Grinding Coffee For Optimal Results: An Easy Reference Guide
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You’re not alone if you prioritize convenience over quality in your morning coffee. Sometimes even grinding coffee feels like a lot to ask first thing in the morning.
We get it. Those extra minutes in between snoozes are precious.
But grinding coffee fresh before brewing is critical to enjoying a better-tasting cup and shouldn’t be skipped. (yes, that means you should stop buying pre-ground coffee, like yesterday)
But how do you know what grind of coffee to use for your favorite brewing style?
The difference in grind size may sometimes appear subtle but trust that even the finest of adjustments will significantly impact your brew.
Here we’ll break down the different coffee grinds for each brewing style in a simple, easy-to-use coffee bean grinding guide. You’ll be grinding coffee like a pro in no time.
So let’s get grinding.
Grinding Coffee vs Pre Ground
Before we get to grinding coffee, let’s address the elephant in the room: pre-ground coffee. What’s so bad about pre-ground coffee? Why grind coffee beans anyway?
For starters, fresh is best for coffee, and, just like other fruits, coffee does expire. When coffee beans are roasted, they release carbon dioxide and oils from within the bean.
The coffee beans begin to oxidize immediately after roasting as the outside of the beans is exposed to air. Once the coffee is ground, more of the bean is exposed to air, thus speeding up the oxidation process (ground coffee becomes stale very quickly).
When you purchase pre-ground coffee, it’s already stale before you even open it (gross). Grinding coffee beans just before brewing ensures maximum freshness and the best possible flavor from the beans.
Buying pre-ground also limits your brewing options. Grinding the beans yourself with a burr grinder allows you to experiment with several different brewing methods, which is way more fun.
So always buy the freshest whole coffee beans and grind them before brewing. Store your beans whole in an airtight container or in the resealable bag that they came in away from sunlight.
How The Grind Of Coffee Affects Taste
Using the optimal grind size has a significant impact on the flavor of your brew. But how does the grind of coffee affect the taste? And why?
If the grind size is off, either too coarse or too fine, this may result in extraction issues. Problem one: under-extraction. Under-extraction occurs when the water moves through the coffee grounds too quickly.
Under-extraction produces sour, acidic, or even salty notes in your brew. Not ideal. If you notice these undesirable flavors in your coffee, it’s time to adjust. Use a slightly finer grind setting when grinding coffee until you achieve the desired result.
Problem two: over-extraction. Over-extraction occurs when the water moves through the coffee too slowly, resulting in bitter, flat, dull notes.
If your coffee lacks any discernible nuance, try grinding the coffee a bit more coarse. If this still doesn’t solve the problem, try using hotter water. The ideal brewing temperature is between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s about 30 seconds off the boil (at 212 degrees), in case your kettle lacks a thermometer.
Now that we know more about coffee extraction, is it better to grind coffee coarse or fine? Well, that depends.
Each brewing method requires a different grind size for optimal results, and personal taste is always a factor in coffee brewing. Most burr grinders allow for micro-adjustments that enable users to dial in the grind setting until it’s right for their needs.
Why A Burr Grinder
Does the type of grinder make a difference? In short, yes.
Grinding coffee with a burr grinder will significantly improve the quality of your brew versus using a blade grinder or buying pre-ground coffee.
This is because burr grinders use pressure to grind the coffee, whereas a blade grinder chops the beans into tiny (and inconsistent) fragments.
Blade grinders do not allow the user any control over the grind size, relying only on visual clues to determine the appropriate grind size. As you’ll see in our coffee bean grinding guide, it can be difficult to discern subtle differences in grind size using sight only.
Burr grinders come in different styles: manual or electric, flat or conical burrs, ceramic or steel burrs, etc. Regardless of which type of burr grinder you choose, grinding coffee in a burr grinder is critical in brewing delicious coffee.
Coffee Bean Grinding Guide
Setting your burr grinder to the appropriate grind size for your brewing method is essential when grinding coffee beans. If you like to switch up your brewing style, like us, it’s best to look for a burr grinder capable of grinding for various methods.
Or you may wish to invest in several burr grinders rather than using a jack of all trades. Whatever you decide is best for your coffee bar, use this handy coffee bean grinding guide to help dial in your grind size for optimal results.
French Press, Percolator, Cupping
Drip, Siphon, Pour Over, AeroPress*
Pour Over, AeroPress*
Espresso, Moka Pot, AeroPress
*Brewing times for AeroPress will vary with grind size
Different Coffee Grinds Explained
Let’s unpack these different coffee grinds a bit.
Extra Coarse Grind: Cold Brew
The coarsest of all grind settings is extra coarse. This grind of coffee will resemble rock salt and is suitable for cold brewing using a cold brewer such as a Toddy Brewer.
Coarse Grind: French Press
A coarse grind will resemble sea salt.
Medium-Coarse Grind: Chemex
If you brew with a Chemex regularly, you are familiar with the precise, somewhere in-the-middle, medium-coarse grind. It’s not quite sea salt, but not regular sand, either.
It’s somewhere in between, like the sand on a Maui beach. Yep, it’s that specific. It’s sand composed of larger particles vs. regular or fine sand.
Medium Grind: Drip Coffee
Medium grind might be the most versatile grind size and can be used for drip coffee brewers, pour over brewers, siphon brewers, and even AeroPress.
Medium grind will resemble regular sand.
Medium-Fine Grind: Pour Over
Medium-fine is the ideal grind size for pour over brewers. It resembles fine sand but is more coarse than an espresso grind. We liken it to the sand in an hourglass.
A medium-fine grind will also work with AeroPress with a shorter brew time than a medium grind.
Fine Grind: Espresso
Fine grind works well for espresso of all sorts. In other words, a fine grind will suit espresso machines, stovetop espresso (Moka Pot), or AeroPress.
A fine grind will resemble table salt if not even a touch finer.
Extra Fine Grind: Turkish Coffee
Last but not least is the rarely used extra fine grind. This grind size suits Turkish coffee (brewed with an Ibrik) and resembles flour.
Grinding coffee to this size requires a competent grinder, as achieving consistency in this setting is challenging.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does the grind of coffee affect the taste?
The grind of coffee will impact the speed at which the water moves through the ground coffee. Grinding coffee more coarsely will result in a shorter brew time (unless you’re cold brewing), whereas grinding coffee to a finer consistency will slow the steeping process down.
This is why finding the optimal grind size for your preferred brewing method is critical. If the extraction occurs too quickly or too slowly, you’ll have a brew that leaves much to be desired.
Under-extraction occurs when the water moves through the coffee too quickly, while over-extraction occurs when the water lingers for too long. Neither of these is ideal. Under-extraction results in a sour flavor, while over-extraction can cause bitter, bland coffee.
Can I use a Vitamix to grind coffee?
Using a Vitamix to grind coffee is not recommended. Grinding coffee in a blender of any kind is never a good idea. The same goes for grinding coffee in a food processor or using a Nutribullet to grind coffee.
None of these handy kitchen gadgets are designed for grinding coffee beans. Coffee beans are hard and can cause damage to the blades in these blenders and processors.
Additionally, these are intended for something other than grinding coffee, so the grind will be far from consistent or usable. Grinding coffee beans in a blender or food processor will chop up the beans, resulting in inconsistent bean fragments.
Save your expensive blenders for smoothies and stick to a burr grinder for grinding coffee.
Is it coffee grounds or grinds?
Technically, it’s both. “Coffee grounds” refers to the actual granules of coffee used to brew and discarded thereafter, while “coffee grinds” refers to the various grind sizes discussed in this article.
So, for example, it is considered incorrect to say “coffee grinds” when referring to the used coffee grounds left behind after your brew.
You would use the term coffee grinds when comparing the sizes of grinds. For example, we refer to fine, medium, and coarse coffee grinds here.