If you always buy your coffee already ground, you may not ever have thought much about how the grind of the coffee is impacting the taste.
After all, it’s going to taste like coffee and when it’s early in the morning and you’re staring down the barrel of a new day, you might not be in the headspace to worry about taste and grind so long as it doesn’t taste burned!
But coffee grind has a huge impact on taste and choosing the right blend for the grind of your coffee will make or break your morning cup. This is why so many people grind their coffee instead of getting it pre-ground: once you sort out how to grind your coffee for your way of making it, you will have a much better cup than the pre-ground stuff can ever deliver.
But what’s really going on here? How does coffee grind affect taste?
The main reason the grind can affect taste is because of surface area and brewing time: the coarser the grind is, the more surface area will be covered by water to extract the flavor and the better chance of a more flavorful cup of coffee, though also the greater chance of it becoming bitter or acidic.
Types of Coffee Grind
Before going into anything more complex, it’s a good idea to understand what types of coffee grind are out there. You can look for pre-ground (or ask for pre-ground) coffee with these levels, or do it yourself using your own grinder.
Coarse: Quite chunky and very distinct chunks of bean.
Medium-Coarse: less chunky, but still distinct
Medium: About the consistency of sea salt. Most pre-ground coffee defaults to this grind.
Fine: About the consistency of table salt.
Extra Fine: The consistency of powdered sugar.
So which type of coffee goes with which grind?
Pour over: Medium coarse
Siphon Coffee pot (you know, the usual one): Medium
Stovetop Espresso Maker: Fine
Turkish Coffee: extra-fine (To the point that you may not find a grinder that can get it fine enough! You’ll have to go looking for a specific one if you want Turkish coffee).
Now, why does this matter? The finer the grind, the less surface area the water has to go over when brewing. This means that the coffee will brew a lot faster since the flavor will take a lot less time to extract. You’ll get a faster extraction time for the water to pull the flavor out of the grinds and the water will meet less resistance which also impacts how long it has to extract flavor.
Smaller grinds also don’t require water at the same hot temperature so that you have less chance of over extracting and thus creating a bitter cup. Extra fine and fine coffee grounds get used for espresso and Turkish coffee and the pull for that is usually half a minute. Any more than that and the coffee will be over-extracted and won’t taste very good.
As a side note, finely ground coffee does not make a stronger cup of coffee – it makes a stronger tasting cup because it’s concentrated.
The more coarse a coffee grind is, the more surface area there is for the water to go over. It results in you having to brew for a longer period of time so that you don’t end up with something weak and disgusting, but it can make for a more flavorful coffee since the water has more time to extract from the bean.
It’s used for French press coffee, cold brewing, and ‘cowboy coffee’. These methods all have a longer steeping time and thus require a coarser grind or else you won’t get any coffee out of it.
As noted, brewing time matters when it comes to your coffee and the grind. The longer the brewing time, the coarser your grind should be. This is so that the water can take the time to extract from the larger chunks of ground bean and so you end up with a more complex flavor profile.
If you try to do a fast brew with coarse grinds, you’ll mostly end up with water that shaded brown. And if you try to slow brew finely ground coffee, you’ll probably end up with sludge! The grind has to match the brewing time to get the best possible results.
The Bean Itself
The final part of this ‘trifecta’ is the, of course, the bean itself. The flavor of the coffee will be greatly impacted by the bean you used. For example, some beans have a more fruity or floral flavor and others more of a chocolate flavor.
It will really all depend on where the bean was grown and how it was roasted. We’ve done some articles already on roasting time and where beans are grown, so take a look at those if you want more information. For now, it’s enough to remember that the bean will impact your coffee as well, so choose a good one!
But How Can I Possibly Grind My Coffee to Match?!
Yeah, this is where things get tricky. The problem is that any cheap grinder (something with blades for example) is going to create what are called ‘boulders and fines’, that is, some chunks will just be larger than others no matter what you do.
This affects flavor because the ‘boulders’ are going to need more time to extract than the ‘fines’, but since you cannot finetune brewing to that extreme, it’s impossible to get the perfect cup. Burr grinders on the other hand generally deliver more consistency but are more expensive.
And if you have a really fine palate, you might still notice a bit of muddying or inconsistency because it’s nearly impossible to have perfectly consistent grinds.
One way to better control what comes out of your coffee pot is to manage not only the grinds but also the brewing time and the water temperature. Finer ground coffee should be brewed with slightly cooler water and only for half a minute to a minute.
Coarser grinds can go a bit hotter and brew longer (up to four minutes for a French press). This is something you can better control and so overcome the nature of uneven coffee grounds.
At the end of the day though, the thing to remember is that brewing time and the grind of the coffee bean go together. The coarser the grind, the longer the brewing time you’ll want and the flavor profile of your coffee will change.
The finer the grind, the less brewing time you want. Over (or under) doing the brewing time is what really creates a weak cup of coffee, so practice set your timer, and take notes.
Broadly speaking, if you’re pouring water over the grounds yourself (French press or pour over) and letting it steep, you want coarse grinds. If you’re getting the coffee maker to push the water through itself, you want finer grinds.
It’s almost enough to make me go back to only buying pre-ground coffee for my siphon coffee pot! And hey, that’s perfectly fine at six in the morning when I’m desperately drinking my coffee before the toddler wakes up.
How do you take your coffee? Have you ever thought about the grinds?
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