People tend to overlook the importance of owning their own coffee grinder. But hey, if you enjoy using ground coffee and stick to espresso, there isn’t a ‘need’ for a grinder at first glance.
But, if you want the best coffee possible or enjoy different brewing methods, you’re going to need a coffee grinder. Why? Because incredible brews are made with fresh beans and the grind size differs per method. As a result, your coffee grounds might need to be coarse for one way or finer for another.
In this post, we outline the right grind for any brewing method you can think of. Yup, it’s going to be the last coffee grind chart you will ever need!
But, if you’re in a hurry here’s our quick reference chart for any brewing method:
Coffee Grounds and Under/Overextraction
When brewing coffee, the water extracts the beans’ fats and acids first, followed by sugars, and then plant fibers. This means that the acidic flavors are drawn out to your brew first, followed by sweet and eventually bitter notes.
A successful brew will have the perfect balance between all of these flavors: light acidity, distinct sweetness, and a pleasant bitterness. And it’s actually possible to get this flavor profile with almost every bag of coffee (I say “almost” because some beans, like dark roast beans, just don’t give you a lot of flavor to work with).
But every type of brewing method has its own typical extraction rate and brew time.
The water used can be super hot and with high pressure, like in an espresso. And it can also be room temperature, like in cold brew. An espresso pull will take less than a minute, while cold brew can take 12 or so hours.
If you do everything right, but use fine espresso grounds for your cold brew, you’ll still end up with an extremely bitter and thin cup of joe. And if you use a medium or coarse grind for espresso, you’ll likely end up with a sharp, sour shot.
That’s the importance of coffee grind size.
So if your brew comes out super sour or bitter all the time, don’t go blaming your roaster just yet. You could just be using the wrong grind size!
Poorly Extracted Coffee Tastes Terrible
I’ve had friends complain to me about the beans they bought being “overpriced” or “overrated”, because their brew came out sour, or bitter and watery. It’s easy to blame your roasters, or even the coffee farmers who work their butts off (you heartless wrench!) to give you good quality coffee.
But chances are, the reason your brew tastes terrible is poor extraction.
There are two main types of “terrible” when it comes to coffee. An under-extracted cup will taste different from (but just as terrible as) an over-extracted cup. And to address the problem of bad coffee, it’s essential to know which type you’re dealing with.
Under Extraction Sucks
In an under-extracted cup of coffee, the beans are not extracted past the first stage I mentioned previously. Because of that, mostly the fats and acids of the beans are present in your coffee.
This can happen when you use, say, a medium-coarse or coarse grind for your espresso. An espresso machine uses high temperature and high pressure to extract your coffee. And it only takes a minute to do this. Because of that, a fine grind is often recommended for this extraction method.
But when you use a coarse or medium-coarse grind, the result is an aggressively sour espresso shot, which doesn’t. This sharp sourness is the most telling sign of an under-extracted brew.
Underextracted coffee is dull, lifeless, and even slightly salty at times. It’s just shitty all things considered!
Overextraction Isn’t Any Better
Overextracted coffee is just as bad, if not worse.
This happens when you go too far on the grind for the extraction method in question. For example, using a medium-fine or fine grind for an extraction method like the French press.
A French press doesn’t use a paper filter, so it’s a very efficient way of extracting coffee. As a result, it’s advised to use coarse grounds for this, rather than medium-fine or fine grounds.
But when you use fine grounds for French press, it can end up extremely bitter, watery, and every bit as lifeless as an under-extracted coffee. While pronounced sourness comes from a lack of other flavors, the bitterness from over-extraction overpowers all other flavors.
It also leaves a rough, dry feeling in your mouth that will leave you wanting to chug water afterwards.
Addressing Poor Extraction
The primary way to deal with under and over-extraction is to adjust your coffee grind size.
There are two ways to do this: either grind your beans finer (smaller particles) or coarser (larger particles). Here are some key differences between the two, and when to do either one.
The greater the surface area of your grounds, the more coffee comes into contact with your water. And the more grounds come into contact with water, the more coffee you will be able to extract.
A finer grind will break your coffee down into smaller particles (measured in microns), giving your coffee a larger total surface area. Meanwhile, a coarse grind will result in a smaller overall surface area and less extraction, all things being equal.
Aside from adjusting the area of contact, changing your coffee grind size also has an effect on the extraction time of your coffee.
Changing the grind size affects the spaces between the particles too. A finer grind will have smaller spaces in between them than a coarse grind. When the spaces between your coffee particles are small, less water can pass through.
Because of this, the water will stay in contact with coffee longest when an extra fine grind size is used. And using an extra coarse grind will give your water the most space to move around your coffee particles.
So how do you tie all this together for the perfect brew?
All you need to remember is that switching to a fine grind will lead to a more intense extraction, while adjusting to a coarse grind will give you a milder extraction.
Sometimes, adjusting your dose or brew time won’t be enough to give you the taste you’re looking for. Changing up your coffee grounds’ grind size is an effective way to control the intensity of flavors you get from your beans.
Blade VS Burr Grinders
When you look up coffee grinders online, you’ll see that you have two types to choose from: a blade grinder and a burr grinder.
A blade coffee grinder kind of works like an airplane propeller. It rotates really fast and chops the beans up as they fly around the chamber. The longer you leave your beans inside, the finer the grind of your coffee.
It’s a chaotic way to grind your coffee beans, and it shows in the sizes of your coffee particles. Using a blade grinder can give you hundreds of different coffee grind sizes in every cup.
A burr grinder is more consistent. It uses burrs that rotate against each other to grind the coffee beans. The burrs break the beans into smaller and smaller pieces until the grinds of coffee particles are tiny enough to fit the gap between the burrs’ outer edges.
The width of this gap is adjustable. Making it wider will result in a more coarse grind, while a narrower gap will lead to a finer grind for coffee.
Cons of Blade Grinders
Blade grinders are incredibly inconsistent. As I mentioned, they’ll give you many different grind sizes in every cup of coffee you make. The problem with this is it can cause an imbalance in the flavor profile of your brew.
Imagine baking a cupcake and a birthday cake in the same oven for the same amount of time. There’s absolutely no way you can bake both perfectly.
You can bake your cupcake perfectly, but leave the birthday cake underbaked. You could also bake the birthday cake perfectly and over bake the cupcake. Or, you could compromise and simultaneously slightly over bake the cupcake, while slightly underbaking the birthday cake!
Now, imagine trying to bake hundreds of differently sized cakes for the same amount of time. Chaotic would be putting it lightly.
A blade grinder does something similar to your coffee beans. It chops it up into different sized particles. And when you brew coffee, you under extract the larger fines and over-extract the smaller ones. And this is reflected in the coffee you make–trust me.
Somehow, it’s even worse than just under-extracting your coffee or just over-extracting it. When the particles of your ground coffee are unevenly-sized, you end up doing both. And what you end up with is a cup of coffee that’s both bitter and sour. It’s everything you don’t want in your coffee.
Pre-Cooking Your Beans
They also rotate at a fast RPM, which causes friction and heat in your grinder. That effect’s similar to pre-cooking your beans. The heat causes the coffee to release some of its flavors and aromas. This makes them a lot more prone to over-extraction.
Now, if you already have a blade grinder at home, not all hope is lost. You’ll be able to find some “hacks” (like the video embedded below) to encourage your blade grinder to grind more uniformly (like stopping to shake it once in a while). But in all honesty, you’re better off just buying pre-ground coffee than spending your hard-earned money on a blade grinder.
Burr Grinders For The Win
There are two types of burr grinders: flat burr grinders and conical burr grinders.
Flat burr grinders use two horizontal rings with teeth that grind coffee between them. The particles are then pushed off the outer edges of the rings and into a chamber. You can adjust the distance between the rings to change your coffee grind size.
Conical burr grinders grind coffee between an inner cone-shaped ring with teeth and an outer cone-shaped ring. When the particles become small enough, they fall through the gap between the two burrs.
The main advantage of burr grinders, especially with flat burr grinders, is that they can consistently produce uniform grounds.
But personally, I prefer conical burr grinders. Since their burrs are vertical, they use the help of gravity to collect your ground coffee. So you don’t have to worry about the build-up of old grounds in a conical grinder, and therefore it’s much easier to maintain.
Conical burr grinders also generally run at a lower RPM than flat burr grinders. This means they’re both quieter and produce less heat than their flat burr siblings.
In fact, you can even go with a hand grinder. It uses conical burrs, so it doesn’t even need electricity at all. This would be the cheapest option–and the option that will give you the most toned forearms!
Coffee Grind Sizes – The Master List
Extraction rate, brew time, and roast profile. These are just some of the factors that you need to consider when figuring out which grind size to use for your brew.
But doing so can take weeks, even months of experimentation per brewing method! Not everyone has the patience, let alone the time to do that. And it would honestly be a crime to make someone wait that long for good coffee!
Luckily for you, the generations of baristas before you have done some experimenting of their own. And they’ve covered every single brewing method you can imagine, from cold brew to AeroPress and Turkish coffee.
Here’s a master list of all the major grinds for coffee, and which brewing method they’re perfect for!
Extra Coarse Grind
- Cold Brew
- Cowboy Coffee
To get an extra coarse grind, set your coffee grinder towards the coarsest setting. Using your grinder this way should mean your grounds come out the size of freshly ground peppercorns.
This grind size is perfect for a cold brew and cowboy coffee. Because of cold brew’s full immersion and long brew time, it’s possible to over-extract your coffee when using a finer grind. It also prevents over-extraction when making cowboy coffee, at it’s brewed over an open flame, and doesn’t use a filter.
- French Press
- Cupping Coffee
- Vietnamese Coffee
This grind is just slightly more fine than extra coarse, with a particle size similar to sea salt. It’s also known as the French press grind.
As you know, the French press doesn’t make use of a paper filter. Since it’s such an efficient extraction method, using a coarse grind prevents you from over extracting your coffee.
That’s why it’s also the ideal grind size for when you’re using a percolator. A percolator makes coffee similar to cowboy coffee, except it allows the use of a paper filter.
Baristas also use this grind size in cupping sessions. This allows for an assessment of the general flavor profile of the beans they’re testing without brewing them.
- Clever Dripper
- Cafe Solo
With the appearance of coarse or rough sand, the medium-coarse grind size is just slightly finer than the previous coarse grind.
The medium-coarse grind is ideal for the Clever Dripper and Cafe Solo because both are filtered full immersion brewing methods. So your grind size just has to be slightly more fine than that of the French press. You can achieve the same full flavor in your coffee, but one that’s brighter and clearer than French press coffee.
This also works well with a Chemex. Using a medium-coarse grind for your beans allows your coffee to come out bright and clear, without any bitterness. Perfect paired with light roast beans!
- AeroPress (Long Brew Time)
- Siphon (Vacuum) Brewer
- Cone-Shaped Pour Over Coffee Makers
- Drip Coffee Makers (Flat-Bottomed)
The medium grind is quite literally the happy medium between extra coarse and extra fine. It should have the appearance of regular sand.
It’s a good idea to start with a medium grind when testing out different grind sizes and work your way to your desired flavor from there by iterating the grind.
This works well with siphon coffee, which uses a combination of immersion and vacuum technology to brew coffee. It’s best to start with a medium grind because your grounds can’t be too coarse or too fine for this method. This is also why it’s used for Aeropress coffee with around three to four minutes of brew time.
A medium grind also works well with cone-shaped pour-over coffee makers and drip coffee makers. These brewing methods have a shorter extraction time compared to full immersion methods. So, your grounds need to be slightly finer to achieve the right balance of flavors.
- V60/Kalita Wave
- AeroPress (Medium Brew Time)
Now, we’re entering “fine” territory. The medium-fine grind is known as the pour-over grind. It’s finer than sand and closer to the appearance of table salt.
While a medium grind works with cone-shaped pour-over coffee makers, the medium-fine grind also works well with a Hario V60 or Kalita Wave coffee maker. This is the grind size for coffee drinkers who like their pour over a bit richer than normal.
The medium-fine grind also works well with an AeroPress! But because it’s finer than a medium grind, you can shorten your brew time by around a minute.
- Moka Pot
- AeroPress (Short Brew Time)
The fine grind is also known as the espresso grind. If that sounds familiar, that’s because most pre-ground coffee is sold as espresso grounds. It’s a bit finer in texture than table salt.
This grind is used for high-pressure extraction methods like the espresso and moka pot. These use a shorter brew time, so the fine grind size lets you get as much flavor as possible in that short period.
If you enjoy thick AeroPress coffee, you can also use a fine grind with a brewing time of one to two minutes.
Extra Fine Grind
- Turkish Coffee
The extra-fine grind is something you’ll rarely see used. It’s often only used in Turkish coffee and has a powdery consistency similar to flour. There are even Turkish coffee grinders that serve this sole purpose.
The extra-fine grind size allows your coffee to dissolve in water. So yes, you are left with the grounds in the cup! Sugar is often added, as the resulting brew is incredibly intense and heavy.
There. You have it, coffee grind size matters. And adjusting it can either save or ruin any bag of coffee beans you own!
Like I mentioned, there’s no single grind size that works well with all brewing methods. But if you want to experiment with various grind sizes yourself, a medium grind would be an excellent place to start.
It’s important to note that this master list is just a guide. None of these are rules that are set in stone. Other factors can also influence the correct grind size to use, such as the roast profile of your coffee beans as some are better brewed using certain methods. The ideal grind size even changes as your beans age (spoiler: make a cold brew from old beans, you’ll thank us!).
So it’s incredibly important to have some control over the grind size when you brew coffee. And you don’t have to make a significant investment for that. Even a simple manual conical burr grinder can give you enough control (and an even grind) to help you get the best out of your coffee.
Good luck, and may you never stop grinding, my friend!