It's all in the grind Sizemore. Can't be too fine, can't be too coarse. This, my friend, is a science.
-Ewan McGregor in character as SP4 Grimes - Black Hawk Down
SP4 Grimes was right on the money, so let's explore the world of grinding those beans.
One of the fundamental truths about brewing a good coffee, is the ratio of water:coffee. The other, is your grind. Grind size and how you grind your coffee can be the difference between a great cup of coffee or a cup of brown water. So lets break this down to a few subtopics; Types of grinders & Grind size.
Types of Grinders
Typically the two main types of grinders that are available to the public are blade and burr grinders;
Blade grinders really are not that great, the main reason is the absolute lack of control of your grind. There is no way to get a decent particle size using one, there is going to be a huge spread between them powder to chunks. If you have one, it's better used for grinding your spices. Do yourself a massive favour and retire it from your morning coffee ritual.
Burr grinders, this is where your morning coffee can go from warm brown beverage, to a cup of pronounced flavours with subtle delicacy, something that makes that commute, not as horrible.
The easiest and probably the most recognizable way to explain how a burr grinder works, is to think of a pepper mill. Two burrs, one stationary the other rotating, to cut your coffee beans in to set size. Now, there are a few different types of these out there. Flat and conical burr, which is better? Both…and neither…They tend to serve different purposes, and you can get lost in the complexity of the burr design, something many people realistically will not worry about. Either one will produce a MUCH more consistent particle size than the blade.
Why not buy pre ground, and save yourself the hassle?
The less amount of time between grinding and brewing, will always net you a better cup of coffee. Ideally, grind right before you brew.
While true, its one less step and less counter clutter, the one 'negative' thing that grinding does, is introduce oxidation at a more rapid rate. That pre-ground you have, may smell great, but sadly, that's the smell of oxidation at work and organic compounds escaping into the air, degrading your coffee before you even get to drink it.
Compromises exist however; you are much better off, buying your coffee whole bean, and then getting it ground for you, vs buying it pre-ground. Think of it like this: The less amount of time between grinding and brewing, will always net you a better cup of coffee. Ideally, grind right before you brew.
Coffee grinders have however, come down in pricing substantially. A decent quality hand grinder can be had for under 80$ where as a good electrical option can be around $150-$250.
Some of our favorites:
Finding Your Balance.
So, we have our grinder, now what? Well, where we go from here, depends on what you are looking to brew.
Typically, most residential grinders will come with suggested ranges for grinding based on which drink you are about to make. The one thing I would like to touch on here, is that these are suggestions, not rules.
Keep in mind: The finer you grind, the easier and quicker extraction happens. We can get lost in this topic fairly quickly, but let's not pull out those refractometers and start measuring TDS percentages…we all have refractometers right?
On the subject of bitterness in coffee, try grinding a little bit coarser, this does not let the water extract as much out of the coffee and can lead to a nicer cup.
Typically, you may also find, that the older the coffee is, the finer you may have to grind it to get to the taste you want. This is going back to oxidation of coffee. Even whole beans will slowly degrade, but because we now know better, we can grind a little bit finer and get the most out of them.
As with many taste oriented topics, coffee is a very personal. What I enjoy maybe different from what you enjoy, my ratios maybe too strong or too weak for you. Experiment, always.