Your coffee beans, just roasted three days ago are stored in an air-tight container. You’ve got your grinder waiting in the wings. It’s time to get down to it! But when you look at your grinder and see a dial with a bunch of numbers on it. Which one do you choose? “This must be how to set the grind,” you think to yourself. “Uh…. I dunno. I’ll just put it in the middle, I guess.”
This is an important step that directly impacts the quality of your cup of coffee.
Grounds in V60, Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash
How finely a coffee is ground is not at all an arbitrary aspect to coffee making. It is one of the most important variables you can control in brewing the best cup of coffee. But before we get into how grind your coffee properly, let's get a few things out of the way first.
- Keep your coffee whole bean for as long as possible. Ideally, you should grind your coffee for brewing right before you actually brew your coffee. This preserves the freshness and vibrancy of your freshly roasted coffee. Think of the difference between freshly ground peppercorns and that finely ground dust you get in a can. It's similar when dealing with coffee.
- If you have a blade grinder, use it for your spices, and spices only. The blade grinders create a little tornado inside the grinder as the action's happening. So, the beans aren't getting crushed evenly. You'll have some big pieces and some little pieces. Go ahead and invest in a burr grinder. A burr grinder works much the same way as a gris mill, two ridged plates grinding the coffee in a consistent, even manner. It's not hard to find a quality burr grinder in your price range, and the investment is worth it!
- Consider your brew method. To determine what grind you need, first, you must figure out which brewing method you'll be using. Setting the ol' coffee pot for automatic brew in the morning? Making cold brew for those hot days? Or are you chilling with your French press on a Sunday morning? Each of these requires a different grind to showcase the coffee properly.
Just think about the surface area to water ratio. The longer the water exposure, the larger the grinds. If your coffee is over-extracted, you'll end up with bitter coffee. If your coffee is under-extracted, it'll taste sour, acidic, and watered down.
For instance, if you’re making cold brew, it must “steep” for 12-24 hours. Well, that’s an awfully long time. It’s going to take a really coarse grind to let the water extract the flavor and subtle nuances slowly.
On the other hand, if you’re loading up your drip coffee maker (about a 5 minute water exposure), a coffee of the same grind will extract way too quickly, leaving a hot, sour, watery mess of a beverage in your cup.
Conversely, if you load your drip coffee maker filter with fine espresso grinds, it will be over extracted and bitter. We’re looking for that sweet spot in the middle.
Always check the owner’s manual for your specific grinder, but as a general rule, the larger the number, the coarser the grind. Let’s discuss the most common grinds and what they look like.
- Turkish- the finest grind, feels like flour between your fingers.
- Espresso- still really fine, but when you rub it between your fingers, you can still feel a few small grains.
- Moka pot/Aeropress- again, finer grind than what you'd normally run into, but you can feel more pronounced grit between your fingers.
- Cone Filter- Best for Melitta and V60s- you are directly controlling the exposure time. This method is quicker than some others, so the grind should feel a little finer than table salt.
- Drip or Paper Filter- Now for most folks, this will be the sweet spot.
- Chemex/ Metal Filter/ Keurig grind- Flat-bottomed drip coffee makers, like those gold metal mesh deals you can buy anywhere, Chemex coffee makers, and those refillable Keurig cups work best for this grind.
- French Press- With a French press, the grounds are sitting directly in the brew the entire time. The exposure should be between 4-5 minutes, depending on your tastes. It should look a bit like kosher salt.
- Cold Brew- And finally, the extra-coarse grind, ideal for cold brew. You’re looking for large grounds, like breadcrumbs because the exposure time is very lengthy.
Depending on your particular grinder, there may be a billion other options between these, and certainly, use those to fine-tune your grind more specifically to your tastes, but this list should help you have a basic understanding of where to start.
It’s one of the easiest things to control that directly impacts the quality of your coffee drinking experience. If it’s too watery, your grind is too big, make it finer. If it’s too bitter, try adjusting the grind a bit coarser. While it’s ideal to have your own burr grinder at home, we understand that not everyone has one yet. (Although we do sell Baratza grinders too. –wink wink)