Updated February 13, 2017
Information overload got your coffee experience grinding to a halt?
We can all agree, it’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to making a truly great cup of coffee. There are some variables to be aware of.
One of those is the grind of coffee that you use.
Most of us started drinking coffee that came from either a percolator or a drip machine.
In those days, we just dumped in the pre-ground coffee and water. Easy and it served its purpose but it wasn’t always the best cup of coffee.
But now, you’re looking for better coffee, so one of the things to do is grind your own beans. Here’s a great rundown on the type of grinder you should get.
Today, let’s look at the actual coffee grounds themselves.
You can click a link in the table below to skip to your most pressing question or continue on to read the whole coffee grinding shebang.
Fine to Coarse: Your BEST Grind
There’s a general range of grind sizes that you can choose from. Depending on the grinder, each range may sometimes have further divisions.
What are the grinding ranges?
Broadly speaking, the range is coarse to very fine. Grinders can be set to at least coarse, medium and fine with some brands offering settings in between for finer control.
Some brands also offer an additional end setting like very coarse and extra fine.
Let’s determine which is best for your coffee drink of choice.
Why select one grind over the other?
It depends on the way you make the coffee. One type of grind will work better with a particular extraction method. The correct grind makes sure your coffee is the right strength and not bitter tasting.
Here’s a breakdown from coarse grind coffee to fine grind:
- Coarse ground is generally best for French press, cold brew, percolator and vacuum type coffee making.
- Medium is good for drip coffee makers that use flat bottom filters.
- Medium fine is for automatic drip machines that use cone shaped filters.
- Fine grind is for espresso.
- Extra fine is used in Turkish coffee.
Grind size is important because the amount of surface area exposed to water determines how well the coffee is extracted. The more area covered, the more coffee is extracted.
Now, you can over extract the coffee, which is bad, but you can change this via grind size or time the coffee is exposed to water.
We’ll talk about that more in just a bit.
How do you grind coffee beans?
They can be ground using a manual or electric grinder. You can even use a bag and a hammer. Seriously. But the quickest and more efficient method – and better for the bean — is using an electric burr grinder like the Baratza Vario. A manual burr grinder can be used as well, it’s just going to be slower.
But don’t use one for your espresso. It’s too slow.
Grounds for espresso need to be used immediately after grinding for the best quality shot. The intense pressure and temperature that the coffee grounds go through allow them to release the most coffee in the shortest period of time.
But while the grounds are exposed to air, they’re losing valuable oils to evaporation which can cause weak espresso shots. Don’t pre-grind a batch either. Use them right away.
Blade grinders aren’t recommended as they just don’t produce a quality pile of grounds.
I’ve got a great roundup post of the 5 best coffee grinders for you to read. Click it right here.
How does water come into play?
Water is used to extract the coffee oils in the grounds. The important thing to remember is that the grind needs to be consistent. The water won’t do its job properly if it’s having to flow through a pile of coffee with differing size grains.
Course grinds of coffee tend to pass more water through it. Think of pebbles in a jar. There’s a lot of space between the grounds, relatively speaking. Because of this, it takes more time to brew the coffee so the grounds are saturated in water that slowly filters out.
Fine grinds of coffee let less water pass through because the grounds can be packed closer together. Think of clumps of sugar and flour. This is the reason for the high pressure needed when making espresso. The water needs to be forced through.
A rule of thumb is if the coffee is too strong or bitter, the coffee is in contact with the water too long (brewed too long) or the grind is too fine. This is over extraction of the grounds.
If the coffee is too weak, the water contact time is too short (not brewed long enough) or the grind is too coarse. As you can guess, this is called under extraction.
If it’s inconsistently ground, one grind is getting preference over the other resulting in a poor quality cup of coffee. This isn’t necessarily a slap at blade grinders – well, ok, it is – but lower quality burr grinders can cause the same issue.
With uneven grounds it’s possible to get both over and under extraction of the coffee.
Where should ground coffee be kept?
It’s best to grind just what you will need at a time, but if you prefer to pre-grind for whatever reason, here are a few tips.
Use airtight containers like the Vacu Vin for your grounds. Your freezer bags and plastic containers won’t stop the air from entering and reacting with the coffee. In time, even the airtight containers will allow enough air in to degrade the coffee.
Keep the coffee in a cool and dark location. This can be in a pantry or cupboard. Here’s something to remember, too much heat can damage your coffee beans and grounds. Try not to store in a cabinet or pantry near an oven or on a kitchen counter that gets strong sunlight.
Which then brings up counter displays using clear containers for either your beans or grounds. Don’t do it. Light will affect both over time. While the beans and grounds may make an attractive kitchen display, it doesn’t make for a good cup of coffee. Sorry.
Now, if you’re storing coffee…
When does ground coffee go stale?
Sadly, it starts to go stale just as soon as its ground. When you expose more surface area by grinding, the grounds start react with the air. Notice the wonderful smell?
The CO2 in the bean is released immediately on grinding and the coffee oils start to evaporate. The CO2 is important for crema formation on your espresso drinks. Once it’s gone, not much crema.
We know we keep harping on this but, it’s always best to grind just what you’re going to use and store the beans properly. It’s that important.
Generally speaking, 2-4 weeks is the freshness limit with the most decline between 2 and 4 weeks. For the best coffee, we recommend that you don’t let the grounds get over 2 weeks old.
Coffee beans will eventually go bad, but usually not for a year or more. That doesn’t mean they’re good for you coffee! You might be able to use them in recipes if they get that old.
So, you’ve learned about grind size and why it’s important. You know what to choose for your coffee drink of choice and you know how to store it.
I’d say now you have a great “grounding” for you coffee journey.
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