I was once like you, wandering the grocery store coffee aisle and snagging that big tin of pre-ground coffee. For the next 15-30 days, I was accepting the coffee contained in that tin on an as-is basis. What size, shape or form it came in would be a mystery until I popped the vacuum-sealed top.
I never once thought about grinding my own coffee. It was something I so ignorantly assumed was reserved for baristas only. I assumed that there was no way common folk took that much control over their morning coffee.
Turns out they do.
I started to dig into it as my morning caffeine addiction grew stronger (read: I had children).
I learned a lot about coffee from our good friends on the internet and started to experiment with different blends, origins, and yes, grind size.
Size Matters (it’s just coffee, guys)
After pulling my first at-home grinder out of the box, the fact that this little device had a range of grind settings set me back a bit. I assumed that the grinding process was a one-size-fits-all type of engagement, but unbeknownst to me, I learned it goes much deeper than that.
Rather than becoming prematurely self-conscious of the size of my grinds, I turned back to my old friends on the internet for guidance.
I found out that size and how you intend to use it matters a lot when it comes to brewing coffee. You see, the grind size affects contact time, extraction rate and the flow rate the method of brewing uses. The larger the surface area of the grounds, the faster the rate of extraction. Conversely, with finer grounds, water flows through it at a slower rate and thus produces an increased time of contact.
You’ll run into problems if your contact time (how long your coffee brews) is too long and matched with a small or fine grind. In these cases, expect a bitter cup of morning coffee.
If the opposite is true and your grind is too big or coarse and the contact time is too short, you’ll end up with a weak and futile cup.
Without leaving anything up to the imagination, let’s illustrate the common grind sizes and what they are used for.
Crank that setting up and hold on for dear life. This size of grind is perfect for all of the French press professionals, cold brew buffs and percolator phenoms out there.
If you’re getting really technical, our grind timings are below for each of the above:
French Press: 6 – 10 seconds
Cold Brew: 6 seconds
Perc: 10 seconds
A true middle of the road grind with an average size that satisfies millions per day. If you brew coffee with an auto-drip coffee maker, this is the perfect size for the duration of brew time.
Grind time hits perfectly at about 10-12 seconds and produces a great tasting pot.
There’s a little bit of play here but it really makes a difference when using the oh-so-popular pour over method. When pouring over, extraction can be slightly faster than an auto-drip, so we’ll always opt for a 12-15 second grind at a medium-fine setting.
While seemingly undersized, this grind and brew method packs a real punch that’s won coffee fans the world over. Plus, it was perfected by the Italians, so you can’t help but feeling romanticized with every sip.
Because of the whirlwind nature of the short infusion process common with brewing espresso, the smaller size exposes more surface area to the water being quickly passed through.
Use your fine grind setting for anywhere between 15-19 seconds to get the perfect espresso.