February 16, 2011 Nathan

Five Steps to Better Coffee at home: Step Two – The Grind

So, with step one complete, you’ll have the best beans for the job. The next step in any preparation of coffee is turning the beans into coffee ready for your machine, pot, or plunger.

The fundamental principle of coffee preparation is reproducability. The one commandment of coffee making is though shalt control your variables. We’ll move on to aiming to consistently reproduce the same routine in the next step – but getting the grind is fundamental.

Grinding immediately before use will dramatically enhance your coffee. But not all grinders are created equal. There are two “families” of grinder – burr and blade. Blade grinders aren’t ideal. They’re slightly better than nothing. But unless you do exactly the same thing every time with the same number of beans at the same weight being bashed by the blade the same number of times, you’re not going to get consistency. You’ll never get uniform sized particles and you’ll probably overheat the coffee particles due to friction. If you grind too fine you’ll overwhelm yourself with coffee that has too much oil and is too bitter.

They are a good stepping stone to improving your coffee at home – and if you want to start off with a blade grinder here are some tips:

  • Don’t hold the button down for ages and batter the coffee into dust.
  • Pulse the button for short bursts (two to five seconds) to avoid overheating the ground coffee.
  • For a fine grind go for about 20 seconds of these bursts, for a coarse grind aim for around 10 seconds.
  • These work better for plunger and filter coffee than for espresso.

Burr grinders are more expensive. But with reason. They are more mechanically complex and they produce a better result. The burrs lock together like cogs crushing the coffee into evenly sized particles. You can control the size of the particles by moving the burrs closer or further apart. You need a different sized particle for every machine and for every different brewing method (extra-fine for Turkish, fine for espresso, medium for drip filter and large for plunger).

Tips for choosing a burr grinder

  • Be prepared to spend more on the grinder than the machine (unless you’re buying a $1000 plus machine).
  • Look for maximum adjustability in the grind size, “stepless” is better than “stepped”…
  • Be prepared to waste some coffee finding the right settings.
  • Clean the grinder regularly to avoid build ups of stale coffee.
  • Steer clear of dosered grinders for home use (grinders like they have at cafes with big chambers on the front).

A good guide to burr grinders available in Australia can be found here.

This series covers information I used for a coffee information night I put on at my church (twice) and originally appeared on St. Eutychus.com

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About the Author

Nathan Nathan is a coffee lover, home roaster, amateur barista and coffee tinkerer. He's married, has two kids, one turtle, and for a day job works for Creek Road Presbyterian Church. He previously worked in PR. This blog is his attempt to make coffee tax deductible.

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