Most of us know that coffee beans need to be ground before they are brewed. After all, a handful of unground beans would make some pretty awful tasting coffee! But what many people don’t know is that not all coffee grind is the same size. Whether it be a French press, a pour-over, or an espresso shot, each brew method requires its own unique grind size. Throughout this article, we’ll look at multiple different grind sizes and why and when to use each size. Let’s go!
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What Is Coffee Grind
When we take whole coffee beans and run them through a coffee grinder, the coffee we end up with— the tiny pieces of cut-up coffee— this is what we call coffee grinds. We can use these grinds to brew any number of different coffee drinks. The kind of drink we choose to make— maybe a shot of espresso or a pot of filter coffee, will directly influence how we should grind our whole coffee beans.
For a shot of espresso, we’ll grind the coffee very fine— whereas, with a pot of filter coffee, we’ll want to go medium, somewhere in the middle of the big gap between very fine and very coarse.
We choose the grind size based on the time each brew method takes. For example, espresso has a short brew time, so we must grind excellent to extract as much of the coffee as we would like in the short window.
Benefits of Grinding Your Coffee
Flavor and Aromatics
When we grind fresh coffee that was roasted less than a month or two ago, one will notice a burst of aromatics. These beautiful aromatics, glorious as they are, will only stick around for a short while, then will vanish. This will usually happen in a concise amount of time, sometimes within minutes of grinding. A similar thing happens with certain flavors in coffee. Sadly, the light, floral, delicate flavors in a coffee are always the first to go. This is why we want to grind our coffee and brew it as soon as possible.
There isn’t much point in buying the world’s best organic coffee with all of these gorgeous flavor notes of jasmine and bergamot, lemon, peach and milk chocolate, only to have much of the deliciousness be wasted, vanishing into thin air. This is exactly what happens we coffee is preground— most of the flavors and almost all of the nice aromas disappear, and what we’re left with is a somewhat sad representation of what the coffee once was!
Multiple Brew Methods From the Same Bag of Coffee
Preground coffee, even when you choose to have it ground fresh by your local coffee roaster, is pretty much only good for a single brew method. While there are some exceptions (V60 recipes that use the course, French press sized grind), more or less, what the coffee is ground for is what you’ll want to use it for. If you have a bag of coffee ground for espresso, it is unlikely that you’ll want this same grind size for a pour-over, a French press, or cold brew. So as sad as it may be, the grind you have, you are stuck with!
When you use your own grinder to grind your own coffee, you can use that same bag of whole coffee beans for any brew method that you like. Feel like a pour-over one day, a Turkish coffee the next, followed by a big batch of cold brew? If you were using preground coffee, you’d need three bags of separate coffee, all ground differently. But if you grind your own…you only need one!
Coffee Lasts Longer
Preground coffee tastes fresh for all of a day or two, maximum. And even that is a generous time frame. Whole coffee beans, on the other hand, so long as your use a container to store your coffee, will stay tasty for up to 2 months, and depending on your chosen container, sometimes even longer. Keep your coffee in an airtight and lightproof container, away from too much heat, moisture and direct sunlight. All of these factors are coffee kryptonite and should be avoided at all costs.
How Does Coffee Grinding Work
Coffee grinding is done, usually, with the use of a grinder. There are hundreds of different grinders out there, mostly falling into one of three categories — premium manual coffee grinders, electric burr grinders and blade grinders.
While all three sorts of grinders will get the job of cutting up the coffee done, they don’t all do the job equally, nor do they perform in the same way. Each way produces either a slightly different grind, in the case of manual coffee grinders and electric burr grinders, or a dramatically different grind, in electric blade grinders.
Premium manual coffee grinders are coffee grinders that are operated manually, by hand. They usually contain a set of either stainless steel or ceramic, conical burrs, and a crank arm, which is turned to grind the coffee. The grind size can be set— ranging anywhere from espresso to cold brew sized. Manual coffee grinders, with their lack of motor or electronics, generally offer the best quality of grinds for the money. The only sacrifice is the time spent operating the grinder.
Up next, we have electric burr grinders. Most coffee grinders you’ll see these days, most grinders by Baratza, Breville, and Mazzer, are electric burr grinders. They come in various sizes, shapes, and prices and can offer various grind sizes and qualities. These are generally more expensive than hand grinders but are far more convenient to use, requiring almost no user effort.
Last and certainly least, we have blade grinders! Blade grinder contains a blade that quickly spins, just like in a food processor, chopping the coffee haphazardly into pieces of varying sizes, from chunks to tiny pieces, all in the same batch. On the old blade grinder, they are better than using preground coffee. The issue with blade grinders is that the user has little to no control over the grind size that is being produced. While blade grinders can be very cheap, they are the least desirable types of grinders out there.
Pros and Cons of Coffee Grinding
- Fresher and tastier coffee.
- Can use one bag of coffee for multiple brew methods.
- Coffee can last far longer.
- There is pretty much a grinder to suit any budget.
- Need to buy a grinder.
- Requires more effort than using preground coffee.
Why Does Coffee Grind Size Matter
Why does coffee grind size matter? Let’s answer that question with a quotation. If we were to use espresso ground coffee for a pour-over, something like a V60, what would happen? Not much, to be honest. You would place the coffee in the paper filter, pour the water over the top, and the filter would very quickly become clogged.
This grind size is far too fine for a pour-over style paper filter. Fine grind sizes are great for espresso, but the only reason a fine grind size works for espresso is that the water is being forced through the finely ground coffee under some pretty intense pressure. If it weren’t for the pressure, there is no way the water would make it through the coffee and into the cup!
Let’s take a good look at a few more reasons why grind size really matters when brewing coffee:
When we speak of grind size, we’re talking about the texture of the ground coffee. This texture ranges from extra-fine, through medium and all the way up to the extra course. When we brew coffee, all we are doing is dissolving some of the coffee using water. The finer a coffee is ground, the easier it is to dissolve.
This is why espresso coffee can get away with such a short brew time of sub 30 seconds— using pressure and hot water; it can quickly dissolve much of the coffee’s soluble material. This short brew time wouldn’t be possible if espresso were to use a course ‘French press’ sized grind (if we did brew in this way, the resulting shot of espresso would simply taste like dirty, vaguely coffee tasting water).
The same thing goes for a French press. A French press is a form of immersion brewing in which the coffee is placed in a container with the brewing water and is left to steep for around 4 minutes. French press generally uses a fairly coarse grind size because it’s brew time is so long. If we were to use a very excellent size and kept the 4 minute brew time, the coffee would likely taste pretty flat, bland, bitter and maybe a little earthy because it would be over-extracted.
We need to choose the right texture for each brew method.
This may sound odd, but coffee actually tastes different when it is ground at different sizes. Often, when a coffee is ground course, more of the fruity and floral notes are retained, whereas grinding fine, the coffee will often be rich and sweet with deeper notes, and almost always tasting a little more bitter.
Grind size is an excellent way to play with a coffee flavor profile. Try coffee beans of different origins and varieties and see how they taste at different grind sizes. You can even grind an overly acidic coffee in a way that, when it is brewed, will taste less acidic. And vice-versa, we can grind up some tasty but naturally low acid coffee and still have it taste as bright and as vibrant as any other coffee.
Coffee Grind Size Chart
By now, we know that there are many different grind sizes, and we need a different grind for most brew methods— but what size works best for each method? And what exactly is coarse anyway? How coarse is coarse? While the question can be a little tricky to answer, especially when talking about the size of grind— but find close comparisons to relate these grind sizes to.
Extra Coarse Grind
We use extra coarse grind size for cold brew coffee. Because cold brewing doesn’t require hot water, we can use a very coarse grind setting and brew the coffee for an extended period of time (18 hours-ish). This grind size can also be used to brew coffee using no filter, aka cowboy coffee. The big chunks of the coffee sink to the bottom of the cup, meaning you’ll end up with grinds in your teeth!
An extra coarse grind is similar in size to coarse sea salt flakes.
A course grind size can be great for French press, cold brew, or even a pour-over coffee that you want to reduce bitterness. The high content of caffeine in Death Wish coffee can mean that it tastes pretty bitter— grinding coarse can really help remove some of that bitterness. Making a coffee in a percolator is also best done at a coarse grind setting.
A coarse grind is similar in size or a little coarser than raw sugar.
Medium course coffee can be used for pretty much all filter brew methods, depending on your recipe. Having said that, medium grind size is what is traditionally used for pour-over coffees. This size works particularly well for flat bottom brewers like the Kalita Wave, which would likely take too long to brew without a courser grind like this. A medium-coarse grind can also be great for Chemex coffee brewers.
Medium-coarse grind is similar in size to raw sugar.
Smack bang in the middle of the grind sizes, we have the medium grind. This size can be used for most conical pour-over brewers, the AeroPress, and syphon brewers. We can expect a mix of the sugar-like sweetness and richness associated with finer grind sizes at this medium grind size, with the bright flavors found in coarse grind size.
A medium grind is similar in size to good old white sugar.
At a touch finer than medium, we have medium-fine. While this isn’t a huge step down in size, it certainly makes a difference when brewing with conical shaped brewers. If you are struggling to get a good brew from your V60— maybe your brews are running too fast? Try the medium-fine grind size. As wellForl brewers, this size can also be great for the Aeropress, syphon, and automatic drip brewers.
A medium-fine grind is similar to table salt.
Now we’re getting pretty fine. At this point, this fine grind size would clog most paper filters. A fine grind is best suited to espresso, Aeropress and stovetop espresso.
Fine grind is similar in size to fine beach sand.
Extra Fine Grind
When we get this fine, there is only one thing left to do…Turkish coffee!
Extra fine grind is similar in size to flour. It shouldn’t have much texture to it and should be like powder.
Best Coffee Grind Sizes for Different Brewing Methods
Cold-Brew — Extra-Coarse to Coarse
Cold-brew, thanks to it’s long brew time, works best with extra-coarse and coarse grind sizes. Anything much finer than coarse may over-extract and cause the coffee to taste a little bitter.
French Press — Coarse to Medium
While traditionally, the French press uses only a coarse grind size, many coffee lovers, including the much-beloved David Lynch of coffee, James Hoffman, prefer to use a grind size somewhere around medium-coarse to medium. It entirely depends on your preference and the way you brew your French press.
Chemex — Medium-Coarse
Chemex uses rather thick, slow-flowing filter papers. And because of this, it requires a slight courser grind size than a V60. Most Chemex users will use a medium-coarse grind setting.
Hario V60 — Coarse to Medium-Fine
A few recipes are on the internet that requires you to use a coarse grind for a V60. And you know what? Those recipes taste amazing. The famous 4:6 method developed by Tetsu Kasuya uses a coarse grind size, and he used this recipe to win the WBC in 2016. On the other hand, there are some delicious recipes out there that require a medium-fine grind. Both and everything in between can taste fantastic.
Aeropress — Coarse to Fine
The Aeropress was originally designed to emulate espresso. But since then, coffee geeks everywhere have been using in every way imaginable, using anything from coarse ‘French press’ style grind all the way through to the more traditional fine grind size. In general, a coarse grind size will produce a coffee that is more acidic and fruity, while a finer one will result in a sweeter, more rich and chocolatey coffee in the cup.
Espresso — Fine
With espresso and the way that espresso works, there is a line drawn in the sand, so to speak. Espresso needs a fine grind size. If we use grinds that are too coarse, the water will flow through the coffee bed far too quickly, meaning that the resulting coffee will taste weak and watery.
How to Grind Your Coffee
Now we’ve learned all about coffee grind sizes— let’s put them into practice and do some grinding!
- Coffee grinder
- Whole coffee beans
- Scales (optional)
- Brush (optional)
Step 1 — Weight out your coffee
First, we need to weigh out the coffee we want to grind. This can be done by using a set of scales, or you can use a tablespoon to approximate how much you are using. 1 tablespoon of whole coffee beans is about 5g.
Step 2 — Set your grind size
Refer to the guide above and choose your grind setting for your brew method.
Step 3 — Grind
Transfer your coffee to your grinder and begin grinding your coffee.
Step 4 — Brew
Once the coffee is ground, transfer it to your brewer and it’s time to brew! While this is optional, it is always a good idea to brush any excess coffee grinds from your grinder using a paintbrush or something similar. This will keep your coffee tasting delicious and keep coffee oils from building up on your grinder over time.
Do’s and Don’ts When Grinding a Coffee
- Do try different grind sizes for the same brew methods. Some delicious results have come from experimenting with grind size and trying something unconventional.
- Do choose the best grinder you can afford. The better the grinder, the more even your grind will be, and therefore the tastier your cup of coffee will be.
- Do keep your grinder nice and clean. Just a simple brush out after each grind should do the trick.
- Don’t wash your grinder with water or soap. Just a brush out is perfectly fine.
- Don’t pregrind your coffee. Ground coffee is best used right away. As soon as you grind, the clock is ticking!
FAQ About Coffee Grind Sizes
What size should I grind my coffee?
The grind size you should choose depends entity on your brew method. It is pretty safe to say that, in general, a fine grind sized is used for espresso, Aeropress and Turkish, a medium size is for pour-over coffee brewers, and a coarse grind size is used for French press and cold brew. But again, this is just a general guideline that many people choose to ignore and still brew some spectacular coffee. Experiment with grind sizes and find what you like the best. Coffee is all about taste, and if something doesn’t taste good to you, that means that it isn’t good (for you)!
How fine should I grind my coffee?
As a rule of thumb, you should choose how long you want your brew to take and then choose your grind size to reach your desired time. For example, if you want to brew a V60 and want the brew to take 3 minutes and 30 seconds, you’ll want to choose a medium grind size. If we tried to make this brew with coarse grind size, our brew might be finished in 2 minutes, while a fine grind size may cause the brew to take 5 minutes.
Does a finer grind make stronger coffee?
Yes. If we take two French presses, one with a fine grind and one with a coarse grind size, the fine grind size will more than likely taste stronger. It almost certainly won’t taste better, but it will be stronger. A finer grind size makes it easier for the water to dissolve the coffee grinds. The more of a coffee that gets dissolved, the stronger the brew will taste.
What does poorly extracted coffee taste like?
Poorly extracted coffee could go one of two ways. It could be under-extracted or over-extracted. Under extracted is when we haven’t dissolved enough of the good stuff from the coffee. On the opposite end of this, over-extraction is when we take more than we ideally want.
Under extraction might occur if we have ground our coffee too coarse or the brew time was too short. This coffee will taste, first and foremost, weak. It will lack sweetness, overall flavor and body, and will most likely taste quite sour with little to no aftertaste.
Overextraction, or extracting too much, can occur when the brew has taken too long or the grind is too fine. Overextracted coffee can taste bitter, flat and sort of hollow. An under-extracted coffee will also be lacking sweetness and bright acidity.
Why not buy pre-ground coffee?
The aroma and flavor of a coffee bean are all locked within the walls of the coffee bean. When we break that bean open— that is to say, when we grind it— all of those flavors and aromas are now exposed to things like oxygen. The moment we grind the coffee, we start something of a flavor and aroma timer. This timer is ticking quickly, and with every minute that goes by, our coffee flavors and aromas are deteriorating.
This is why it is best not to buy pre-ground coffee. By the time the coffee has reached you, or even by the time you have gotten the bag home, the coffee has already lost much of its flavor.
If we compare how long coffee lasts when ground vs. how long coffee lasts fresh as whole beans, we will see that whole beans, when stored properly, last many, many, MANY times longer than preground coffee does.
Do I need to grind my coffee beans fresh each day?
It is best to grind your coffee beans fresh immediately before brewing. While Amazon also sells pre-ground coffee, for delicious and vibrant coffee, buy whole beans and grind and brew fresh!
Can I grind my coffee in a blender?
Yes! If you find yourself with a bag of coffee beans but no grinder, never fear! Multiple household objects offer a simple way to grind a coffee without a grinder. These methods include a blender, food processor, mortar and pestle— even a hammer or a brick! None of these methods will produce excellent quality, even grinds, but they are certainly better than nothing!
Grinding your own coffee is certainly the biggest improvement you can make to your coffee brewing routine. While it does take a little effort and experimentation, all is worth it when you are richly rewarded with a cup of coffee that would be impossible to get while using preground coffee. The bright acidity, deep flavor complexity and wonderful aromatics possible when freshly ground coffee is borderline magic! Enjoy!
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