How to grind coffee beans is one of the most elementary and foundational skills any home brewer must learn. The last decade or so has seen a revolution in the way coffee is viewed and consumed.
Gone are the days when instant coffee is the only available option. Instead coffee grinders are now commonplace in homes and businesses alike. And with this surge of interest in better coffee, more and more people are asking how to grind coffee beans. Is this a technical skill for the elite or a basic skill for any willing to give it a shot? Read this article and find out!
Types of Coffee Grinder
However, before we get to how to grind coffee beans, we need to ask what we should grind coffee beans with? There are almost innumerable coffee grinders on the market today; does your choice of coffee grinder make a significant impact? And the answer is a definite yes! Your choice of coffee grinder may well make or break the flavor of the coffee brewed.
There are two main types of coffee grinders:
The first and cheaper type of coffee grinder is the blade grinder. These look and operate much like a blender. They are basically a metal blade attached to a motor. You put the coffee beans in, turn on the grinder, and the blade hacks the coffee beans into roughly equivalent sized particles.
While these are very common, they are also the nemesis of delicious coffee. Basically a coffee grinder has two functions; to produce evenly sized coffee grinds, and to be able to alter the grind size for different brewing methods. On both fronts the blade grinder performs terribly. Instead of producing an even and consistent grind size, it chops the beans into all sorts of sizes and shapes which results in a range of finer and coarser particle sizes. Basically, blade grinders = bad coffee.
The second and far preferred type of coffee grinder is the burr grinder. A burr grinder uses two metal or ceramic rings called burrs to crush the coffee beans into consistent sized particles. These rings have sharp edges and one ring stays stationary while the other rotates. Thus, the coffee beans have to pass between the two rings at a given size.
The burr grinder is the exclusive choice of professionals and home coffee lovers alike. Basically, if you want to know how to grind coffee beans, the first step is invest in a burr grinder. These are significantly more expensive than blade grinders and can cost anywhere from $20 to $10,000. We recommend that if you are just starting out to aim for around the $100 mark. This will give you a burr grinder that is at least reasonable quality and won’t simply end up in a junk pile in a month.
There are two different kinds of burr grinders; flat plate and conical burr. The difference in quality is a point of ongoing contention even among experts but basically the type of burr is less important than the quality of the burr.
Many people wanting to grind their own coffee beans opt for a hand grinder. The advantages of these are that they tend to be cheaper, are far more compact and portable, and actually often produce fairly even grind consistency. The disadvantage is that your cup of coffee won’t cost you the push of a button but instead 2-5 minutes of manual grinding which can be quite the effort!
Types of Coffee Grinds
The second aspect of how to grind coffee beans is understanding the different grind sizes. Different coffee brewing methods (ie espresso, french press, moka pot) require different sized coffee grinds for optimal flavor and extraction. So to grind your own coffee beans well, you need not only to get a good grinder, but you need to get the right grind size.
The basic principle to keep in mind is that the longer the coffee grinds are in contact with the hot water, the coarser the grind needs to be.
Extra Fine Grind
This is the finest coffee grind size and feels like flour to the touch. It is generally used for Turkish and espresso. It is worth noting that many cheaper coffee grinders struggle to grind this fine consistently.
A fine grind setting is a little coarser than extra fine (obviously!) and feels slightly finer than table salt to the touch. This grind size is perfect for Moka Pot (Stovetop) as well as Aeropress if you are making a quick brew.
A medium grind setting is of a similar consistency to sand. It feels a lot rougher than the previous grind sizes and is ideal for drip coffee makers as well as pour over. This grind size works particularly well with brewing methods which drip water over the coffee over a period of 2-5 minutes. This is the most common grind size for pre ground coffee.
Medium Coarse Grind
A medium coarse grind feels like rough sand to the touch. It works well for the Chemex and other coffee makers which have an extended time of ‘steeping’ (contact time) between the coffee grinds and the hot water.
A coarse grind size feels reminiscent of sea salt. Unlike the fine grind it is made up of very distinct coffee particles that almost look like little boulders. This grind size is used for coffee makers that have long contact time between the water and the grinds. It is most commonly used with French Press (plunger) and Cold Brew.
How to Grind Coffee Beans
So there you have it, the two most important steps to grinding your coffee beans. First, buy a burr grinder of at least reasonable quality, and second, find the right grind size for your given coffee maker.
Combine that with high quality and fresh coffee beans and a longing for that coffee hit and you are in for a good time! That is how to grind coffee beans to make better coffee.