A Guide to the Basics of Coffee Grinds

The Perfect Coffee Grind Isn’t Just Limited To Coffee Shops

 When you think back to the best cups of coffee you have had, it’s probably come from a coffee shop or one of your hipster barista friends doing a fancy pour over.  But how exactly did they make it so good?

There are some major factors like the roast or the extraction method, but one of the most important steps to making a tasty cup is how you grind your coffee beans.  In fact, it is hard to underscore how much the grind size affects the taste of your coffee.  

But fear not!  Once you know more about coffee grind and how to use it to its best potential, you can produce delicious and invigorating cups of coffee in your home by grinding your own coffee beans.

With that in mind, let’s look at how you can refine and perfect your coffee grind. We’ll start by looking at what coffee grinding is and why it’s so important to master. 

What Is Coffee Grinding?

What Is Coffee Grinding?

Okay so what is it?  Without being too on the nose, coffee grinding is the art and science of grinding coffee beans into grounds.  The purpose is to break down the bean to increase surface area to extract flavors of the coffee bean during the brew.

An important note, coffee beans should be ground right before brewing.  Coffee beans are naturally very porous so pre-grinding them and then letting them sit for a long time causes two things to happen:

First, coffee beans take in the flavors of what is in the air, typically things you probably do not want in your cup.  And second, the coffee beans will gradually emit its own natural aromatics, causing flavors to escape into the air instead of into your cup.  Grinding the beans accelerates both these processes, which we don’t want (this is also why it’s vital to store beans properly). 

So as much as possible, only grind coffee beans right before brewing.

Grind Size and Surface Area

Now the size of the coffee granule is very, very important.  The grind size dictates the overall amount of surface area.  And surface area determines how much and how long the water makes contact with the solid solubles in the coffee.  This affects the taste of your coffee because different flavors are released at different points of the extraction process.

Bright (or acidic) flavors are the first to be extracted, followed by sweet and fruity flavors, and then earthy and bitter flavors towards the end of the brewing process. The flavor profile of your coffee will be dictated by the varying proportions of these three releases. You want the water to make contact with the coffee granules for the right amount of time to hit that sweet spot.

So how big or small should they be?  Well that depends on your extraction method. For example, espresso shots will need a much finer grind size compared to those needed for pour over coffee.

Espresso has a quick extraction time (around 30 seconds) so the grind size needs to be finer to have the coffee dissolve into the water more quickly.  Pour overs, on the other hand, have longer extraction (anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes) and use more coarse grounds to slow the release of flavors. 

If it hasn’t been extracted enough, the coffee will be sour or even salty; on the other hand, if it’s been extracted for too long, this can cause it to taste too bitter or thinned out.

Let’s look at under extraction and over extraction in more detail. 

Under extraction

When coffee is under extracted, the water has not had sufficient contact with the coffee grinds to draw out the different coffee compounds.  The flavor profile of the cup will skew towards sourness, saltiness, and a quick superficial finish.  There will likely be little to no sweetness.  

If you’re using glass mugs or brewers, you may even notice in the light that the color of your brew is more transparent and bright red, as opposed to the deep red that is typically found in a properly extracted cup.

Low water temperature or improper filters can cause under extraction, but most commonly, the coffee grounds may be too coarse and water is passing through the coffee granules too quickly.

Over extraction

On the other hand, the water can have too much exposure during the extraction process and draw out unwanted compounds from the coffee grinds.  All of the good acids, fats, and sugars have made it into your cup, but unfortunately so have the broken down fibers that create a bitter and hollowed out flavor.  

It’s the kind of cup that give an overwhelming, yet blunt bitterness and is hard to put down.  We’ve all had that cup.

The grind size here is likely too fine for the extraction method.

Pressure

Understanding Surface Area And Pressure

Pressure is also a factor that affects the amount of extraction that occurs for your coffee.  We’ll dive into pressure in another article, but the basic premise is the more pressure there is, the more that will be extracted.

As it relates to grind size though, pressure matters primarily when pulling an espresso shot.  Espresso shots are characterized by very fine coffee granules and a small amount of high-pressure water.

But, this high pressure needs to be controlled otherwise the coffee will not be extracted properly. An espresso puck as well as controlling how long the coffee is extracted are both important when it comes to these machines.

The granules need to be fine to create resistance to the high-pressure water, but the coffee must be tamped into a portafilter – this is what creates a puck, and it produces a dense, even surface that creates resistance to the pressurized water. 

The Best Coffee Grind Size For Different Coffees

So we’ve chatted through the theory behind grind size, but what about the actual grind size you should use?   We’ve already mentioned that a fine or extra-fine granule size is ideal for brewing espresso, but where’s a rundown of the different coffee grind sizes and popular coffee brewing methods that work well with them so that you never have to wonder what grind size to use again!

We’re going to go through the brew methods from the largest coffee grind size to finest.

Cold brew coffee

For that smooth, tasty cold brew coffee, the coffee grind size is going to be extra course.

These coffee grounds are quite big. We need to have them larger because the coffee grinds will be immersed in water for 12-24 hours, so having them finer will put us at risk to over extracting.  The water temperature is typically around 35°F (2°C) as it sits in the refrigerator.

This grind size slows the extraction period so that the coffee compounds gradually dissolve.  The slow seep of coffee solubles produce the smooth finish and rounded aroma typically associated with cold brew.

French press and percolator coffee

For these brew types, we want to use a coarse granule size. Like cold brew, these brew methods have the coffee grounds in full immersion for the duration of the brew extraction. We’re looking for a sea salt like consistency for coarse coffee grinds. 

The high water temperature also makes the extraction faster compared to cold brew, so the grind size does not need to be as coarse.  Instead of upwards of 24 hours, the brew time is around 4 minutes.

Because there is not a paper filter used in these methods, some coffee silt (all grinding no matter how coarse produces some silt) will make it into your cup.  This is not a bad thing and helps to produce that rounded, whole mouth feel.  The coarse grinds help to reduce an excess of this silt though.

Chemex, V60, and Moka Pot

Medium-coarse coffee is recommended when doing a pour over in a Chemex or V60.

We don’t want water to flow through the coffee granules too quickly, so we want a balanced medium coarsarity.  Medium-coarse coffee granules will be less chunky, as well as a bit smoother, than coarse granules. They look a bit larger than sand granules

Depending on how much coffee we’re brewing, the extraction time when using a Chemex or V60 varies from around 4-7 minutes.  That’s typically where we’ve seen a good balanced cup.

Medium grind size is one of the most versatile because it can be used for many different types of coffee brews, such as drip coffee and when you use a grind-and-brew coffee machine.

While you might think you need a fine grind when using a Moka Pot, you actually need a medium grind. This prevents the granules from getting stuck in the filter.  

AeroPress and Espresso 

As we’ve mentioned earlier, we need a fine coffee grind for these types of coffee brewing methods. They have quick brew times and need more surface area for more exposure to water to extract the flavor and aroma from the grinds. 

Fine coffee grounds are more smooth in texture. They have more of a soil consistency.

Since espressos push the water through the coffee machine at a fast rate, you want to make use of grounds that are finer so that they will quickly dissolve in the water and extract all the delicious flavor from the coffee.

Turkish coffee

This coffee makes use of an extra-fine granule size.

The coffee should be like a powder, in order to produce a full-bodied cup of Turkish coffee. Extra-fine coffee is so popular with Turkish coffee that it’s sometimes referred to as Turkish grind. 

How To Grind Coffee At Home

How To Grind Coffee At Home

Even though there is a lot of aspects that we discussed about the grind size, the actual process of grinding your coffee at home is actually really easy.  You guys already know more than most about the importance of grind size and now you can say goodbye to those pre-ground beans from the supermarket and hello to your own freshly ground beans!

With all this talk of the granularity, you’re going to need a coffee grinder to help. It’s wonderful to think that we have a variety of coffee grinder machines at our disposal, whether manual or electric. 

So let’s talk grinders.

Manual Coffee Grinders

Manual coffee grinders are great.  They don’t require any electricity, they’re portable, and generally pretty simple to use.  You load the beans into the canister and make use of a handle that you’ll turn in order to grind up the coffee granules.

But… you do have to grind a bit (yes cringey pun intended).  Sure there’s some satisfaction in feel the crunch of the beans as you turn the handle, but they do take some work. If you prefer the convenience of pressing a button, you’ll probably want to make use of an electric coffee grinder.

Electric Coffee Grinder

We love electric coffee grinders.  They’re fast and convenient.  Electric grinders of course do require well electricity and are noisy.  There’s really no way around that, but overall still we love their speed and results.

If you own a burr grinder machine, you’ll need to set the grinder to the grind size you want. On the other hand, if you have a blade grinder, you’ll need to press the top of, or push a button on, the machine so that the blades will grind the coffee.

With a blade grinder, you’ll have to stop and shake the grinder a few times during the process to enable all the coffee beans to be ground correctly so that they’re the same size. 

Blade Vs. Burr Grinders

Coffee grinders are usually either blade or burr grinders, but what’s the difference between them, and which one is better? Here’s what you need to know.

Blade Grinders

These coffee grinders make use of blades to chop and cut the coffee beans before they are brewed. The problem with blade grinders is that they can be messy and they don’t always produce an even result, as the coffee grounds can be of different sizes and shapes. 

Another problem with blade coffee grinders is that they produce heat because of how fast the blades spin, and this can result in changes being made to your coffee, such as that it will lose some of its fresh taste.

You also can’t choose the size of the coffee grounds or how fine or coarse you want them to be.

However, these grinders are usually less expensive than burr grinders if you want to invest in a coffee-grinding machine to use at home. In addition to this, people who purchase blade grinders might appreciate that it’s really easy and convenient to use them.

*To be honest with y’all, we do not recommend blade grinders. The inconsistency of the coffee grounds makes it very hard to produce consistent results and taste. Go with a burr grinder.

Burr Grinders

Burr grinders, on the other hand, are renowned for being top-notch grinders. And for good reason.  There are two types: conical burr and flat burr.

These grinders make use of two burr pieces, either made of stainless steel or ceramic, that grind up the coffee beans so that they’re more uniformly ground and consistent in granule size.  Uniformity in your grind size is foundational to delivering consistent results from your brewing.

You have more control when using a burr grinder because you can adjust the space between the burrs that chop up the coffee grounds, so you can make them finer or coarser depending on what you want.

One of the biggest drawbacks of burr grinders is that they are a bit more expensive than blade grinders, so if you don’t grind your coffee beans on a regular basis you might feel that a burr grinder costs too much to purchase.

Why do coffee granules need to be the same size?

You want your coffee grinds to be the same size when you grind them because this makes a difference to the taste they produce.

When coffee dissolves in water, it dissolves in a certain order: first the extraction causes it to have a sour taste, then it becomes sweet, and finally it becomes bitter, as we mentioned earlier.

If your coffee granules are not the same size, this means that they’ll be extracted by the water at different stages.

The result is that you’ll under extract flavor from the larger particles of coffee, but the smaller particles will be over extracted, so they will be too full of flavor – which will cause them to become bitter.

Now, when you blend all of these particles together in the same cup of coffee, you’ll have an unbalanced, and unpleasant, taste.  

No Machine Required: Alternative Ways To Grind Your Coffee

We highly recommend a burr grinder, but know that one is not always available.  So what should you do if you don’t have a coffee grinder? I mean, you need your cup of coffee no matter what right? *wink

You can make use of other appliances, such as your blender.

Pop your coffee beans you want to grind into your blender, you’ll choose the pulse setting on the blender so that you can achieve the size and grind you want. 

Note that a blender likely will not be able to make your coffee very fine, so you should only use it for coffee grounds that need to be coarse for the type of brew you are using. 

If you’re up for a bit of a workout, you could also try using a mortar and pestle to grind your coffee beans, although this will be time-consuming and take a lot of energy, especially if you want to grind up lots of beans.

If you’re keen to get into the habit of grinding your coffee beans on a regular basis, it’s definitely worth investing in a manual or electric coffee grinder. 

Brief History Of Grinding Coffee

Brief History Of Grinding Coffee

You might wonder how and when coffee grinding started to become a common practice. It actually dates all the way back to 1806, when the world’s first coffee grinder was invented by a man in England called Nicholas Book.

How his grinder worked was that it was essentially a crank mill that would grind his coffee so that it had a fine, powder-like consistency.

But, this wasn’t the first time that coffee was ground. In the 15th century, coffee was ground with the use of spice grinders, but before that people used to grind their coffee with the use of stones.

Towards the end of the 1800s, the world’s first electric coffee grinder was produced. It was invented by Hobart Electric Manufacturing Company of Troy, based in Ohio. The initial product was changed and improved many times over the next decade or so.

In the same century, around 1840, Turkey was shipping coffee mills to France so they could be used but their supply was limited.

This caused Peugeot (yes, the car manufacturing company!) to produce a coffee mill. It had a wooden base and a small drawer where ground coffee could be kept.

By 1855, the company was producing cast-iron coffee mills that could ensure that more quantities of coffee could be ground up simultaneously – and these mills could also be used to grind sugar or grain, which made them highly versatile.

In 1920, the company produced a wall-mounted coffee mill and newer models hit the market a few years later in the 1930s. It also tried its hand at producing an electric coffee mill but it had design flaws that prevented its production and popularity. 

The wall-mounted coffee grinder was popular for a long time, all the way from the late 1800s to the 1970s!

It came in a variety of styles, such as cast iron, wood, and glass. These days, you can still find these vintage coffee grinders for sale and many of them are truly works of art. 

Should You Roast Coffee At Home?

Should You Roast Coffee At Home?

You’ve been grinding your coffee, but should you roast it, too?

There are many good reasons why you should take coffee roasting into your own hands.

  • You will have more control over the entire process, so you can choose the coffee roasting level that you like.

  • You can enjoy making use of the creativity of the process, bearing in mind that when coffee beans are roasted they produce different flavors and aromas.

  • You can roast your coffee beans shortly before brewing coffee, which means that your cups of coffee will better lock in all the delicious flavor. This is better than purchasing a bag of beans from a shop when you don’t know when they were actually roasted.

If you’re serious about learning how to roast your own coffee beans, you can do so with appliances at home, such as an oven or stove. We cover the topic in greater detail in our article, “The Ultimate Guide To Roasting Coffee”.  

Where To Find The Best Coffee Beans 

Where To Find The Best Coffee Beans

A lot of great third wave coffee brands are appearing and gaining public awareness, especially in the coffee community. There are the big ones making a national presence like Stumptown from Portland and Blue Bottle Coffee from San Francisco.

These are all solid choices, but a really good way to find beans is your local coffee roaster. It is worth the time and effort to search for local roasters in your area. A lot of roasters are passionate and have a lot of pride in their work, so they really can be a good hidden treasure. Support your local coffee roasters!

It’s a really smart idea to find out if you can sample the coffee beans they offer so that you don’t waste your money on coffee beans you don’t like. 

If you don’t have access to a roaster or you want to try your hand at purchasing beans online, here are the some picks from our readers.

Koa Coffee – Hawaiian Kona Coffee Beans

These Arabica beans are perfect for immersion coffees, such as the French press.

The coffee is single origin, and it’s medium roast. The benefit of single-origin is that it ensures high quality instead of being a blend of different, often untraceable, coffees. The coffee is also hand-picked and expertly roasted before it reaches your home.

This is coffee that’s perfect for you if you want a sweet beverage that has herb, floral, and nutty flavor notes.

The company has received numerous awards over the years for their excellent coffee, including making Forbes’s 50 Of America’s Best Coffees list.

Organic Coffee By Lifeboost Coffee

The medium roast selection by Lifeboost is right up there with the best of them. It contains single-origin, Arabica beans that have been harvested and produced organically. So what can you expect?

This coffee is a full-bodied coffee with notes of caramel and earthiness.

Lifeboost is committed to producing coffee that’s free of chemicals, which makes it healthier for you to consume and healthier for the farmers who are exposed to it.

Volcanica Coffee AA Kenyan Coffee Beans

Volcanica Coffee is a popular coffee brand. Their Kenyan beans are Arabica, single origin, and have been lightly roasted to preserve their unique flavors and aromas.

The coffee you can make with these beans will be light, sweet, and fruity. It’s perfect for making coffee with the pour-over method as that will help the coffee to be extracted beautifully.

Light roasts benefit from slower brewing methods because they are not as porous as darker roasts and the beans need a longer time to have their flavors and aromas extracted.

Death Wish Coffee Beans

Now, if you’ve ever purchased Death Wish coffee that’s packed with caffeine, you probably thought that was all the brand had to offer. But you’re mistaken. They also have delicious coffee beans that are a blend of Arabica and Robusta coffee.

These are dark roasted so they produce a strong and bold flavor. If you love grinding your own coffee beans for use in coffee brewing methods such as espresso or French press, this is a wonderful product to purchase.

The beans are also fair trade, certified organic, and have a whopping caffeine content so they’re sure to wake you up and keep you going all day long. Making coffee with these beans will give you twice the amount of caffeine that you’d achieve by drinking a regular cup.

Pay Attention To Roast Dates!

When purchasing coffee beans to grind at home, it’s of the utmost importance to ensure that you know when the coffee beans were roasted. This is because, obviously, the fresher coffee you have at your disposal the better.

The ideal amount of days in which to use your beans after they’ve been roasted is between 8 and 20 days, not longer, as Home Grounds reports. This ensures that they’ll be fresh and produce a tastier cup of coffee!

It’s also important to ensure that you brew coffee soon after grinding whole beans so that you can make the most of their flavor, so don’t grind your beans in large quantities that you won’t be consuming within a short amount of time.

How To Choose High-Quality Coffee Beans

How To Choose High-Quality Coffee Beans

When purchasing roasted coffee beans, you should always check that they’re of a high quality. Look out for the following:

  • The beans are made and sold by a reputable company.
  • They’re freshly roasted and the company can let you know the date when they were roasted.
  • They look the same – for example, the beans are the same size and have been evenly roasted.
  • They don’t have defects. These include cracks, chips, or coffee rust. You can spot coffee rust, which is a fungus that affects coffee plants, by bean defects such as a silvery skin on the beans, beans that are a smaller size, and beans that have a withered surface – all of these point to how the coffee plant could have suffered rust disease and this caused it not to grow properly.
  • They’re kind to the environment. They should be certified organic if you want to avoid chemicals, and fair trade. This ensures fair wages for farmers.

Related Questions

Where can you purchase green coffee beans?

If you want to roast your own beans, you can purchase quality green coffee beans from places such as Sweet Maria’s and Heirloom Coffees.

How often should you grind your coffee beans?

Grind as often as you want to drink a cup of coffee!  The best time to grind is right before you brew as we mentioned earlier to maintain the integrity of the flavor profile.

How much coffee do you need to grind for one cup?

One cup needs 15 grams (0.53 oz) of coffee, though it can range anywhere from 12 to 20 grams (0.42 to 0.71 oz).  You will need to alter your grind size slightly based on the amount.

Conclusion and Takeaways

Now you know the fundamentals of coffee grinding! It was a lot of information, but you’re better equipped to refine your technique and getting coffee grinding to be second nature.  Even if you don’t intend on grinding your own coffee at home, you now have a greater appreciation for the coffee grinding process and how it makes all the difference in the type of coffee that is brewed and enjoyed.

Some main lessons to take away from the article:

  • Grind your beans right before you brew
  • Change your grind size according to the brew method
  • Go with a burr grinder for more consistent grounds

We shared with you and now we want you to share with us! Tell us about your questions and perspectives. We are teachers and students here, so we want to continue growing and learning. That’s the great thing about coffee; there’s always something to learn. Hit us up on our contact page or leave a comment!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *