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Different Coffee Grind Sizes & How To Use Them

by
Jul 15th, 2022

What’s the difference between all the coffee grind sizes?

What grind do I use with a French Press?

What’s the difference between a medium and coarse grind? 

How long do I steep different coffee grinds?

If any of these questions have passed through your mind, then this will hopefully shed some light on the actually very-scientific world of coffee, coffee grinds and coffee techniques! 

Why does grinding matter?

Most of us buy our coffee already ground which, for those of us who are looking for convenience and speed, is a great option and works just fine for the majority of coffee drinkers.

But for anyone who is looking to up their coffee game or explore previously unknown territories, then grinding your own coffee is the next step to creating the perfect cup of joe. Grinding your own coffee allows you to control not just the size of your grounds, but it gives you a far fresher and more flavorful result than you would ever get with ground coffee. 

Here’s why!

Coffee beans are dried, but they are still organic compounds that will break down over time. After being roasted, coffee beans start going stale almost immediately thanks to the oxidation process, and the oils that contain all the aroma and flavor will start to lose their potency over time. 

Having a grinder at home means that you can harness the highest-possible quality of flavor from the coffee beans that you buy, and by grinding your beans right before brewing them, you are getting the best possible cup of coffee you could hope to get!

Also, buying pre-ground coffee means that you are limited to one type of brewing method, so grinding your own beans opens you to a wider variety of flavors. 

Why does grind size matter?

Grind sizes affect your final product (as in, your cup of coffee!) through two different ways: through the beans’ resistance and through their surface area. 

Let’s start with the surface area. Like we said, breaking down coffee beans creates a larger surface area and allows more oil to release from the beans. The finer the grind is, the more surface area there is and the more particles are released. This process is called extraction, and extraction plays a large role in creating either a smooth, flavorful coffee or a bitter, acidic coffee. 

Coffee that is over extracted (too much surface area) will taste bitter and sludgy. Coffee that is under extracted (not enough surface area) will taste weak, fruity or sour. 

This is also where resistance comes in, which refers to how fast water can move through the grounds. A fine grind will leave less space for water to flow between the grounds, therefore allowing the water to interact more with the beans and extract more flavors — giving you stronger coffee that is more on the bitter side. If the grind is coarse, water will flow more quickly and have less time to extract the flavor — giving you a weaker coffee that’s more on the acidic side. 

Also, water temperature can affect the flavor, too. Higher temperatures extract oils faster, so it’s harder to control the extraction rate when the water is hotter. 

The trick, then, is to balance the grind size with the resistance and the water temperature  so that the water hits the grounds for just the right amount of time and extracts the right amount. 

And yes, it’s complicated, but having an idea of how the time and grind size affects your coffee will allow you to create a final product that is exactly how you want it to taste.

Fixing bad coffee

Granted, a bad cup of coffee isn’t so broken it can’t be enjoyed (at least, most of the time it isn’t), but a poor-tasting one can certainly be improved by using this formula.

If the flavor is sour: increase the brew time, decrease the water temperature and use a finer grind.

If the flavor is bitter: decrease the brew time, increase the water temperature and use a coarser grind. 

If anything, using a timer to track your brew time is a great place to start your journey to becoming a real home barista!

What coffee to make with what coffee grind sizes

Extra coarse

Brew methods: cowboy coffee, cold-brew

Size: peppercorns

Because this grind is the largest, these coffees will need a longer extraction time with a lower water temperature. Cold brew can steep for up to 12 hours! 

Coarse

Brew methods: French press, percolator, immersion brewers

Size: kosher salt

These grinds are a little smaller, but their extraction time is nowhere near the 12 hours that cold brew uses. Typically, a French press should steep for about 4 minutes maximum. 

Medium/coarse

Brew methods: Chemex, clever dripper, café solo

Size: rough sand particles

The extraction time for this grind is roughly around 2 minutes maximum, and is used primarily with small-batch pour-overs like the Chemex, Clever Dripper and café solo methods

Medium

Brew methods: cone shaped single pour-overs, Siphon coffee maker, flat-bottom drip coffee machines, Aeropress (3+ minutes brew time)

Size: soft sand

This grind will work with most standard drip coffee makers, making it a safe option for easy, good coffee. 

Medium/fine

Brew methods: Aeropress (2-3 minutes brew time), cone shaped single pour-overs, K-Cups

Size: fine sand

This grind is fine enough for water extract flavor in a short time (30-60 seconds for a K-Cup), but not too fine that pressure has to be used to force water through (like for espresso). 

Fine

Brew methods: espresso, Aeropress (1 minute brew time), Moka pot

Size: roughly-ground spice

Now we’re into the espresso range of grinds — one that requires pressure to force water through the grounds slowly enough to get all the flavor but not so slow that it over extracts the oils. 

Extra fine

Brew methods: Turkish coffee

Size: flour

This is the finest grind of all the coffees, and as such does not need a filter at all. Turkish coffee is boiled directly in the water and clumps together at the bottom after the heat source is removed. 

Hopefully this clears everything up a little bit and introduces you to some new techniques and tricks to try at home. And who knows? Maybe you’ll become an at-home café-worthy barista in no time!

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/Christoph

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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