In the whole process from coffee beans to a final cup of coffee ready to drink, grinding your coffee beans has one of the most important roles. In fact, how the beans are ground has the potential to be the difference between having the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had, or something that barely resembles coffee that you certainly don’t want to taste again. You will need to choose the right grind size and method of extraction to get the perfect coffee flavor. This is because, if the grind size is incorrect, or the coffee grounds are not all the same consistency, your coffee is going to taste awful.
How Grind Size Impacts Flavor
The main reason for grinding the coffee beans is so that the water can come into contact with a larger surface area of them. Grinds can be fine, medium or course, with various variations on each in between. How finely or coarsely the beans are ground will impact the amount of water that can come into contact with the bean surface, how long it’ll take to brew the coffee, and how well you can extract the coffee’s flavors from the bean.
Coarser coffee grinds will have more loose particles. As a result of this, water moves through the beans quickly, with less water coming into contact with the surface area of the beans. This might lead to a shorter brewing time in general, but don’t use coarser grinds to get a faster brew as you are likely to pay for it with the taste of your coffee. Without the water being able to come into contact with much coffee bean surface area, the extraction efficiency will be reduced, with less extracted from the beans leading to a watery, weak cup.
A finer coffee grind will have particles that are more tightly packed together. As a result of this, the water will move more slowly throughout them, coming into contact with more surface area of the beans. As a result of this, finer grinds generally lead to a better extraction from the coffee beans. However, just like grinds that are too course can lead to sour tasting coffee, grinds that are too fine will usually result in your coffee being too dark and bitter tasting.
Why Can’t You Always Use a Fine Grind?
While fine ground beans are the best option if you want coffee with a lot of flavor, they are not always the best choice for making certain brews. Different coffee brewing systems will work best with different sizes of coffee grinds, and your personal taste should also be considered. If you grinds are too fine, you will usually notice that your coffee tastes too acidic or bitter to drink.
Finding the Right Grind Size
When it comes to grinding your coffee beans for the perfect cup, it’s important to bear in mind that there is no one grind size that will be suitable for everything. It’s important to find the right grind size for the type of coffee maker and filter that you will be using. Grinds range from extra fine to extra course, and many automatic grinders and coffee makers with a built-in grinder will have several different settings to choose from.
- Extra Coarse: This results in a chunky grind that is best suited for cowboy coffee or cold brewing, which takes longer, therefore providing the additional time that is needed to thoroughly extract from the coffee beans.
- Coarse: A coarse grind coffee is best used with a French Press, plunger, or percolator. When achieving this grind, go for a final result that appears similar to the texture of sea salt.
- Medium-Coarse: Falling somewhere in between the medium and coarse grinds, this type of coffee grind should look like rough sand. It’s best suited for machines like Chemex. It’s usually preferred for the majority of drip brew coffee making methods.
- Medium: What does medium ground coffee look like? These grinds will look and feel like table salt. They are best used in some coffee makers – it’s a good AeroPress grind size - or for machines with a cone-shaped or flat-bottomed filters.
- Medium-Fine: How coarse should coffee be for pour over? Best suited for cone-shaped filters, the medium-fine grind is also an excellent choice for making your brew using the pour-over coffee method. It’s also usually the best grind for AeroPress.
- Fine: With a look and texture similar to powdered sugar, the fine grind is best used for brewing Espresso-based drinks, as it is the perfect grind size for espresso. You can also use it successfully for stovetop espresso or when using an AeroPress.
- Extra Fine: This is not a common grind size as this coffee grind too fine for the majority of coffee making machines. It’s best suited for the Ibrik brewing method, looks like flour, and is mainly used for Turkish coffee.
- However, while getting the right grind size is important when making your coffee, it’s also just as important to choose the right grinder to achieve it.
Blade grinders are an affordable option that are easy to use. However, the unfortunate thing is that they are not great for grinding coffee beans. In fact, they often lead to a result that tastes even worse than using pre-ground coffee beans as they do not achieve consistency. Since the grinds are going to be unequal in size when using this type of grinder, some of the beans are likely to be over-extracted, while some will be under-extracted; a combination that will always make for a terrible cup of coffee. Along with this, blade grinders use high speeds, which results in pressure and heat building that can impact the freshness and taste of your coffee beans before the coffee even makes it into your cup.
On the other hand, if you are serious about perfect grinds when it comes to making your own coffee, then you will need to invest in a burr grinder. Burr grinders work differently than blade grinders, making sure that uniform pressure is applied and using a slow speed to crush the coffee beans consistently from all sides. As a result of this, the grinds are always going to be consistent. And, the low speeds used mean that the freshness of your coffee beans will be maintained, with any heating of the beans during the process prevented.
When it comes to picking a grinder, many people fall into the common trap of going for the cheaper option, which is most commonly a blade grinder. Since it’s not always obvious to see the differences when making a cup of coffee with a blade grinder vs a burr grinder, it can be easy to simply pick the cheapest option before realizing your mistake. Often, using a burr grinder to grind your coffee by hand will get you a better result compared to using an electric blade grinder, if you don’t mind a little bit more work.
When to Use an Electric Burr Grinder
An electric burr grinder might be more suitable for you if you are going to be mainly getting a grind size espresso as the electric option is typically going to be more consistent. And, an electric burr grinder is usually the best option to go for if you plan to grind large quantities of coffee beans at once.
Why Not Just Buy Pre-Ground Coffee?
Pre-ground coffee is available and it might be good choice if you are just getting to grips with using a new coffee maker or want more convenience, but bear in mind that you will be sacrificing some taste. Bear in mind that coffee beans are organic products with flavors that are impacted by many outside factors. Since coffee beans and grinds are the product of a plant and not synthetically produced, they cannot maintain a consistent level of quality and flavor over an extended time period. Co2 is released when the coffee beans are roasted, which releases the oils from the beans, enhances the flavor, and adds the characteristic aroma, including any fruity or floral notes.
However, when the coffee is ground and comes into contact with oxygen, the cells within the coffee beans begin to break down, giving it that energizing taste. As a result, coffee beans that are not ground immediately before you make your cup of coffee will risk losing out on some of the key qualities of a good cup of coffee. Along with this, getting pre-ground coffee will leave you with just one size of coffee ground that will limit the type of brew that you are able to make. By grinding your own beans at home using a burr grinder, you will be able to experiment with different coffee grind sizes to find the one that is most suitable for your machine and that you like the most.
The size of your coffee grinds can play a more important part than you think when it comes to making the perfect cup of coffee. There are lots of factors that influence the size you should choose.