Grinding your coffee 101: How to grind coffee and getting the right grind size for your brew
So, you’ve got yourself your beautiful espresso machine, french press, aeropress or other favourite brewing method. You haven’t seen the inside of a coffee shop or had your usual go to coffee drink from a barista in months, so you’re thinking you should get cracking with getting the best out of your fresh beans. Here’s a straightforward way to turn your whole beans into fantastic ground coffee, ensuring the freshest taste for your favourite beverage: getting your grind size right.
But you just tell your bean to cup coffee machine or stand alone coffee grinder to do it’s thing, right? Isn’t coffee just coffee? If you’re looking for the absolute best brew, our answer is ‘not quite’! Here’s why. Getting the best out of your coffee beans relies on extraction, the process where your ground beans get immersed in hot water. This process is responsible for releasing the aromas and flavours we all know and love, and the level to which the beans are extracted directly affects the strength of your flavour. We’re looking to not over extract, or under extract, for the perfect taste, and this relies on the right grind size. Still with us? Read on to learn about how to get a grind that isn’t too course or fine, and why it’s important, to get you that extraction satisfaction (pun intended).
Essentially, the bigger the surface area exposed in the brewing process, the more flavour can then be released during extraction. In theory, a finer grind will produce a more flavourful coffee. But don’t go setting your burr grinder or blade grinder (more on that later) to fine without a second thought. As with all things worth having, it takes a little more know how to get it right. Firstly, we don’t want our grounds too coarse. Doing this will give limited surface area and mean that the grounds have less chance to release those lovely aromas and oils. You’ll get a weaker, thinner bodied cup with less flavour as the oils haven’t had a chance to release. However, make your ground setting too fine and the flavour will be too thick and intense, and give you once of those less than desirable nostril flaring beverages! Think extra coarse equals dishwater, and extra fine equals coffee soup. Not quite what we’re after.
But how on earth do you find a balance? It all depends largely on the type of brewing mechanism you’re using. For espresso machines, you’re looking for a grind on the finer side. This is due to the very short brewing time and short length of the beverage. The grounds aren’t given very long at all to extract, so we’re wanting to get the maximum extraction happening quickly, hence a fine grind. In contrast, if you’re making something like a cold brew, or americano, with a french press or aeropress, you’re looking at a grind on the courser side as the extraction times are a lot longer. As we said earlier, we want to go as fine as is possible without excess, so for these beverages we’d recommend a medium grind.
Now you know what to work towards in your grind size, now to think about the way you might grind your beans in the first place! If you have a bells and whistles bean to cup machine, this is already waiting for you. Relying on your trusty aeropress or french press instead? You’ll need to purchase yourself a stand alone grinder.
There are two common grinder types: burr and blade. Blade grinders are usually more inexpensive, and act like a blender using rotating (usually hand operated) blades in order to mechanically grind down the beans to your desired consistency. Some might say they aren’t technically grinding beans at all, but very finely chopping them, which is why we don’t really recommend them as this doesn’t open the bean up for true extraction, or give options to adjust grind setting. A burr grinder in comparison is an electronic piece of kit, utilising two burrs to speedily grind the pieces to a more exact consistency.
As you can imagine, a burr grinder is more expensive, but in reality is the only one of the two which actually does what it says on the tin. With this in mind, you might like to start with a blade grinder if you want to experience grinding your own coffee, however, burr grinders are the real deal and will give you accurate and adjustable grind settings.
The ‘last bit’
So, there you go! A detailed run-down of how to make sure your coffee is ground to reach its peak flavour. You’re now ready to grind your coffee to the perfect consistency for your favourite at-home beverages. Not only that, but next time you’re (rules allowing) getting your coffee beans ground for you in a shop, you can confidently say how coarse or fine you want your beans dependant on what your preferred drink is! Happy sipping!