Grind size & how to work it in your f(l)avour
We’re here because we have all at some stage in our lives struggled with understanding grind sizes and how it affects our coffee. Have you ever bought a bag of ground coffee, asked for it ground for your preferred brew method, gotten so excited to try it… Then you take it for a test-run and it’s too finely ground and tastes far too bitter, or the opposite and it’s too coarse and ends up tasting really weak and underwhelming. So let’s look at what sizes are suitable for different brewing methods and hopefully we can clear some things up for you.
When brewing coffee the end result comes from a harmonious balance of water: coffee ratio, brew time, grind size, water temp, water quality, the list goes on! The whole reason we grind coffee is to increase the surface area which directly affects the interaction time it has with water.
A coarser grind means less surface area, resulting in a shorter brew time and a lower extraction. Whereas with a finer grind, the coffee is very tightly packed, making it difficult for the water to travel through - this gives us a higher extraction yield.
Then we get into variables such as the roast style, the age of the coffee, and the grinder we are working with. Darker roasts are more soluble and so you would use a coarser grind setting.. Lighter roasts are denser and so it’s harder for the water to travel through, so you need to go finer. For an older coffee you’ll need to grind a little finer to extract more flavour from it as it ages. And of course every grinder is different with its own unique range, so if I tell you that “setting 10 is perfect for a V60 on my Barazta, go use that”, that may mean nothing to you and your set up! Some hand grinders for example are very tricky to differentiate and replicate settings on.
Here’s a handy table for troubleshooting with your brews:
Blade Vs. Burr grinders?
If you are using a blade grinder… now might be the time to make the change! While quick and handy, it results in huge discrepancies in particle sizes and so a very uneven extraction. Whereas with a burr grinder, even if it’s a hand grinder, will be far more consistent. You’re actually better off using pre-ground coffee, however if you’re really in a pinch, James Hoffman has a pretty solid hack here using the common blade grinder!
Now we’re going to break it down into each brew method and what grind sizes are suitable.
Cold brew - Very coarseThe only method you really want to go crazy coarse for would be a cold brew, because it has by far the longest brew time. You can play around with recipes of 12-24hrs on this so nice and chunky to avoid over extraction and really nasty bitterness.
French press - Coarse, of course.For French press, due to the longer brew time (around 4 min), we want to go pretty coarse as shown below.
Chemex/Clever Dripper - Medium coarseA little on the chunky side, but not as crazy as French Press!
Aeropress/Flat bottomed coffee makers - Medium grindThis is a great starting point grind when recipe testing and hopefully we’re all fairly familiar with it.
Pour over - Medium/fine grindPour overs are very easily misjudged in terms of grind size, I’d always encourage people to go finer than you think and then work your way slowly back.
Espresso - fine grindLast but not least espresso! Pretty damn fine here, it’s a little finer than table salt, and powder-like to touch.
If by reading this you have been unintentionally coaxed into upgrading your grinder, fantastic! Let’s look at two very popular choices for coffee enthusiasts who want to up their game, the Baratza Encore and the Wilfa Svart. Both are electric grinders with burrs and both have a range from moka pot to Chemex.
Keep in mind that if you're seeking out an espresso grinder, while possible with these grinders, we would recommend investing slightly more into it. A grinder like the Baratza Preciso is a couple of models up from the Encore but it has a micro adjustment range which really allows you to fine tune your shots. With the Encore and Svart you will find some variances in grind size, not much, but if you’re looking for it you’ll notice. That said, they are both excellent grinders for any kind of filter brewing and the Encore has just that little bit more consistency in grind size!
Credits:Big shout out to Handground for the images which are absolutely spot on for grind size differentiation!Thanks to James Hoffman for the blade grinder hack - what a man!