There are many aspects to creating the perfect cup of joe, with some arguing that grinding is the most important one. It doesn’t matter if you purchased a $6 or $60 bag of coffee, where the coffee was made, how it was processed or even how much care was taken during the roasting process, it won't taste its best unless you properly grind the beans.
If you've made at least one cup of coffee, you realize you can't just throw whole beans into 200 degree water and get a delicious cup a few minutes later.
But why not?
Well, let's get into the science a bit.
Stay with me now.
Soluble vs Insoluble
Most of the organic compounds in the beans are insoluble, meaning they don't dissolve into water.
The shell is sealing in all the good stuff. The oils, aromas and other extractable parts. This means we must grind the beans into smaller pieces to get to the more soluble (extractable) contents.
Phew. That wasn't so bad, was it?
Ok, so you now understand the why, but let's talk about the how.
We can just grind to any size, right?
If you want to achieve a great tasting cup, then you are most likely going to be using one of the well-known brewing methods and then trying to replicate that method repeatedly, ensuring the same great cup! Well, each method has a certain grind size best suited for its method. These method-specific grind sizes help us prevent over or under extracting the coffee.
A simple way to remember what grind size to use is this:
The shorter the brew time, the smaller the particle size, while the longer the brew time, the bigger (more coarse) the grind should be!
Finer ground beans will produce a more intense flavor, with this flavor being extracted in a shorter time frame since the water is in contact with a much bigger surface area.
That was a lot to take in, so let's slow things down a bit, take a step back and look at the history of grinding.
The Creators of Ground Coffee!
The Turks get credit as the originators of ground coffee. They pushed millstones around to grind grain and used this same method on coffee, producing an almost powder-like consistency.
And the Turkish grind was born!
As time went on, they changed grind settings based on the region of the world and brewing method being used. Coarser grinds became popular with more modern brewing methods, as inventors realized their flavor connection between the size of the grind and the coffee's taste.
That's the history in a nut-shell. Let's get on to what you are here for.
Choosing A Grinder
In short, you want a grinder that is going to give you evenly sized particles consistently. There are two types of grinders to choose from, but, as you will see, it's quite clear that you should only use one.
Let's get the not-so-good grinder out of the way. The blade grinders. These grinders have spinning blades that cut through the beans. The whirling motion of the blades helps create an air vacuum that draws the beans into the propeller's path. This is a very random method that often requires you to shake the grinder to get any semblance of equal grinding out of it. For coarse grinds, don't even bother. The variation in grind size will be too large. For espresso, it could be used because the longer you run the grinder, the finer the grind will become, but at a true cost: heat. The longer this grinder runs, the hotter the grinder and beans get, resulting in a loss of flavor and aroma.
On to the only choice for your precious, freshly roasted beans: burr grinders!
These grinders work based on a range, which limits the size of the grind by the distance between the two grinding discs. A rotating flat metal disc or conical cone fits inside a second, stationary disc or cone. A chute then feeds the beans down in between this narrow space where the coarse surface on one disc grinds them. This design produces a more reliable and consistent grind that can range from a Turkish grind (the two discs would be almost touching!) to a very coarse grind for the perfect French press or cold brew.
Burr grinders range in price from $50 to over $1,000.
If you go with the latter, can we stop over and try it?
What's our recommended burr grinder? It's definitely the Baratza Encore. The one is slightly over $100, but is well worth the investment. Many online coffee bloggers and enthusiasts use this exact brand and model.
If you are traveling or camping, an electric grinder probably isn’t making it in your travel bag so you will need to pick up a manual grinder. There are some people that swear by using manual grinders even at home!
Manual grinders take time to get even just a small amount of coffee ground to the desired size, but this process is still much better than taking pre-ground coffee with you, if you want to get the most flavor and aroma out of your coffee. We’ve seen from the Amazon reviews, manual grinders can be a bit more hit or miss in quality, so here are a few that we currently recommend.
The VSSL manual grinder is pricey but appears to be worth that price based on the Amazon reviews and the description on their website. And if you are a true outdoors person, then it can be coupled with a few of their other products to give you extra first aid protection while out in the wilderness.
A more economical option is the JavaPresse manual grinder, which is currently getting Amazon’s choice for one of the best grinders.
Now that we know which grinder to use, we need to talk about how to grind to certain sizes for each type of brewing method we are using. Below is an infographic you can use to ensure you get the right grind for your current brewing method. Match these grind sizes to your grinder’s recommended setting to achieve the desired output. Since there are so many grinders out there, we will not list them out here, just know that each grinder worth its money will come with grind setting instructions or you can find it on their website.
Hopefully, we have shown the importance grinding has on the coffee flavor and ultimatley your overall coffee experience. If you enjoy flavorful coffee than we strongly urge you to shake the piggy bank a little harder and splurge on a nicer burr grinder rather than the cheap and inconsistent blade grinder. Your tastebuds will thank you!
Please let us know below your thoughts on this information and/or what grinder you have and why! 👇👇👇