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Saturday
Jan282012

Get Into the Grind

A previous post, Make a Better Cup o' Joe, touched on the importance of the correct grind for making the best cup of coffee. Here's how you can "Get Into the Grind".

The way, and when, you grind your coffee is an important step toward influencing how your final brew tastes. You can have the highest quality coffee, the perfect roast, pure water, premium filters and an excellent coffee maker and still compromise the taste of your coffee with an incorrect grind. The following basic information about coffee grinding will help you make that perfect brew.

The goal of grinding coffee, regardless of the method of brewing you are using, is the same: break down the roasted coffee bean to expose the interior of the bean allow the right amount of oils and flavors to be extracted. Ground coffee has much more surface area than whole bean coffee, allowing water (the extraction agent) to make contact with more coffee when brewing. More contact means more flavor extraction and better yield.  Sounds basic enough, so how do you do it?

The When and the How: the Main "Rules" of Coffee Grinding 

  • Grind your coffee right before you are ready to brew
  • Choose the right grind size (fineness/coarseness)
  • Select and use a high quality coffee grinder
  • Keep your coffee grinder clean

The Right Coffee Grinder

There are basically two types of coffee grinders, blade grinders and burr grinders:

Blade Grinders
Most inexpensive (under $30 or so) grinders use a sharp metal blade that chop up your coffee beans. As the blade spins, the coffee beans are chopped. The fineness of the grind can be controlled by "pulsing" the power button until you're satisfied. It can be difficult to judge how much coffee to grind and how finely to grind the coffee. If you are grinding finely, there can be heat created by the blades giving your final coffee a burnt taste while destroying other flavors. 

Advantages:

  • Inexpensive: less than $30 or so
  • Easy to Operate: just "pulse" the button
  • Easy to Clean: simple design with only one moving part - the blade
  • Easy to Store: small size means a small countertop footprint
  • Convenient: just put some beans in the grinder and go

Disadvantages:

  • Grinds Unevenly: some beans will be powdered and some left too large
  • Inconsistent: you control grind, so it's easy to grind too fine or too coarse
  • No Portion Control: you have to measure the amount of coffee beans each time you grind
  • Overheats Coffee: tends to heat coffee while grinding, which can adversely affecting flavor
  • Less Capable: cannot grind much better than fine (see grind size specs below)

Burr Grinders
Burr grinders crush the beans between a moving grinding wheel and a non-moving surface. Typically, the burr position can be adjusted to regulate the grind size. Because burr grinders grind a few beans at a time, they provide a much more even and consistent grind. In the burr category, there are two different types.

  • Wheel Burr - The less expensive of the two burr grinders. Higher rotation speeds of the wheel can make these grinders a little more messy and noisy.
  • Conical Burr - The best grinders money can buy. The burr spins slower than the wheel model, making them quieter and less messy. Conical grinders are less likely to clog when grinding oily or flavored coffee. 

Advantages:

  • Grinds Evenly: the even, consistent grind makes for a better cup of coffee
  • Broad Grind Adjustments: grinds coarse to fine (some will even do Turkish)
  • Preserves Flavor: will not overheat coffee during grinding like a blade grinder

Disadvantages:

  • Louder: many burr grinders can be a little noisy
  • Slower: burr grinders methodically grind your beans
  • More Expensive: burr grinders can by pricey

The Right Grind Size

The ideal grind size, the fineness or coarseness of your ground coffee, depends mainly on what type of brewing method you are going to use. In general, if you brew coffee that is ground too coarse, the coffee can be weak (under-extracted) and less flavorful. If your coffee is ground too fine, the coffee can be over-extracted and bitter. Small changes in grind size can drastically affect the taste of your final brew.

Grind Size Descriptions:

  • Coarse: Distinct, chunky, pieces of coffee beans, like heavy kosher salt
  • Medium: Gritty texture with visible flakes, like very coarse sand
  • Fine: Much smoother texture. Like table salt, maybe a little finer
  • Extra Fine: Coffee grains still barely discernable, finer than granular sugar

The Right Grind Size for Your Brewing Method

  • Coarse: Plunger Pot, French Press, Percolator and Vacum Coffee Pot
  • Medium: Drip Coffee Makers with Flat Bottom Filters
  • Fine: Drip Coffee Makers with Cone Shaped Filters and Espresso Moka Pots
  • Extra Fine: Espresso Machines - Pump or Steam

 Do you have a favorite coffee grinder?  What do you recommend?

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