow can, which gives them a classic, homey look while effectively preserving your pre-ground coffee.
Stone Cold Jo Cold Brew Blend
This Cold Brew Blend from Stone Cold Jo is USDA Certified Organic, Fair Trade Certified and Kosher Certified Coffee. Like the first option, this is a smooth dark roast with low acidity. The flavor profile has hints of toffee, caramel, chocolate, and grape. How’d that for refreshing?
These beans are also 100% Arabica coffee that is direct sourced and artisan roasted. So, you know you can count on a quality brew.
Primos French Press Specialty
If you’re are into things that are are a little more citrusy, this French Press micro-lot coffee from Primos is a great choice. It keeps the low acid and smooth theme and pairs the new citrus flavors with a medium body and medium roast for those of you who like to keep your brew a bit lighter.
The beans are grown on a fourth generation family farm in Nicaragua. The company also prioritizes sustainability.
Bizzy Organic Sweet and Smooth Cold Brew
Lastly, we have one more cold brew coffee blend for you.It is a nice, even coarse grind made from Central and South American Arabica beans. They also partner with the local farmers to promote social and environmental sustainability.
These beans are medium roasted and brew a smooth, sweet cup with notes of caramel and hazelnut. While they are probably better suited for cold brew, you can also experiment with them in your French press with hot water too.
Grind at Home
Now, while a nice pre-ground coffee will do fine in a pinch. Grinding your beans shortly before you brew is the best way to up your flavor game.
To accomplish a coarse grind, you are going to need a pretty good burr grinder. If you are going for an extra coarse, blade grinders aren’t going to cut it. Or, they will, just not very evenly. To get good extraction, you need a nice even grind so the water works through all the granules at about the same rate.
We’ve gone over a number of our favorite coffee grinders before in this article. We also cover two of our favorite grinders for cold brew. These two grinders, the JavaPresse Manual coffee grinder and the Capresso 560 Infinity Conical grinder, work not only for cold brew but also for other coarse ground brewing methods.
Find Your Grind
Hopefully this guide helps a bit in both understanding why you should be using a coarse grind for certain brewing methods and how to get that grind in your home. We’ve covered everything from why grind matters to which methods it is intended for, what it looks like compared to other grinds, where to buy it, and which grinder to use to diy the grind.
So next time you are thinking about just picking up a bag of medium–or worse, fine–grounds from the store to throw in your French press or cold brewing mason jar, think again. Come back here and re-familiarize yourself with the art of the grind to make sure you get the best brew possible. Trust us, no one wants to be sipping on bitter, over-extracted coffee.
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