Making the Most: Coffee Grinding
Getting into "specialty" coffee can be daunting at first. Many people appreciate the taste of high quality coffee but aren't necessarily ready to take the plunge to uproot their routine or dish out the money for new equipment. We believe coffee is for everyone, and we understand that life doesn't wait for good coffee even if you really want it to. We've created the Making the Most series to help you make the most of the way you already brew coffee. If you find yourself somewhere between diving head-first into coffee culture and wanting to just get a decent cup of coffee that tastes better than you used to make it, we hope this series helps you.
These are some tips that we've found helpful for making the most of your brewing equipment and--most importantly--enjoying your coffee more.
Grinders either fall into the category of blade or burr. Blade grinders are more commonly used because they have an attractively low price point. Burr grinders tend to be more expensive, but are the most ideal for coffee grinding because of their consistency and adjustability. Whichever type you have, grinding coffee fresh will always be better than pre-ground coffee, so its best to know how to grind it well. Understanding that most coffee drinkers may already have a blade grinder or not want to spend a bit extra on a burr grinder, we want to help you optimize your blade grinder and make the best coffee with it. With typical blade grinders, there are two potential problems that you want to watch out for: gauging the correct grind size and even particle size.
CORRECT GRIND SETTING
Gauging the correct grind size is tough with a manual blade grinder because as long as you hold down the button it continues to grind the coffee smaller. Most blade grinders don't have a time-setting based on how coarse or fine you want it to be. To avoid grinding the coffee too coarse or too fine, you might want to time yourself on a few occasions to find out how long it takes to get the size that's right for your brewing method. After you nail it, remember how many seconds it was and repeat that every time. This might result in a few sub-par cups along the way but once you get it it will make the coffee much more consistent from then on.
EVEN PARTICLE SIZE
Uneven particle size, on the other hand, is a natural result of a blade grinder (this is why we tend to recommend a burr grinder instead). Because the blades continue to grind the coffee as you press the button, it won't grind each particle an even amount of times, resulting in many different sizes of particles of coffee. This leads to an uneven extraction (meaning the smaller particles will over-steep while the bigger particles under-steep...in other words, it tastes funny). Nevertheless, there is one trick to give your blade-grinder a shot at more even particle sizes. While you grind your coffee, shake the whole grinder in the air rather than leaving it on the counter. It looks funny, but it helps keep all the coffee moving and helps grind the beans into more consistent and uniform sizes.
If you're over the blade-grinder life and want to take the next step to quality grinding, there are a few great options for you:
- Baratza's Encore grinder is a great investment because it has high quality burrs and virtually will never break (seriously, you'll have that thing forever). The biggest downside is that it is a good chunk of money and you might not be ready to fork that out yet.
- Another great option are hand-held burr grinders. These are manual--which means you have to physically turn the gears to grind the coffee--but they work really well. They are much more reasonably priced and they are portable so even if you one day upgrade to an Encore or another grinder you can keep it for camping or traveling.