I always recommend buying coffee beans and grinding them freshly. By doing this, you can guarantee a much tastier cup of coffee. This got me thinking when you first buy a grinder, how do you know how finally to grind your coffee beans?
How fine should I grind my coffee beans? Two things dictate the fineness or coarseness of the grind of your coffee beans; what method you are using to brew your coffee and the amount of coffee you are brewing. Beans ground for an espresso need to be almost (but not entirely) as fine as a powder or similar to table salt.
Coffee beans ground for an Aeropress should be a little coarser, similar to granulated sugar. For a V60 (pour over) the coarseness is just one notch above that for an Aeropress.
Coffee ground for a Chemex is like brewing a big V60, so again, it needs to be another few notches coarser than a V60 grind. This is because you usually brew more coffee in a Chemex. Finally, the coarsest you will grind is for French Press. Typically you ground on the coarsest setting your coffee grinder will go.
These are very general answers to “how to grind your coffee beans,” depending on what brew method you’re using. And remember how much coffee you are brewing will also affect how fine or coarse you want your coffee grounded.
For example, if you’re brewing a single cup of coffee in a V60, you will want a finer grind than if you were brewing two cups of coffee in that same V60. Let’s dive a little deeper into each brewing method and how you should grind your coffee beans for that particular brewer.
Below is a quick guide to follow when grinding coffee grounds, but be sure to continue reading to truly understand the proper fineness/coarseness of coffee grounds you will need.
Grinding Coffee for Espresso
Espresso requires the finest grind of coffee. This is because it requires a large amount of ground coffee compared to the small amount of liquid in an espresso. The contact time between the coffee and the water is also the shortest (usually around 30 seconds) in espresso.
So, the greater the surface area of the coffee (the finer the grind), the more delicious flavors we can extract from the coffee in that time. All espresso machines will require slightly different grinds for espresso because they will have somewhat different pressures.
However, you are looking for a grind which like the coarseness of table salt. If you grind too fine, more like a powder, the espresso will run out too slowly or not at all because the water cannot get through it.
Similarly, if you grind too coarsely, the water will run straight through the coffee too quickly, and you get little flavor from it (and probably no crema). Getting the grind right for espresso usually takes a couple of tries, so if your espresso doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time, adjust the grind finer to make the espresso run slower, or coarser to make the espresso run faster.
Coffee shops will spend around 15 minutes every morning pulling espressos until they are running just how they would like them to (this is called dialing in). Then they will continue to adjust throughout the day to keep the espresso running just as they require it. So if your espresso doesn’t run through as you would like it to the first time, adjust the grind and persevere. This is entirely normal.
Grinding Coffee for Aeropress
The grind setting for Aeropress is a little coarser than the grind setting for espresso. Whereas I suggested starting with a salt-like fineness for espresso, I go for a grind more like granulated sugar with an Aeropress.
The reason for a coarser grind is the water has more contact time with the coffee (between 2.5 minutes and 3.5 minutes, dependent on your Aeropress method). However, you do not want the coffee so coarse that there is little resistance when pushing down the Aeropress.
If you’re using an Aeropress for a single cup of coffee (around 15g of coffee), you will want the grind to remain quite fine. If making two cups of coffee with your Aeropress by making a short intense coffee in the Aeropress then adding hot water to dilute, you will require a slightly coarser grind. This is because there will be more coffee (around 30g for two cups) for the water to go through.
If the grind is too fine, you will find it difficult to plunge the Aeropress. If this happens, adjust your grind to be a little coarser so you can comfortably (but not quickly, it should take around 20 – 30 seconds) plunge the Aeropress.
Grinding for Pour-over / V60
Unlike brewing espresso or an Aeropress, when brewing a V60, there is no external pressure to push the water through the coffee. So the grind’s coarseness is set so that the water can run through the coffee and into the cup in your allotted brew time (usually between 2.5 minutes and 4 minutes).
If you are brewing a single cup of coffee with your V60 (for example, 16g of coffee to 250g of water), you will want a grind slightly more coarse than granulated sugar. This should be fine enough to allow the water to run through in less than 4 minutes, but not so coarse that it runs through in less than 2.5 minutes.
Again, if you find your water is running through too fast, grind a little finer next time, and if you find it’s running too slow, grind a little coarser. Suppose you are brewing a V60 for two cups of coffee. In that case, you will be putting double the amount of water through double the amount of coffee.
As a result, there will be much more resistance. To ensure it doesn’t take too long for the water to go through the coffee, you will require a more coarse grind for a two-cup brew than you would for a single cup.
Grinding for Chemex
Brewing a Chemex is very similar to brewing a V60. The same principles apply in that there is no external pressure like in an Aeropress or espresso; you are just looking for the water to run through the bed of coffee and filter paper in your allotted brew time (usually between 2.5 and 4 minutes).
The difference between a Chemex and a V60 is typically the amount of coffee you are brewing. Mostly if you are brewing a Chemex, you will be brewing between 4 and 6 cups of coffee. Because of this, you will require a significantly more coarse coffee grind than if you were brewing just a single cup.
To grind coffee to the right fineness for a 4 – 6 cup Chemex, I recommend taking your grinder to its most coarse setting and dialing it back a few notches. At the grinder’s coarsest setting, the water will run through the coffee too quickly, so it’s a case of dialing it back to get the sweet spot of the coffee running through in around 3 minutes.
Grinding for French press
Grinding for a French Press (or cafetiere) is more straightforward than grinding for any other method discussed in this blog. The coffee is continually submerged in water when brewing a French Press, so it has the greatest contact time.
Therefore, you can use a coarser grind for a French Press than any other brew method. When I brew a French Press, I grind my coffee in the coarsest setting.
You know the grind is too coarse if my coffee lacks flavor or tastes grassy. If the grind is too fine, you will find coffee silt in the bottom of your cup or find the French Press difficult to plunge. If either of these things occurs, adjust the grind accordingly – finer if the coffee lacks flavor and coarser if it’s thick or hard to plunge.
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Finding the right coffee grind for the method of brewing you are using is not only a science but also an art. Experimenting with different methods and different coarseness/fineness of your coffee grind is what being a true coffee enthusiast is all about!