Many avid coffee drinkers don’t know what they are doing wrong- their brews taste average at best and they wonder why their coffee never turns out the way they expect.
So many issues with taste and texture can be remedied with a relatively simple fix! How can you bypass commonly-made mistakes to brew coffee that tastes great? We’ve got all your answers!
Fundamentally, the right grind is essential to a great cup of coffee.
Using the proper grind is perhaps the most overlooked variable in brewing. After reading this article, you’ll learn what you’ve been doing wrong and gain the tools and insight you need to achieve the right grind every time!
Table of Contents
Your Grind Directly Impacts Coffee Extraction- and Coffee Extraction Directly Impacts Flavor
To master coffee brewing, you’ll need to gain an understanding of coffee extraction and how it affects flavor. Avoiding both over extraction and under extraction is crucial.
The variables that control extraction are as follows:
|Less Bitter/More Sour|
However, let’s focus on the role grind plays in extraction. As noted above, a finer grind will allow water to extract more compounds out of the grounds in the same amount of brewing time. A coarser grind will result in fewer compounds being extracted from the grounds in the same amount of brewing time. This is because grinding your coffee finer increases the surface area to coffee ratio of the grounds, giving the water easier access to the coffee.
Many coffee makers require different specific grind levels while others can utilize multiple grind sizes. The quality of your brew is ultimately determined by brewing time, brewing method, and the grind size.
How does coffee taste when incorrectly extracted?
The most common description of under extracted coffee is sour. The most common description of over extracted coffee is bitter. Another description that can be applicable to either under extracted or over extracted coffee is hollow - relating to a cup missing the enjoyable flavors it should have, but is missing due to either not having those compounds extracted from the grounds or because other compounds are covering up the flavor.
If your coffee tastes bad and you suspect a poor extraction, you need to figure out how to adjust your extraction to balance out the flavor appropriately.
Our chart below sums up how to adjust your grind based on the flavors you experience in your coffee:
What are the different grind sizes? How big should the grounds be for <insert grind>?
Grinds the size of ground peppercorns.
Your grinds should resemble sea salt.
Resembles rough/coarse sand
Resembles regular sand consistency.
Consistency is somewhere between sand and table salt.
About the consistency of table salt
Turkish/Extra Fine Coffee Grind
Resembles powder or flour
What grind size should I use for <Insert Brewing Method>?
Don’t worry - we’ve got you covered. Our chart below outlines which grind size should be used for most common brewing methods:
But I don’t see Aeropress listed on your chart above. What grind should I use for an Aeropress?
Again, don’t worry - we’ve got you covered. The issue with recommending one grind for an Aeropress is that people tend to use their aeropress in a variety of ways with different brewing times. The chart below provides a pairing of grind size with brew time for an Aeropress:
Why does espresso require a fine grind?
Espresso machines use pressure (quantified in “bars”) to brew by exposing grinds forcefully to hot water. If your grinds are excessively coarse, the pressurized water will flow through the grounds too quickly and underextracting the espresso. Too fine a grind will prevent the water from flowing effectively through the espresso.
The proper fine grind setting regulates the pressurized water flow at the appropriate level.
Be mindful that this “fine” grind setting differs per model of espresso machine.
How does grind size affect a pour-over?
With pour-over, you may have to play around with grind size to “dial in” your grind. A medium to medium-fine grind is a good starting point for many pour overs, but start with whatever the manufacturer suggests and adjust from there to suit your preference.
As we noted above, if you wind up with a sour-tasting brew (under-extracted), a finer grind should be used the following time. Alternatively, you can slightly increase your brewing time. If you wind up with a bitter-tasting brew (over-extracted), a coarser grind should be used the following time. Alternatively, your brewing time can be decreased.
How do I “dial-in” grind size for a Chemex?
Start with a medium-coarse grind when using a Chemex- with a size akin to sea salt consistency- and adjust from there.
Unfortunately, a Chemex is a fairly unforgiving pour over device that is very sensitive to small changes in grind size, temperature, and brewing time. Try to be patient when making alterations to your grind for a Chemex- its a device with great potential but requires more care than some other pour over brewers.
Adjusting Grind Size for Cold Brew Coffee
For cold brew, you should use an extra coarse grind for a brewing time of 12 hours. A coarser or finer grind can be used if the steeping time is reduced, but stay coarser than a medium grind.
As you cold brew, make sure you record the grind you used and what the results were like. Just like a pour over, you can “dial in” the grind to achieve the perfect cold brew.
Do I use the same “fine” grind size for a Moka Pot as I would for an espresso machine?
For stovetop espresso maker/Moka pot, a fine grind should be used as with an espresso machine. However, even with the same grind size, these two machines will produce different flavors.
And, while a fine grind is generally most appropriate, some people have had success using a medium-fine grind. Likely, there exists an optimal grind somewhere between medium-fine and fine. Try using a fine grind as a starting point and gradually grind slightly coarser until the espresso isn’t over extracted. Note that all stovetop espresso makers and Moka pots aren’t the same – there are countless models to choose from, and as such, there is no universal grind size for them.
What type of grinder should I use? Is a Burr Grinder actually any better?
Using a blade grinder is a very common mistake amongst coffee drinkers. If your current grinder is a blade grinder, you should probably switch to a burr grinder. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with coffee that tastes worse than if you used pre-ground.
Consistency is vital for quality coffee. Cutting beans with a blade grinder produces variations in the size of the grounds- some of the smaller grounds then are over-extracted while some of the larger grounds will be under extracted. The result is getting to worst of both world- a mix of sour and bitter coffee.
On the other hand, a burr grinder crushes beans to create consistency (since it uses uniform rotation and pressure). As a result, you’ll be able to maintain a uniform grind that is consistent and precise.
For espresso brewing, it is essential that your grinds are consistent/uniform.
What is a good, budget friendly electric burr grinder?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to get a consistent electric burr grinder for under $140. I’d recommend the Baratza Encore - available online for $140- as a consistent burr grinder that doesn’t produce too many fines. Refurbished Baratza Encores can often be bought from Baratza’s website for $99.
A step up from the Baratza Encore is the Baratza Virtuoso - available online for $250. The primary difference between the two is that the Virtuoso has a cone burr that produces a more consistent grind. It is possible to swap a Virtuoso burr into an Encore, but its not particularly easy. Refurbished Virtuosos can often be bought from Baratza’s website for $175.
How do I acheive a <insert grind size> on <insert popular electric grinder>?
See our graphic below for the grind settings you need based on brewing method:
Chemex, Coffee Gator, Cold Brew, Drip (Cone Shaped and Flat Bottom Filters), Espresso, French Press, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Moka Pot, and Turkish
and your specific Burr grinder:
Baratza Encore, Baratza Virtuoso, Capresso Infinity, Cusinart Supreme Grind, Bodum Bistro, and the Mr Coffee Burr Grinder:
I’ve heard about people grinding coffee beans in a blender - is this a thing?
Coffee beans can be ground with a blender, but you should only do so as a last resort. Effectively, a blender acts as a poor quality blade grinder. Its blades will create uneven coffee grinds that range from coarse to fine. You’d be better suited just using pre-ground coffee.
Is it OK to grind a bunch of beans at once and then store the grounds?
Coffee grinds lose some of their freshness even within a day. For optimal freshness, not only should your coffee beans should be ground every day, but you’ll get the best flavor if you grind right before brewing. Many coffee lovers don’t realize that grinding releases tons of aromas that you don’t just smell- you also taste.