| Lynsey Harley

Why buy a coffee grinder?

We recently looked at the wonders adding a simple set of scales to your brewing kit can provide. This week we put the case forward for why we should all go out and buy a coffee grinder right away!

Before I begin this article I need to make clear that I’m not here to talk negatively about pre-ground coffee. How could I when at Modern Standard we offer the option of pre-ground beans to our online customers - not to mention our two pre-ground lines in over 500 Sainsbury’s stores in the UK. However, I do hope to introduce you to the many positive aspects of owning a coffee grinder and how using one can send your brewing experience soaring to the next level.

Believe or not, the grind is one of the most vital contributors to the overall taste of your coffee and it’s all about extraction. Extraction relates to how much you get out of your beans during the brewing process, one of the biggest determining factors being how long your brew takes. 

Brewed too quickly your coffee is likely to under-extract, when this happens the water hasn’t had long enough to work with your coffee, leaving all the depth of flavour still in the grounds and giving you a pretty acidic and watery beverage. Brewed for too long your coffee will over-extract, this is when the water expresses too much and by the end you’re effectively brewing the spent grounds, resulting in a very bitter and acrid flavour. 

There’s a whole load of science and equations you can throw at this logic (roast profile, dose, water temperature and pressure are also contributors) but in the interest of keeping things simple, here’s a brief rundown of how different grind sizes should be used for different brew methods.

Fine - for espresso

The finest grind is generally reserved for espressos alone for their very intense flavour. This is because the brew process on a traditional espresso machine is very fast (roughly 26secs) and involves lots of pressure (around 9bar, although less on a home espresso machine). For this reason it’s vital you give the water the best chance of extracting everything in needs to by breaking the coffee down into a fine powder. You might hear of baristas ‘dialling in’ their grinder and espresso machine. This basically means calibrating the right grind size and brew time to achieve the best extraction for making a delicious shot of espresso coffee - it’s a bit of an art in itself, which is why it becomes such a huge passion for top baristas.

Medium - for moka pot, aeropress

Now that we know the basics of how the espresso grind works, we can apply the same logic for slower brewing methods. More like sand in texture, a fairly medium grind will give you a good extraction for using a moka pot or aeropress. This is because they both require some pressure but nowhere near as much as an espresso, both also take a few minutes as opposed to seconds to brew.

Because the water has longer to saturate the grounds and extract flavour, using a fine grind for these methods wouldn’t be suitable as it would probably over-extract and taste gross. However, it could be possible to get a pretty good espresso using this grind setting on a home espresso machine as they tend only apply a lot less pressure than a professional machine.

Coarse Medium - for V60, Chemex

Gravity and water is all it takes to make a delicious cup and with a brew time of around 4mins using the V60. It’s one of the most ‘zen’ methods. With that in mind a coarser grind, like dry soil is required to ensure that the water is able to penetrate the grounds and extract flavour with very little pressure (because you aren't applying any) - think of it more as a soak in the tub rather than a power shower. If you’re making a Chemex try grinding a little coarser as the water will find it harder to pull through a larger dose. You can check out tutorials for both here!

Coarse - for french press (cafetiere)

Another slow brew but this one’s even easier, simply pour water onto the coffee and leave if for a few minutes, stir,  then plunge! It requires a coarse grind (almost like gravel) because the french press uses a metal-grill as opposed to a paper filter, so you don’t want small grinds that can easily slip through the cracks.

Hopefully that very brief breakdown on various grind sizes has showed you just how incredibly handy having your own grinder can be. Combined with a decent set of scales, the grinder will really allow you to harness and tinker with your brew recipe to deliver a cup that screams ‘drink me!’ Plus, wholebeans stay good for longer and you’ll be able to try the thousands of different wholebean options that are available to you.

You don’t have to spend stacks of cash (although good grinders can reach the stratosphere in terms of cost, check out this beast) but a good burr grinder like the Baratza Encore, or even the Hario Handmill will do the trick.

Head over to your favourite online supermarket now and get yourself this essential piece of kit, trust me you’ll soon be heading down the rabbit-hole of studying weights, measures and water purity… in fact that gives me an idea for another article.

Happy Brewing!

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