The types of coffee grind and the coffee grind size are the main things you should be thinking about when comparing them for your latest brewing experiment. There are other factors too like the water quality, the coffee temperature, and of course the flavor of the beans.
However, we’re going to assume that these things are constant so we can talk about one often overlooked aspect of making a balanced cup of coffee: the coffee grind size.
Coffee Grinds Size and Brewing
Use this article to figure out how coffee grind size will affect your brew and what you should do to get the results you want.
The Relationship Between Coffee Grind Size and Extraction
Extraction is how coffee is made: it refers to when the water passes through the grinds and picks up their flavors, extracting them out of the beans and into the water.
There are a few metrics that are worth studying when it comes to extraction. By doing so, you can manipulate your coffeemaking to get the flavors you want.
The first standard of measure is the pressure of the water. If the water is under more pressure, it affects the time the water has in the grinds to extract flavor before passing into the filter. French Presses use way less pressure than Espresso Machines, for instance, which changes the taste.
Coffee grind size is the other main extraction metric we want to talk about. Whether grinds are finer or coarser will affect the speed of the water as well, which like the pressure will change the time the water has to extract flavor from the beans.
Finer isn’t necessarily better, however. You’re aiming for a balance. Even though grinds that are too coarse can have less flavor, grinds that are too fine can acquire flavors you don’t want. Both pressure and grind size are important to consider when trying to extract the best cup of coffee you can.
What are the Types Of Coffee Grind?
Now that you understand the two main extraction metrics, we can delve into the different grind types so you can figure out your individualized extraction strategy.
Coarse grounds are perfect for French Presses, which brew coffee in about 4 minutes. The consistency is like sea salt: visibly chunky but smaller than extra coarse. If you’re wondering what coffee grind to use for French Press, this is it.
Drippers or Chemex coffees use medium-coarse grounds, which brew for about 2 minutes and have the consistency of sand.
Drip coffee machines ideally use medium grounds to produce an average cup of coffee. They’re the least precise to grind and produce the generic results most of us are very familiar with.
Pour-overs and siphon coffees use medium-fine grounds, though these grounds are useful for experimentation because their coarseness can be used in most blends.
Fine grounds are perfect espresso grind size, even if you plan on experimenting with your blend. This is the standard espresso grind setting.
Superfine grounds are so fine that only Turkish coffee uses them.
How Grinds Affect the Finished Coffee
Now that you know all 7 of the main types of coffee grounds by size, it’s important to understand the basic rules of how size affects the finished coffee.
Coarseness Vs Extraction Time
Extraction, the process by which water acquires the flavors of the grounds, takes longer when the grinds are coarser. This is why espresso machines, whose grounds are fine, can produce a great cup of espresso in less than a minute while a cold brew can take a whole day.
Remember this relationship when you start experimenting. A machine can’t compensate for coarseness by brewing the coffee faster: if you use coarser grounds, you need to set a longer time.
Fineness Vs Strength
Fine grounds usually produce stronger cups of coffee, though it’s also dependent on the beans used, the water temperature, and the brewing method. French Pressing fine grounds, for instance, will result in a dense and extremely strong cup of coffee.
Consider all the variables before experimenting.
How to Make the Best Espresso
Now that we’ve gone over the types of grounds and some basic rules, we want to give you a guide on how to make the best espresso, or how to experiment to find the one that’s best for you.
These trial methods can be used to make any of your favorite types of coffee brews, but since espressos are so quick to finish, they’re the easiest to experiment with. Let’s face it: they’re also a lot of people’s coffee of choice.
After all this talk about grounds, you may see this coming: a small, high-quality coffee grinder is the most important piece of equipment to own to make quality espresso. If you shell out big bucks for a premium espresso machine but chinse on the grinder, you’ll end up with low-quality coffee.
So what makes a grinder “high-quality?”
The main factor in high-quality grounds is consistency. If the grounds are uneven, the extraction can happen too fast and ruin the espresso. The result is what’s called “channeling,” which means that streams of water form in the grounds during the brewing process because of the uneven grind.
This happens because the high-pressure water used in espresso brewing natural funnels to less-resistant pathways, meaning that some grounds will attract all the water while others get left out.
Due to these factors, a premium grinder may be a better investment even than a premium espresso machine, if you had to choose one. An even grind is the core of great espresso and you can’t achieve this with a blade grinder, which leaves powdery grinds at the bottom of espresso and uneven chunks that cause channeling.
So you know that you need a good grinder to make good espresso. Now you may be wondering: what kind of grind do I need?
How to Grind for Espresso
As already discussed, espresso grinds need to be fine and they also need to be consistent. A pinch test will help you see if you’ve got the right consistency.
If you pinch the grounds between your fingers, ideal espresso grounds clump together in the middle of your fingertip, but not too much: there should still be some powdery grounds on the sides. If it completely clumps in one solid blob, the grounds are too fine.
This will result in an over-extracted espresso that contains weird flavors. If it doesn’t clump, then the grounds are too coarse, and the espresso will be weak.
Other factors influence how the pinch test comes out, including the freshness of the beans, the degree of the roast, and so on. However, the pinch test can be a good general way to get your grinding method down for ideal espresso coarseness.
Just remember that if your beans are older or pre-roasted, the grinding time will change. The more things you can keep the same between tests, the most consistent you’ll be.
You also want a grinder that can make subtle adjustments because there’s no gold standard for the perfect grind: if there was, we would tell you.
If your espresso machine runs hot or at higher pressure, or the beans are different, or the water is a different quality, this changes the ideal coarseness of the grounds.
All these elements work together to make the perfect shot of espresso. If you can keep as many of them as possible the same, you can adjust the coarseness at will to test for your perfect coffee grind size.
The Importance Of Cleaning
This is something that you, the homebound coffeemaker, do not have in common with a busy coffee shop. When you grind coffee, especially if the grinder is large, grounds stay in the machine on the sides and in the mechanism.
If you’re a busy shop and you’re constantly grinding and brewing, you’d never notice. But at home, these grounds go stale after you leave them in for a day. If you’re trying to brew the perfect espresso, they can ruin your experiments.
There’s not a lot you can do about this, since grinders can’t be opened and cleaned manually. Excess grounds that go stale and linger are just part of the home-coffee brewing experience.
To mitigate the effect on taste, however, you can grind a handful of beans and dump them before a new brew, hoping to get rid of the stale grounds. You can also clean the grinder’s burrs using a grinder cleaner or instant rice.
Eventually, these burrs have to be replaced. After a few dozen pounds of coffee, you’ll need new ones to keep your grounds consistent. Since you already know that’s the secret to great espresso, be sure to check your manufacturer’s details on when the grinder’s burrs need to be replaced.
Espresso Distribution Guide
Distribution is the last term you need to know before you can start experimenting with your espresso recipe. Lots of hopefuls trying to brew the perfect shot pay big bucks for a great grinder and coffee machine but still can’t get a perfect cup. Distribution may be to blame.
The distribution of the grounds being off can be just as detrimental to a shot of espresso as uneven grounds. The result is the same: the water channels during the brewing process and extracts flavor unevenly, which makes it taste off.
You can tell when this is happening by looking at your finished shot: if it looks great and then gets paler, the distribution is uneven. The water isn’t extracting flavor evenly.
Part of good distribution involves good technique. When leveling off the grounds, try to spread them as evenly as possible, fill any gaps, and push them to the very edge.
After making a shot, you can take the grounds out and look at them to find evidence of channeling: it will appear as a series of small holes, resulting from clumping that you missed when you were spread and tamping the grounds. Larger holes mean the problem is even worse.
Getting the ideal distribution is difficult even on easy blends, but espresso, which ideally requires fine grounds made of light roast, is even more temperamental.
If you’re really worried about the channeling problem and obsessed with making the perfect espresso, you can buy a bottomless portafilter to see exactly how the water is passing through the grounds.
When dosing your grounds, you should be evenly distributing them from the beginning by rotating the basket. Doing this after you pour them all in is a lot more difficult.
You can even try a stirring technique to get rid of the clumps – it’s called “Weiss Distribution.” Look it up to see if that’s something you want to try as a last resort.
The relationship between the size of the grinds and the quality of the coffee is a temperamental one. Many variables affect the outcome, including the water temperature and pressure, the quality of the machine and grinder, the type of bean, and so on.
If most of these can be kept constant, an ambitious home coffee brewer can experiment with grind size and distribution to try and make the perfect cup of coffee.
We used espresso as an example, but the terminology and the experimentation methods are mostly the same for any coffee maker. Knowing how the consistency and distribution of the grounds affect the finished product is essential to refining your coffee making process.
We provided this information so that whether you’re making coffee grind for French press or espresso, you can find the ideal coffee grind levels for your needs.