If you’re a coffee-lover, you know what good coffee should taste like, but making it at home can be a challenge. When you brew your own, you quickly come to realize just how many different factors play into making the perfect cup.
One of those major factors is the coffee grind size. Grind size is how coarse or fine the coffee beans are prepared. It is crucial because it affects the taste of your brew and how much flavor is extracted from the bean.
You’ll be able to start making fantastic cups of coffee after familiarizing yourself with the significance of the perfect coffee grounds. But let’s first start with what other factors to consider in addition to coffee grinding.
When it comes to taste, extracting just the right amount from the coffee grounds makes all the difference. It is fundamental to getting the right taste from your coffee beans. It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee bean or machine you are using if the extraction is off. Many variables contribute to the perfect extraction. This includes coffee grind size and water pressure.
Extraction is the process of water passing through coffee beans, picking up flavors along the way. It always extracts different flavor compounds in the following order: fats and acids, then sugars, then plant fibers. In terms of flavor, it goes from salty/sour/oily to sweet/syrupy, then finally bitter/thin.
When coffee is under-extracted, it tastes sour and acidic. When it is over-extracted, it tastes bitter and hollow. You want to be just in the middle where there is enough complexity, and the sugars and acids are balanced.
The goal is to extract just the right amount from the grind. Depending on the type of coffee you want to brew, that can mean changing the coarseness of the grounds. Also, you can also brew it for a longer or shorter time. And decrease or increase the water temperature.
The type of coffee grind affects the amount of pressure needed for water to push through the grounds for the extraction of flavor. If you use an espresso machine, the pressure is much higher and requires a finer grind so water can pass through it quickly.
On the other hand, a French Press uses much less and needs coarser grounds for a longer extraction time.
Other brewing methods like a siphon coffee or French Press require almost no external water pressure but boil the grounds directly in water for some time.
When the grounds are too coarse, the water will rush through it and miss the essential flavors. When the grind is too fine, it will pick up flavors that you don’t want and make your coffee taste incredibly bitter.
Depending on your brewing method, the grind size must match the amount of water pressure used in order to avoid over extracting or under extracting.
Strength of the Beverage
Another thing to keep in mind when brewing coffee is how strong you want your beverage to taste. By strength, we don’t mean how much caffeine it contains, but how many dissolved compounds are in the drink.
It is mainly dependent on the ratio of ground coffee to hot water. Drinks that are higher in concentration require less water to brew and can taste richer or more bitter.
Drip and other filtered coffees are roughly made up of 1-2% of dissolved coffee compounds, while the other 98-99% is water. Espressos are much higher in concentration, with 7-12% dissolved compounds and 88-93% water.
The stronger your coffee is, the harder it will be to taste the individual flavors or notes. The inherent flavors are unique to where the bean is grown, how it is processed and roasted, and how it’s brewed. If you want a more flavorful cup, your drink can’t be too strong, or it will overpower much of the flavors.
Extraction and strength go together in brewing. When you use less water to increase the strength of your coffee, it becomes more difficult for the water to extract all of the desired flavors. This may lead to under-extraction. If you use too much water, the coffee will be watery and thin, while too much water makes it taste overpowering.
That is why it is recommended you find a ratio that creates the right coffee strength for you before improving your extraction process.
Types of Grinds
Now that you know how extraction and water pressure affect the taste, it is vital to become familiar with the different types of grind sizes with this coffee grind guide. Each grind size works best with a particular brewing method, and both the size and method are crucial in crafting the perfect cup of joe. Let’s take a look at the 7 major different coffee grinds.
When you are looking for an extra coarse grind, the beans must be lightly ground so that there are large particles left that are about the size of peppercorns.
With coarse grounds, hot water binds the outside of the grinds and gradually seeps into the inside. It extracts the grounds slowly, making it perfect for cold brews and cowboy coffees.
Extra coarse grinds can stay submerged in water for a longer time and are less temperamental. This makes it an ideal type to bring while camping or traveling.
Coarsely ground coffee beans should have the same consistency as sea salt: it is a smaller grind, but still remains grainy. This grind size is ideal for brewing coffee in a French Press and takes about four minutes for the perfect extraction.
Slightly less coarse than coarsely ground coffee, a medium-coarse grind looks more like sand than sea salt. It is mainly used for Chemex coffee or clever drippers.
For these types of coffee grinds, you put a filter into the clever dripper with the grinds, pour hot water over it, and then let it sit for about 2-3 minutes for the perfect extraction. Afterward, you set the clever dripper onto the mug, where the dripper will filter the liquid into it.
Medium grounds are used to make most general American drip coffees that you can find mass-produced in diners, offices, and the like. It is easy to brew because you can simply measure the grounds into the coffee filter or basket, turn the machine on, and let the water drip through it. This type is still coarser than fine grinds but has a less chunky consistency.
Medium-fine grounds are used mainly for pour overs and siphon coffees. It is also a great grind to experiment with different brewing methods.
Pour overs and siphon coffees are more involved processes that are currently on-trend in upscale coffee shops. These two types of brewing methods require more mastery and are quite fun to watch.
Finely ground coffee is perfect for brewing espressos. With finer grind sizes, hot water binds the outside of the grains similarly to coarse ground coffee. But it extracts flavor much quicker because the particles are much smaller.
Each espresso machine is different and may require tweaking the ground type for the perfect extraction. But a finer grind size is usually an excellent way to start. This type is also used for brewing coffee in Moka pots, which boils water underneath the coffee grounds on the stove.
Extra fine coffee grinds or grounds are like a powder, and they are explicitly used for Turkish coffee. To make this age-old Middle Eastern drink, you need to use a copper ibrik. You need to add a small amount of grounds to water and some sugar for taste. And heat it all together on the stove until it boils.
This method uses almost no external water pressure but quickly extracts flavor. You can then pour into a small cup and sip, avoiding the muddy grounds at the bottom.
Here is a useful picture on coffee grind sizes for different coffee brewing methods as a guide.
Things to Remember About Grind Size
Grind size matters when you want to brew the perfect cup of coffee. It is an important variable alongside water temperature and pressure and determines what kind of brewing method you use. When brewing at home, here are some essential things to remember:
Grind size and extraction time go hand-in-hand.
The finer the grind, the less time it needs for extraction. Drinks that use extra coarse grinds like cold brew take about 12 hours to produce. Espresso shots need only 20-30 seconds to extract the right amount of flavor.
If you want a more robust cup, find the right ratio.
The ratio between water and grounds can vary depending on how strong you like your coffee to taste. This affects the extraction process. For the most part, finer grinds produce stronger cups of coffee. Turkish coffee is generally much more potent than drip coffee. It is usually served in smaller cups so you don’t get an overload of strong flavor and caffeine.
If you use a fine grind in a French Press or drip coffee machine, you will over-extract the flavor and feel yourself buzzing. The same goes for using coarse coffee for an espresso machine or Moka pot—you’ll just be drinking acidic water and not feeling energized. Make sure you use the precise grind size and find the perfect ratio to achieve the stronger or weaker taste that you prefer.
Consider all of the variables
Ratio, extraction time, water pressure, and grind size are just a few of the main factors to look at when brewing at home. How coarse and fine your grinds are should match the brewing method that you use first before considering the other variables.
What Kind of Grinder Should I Use?
Now that we know the logistics of coffee grind sizes, it’s time to talk about cost and equipment. You can easily buy bags of pre-ground coffee at the grocery store or a coffee shop. But it will be challenging to manipulate the flavors and extraction process if you do not grind the beans yourself.
There are plenty of different devices out there for grinding, from manual hand grinders to expensive machines. Depending on your brewing method, you may not need to spend much on a fancy new grinder.
Blades or Burrs?
Coffee beans are grind in two different ways: with blades or burrs. Blades, sometimes called a propeller grinder, effectively slice up the beans. They are usually in cheaper grinders because they have less precision and produce less uniform grinds.
On the other hand, a burr grinder uses two oscillating, serrated plates called burrs. These plates crush and grind the beans instead of cutting them. Burr grinders are much more consistent than blades, and you can adjust the distance between the burrs to get a uniform grind size.
Having a consistent grind allows you to achieve an even extraction.
Drip coffee is one of the easiest to brew and doesn’t require a finer grind, so spending around $30-50 is reasonable for an excellent grinder. If you spend around $100, you can get a grinder that produces a more consistent grind, which is necessary if you’re using a French Press.
However, espressos and other drinks that require finer grinds need machines that can produce consistently fine grinds. This may lead you to spend between $100-$200 on a grinder.
It may seem like a hefty monetary investment, but grinding your beans at home with the right grinder allows you to alter the texture according to your brewing method and preference. Consistency is crucial when it comes to a good grinder, and you want to make sure it can grind a variety of sizes well.
Trial and error is inevitable as you experiment with various brewing methods and grind sizes. Don’t be intimidated to adjust the size of the grounds and fiddle around with the extraction process to find the perfect balance. While there are many ways to craft coffee, find the method and taste that you prefer and enjoy the process of brewing right at home.