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Coffee Grinders Pt. 4: 5 Steps to Improve Your Coffee with Your Grinder

February 14, 2014

 
  If you've been following along in our coffee grinder series, you've learned why your coffee grinder matters, how to choose a coffee grinder and what your grind should look like for different brew methods. Now, let's talk about troubleshooting your coffee brew, and how to use your coffee grinder to improve the flavor in your cup. As you get more experienced with using your grinder, you'll figure a lot of this out for yourself, but these five steps will give you a jump start on the learning process.  
  1. Start with the recommended grind size for your brewing method. Our visual chart can help you get close, and your coffee grinder's instruction manual may give you general guidelines. As a standard guideline, the longer the brew time, the coarser the grind should be.
    • Method Grind Size Brew Time

      Grind Size Guidelines

      Immersion (French Press, Eva Solo) Coarse 3.5-4 mins
      Immersion/Drip (Chemex, Sowden SoftBrew) Medium Coarse 4 mins
      Siphon Medium 2-3 mins
      Drip (Auto or Manual) Medium Fine Depends on size: 2.5 mins for small cone 4-5 for full pot
      Espresso Fine 23-28 secs
    Weigh your coffee grounds. It's the best way to determine that you've got the right amount of coffee for your brewing method. It's especially important if you use timer-based dosing, because the finer your grounds, the more time it will take to grind.
  2. Time your brew. The brew time is a major factor in the finished flavor of your coffee. It varies from one method to another, as well as with the volume of coffee you're making. The chart at right gives guidelines for timing various brewing methods. If the water runs through the coffee grounds more quickly, the grind may be too coarse. If it takes longer, your grind may be too fine.
  3. Taste your coffee. Coffee that hasn't brewed long enough is under-extracted. It will be weak and may taste sour or lemony. Coffee that has brewed too long is over-extracted. It will taste bitter, burnt and flat. If your coffee is under-extracted, try a finer grind. If it's over-extracted, try a coarser grind.
  4. Keep notes. You'll often find the grind settings that delivered perfect coffee or espresso yesterday delivers a barely drinkable cup today. There are many variables that contribute to this, including the age of the coffee and the humidity in the air. Notes will help you track the variables so that you can make excellent coffee every time.

 

Notes on Espresso

  Espresso is more sensitive to grind size than any other brewing method. The grind size and consistency affects how easy it is to tamp, how long it takes to pull a shot and whether the coffee flavor is fully extracted. There are a few clues you can look for to help you determine whether you need to grind coarser or finer in addition to flavor and brew time.  
  • The Pinch Test: Pinch a bit of the ground coffee between your thumb and forefinger. It should clump together in the center with loose grounds around the edge of the pinch. If it doesn't stick together at all, it's too coarse for espresso. If there are no loose grounds at all, it's probably too fine.
  • Tamp lightly and examine the top of the coffee. It should be level and smooth all the way across with no visual texture. If you can see grains or brush them up with a light fingertip touch, the grinds are probably too fine.
  • Watch the flow. If it's thin and watery, the grind is too coarse. If it's barely flowing, the grind is too fine.
  • Examine the puck after pulling the shot. It should be compressed evenly, and fairly dry to the touch. If it's soupy and sloppy, your grind is probably too coarse.
 

Troubleshoot coffee grind size

 

 

Some Final Tips

 
  • Clean your coffee grinder regularly. Even the best coffee grinders will retain some coffee in the burrs or the grinding chamber. Left alone, they'll become rancid and contribute an off taste to your coffee. While some people suggest using a handful of uncooked rice to clean your grinder, we highly recommend a dedicated grinder cleaner like Full Circle Grindz Cleaner.
  • If you notice that the grinder is grinding unevenly after a while, the burrs may be wearing down. Replacement burrs are fairly inexpensive and changing them out is generally easy to do.
  • After grinding or placing the coffee into the filter basket, give the basket a few light taps on the counter to settle the grounds and distribute them evenly.




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