Most people fail at brewing a perfect cup of coffee before they even begin, by using pre-ground coffee beans. 79% of Americans brew their coffee at home. But how many have it freshly ground as well?
A lot of factors influence the resulting cup. But even if you buy the best beans, follow the correct brewing technique, use an ideal coffee to water ratio, and optimal water temperature but fail to grind your coffee before brewing, you’re missing out.
Underestimating this part of the process is one of the most common mistakes even the most advanced coffee lovers make. But we’re here to help you prevent it and help you understand why a good coffee grinder is the equipment key to success.
What are the main grind sizes? Which ones are suitable for your preferred method of brewing? And what is the best grinder to choose to perform the task?
We’ll answer all these questions and help you take your morning cup to the next level.
Why Not Buy Pre-Ground Coffee
By grinding your coffee just before brewing you’re ensuring its freshness. Remember that coffee is an organic product and its flavor is affected by outside factors. Coffee comes from a coffee cherry which is a plant rather than a synthetically produced commodity that could maintain consistent flavor and qualities.
When the beans are roasted, CO2 is released which helps to release the oils and create the characteristic aroma and enhance the flavor. Floral and fruity notes come primarily from this process.
Further, when oxygen enters the coffee grounds, the cells within break down and make it taste lively. Without it, the coffee is muddy, dull, and soapy.
Therefore, if you’re not grinding the beans just before you’re about to make your cup, you are risking losing these key qualities.
Think of coffee flavors as of those in ripe fruit. When tasting it, it should explode with pleasant textures, crisp acidity, refreshing sweetness, and spicy aromas.
Additionally, getting pre-ground coffee beans limits your brewing to one specific method. While doing it fresh and adjusting the coffee grind, allows you to experiment with various ones.
How Does Grind Affect Extraction?
Your coffee grind size is the main component determining the extraction. It is defined as the process of dissolving flavors from coffee grounds in water. A great-tasting cup requires using the correct coffee-to-water ratio, correct temperature, correct time but also the precise grind.
There are two ways in which the brewing can go wrong if your grind is incorrect.
Under-extraction happens when the grinds are too coarse. This results in a cup that tastes sour, acidic, and salty. In that case, you should make the grind finer to balance the intense flavors.
The opposite problem occurs when the grounds are too fine and your coffee turns out over-extracted. This creates a dull, bitter, and dark cup with muted bright flavors and no distinct features.
What you’re ultimately aiming for is a balanced extraction when all of the tasting notes are allowed to come out making the coffee sweet, well rounded, flavorful, and crisply acidic. That is your sweet spot!
So let’s get into what the main types of grinds are, how to distinguish them and which ones are recommended for different brewing methods.
The Coffee Size Chart
Extra Coarse / Coarse
These look like kosher sea salt. The extra coarse grind is mainly used for cold brewing.
And coarse grind is used for French Press, percolator, or a plunger.
Medium Coarse / Medium / Medium Fine
Medium coarse and medium grounds look like coarse sand and table salt respectively. These are mostly used for drip coffee brew methods.
The coarser ones are ideal for cupping, Chemex, Clever dripper, and flat bottom filters such as Kalita.
While the finer ones are used for cone-shaped filters, Hario V60, and siphon brewing methods.
Fine / Extra Fine
The fine grind looks like powdered sugar and is used for espresso brewing as well as a Moka pot* or an Aeropress.
While extra fine grind resembles flour and is mostly just used for Turkish coffee.
*Moka pots also work well with other grind sizes; keep in mind sometimes grind size is dependent on personal preference.
Brewing Methods + Grind
Cold brewing means that coffee doesn’t come in contact with hot water and is steeped at room temperature. This allows beautiful flavors to come out when using the right grind.
However, if the grind is wrong, the resulting coffee is completely ruined. This is not something you want to find out after you’ve just invested 12-24 hours into steeping your cold brew.
We recommend using an extra coarse grind for this method. Keep in mind that the grind depends on the steeping time, and if you steep your cold brew for longer, this allows you to use a coarser grind. We encourage you to experiment until you find the right one.
With French Press, we recommend a coarse or a sea salt texture grind from the chart. If the coffee grind is too fine, it makes your brew bitter, muddy, and over-extracted.
Pay attention to how hard it is to push the plunger down on your French press. If it is difficult and there is too much pressure, your coffee grind size is too fine, while if it feels too easy, the grind size is too coarse.
The Chemex filter is quite thick and therefore this brewer requires a medium-coarse grind of coarse sand. The filter prevents the coffee to drain too quickly and the medium-coarse grind prevents over-extraction.
The V60 filter is thinner and the dripping cone is quite large. Therefore, it requires a medium grind with the texture of fine sand. If the coffee is under-extracted and tastes sour, adjust the grinder, and make it finer.
Aeropress is pretty unique because there is no “ideal” grind suitable for this brewer. It depends on the brewing time and the type of coffee you’re after.
With the medium-coarse grind, you can let the coffee brew for 3-4 minutes and with a finer grind, 1 minute is enough. The medium grind is often seen as a good middle ground. Feel free to experiment from there.
The only suitable grind for espresso is extra fine with the texture of powdered sugar. Any other grind size will not result in an optimal espresso. Since it’s only brewed in 30 seconds, an incorrect grind size massively affects this super-concentrated beverage. The extra-fine grind allows the water to capture the maximum amount of aroma in a few seconds.
If the grind is too coarse, the coffee will pour too quickly and produce a watery under-extracted shot that tastes sour and imbalanced. In contrast, when the grind is too fine, the coffee is bitter, dark with a burnt aftertaste.
Coffee Grinders 101
As we’ve established earlier in the article, buying pre-ground coffee results in a disappointing cup that is inevitably inferior to the freshly ground one.
If coffee grinding is turning out much more complicated than you expected, beware, it doesn’t stop with the grind size. There are different grinders to choose from and some of them are inferior to others.
Which coffee grinder is more suitable for you and offers the best value for money? Let’s find out.
People are often tempted by blade coffee grinders since they are very affordable, small, and seem like an easy solution. Using these is one of the most common mistakes people make when brewing their cups, be it a French Press or an espresso.
The blade grinders chop the coffee with metallic blades at a high speed. This type of grinding is fast and messy which causes the coffee grind to be inconsistent. It is impossible to get the same grind for all the beans while using this method.
The inconsistency means that some coffee is ground too fine and some are too coarse. When brewing, some grinds are over-extracted while some are under-extracted, causing a disaster of a cup.
Additionally, as the blade grinders do the job, they also create unwanted heat and friction causing the coffee to taste overcooked and not fresh, even if your beans were fresh, to begin with.
And as surprising as it sounds, if you are going to use a blade grinder, you’re better off buying pre-ground coffee beans instead. Now, that says a lot about the grinder, right?
Burr grinders work differently. They apply uniform pressure to all the coffee beans at low speed which crushes them and creates a consistent grind size across all of your beans.
The burr grinders are more expensive than the blade ones, but they are still relatively cheap. They are also small and portable and could easily accompany you on your next camping trip.
They come with different settings so you can easily adjust it for any grind size from the chart and according to your preferred brewing method. Whether you’re aiming for a fine espresso grind or an extra coarse grind for your cold brew, burr grinders can do it all.
Grinding coffee by hand might seem like a hassle, but when it is done for small amounts, it’s pretty quick and the difference is worth it.
While it might be easy to fall into the trap of buying a cheap blade grinder, or you might get one as a gift from your not-so-coffee-educated friends, getting a burr coffee grinder makes such a big difference in the resulting cup, that it’s worth the upgrade.
Manual Or Electric?
The burr grinder creates a consistent and versatile ground coffee but the grinding needs to be done manually. There are also electric grinders that can do the same job in a fraction of the time. How do you know an electric grinder is for you?
However, if you’re making large quantities of coffee, it might be worth investing in an automatic one. This applies especially if you’re mainly brewing espressos. Since these are very sensitive to every small detail, an automatic grinder would make it easier and consistent. Also, grinding coffee for every single espresso shot manually sounds a bit unsustainable.
Dialing In Your Grinder
If you know what “dialing in your grinder for espresso” means, then we know you’re truly serious about your coffee. It is exactly what differentiates good coffee from an excellent one.
Since the extraction of an espresso happens very quickly, only in around 30 seconds, the process needs to be done perfectly. Small adjustments in water temperature, the precise weight of coffee going in, the time, and the yield all make a massive difference. One of these key aspects is, indeed, the coffee grind.
The process of dialing in your grinder for espresso refers to balancing the dose, the yield, the grind, and the extraction time, to achieve a perfect cup of coffee.
Unsuccessful balance of these aspects results in an espresso that is over or under-extracted but also affects other aspects such as crema or aroma.
Getting it right requires a lot of practice and needs regular adjustments. While automatic grinders are consistent, the settings still need to be adjusted according to the temperature of the coffee machine or the kind of coffee beans used. When brewing, taste, experiment, and adjust the grind regularly to ensure that your coffee tastes perfect.
Coffee Grind Size FAQs
Can I Grind My Coffee In a Blender?
If you want to grind coffee without a grinder and use a blender instead, we’ll save you the dilemma, don’t even bother.
A blender uses metallic blades at a high speed. This just creates a mess. The grind size is inconsistent and comes with unwanted heat and friction that largely affect the taste. Similar to a blade grinder, but worse. You’re better off buying pre-ground coffee in this case.
How Do I Know I’m Using the Right Grind Size?
It is always a good idea to look at the chart as a starting point before you grind your beans. Firstly, consider the brewing method that you’re planning to use and determine the recommended grind.
The process requires practice but don’t be afraid to experiment. The best way to perfect your brewing and grinding is to taste the difference when adjusting the coffee grind. Soon, you’ll be able to tell what type of grind will ensure optimal extraction.
How Quickly Does Ground Coffee Lose Freshness?
While it is generally believed that ground coffee can maintain its freshness for around a week, the coffee experts think otherwise.
As soon as coffee comes in contact with air, it starts oxidizing, which affects the taste. Since some of the coffee grinds (at the top of the bag or a container) are in contact with air much more than the ones below, this creates inconsistency and an unbalanced cup.
Therefore, some coffee enthusiasts claim than freshly ground coffee maintains optimal qualities for brewing for as short as 30 minutes before it starts deteriorating. Now, that’s rapid.
Does a Finer Grind Make Stronger Coffee?
A finer grind speeds up the extraction which is going to make the coffee taste stronger. But this is often at the expense of over-extraction and making it gritty and bitter. The grind dictates the steeping time and if you let the finer grind brew for too long, this is going to result in an imbalanced cup.
The term “strong” in coffee is relative and depends on many other factors such as type of roast, region, and acidity. If you’re trying to make your coffee as strong as possible, we would recommend staying in an approximate range of the grind size chart and adjust it as far as the brewing method allows.
The Take-Home Message
Buying pre-ground coffee is one of the most common mistakes that people make when brewing their cups at home. The freshness of coffee grounds changes rapidly and the longer you wait before you brew your coffee the more aroma and flavor you lose.
If you want to experience the beautiful tasting notes of your beans, you should grind the coffee fresh. That way your cup will burst out with full flavors of ripe fruit, maintain crisp acidity, and balanced mouthfeel.
The main thing to consider is the brew method you’re choosing. For example, the French press requires you to grind coarse beans while Turkish coffee requires an extra fine grind.
If you’re grinding your coffee manually, choose a burr grinder to ensure your grind size is consistent and unaffected by unwanted heat or friction. And if you’re making large amounts of coffee or using an espresso machine, it might be worth investing in an electric grinder.
Are you ready to take your coffee to the next level and make it taste superior by grinding it yourself?
We hope so.