It’s a conundrum for many coffee drinkers.
Creating the best texture for ground coffee beans makes for the best cup of coffee. The problem? It’s easy to miss the mark with coffee grinds, and grounds overly fine or not fine enough can ruin even the fanciest coffee drink.
So how can you make sure your coffee is ground just right, especially even if you’re using your prized espresso machine? We’re here to help.
The Daily Grind
As a connoisseur of coffee who considers a cup of coffee unacceptable unless it is to-write-home-about great, we feel your pain.
If your espresso is less than ideal, you probably blame it on the machine and let it be your excuse to get something brand-spankin’ new. We know — that’s tempting. And you probably shouldn’t stress about the quality of the coffee you’re buying.
Instead, it’s probably your fault. Well, you and your coffee grinder’s fault.
But you’re not alone. Turns out most people usually grind their beans too fine, which can rid beans of much of their flavor and sacrifice consistency. Going coarser with grinds also seems to help coffee shops make ends meet financially, by the way.
But back to you. If you’re using a typical — and yes, inexpensive — blade grinder, your grounds may be too fine to make a fantastic espresso, even on a high-end machine.
Coffee beans easily turn into a fine powder with a blade grinder if you don’t use the right finesse. Unfortunately, that powder is usually why there are gritty coffee bits in your cup.
A blade grinder can also leave large bits, so they under-extract. Thus, water can’t pull out the typical flavor from beans, leaving them unbalanced in taste and aroma.
In addition to the residue, grinding coffee too fine for an espresso machine can lead to an extremely bitter taste, a watery cup, and the espresso coming out frustratingly slow.
Yes, espresso should have a slightly bolder, bitter taste overall compared to other types of coffee. Still, if your grounds are too fine, your tastebuds will tell you so. Your espresso will have an unbearably sharp taste.
The water needs some room to interact with the grounds to produce the best flavor. Too little space, and there is not enough extraction.
Your water may also not be able to flow through the entire bed of coffee grounds. That’s called “channeling,” and feel free to use that fact during your next bar trivia night.
In other words, it creates a cup of espresso that probably won’t hit the spot.
How to Do the Best Grind For Your Espresso Machine
First, don’t stress. There will always be some sort of very fine particles when you grind the coffee, even when using better-than-average grinders. The key is getting the grounds coarse but not too coarse.
That’s easier said than done, of course. One key is finding a great grinder that is also particularly suited to espresso making. When you use a great espresso maker, the intensity and flavor of your cup will be even more pronounced.
You need a grinder that can consistently help produce a fantastic cup. Look for an espresso grinder with features such as precision timing, many different grind settings, and durable burrs responsible for the grinding.
Do some test runs first. Grind some beans, and then rub them between your fingers. It’s too coarse if it feels like salt or tiny rocks. Furthermore, if the area you place your grounds is too muddy, it’s probably too coarse, too.
But you also need to test for fineness. For the best espresso grind, the coffee should clump, but not clump too much, in the center when you pinch it between your fingers.
If it clumps too much, it is too fine for your espresso machine and will lead to over-extraction. It’s also too coarse if it doesn’t clump at all. If you can see your fingerprint in the clump, it’s too fine.
For the best grind, the coffee shouldn’t be densely pressed into your finger but will adhere to it easily and hold.
Other Factors in a Good Grind
How fresh your roasted beans are can impact the grind as well. The freshness and the roast degree dictate how it absorbs water and flows through the grind.
If you have a grinder with different settings, you’ll likely need to adjust it for espresso because of these reasons. For espresso machines, the right coffee pressure, tamp and grind matter.
Apart from relying on a general grinder made for espresso, the actual type of grinder can matter. Burr grinders seem to earn high marks from espresso makers. Compared to blade grinders, burr grinders provide a more consistent grind, acting more like a food processor.
It also helps if you keep your coffee grinder clean. The grinds left behind can get stale and have a big impact on the flavor of subsequent cups.
Distribution, or how the grinds are evenly distributed, may also be an issue for your espresso machine. Try to spread your not-too-fine and not-too-coarse grinds out evenly before tamping the coffee.
This also helps if you have too finely ground the beans you need for espresso. On the other hand, distributing the grounds evenly will break up most of the clumps if your fine grind is too clumpy.
What if I Can’t Master the Espresso Grind?
You’re being too hard on yourself. No grind is perfect, and it’s sometimes challenging to get precisely what you need for your espresso machine. Practice makes (close to) perfect, though.
Give yourself a break and experiment with your grind several times. You’ll get to a good place eventually.
There are some things you can do if your grind is too fine, whether it’s store-bought or ground on your own. For example, try mixing the fine grind with a ground that’s a bit coarse or making a coffee that requires very finely ground beans, such as Turkish coffee.
The grounds that are too fine for your espresso machine may work extremely well for Turkish coffee.
However, other types of coffee and their machines need various types of grinds. For example, French presses and percolators require coarse grounds, while pour-overs work best with the medium-density ground. Drip coffee works best with medium to slightly coarse ground coffee.
If you’re using a specialty brand maker, such as a Keurig, and your own coffee as opposed to cups that are already filled, a medium grind size should be best.
A word of warning, though it may sound like a good solution to regrind coffee grounds that are medium or too coarse for your espresso maker, doing so can clog the grinder; the grounds will not move cleanly through the grinder like beans.
Regrinding coffee also means it loses much of its initial flavor and freshness. A good rule of thumb: grind your coffee for espresso a few minutes before brewing it and within 1 minute of pulling a shot for your espresso.
And if you rather not use the fine grounds in your coffee, fine grounds are great for cooking, especially as a rub for meat when mixed with other spices and seasonings.