Coffee Grind Problems (What It All Means)
I've made a lot of bad coffee in my time. I started thinking about my most common grinding mistakes and thought I'd share in case any caffeine lovers here can benefit from my missteps, and not end their brews in bitterness (pun intended).
My pain is your gain.
A WITCH'S BREW
Too many times I've taken high-quality coffee beans and brewed them into a concoction that looks (and probably tastes) like the puddles the crows lick from my neighborhood street following a downpour. Coffee doesn't have to be bland, overly bitter, or incessantly rescued by Michael and his white legion of angels (i.e. Cream and sugars). Of course cream and sugar is totally fine, but it's often used to mask a taste that otherwise could have been easily prevented.
Tumbling, perhaps desperately, down the rabbit caffeine hole in the dreaded hours of the morning, I naturally didn't appreciate that coffee grounds, just like food, react to heat in a very similar way.
Imagine baking a batch of cupcakes where each one varies, sometimes widely, in size. Then, you pull them out, and wonder why some taste burnt, some aren't baked at all, and others look somewhat decent.
Coffee grounds are the same.
The latter is why a good grinder makes a big difference. Blade grinders chop up beans into all kinds of sizes and shapes, some very fine, some very large, and when hot water is applied to those grounds of varying sizes, most over and simultaneously, under cook.
Most of us seem to grasp what this idea about ground uniformity means, but like me, failed to understand where to actually apply it.
NOT HATING ON THE KEURIG, JUST AN EXAMPLE
For instance, Keurig pod grounds are too big for how quickly the coffee bakes (brews), which is one of the reasons there is little development, meaning little sweetness and flavor in the resulting cup (grounds are also stale, another discussion). It's a decent taste, but for the price you pay on each pod...
Now, understandably, Keurig doesn't sell us on superior taste, but rather decent taste coupled with speed, and that has to be respected. We're all addicts after all, and addiction requires immediate action.
So, what does the Keurig teach us about grind size? It's a good example of how incorrect grind size can negatively effect the taste of your coffee. Keep in mind, it doesn't matter if the grinds are uniform in size, it's the fact the the size is all off.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
I say all this to point out one thing: you might have a burr grinder, and you're grinding those beans consistent and uniform, but if the SIZE of your grounds are off, it's going to effect (often negatively) how your coffee tastes...whether it's chemex, drip, v60, french press, aeropress, whatever.
So next time you're attempting that amazing pour over, try making your grinds slightly finer, or coarser, and write down how each one tastes until you get to that sweet spot. When you start picking up on more sweetness, or various flavor notes you didn't get before, you're doing something right.
Here are some general grinding tips:
*The finer the grind size, the less total contact time with water it should have.
*Don't wait too long to brew after grinding, maybe 5-10 minutes
*Get a good grinder (obvious, I know)
*Use a sieve to filter out particles (if you can't afford a nice grinder)
*Clean your burrs every 3-6 months
*Realign your burrs every 6-12 months
*Hand grinders are not for the faint of heart (and most are inconsistent)
*Aeropress is the most forgiving device I've found for grind size
Also, since we mentioned pour over, watch this cool video by Scott Rao and see if you're making any mistakes.
-Jonathan Runyan (Owner, Coffee Education)
Send any of your coffee questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org