Grinding coffee to match your brew method is quite possibly the most important step in making a great cup of coffee. If you use the wrong grind size for your specific brewing method you might produce a coffee that’s very muddy or very weak. With the correct grind you’ll be able to make a cup of coffee that emits fresh aroma and brighter tastes.
Here I will go through the different types of coffee grinds to help you find the best grind size, depending on what brew method you are using.
The first aspect of getting the grind right, is to make sure you have the right grinder for the job. Essentially there are two different types of grinder - a blade and a burr.
BLADE: These are the cheapest form of grinder and basically chop up the coffee into little bits, I would call them choppers rather than grinders as they don't actually grind the coffee at all. These are okay if you are only using a Cafetiere or Cold Brew as you brew method. For anything else, you'll need a burr grinder as blade grinders produce a very inconsistent grind.
BURR: There are two types of burr grinder, a conical and a flat. For both, I would advise getting a ceramic or steel version as these will wear better and will give you better results.
Conical burrs are normally associated with hand grinders. As you adjust your grinder, the conical shaped teeth move either closer or further away from the collar that it sits in. The gap between them determines the size of the grind.
Flat burrs are two flat discs that sit one on top of the other. Again, as you adjust the grinder, they move either closer or further away from each other and the resulting gap will give you your grind size.
Both types of burr grinder give you a much more consistent grind than the blade grinder. I always describe water as being lazy (as it will find the quickest route through the coffee). So the more consistent the grind, the more even an extraction you will get. The result will be a much more rounded, fuller flavour.
Types of Coffee Grinds
Now that you know a little bit more about grinding coffee, the next step is learning what type of grind you should used for the different types of brew methods. Coffee grinds are classified into three general categories, depending on its size; fine, medium, or coarse. However, it is more appropriate if you look at it from a spectrum point of view. This is because you can make tiny adjustments to cater to your specific tastes and brew methods.
For simplicity, I’ll concentrate on the three main categories, starting from the finer to coarser...
At the finest end of the spectrum, there is the extra-fine coffee grind. They’re extremely fluffy and are widely known to be used in making Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is made by pouring hot water directly over the grinds and pushing them away with a spoon. Cowboy coffee, a less well-known brew that originated in America also uses coffee grinds at this level of fineness.
Fine grinds are next in line. They are normally quite fluffy and smooth, although there is a little grittiness to them. If you're using a traditional espresso machine and making your own espresso-based drink like a latte, cappuccino, or mocha - then a fine grind is what you need! A fine grind creates less air pockets when you tamp them in the portafilter, therefore giving you an intense extraction.
TOP TIP: Imagine you are creating a filter for the water using the coffee as the filter material. If you create the perfect filter, you'll create the perfect cup of coffee!
Espresso requires the most consistent of coffee grinds out of all types of brew methods. When I worked as a Master Barista, I would make micro adjustments to the grinder many times a day to ensure everything was working as it should and that it was producing perfectly consistent grinds.
Next up are medium grinds. They normally range from the size of sand all the way to table salt. Most brewing methods use some sort of medium grind, whether it’s medium-fine or medium-coarse. As such, it’s arguably the most commonly used grinds.
A medium grind is for your everyday drip filter machines. As the hot water passes through, it extracts at quite a pace, this is because a finer grind would clog the paper filters and water would more than likely start pouring out of bits of the coffee maker that it shouldn't!
As for medium-fine grinds, they’re best for small, single use pour-overs, such as the Hario V60. This type of grind is also great for siphon brewers and vacuum pots. Lastly, for medium-coarse grinds, they’re best use is for a Chemex.
The next broad category is coarse grinds. They are roughly the same size as sugar or salt, so they have a significantly larger surface area than a single fine grind particle. As such, they’re used for immersion brewing such as Cafetiere or Cold Brew. Courser grinds are more suitable for these methods because they soak up the flavor more effectively because of the larger surface area.