The process of brewing great coffee at home only takes three steps: fresh coffee beans, a brew method of your preference, and getting the grind right.
As much as there is to be said for getting good beans and solid brewing equipment, for me the difference really comes down to how you grind it. You can spend all you want on a fancy coffee brewer, but getting your grinding down perfectly is key to consistently great coffee at home.
Here’s a guide to grinding coffee at home.
Get a burr grinder
A coffee grinder’s job is more or less to be able to produce relatively consistent particle sizes, which gives you greater control over your extraction. If your coffee grind size is all over the places it makes it really hard, or even impossible, to dial in coffee and get the flavour you want out of it.
The grinders that do the best job of that are large industrial burr grinders. The particle sizes served up by burr grinders are more uniform, which ultimately gives you a more delicious cup of coffee.
However, these industrial models are upwards of thousands of pounds or dollars which puts it out of most of our budgets. Besides, perhaps they’re not the most practical thing to have in the kitchen.
Luckily, home burr grinders are a more than decent alternative to have in the kitchen. They’re hands down my favourite kind of grinder.
They’re available in both electric and manual forms and, while I do think that its a no-brainer to opt for electric, there’s actually a lot to be said for hand burrs: They’re compact, durable and portable. This makes them great for home use or even if you’re travelling away from home.
These manual varieties are a bit cheaper than electric, but what you save in money you spend in energy, especially when you are grinding beans for two or more cups. Do yourself a favour and go with machine power.
Beyond burrs you can find blade grinders. Now, far be it from me wanting to wanting to disregard a whole product category, but I’m quite down on blade grinders. I think they’re messy and unreliable. In my experience, they tend not to so much grind beans but more chop and shatter them. This makes the grinds they produce really uneven. You’ll get a bunch of really small particles (almost dust-like) and some huge rock-like lumps. This leads to some frustrating results like uneven extraction, due to the different amounts of surface area exposed in your grinds.
You can try to address this a bit my shaking your blade grinder after every pulse, which does help to balance things out a bit but there are a couple of downsides to this. One is that the effort needed to do this simply pales in comparison to the convenience of a burr grinder. And, more prevalently, blade grinders are vulnerable to overheating. By this I don’t mean overheating mechanically, but rather overheating your coffee, effectively burning it and giving it a burned and bitter flavor. It’s best to save that heat for the cup, not your grinder.
It won’t come as a surprise that I recommend getting an electric burr grinder. They’re convenient to have around in the kitchen, and their performance is flawless compared to their blade counterparts.
Is your grinder broken? Find out how to grind coffee beans without a grinder.
Keep coffee beans fresh
Once coffee is roasted it starts ageing, oxidising and basically going stale. Ground coffee exposes more of its surface area to oxygen, which accelerates its ageing process. It begins to lose its flavour in as little as 15 minutes after you grind your coffee, so always try to grind beans as and when you need them.
A really common home brewing mistake is not storing coffee beans properly, so it’s little wonder that often people are using stale and dull grounds.
If you’re unable to grind them at home, you can go to your local coffee shop to buy some beans and have them ground. Just remember, you want to use the grinds within a reasonable amount of time. Get enough coffee to get you through the week and no more. Also make sure the coffee that you are picking up is reasonably fresh before it’s ground. Ideally the beans will only have been roasted no more than five to eight days prior. Get you beans as close to a roast date as possible.
If you are purchasing your coffee from a grocery store, make sure you buy whole beans. If it’s been sitting on the shelf of the store pre-ground then it’s probably past its prime period for drinking.
It isn’t all about grinding beans as finely as possible. Different kids of coffee require different grinds. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for finding the right grind for each kinds of coffee.
It’s important to remember that every grinder is different, so bear in mind that you might need to test and tweak before settling on something that works perfect for you.
Turkish coffee calls for an extra fine grind size, which just so happens to be the finest grind setting. Particle size should be as fine as powdered sugar. Turkish coffee works great for a mocha pot, also called a stove top.
If you are a big fan of home espresso you should identify your grinder first. Any grinder that comes with an espresso machine, or is attached to one, should be a burr grinder. You can also purchase a burr grinder separately.
Grind size for espresso should be pretty fine. Take a small pinch of coffee grounds between your thumb and finger and clump it together. If the coffee fails to clump together and falls in separate pieces, it needs more grinding. If the coffee is sticking into one big chunk and leaves on your fingers, it is too fine and needs to be coarser.
If the grinds clump together on your finger, it’s perfect for espresso. Espresso blends and slightly darker roasted beans (medium to dark) usually work better for espresso making. If you frequently switch between beans, you might want to write down which grind setting works for each kind of bean and move forward from there.
Aeropress is one of my favorite brewing devices. It’s similar to French Press, but inspires coffee lovers in different recipes and brewing techniques – There’s even a World Aeropress Championship.
Aeropress makers are portable and lightweight. Great at home, camping or on a road trip. I love this brewing device because it’s the easiest to use on the go. Grind settings for aeropress are between medium to fine, which is about as fine as table salt.
Pourovers come in different sizes and shapes (Chemex, V60, Kalita). With pourover you’ve got a different situation. There is no plunger that creates a pressure seal. Instead there is the water going through the bed of coffee. I found that pourover brews a more clean cup than Aeropress or French Press. It maintains body and more notes come out from your cup. Recommended coffee grind settings is medium grind. Kind of like Kosher salt. And the key here is to pour slow.
Easy to brew and super consistent, French Press is very reliable. It’s very classic brewing device, ideal for making multiply cups. Although makes quite heavy-bodied coffee. If the coffee sits on the grounds too long, it continues to extract and will become bitter, resulted in an over-extracted and unbalanced brew. Grind your coffee as coarse as breadcrumb. Teste absolutely amazing with Cenrtal America bean (Colombia or Guatemala very tasty). Sweet, balanced, chocolaty, comfortable, very choice! French press could be pleasant for those who likes darker roast. Pick your poison and get your French Press going while you are reading this!
Siphon, also called Vacuum Pot, is beautiful, but finicky way to make a great coffee. I’d say it not really for home use. It’s kind of massive with lots of fragile parts. You need to apply heat and boil your water inside of glass globe, then attached the top funnel, create a whirlpool, wait for your coffee to drawn down, you might want to use a kitchen towel or hot pod to serve it from globe into your cup. Too much effort to put, but very spectacular coffee scene. With some practice can certainly be mastered. Grind coffee to a medium coarseness and get clean, full-flavoured cup of coffee.
Drip coffee is typically what you can get from a cafe or a coffee shop. It’s usually made in large batches. Coffee simply dripping from a small hole in the bottom of the brewing basket. Grind your coffee beans between medium-coarse to medium. It is push-button simple. Although the brewing result could be a bit flat, missing a sweetness and body.
Cold Brew is as delicious as the summer day is long. Unlike others brewing methods it’s done at room temperature and takes a long time (12-24 hours). Usually makes a big batch of concentrate that keeps up to two weeks in the fridge. Due to the low temperature, the extraction rate is low. A coarse or extra coarse grind size is recommended. With chunky particles it’s also easier to filter. The cold brewed coffee has a good body. Round, pleasant flavor profile with long, often weet finish.
When it comes to grind size, there are three factors which make the biggest difference: brewing time, extraction and water temperature. To put it simply:
- Smaller particles will have more contact with water, extract more quickly and brew slower
- Coarser particles have less surface area and brew faster
If you extract too much from the coffee (grind too fine or brew too long), the coffee may taste bitter and chalky, or even medicine-like. Extract too little (grind too coarse or too little brew time) and you’ll get sour flavors. It’ll be a weak, flat and dull cup with a lack of body.
Grind quality is very important, and what you need to know to dial in your perfect grind settings and to start with is your brewing time. If you are brewing a cup of coffee it should take you about 3 minute. If you brew a cup of coffee and it takes you only a minute and a half, that’s too fast, your grind is too coarse, you need to tighten your grind. If it takes you 5-6 minutes to brew that single serving cup, it’s too long, your grind is too fine, you need to open it up and coarse your grind.
Next is grind versus taste. It is lot more complex and complicated. I’d say trust your own personal preferences and find what suits you best. Take notes on what you are doing and how that impacts your resulting cup of coffee. Understanding how grind works, and finding the balance between grind and brewing time will help you to get your best cup of coffee possible.
Lastly, you might need to pay attention to your water temperature to see how that impacts brewing. Good, perfectly ground coffee deserve a good brew. The ideal temperature range for hot brewing is 195 F (91 C) to 205 F (96 C). This is hot enough to extract carefully and quickly, but not so hot to mess things up. It’s the range that most people tend to use to make the most balanced coffee, and you can stick to that.
- Boiling water 212 F (100 C) should never be used, as it will burn coffee, make flavour ashy and bitter
- Water under 195 F (91 C) will not extract properly, which often leads to sour and week coffee.
No grinder? No problem
If you find yourself somewhere that doesn’t have a grinder, there are still a number of ways that you can grind your beans. Just be creative!
- Blend your beans in a blender pitcher
- Use a food processor
- Try hand blender or stick blender
- Use a mortar
- Crack them with a large butcher knife and a wooden cutting board
- Grind them with a rolling pin
- Mash them with a hammer
- Use a hand meat mincer
If you are in need of ground coffee of any kind, here is very detailed step-by-step instruction how to fix your coffee, check this link below:
Just note that without a coffee grinder you won’t be able to achieve better than a medium-coarse grind, and that’s probably with significant effort. But I’d say do wherever is most fun for you. If you crush your whole beans with a knife or use a whirly grinder, or do something else, and you love grinding your coffee every morning, and you love that experience, that feeling and that smell, it’s totally awesome. I totally respect that. Play around with your brewer and grinder settings to get each coffee to taste just how you like it. Coffee should be fun and should bring your joy!