How You Grind Your Coffee Matters

Although there are many variables involved in making a great cup of coffee, the two most important are 1. Using fresh roasted coffee beans and 2. Grinding your coffee correctly. Here, I’ll explain the grinding process, which grind is best for various brews and how to adjust the grind to make your coffee taste better.

Grind Size

The basic purpose of grinding coffee is to allow more surface area on the bean to be exposed so that the essential oils locked inside can be extracted fully when exposed to water. This is why as a rule I think it’s best to grind coffee as fine as possible, but not too fine for the brewing method. The finer the grind, the more surface area becomes available for extraction. Grinding coffee too fine can pose a few problems: 1. Sediment can find its way into your cup and 2. Your coffee filter or the French press mesh can start to become clogged and not allow liquid to flow through. Although I think finer is better, to a certain degree at least, not all brewing methods can make good coffee using a fine grind. It’s important to adjust the grind as necessary based on how you will be brewing your coffee. Burr grinders should come with an adjustable setting allowing you to grind coffee to many different levels of 1. Fine, 2. Medium or 3. Coarse.

Fine grind – You should grind your beans fine if you’re making coffee using a drip brew method, if your filter basket is cone-shaped and if you use a #1, #2, #4 or #6 cone filter for brewing. I recommend grinding on the largest fine grind setting (the one just below medium). Use a medium fine grind if you’re making espresso in a moka pot on the stove. Grind your coffee extra fine if you’re grinding coffee for an espresso machine. If water is having a hard time flowing through, try grinding a little bigger. Start with a finer grind than you think you need and adjust up as you experiment.

Medium grind – Grind your beans medium if you’re making coffee using the drip brew method and your filter basket is not cone-shaped and the coffeemaker requires basket filters. Also grind medium if you use a pour over dripper like the ceramic Beehouse or a Clever Coffee Dripper, even though these are cone-shaped. This allows the water to flow through the grounds more easily. Using too fine a grind will make the coffee taste bitter and could clog up your filter. A coarse grind will not extract the coffee completely and will leave you with a dull tasting brew.

Coarse grind – Use a coarse grind if you’re making coffee in a French press (press pot). It’s important to grind as coarse as possible as this will help keep the sediment from finding its way through the plunger. Grinding the coffee at this size also helps because, since French press requires continuous infusion of grounds with hot water for 4 minutes, if the coffee is too fine, it will over extract and the brew will be too bitter. Grinding coarsely will help you extract just the right amount of essential coffee oils. Since you should be allowing your coffee to steep for at least 4 minutes before plunging, a coarse grind works very well for a French press to plunge when the brewing is complete with minimal sediment left in the brew. Make sure you have a small scale for weighing out coffee if you don’t have one (French press coffee should be made using 8.5 grams of grounds per 4 oz of water). I recommend digital scales as they are the most accurate. They cost about $50.

The hack

Use a burr grinder instead of a blade (whirly bird) grinder if you can. Blade grinders are cheaper than burr grinders and you can pick one up for under $15 in most stores. They’re cheap because all they do is grind coffee beans inconsistently and smash them to bits. During the grind, the blades create large pieces, medium pieces and powder. The medium pieces are perfect for extraction. The large pieces are too large and create a dull taste (under extraction). The small, powdery pieces are too small and create a bitter taste (over extraction). Having all 3 sizes of beans together somehow has a way of evening out each other but the inconsistency of the resulting grounds can leave brewed coffee tasting overall on the bitter side in the end. Burr grinders create a consistent, even grind which can help you create really great tasting coffee. A burr grinder is more expensive, but you can get a good one, like the Capresso Infinity, for under $100. If you have a little more cash lying around, I suggest looking at the Baratza line of conical burr grinders, too. Burr grinders don’t pulverize coffee beans. Instead, they evenly slice beans based on your preferred setting, creating consistently sized slices. Save the blade grinder for grinding up spices, not your coffee.

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