coffee beans sitting in a clear coffee hopper ready to grind

Coffee Grinding Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Get the Perfect Grind

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Maybe you’re new to the world of coffee, having just tasted your first really amazing espresso. Now you’re eagerly researching the best coffee beans to buy and have a shiny new AeroPress enshrined on your countertop. Or maybe you’ve been tweaking your favorite brew for years, and haven’t quite perfected your ideal cup yet. 

Buying the best beans out there is a great start, but if you don’t have your grind size right, those beautiful beans will go to waste. Our coffee grinding guide, including a coffee grind size chart, will help you determine the best way to extract the perfect flavor from your coffee.

Why Grind Your Coffee Fresh Each Day?

It’s a moment of decision – your barista asks you if you want him to grind your coffee for you right there in the shop. Do you say yes, and embrace the convenience of pre-ground coffee, or insist on doing it yourself?

There are pros and cons to each method, but once you start grinding your coffee fresh each time, we promise you’ll never go back.

Fresh Ground Coffee vs Pre-Ground Coffee

The bottom line is that for the best coffee flavor possible, you want your coffee beans to stay whole and unexposed to air right until you’re ready to brew them. This ensures you aren’t letting subtle flavor compounds simply evaporate into thin air.

Although we have a clear preference for grinding coffee yourself – spoiler alert – we’ll break down the pros and cons of each method for you. 

There are obviously some perks of using pre-ground coffee, which is why it’s so popular and grocery stores sell so much of it.

Pros: Fresh Ground Coffee:
  • Stays fresh longer
  • Better flavor profile
  • Can be cheaper
  • Shelf Life: ~ 6 months
Cons: Fresh Ground Coffee
  • Need extra equipment
  • Takes extra time
  • Can be messy depending on the grinder
Pros: Pre-Ground Coffee:
  • Convenient
  • Easily accessible
  • Easy to measure
  • Shelf Life: ~3 months
Cons: Pre-Ground Coffee
  • Coffee goes stale quicker
  • Loss of flavor

How is Coffee Made?

Here’s what happens when coffee is pre-ground and prepared for sale.

After the coffee beans are picked, they are usually dried in the sun. Next, they are roasted and quickly cooled down to preserve maximum flavor. At this stage in the process, you have a beautiful, compact package of flavor contained in each bean. The roasting, cooling, and drying allows each bean to be stored safely without refrigeration. Though the bean will lose some flavor over time – especially if it’s not stored correctly – they can last up to six months in your pantry, or even for a couple of years if you freeze them. 

Once you grind the beans, however, that flavor delivery package is destroyed. This is actually a good thing, because the whole point of brewing coffee is to get all those tasty flavors out of the bean and into your cup of coffee. 

Theoretically, you could just let coffee beans sit in water for a while and they would eventually turn into coffee. This is kind of the idea behind cold brew, actually. But grinding your coffee gets the flavors out much faster. 

Grinding the coffee beans exposes them to air, however, and a process called oxidation begins immediately. This when the oxygen and other compounds in the air start to break down the materials in the coffee. 

So, keeping what’s inside your coffee bean away from the outside air as long as possible helps to get you the optimal cup of coffee.

When coffee is pre-ground, the degradation starts immediately and a lot of flavor has already disappeared by the time it gets to your countertop. 

Of course, the convenience of pre-ground coffee is real, which makes a lot of people opt for it anyway.

Different Types of Coffee Grinders

All right, so if you’re going to freshly grind your beans right before brewing, you need a grinder. As with most things coffee, coffee grinding introduces you to a world of variety and personal preference.

Manual vs Electric Coffee Grinders

One distinction is between manual and electric coffee grinders. This is pretty self-explanatory. Manual coffee grinders have a crank that has to be turned by hand to grind the coffee, whereas electric grinders use electricity (or a battery) and just require a press of a button.

Manual Coffee Grinders

Manual coffee grinders were, of course, invented before electric ones and some people like the nostalgia factor of grinding their coffee with a hand crank. Overall, it provides a more tactile experience that can sometimes be quite noisy. Manual grinders also let you grind a little more slowly, which can be good if you want a coarse coffee grind.

Electric Coffee Grinders

As with most kitchen gear, an electric coffee grinder speeds up the process a great deal. Most simply plug into the wall, although there are battery-operated models out there too. Some espresso makers even come with an electric coffee grinder to get the ideal espresso coffee grind.

There are also a lot of special features available in electric coffee makers, like timers and automatic dispensing, that can make coffee grinding even more convenient or precise.

Blade vs Burr Grinders

So, how do you grind coffee so that it gets the most out of your perfectly preserved beans? That brings us to one of the most important points in our coffee grinding guide: blade vs. burr coffee grinders. There are two main types of electric grinders – blade and burr – and they produce vastly different ground coffee.

Blade Grinders

Blade grinders contain two spinning blades that whir around when you push a button, dicing your coffee beans up into tiny little bits. 

There generally aren’t different ground size settings on a blade grinder, so you have to pay attention to make sure you get the grind size you want. Blade grinders are typically inexpensive and don’t take up much space. If you get one with removable blades, they can be pretty easy to clean too. 

The downside is consistency. Because the whirring blades don’t encounter the beans at an even rate, you are guaranteed to get an uneven ground size, which is a problem for extraction rate and therefore evenly-flavored coffee. The thick grounds will be under extracted and the fine grounds will be over extracted and the final taste will be inconsistent. 

The blades also produce friction, heat, and static, which can cause you ground coffee to stick to the sides of the grinder and make a real mess. If you let the grinder go too long, you can even burn your coffee grounds.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Compact
  • Easy to clean
Cons
  • Uneven grind size
  • Limited or no grind size settings
  • Friction and heat can affect flavor

Burr Grinders

Burr grinders work a bit differently. Instead of sharp blades that resemble airplane propellers (remember Indiana Jones?), they have sharp, circular grinding instruments called burrs.

These face each other and pulverize the coffee between them. The benefit is that you get a more consistent grind size this way and it is gentler on your beans because you’re not flipping them every which way, as with blades. This also reduces friction and static electricity so your ground coffee isn’t sticking to the sides of your grinder.

Even better, burr grinders usually have adjustable grind size settings so you don’t have to just eyeball it when you’re grinding coffee. You can purposefully set it for coarse, medium, or fine. This lets you experiment to find your preferred grind size. Or, you can adjust it depending on what type of coffee you are brewing that day, like a medium coffee grind for a pour-over coffee or a super-fine grind to make espresso.

Of course, these features tend to carry a larger price tag, so you’ll probably be paying more for a burr grinder than a blade grinder.

Pros
  • Less friction
  • Uniform grind size
  • Adjustable settings
  • Less messy
Cons
  • More expensive than blade grinders
  • Sometimes burr grinders can be fairly bulky

How Coffee Grind Size Affects Over / Under Extracted Coffee

It should be obvious by now that we really recommend buying whole beans and grinding yourself right before you brew with a burr grinder for optimal results. But that still doesn’t answer the question of what grind size to use.

Never fear! Our coffee grind size chart will help you brew the perfect cup for your preferred method while avoiding both under extracted and over extracted coffee.

Taste of Poorly Extracted Coffee

Coffee extraction refers to how much of the good stuff from the beans makes it into your brewed cup.

An under extracted cup did not extract enough of the water-soluble particles from the grounds. An over extracted cup got all of the good compounds out plus some of the undesirable compounds that you don’t want in there. Under extracted coffee has some distinctive flavor notes, regardless of the type of coffee you are using.

Under-Extracted Coffee

  • Salty
  • Thin flavor
  • Overly acidic
  • Sour

If you’re tasting these unpleasant flavors in your coffee, congratulations, you have an under extracted cup of coffee. 

If your coffee is over extracted, you’ll have a different set of problems but your coffee still won’t taste good. 

The joke about over brewed coffee is that it’s so strong you can stick a spoon straight up in it. You can have strong coffee that isn’t over extracted though – you just have to prepare it correctly. 

Over extracted coffee also has some telltale signs.

Over-Extracted Coffee

  • Bitter
  • Astringency – dry, “sandpapery” feel in your mouth

You might be reading this right now and thinking that you’ve been living with over or under extracted coffee your entire life and had no idea until this moment. “Wait, coffee isn’t supposed to be mouth-puckering bitter?”

In fact, there is an ideal extraction point for coffee that pulls out the good flavors and leaves the bad ones in the grounds to be happily transformed into compost.

Perfectly Extracted Coffee

  • Balanced
  • Flavorful
  • Pleasant aftertaste
  • Just tastes “right”

Keep in mind that what constitutes a “perfect” cup of coffee is also partially culturally-conditioned. You might prefer stronger or weaker brews depending upon where you grew up or started drinking coffee. But under or over extracted coffee just tastes bad, no matter who you are, so we’re going to help you avoid that.

How To Fix Over / Under Extracted Coffee

At this point you might be staring glumly into your coffee and wondering if there’s any way to achieve perfectly extracted coffee. 

Thankfully, there are ways to troubleshoot your coffee and figure out how to fix over and under extracted coffee.

Extraction

Brew Time

Water Temp.

Grind Size

Under Extracted

Increase

Increase

More fine

Over Extracted

Decrease

Decrease

More coarse

Brew Time

If you have sour, under extracted coffee, you probably need to increase your brewing time to get more of the good stuff out of your coffee grounds. 

If your coffee is more bitter than a bad breakup, you probably need to decrease your brew time so you’re aren’t accidentally extracting the bad tasting solubles from the coffee.

Water Temperature

All coffee is a solution – which just means it has soluble compounds dissolved in water. If you dumped a few coffee beans in a glass of cold water, you would eventually get something resembling coffee, but it would take forever and it wouldn’t taste that great. 

Water temperature affects extraction, which is one of the reasons why an espresso (extracted with high heat) tastes different than a cold brew (extracted with very low heat) 

If your coffee tastes under extracted, you probably need to increase your water temperature. Water needs to be hot enough to dissolve the soluble elements inside of your coffee grounds and get the flavorful compounds out. If the water isn’t hot enough, you’ll only get the sour flavor compounds – hence the signature taste of under extracted coffee. 

If you have over extracted coffee, you should decrease the water temperature. Water that is too hot pulls out more flavor compounds from the grounds, which sounds like it should be a good thing, but there are some things that you want to leave behind when you’re brewing coffee. 

Grind Size

Luckily, this is usually the easiest factor to fix if you have a good grinder on hand. Under extracted coffee can be fixed by a finer grind. If your grounds are too coarse, the hot water won’t have time to extract optimal flavor out of them. Try adjusting your grind just a setting or two finer the next time you grind.

Similarly, over extracted coffee can be adjusted with a coarser grind that slows down the extraction a little bit. This way, you won’t end up with undesirable flavors in the cup. Check out our coffee grind size chart below for a quick reference guide.

Coffee Grind Size Chart

As it turns out, there’s no *wrong* grind size to choose. Each grind size, from extra coarse to extra fine, is ideally suited for a particular brew method. The key thing to remember is that you want a consistent grind.

If you have a mix of coarse and fine grinds, some will be under extracted and others will be over extracted and you will end up with a subpar cup of coffee, regardless of brew method. Grab your favorite French press, AeroPress, drip maker, or what have you and take a look at our coffee grind size chart.

Grind Size

Grind Description

Ideal Brewing Method

Extra-Coarse

All beans are broken up, but the grind still has large particles. Grounds should be slightly larger than kosher salt and look similar to ground peppercorns.

  • Cold Brew

Coarse

Grind should be slightly finer than extra coarse. Similar to Kosher salt.

  • Cold Brew

  • French Press

Medium-Coarse

No large chunks of beans. Will be similar to coarse sand like you would build a sand castle with.

  • Drip Coffee Makers

Medium

No distinct large slivers. Will be similar to loose sand like that found in a Zen garden.

  • Moka Pot

  • Keurig

  • Drip Coffee Makers

  • Pour-Overs

  • Siphon Brewers

  • AeroPress

Medium-Fine

Grind size will be similar to that of table salt. Smooth and soft to the touch.

  • AeiroPress

  • Pour-Overs

  • Siphon Brewers

  • Moka Pot

  • Keurig

Fine

Finer than sugar but not a powder. Should keep an indent if your finger is pushed into it.

  • Moka Pot

  • AeroPress

Extra-Fine

Should be similar to a powdered sugar or flour consistency. No distinct grounds.

  • Espresso

Extra Coarse

This is the biggest grind setting on most coffee grinders. Be careful with this grind size – you don’t want big chunks of unground beans in your grounds. Everything should be broken up into grinds that look a bit like freshly-ground peppercorns mixed with sea salt.

This is used almost exclusively for cold brew since the longer steeping time allows for all the water-soluble compounds to be dissolved in the coffee. Quicker, high-heat methods tend not to get the maximum material out of the grounds.

Ideal Brewing Method(s):

  • Cold Brew

Coarse

Coarse-ground coffee is most often described as kosher salt. This is finer than you might think. There shouldn’t be big chunks of beans in your coffee grounds.

Coarse coffee grounds are usually best for French press or sometimes cold brew.

Ideal Brewing Method(s):

  • French Press
  • Cold Brew

Medium-Coarse

A coffee that has been ground on the medium-coarse setting most often looks like coarse sand – the kind you might use to build a sand castle. This is kind of an in-between consistency, straddling between the Medium and Coarse grinds, and is most often used for drip coffee. Since this is a really common method for at-home coffee makers, this is a very popular grind size as well.

Ideal Brewing Method(s):

  • Drip Coffee Makers

Medium

Definitely no fragments here! For a medium grind, you want the consistency of loose sand, like the kind in a Zen garden. This is also a versatile grind, and it works great for the Moka pot, Keurig machines (if you’re filling your own K-cups), drip coffee makers, pour-overs, and siphon brewers. Medium is also known to be the perfect AeroPress grind size.

Ideal Brewing Method(s):

  • Moka Pot
  • Keurig
  • Drip Coffee Makers
  • Pour-Overs
  • Siphon Brewers
  • AeroPress

Medium-Fine

A little more ground than the ubiquitous Medium setting, the Medium-Fine setting is much closer to fine table salt, like the kind that comes in a salt shaker. This can do some of the same things that the Medium grind can do, and is a great way to tweak your coffee grounds if you tend to find your coffee under extracted and want to get a little more flavor out of it.

Ideal Brewing Method(s):

  • AeroPress
  • Pour-Overs
  • Siphon Brewers
  • Moka Pot
  • Keurig

Fine

This is the grind size that we are commonly used to in our bagged, pre-ground coffee. When you push your thumb into it, it should clump together a bit and hold the indentation. This is a popular brew size for the AeroPress and Moka pot. Some like to use a fine grind in an espresso machine as well, but most opt for extra-fine.

Ideal Brewing Method(s):

  • Moka Pot
  • AeroPress

Extra-Fine

This is usually the finest grind size available on your coffee grinder. This is a powdery-fine coffee and is best suited for an espresso machine. The consistency is often too fine for other brewing methods and will consequently produce an over extracted brew.

Ideal Brewing Method(s):

  • Espresso

3 Best Coffee Grinders For Beginners

If you’re just getting started grinding your own coffee at home – welcome! You are about to embrace the world of truly wonderful coffee.

There are a truly mind-boggling number of coffee grinders out there, and the truth is that a lot of them are not that great. Like we discussed above, we highly recommend a burr grinder to get a consistent grind size. Otherwise, you end up with muddy coffee that will likely be either over- or under-extracted. We don’t want that for you.

Here are three coffee grinders for beginners that are a great place to start. Combined with our coffee grinding guide above, this will get you well on your way to great-tasting coffee.

Best Beginner Electric Burr Grinder: The OXO Brew Conical Burr Grinder

We were a fan of this OXO grinder for its ease-of-use, quality burr grinders, and reasonable price point. The different grind sizes are well-marked, but it is on the noisier side.

Pros
  • Well-marked size guide
  • Large bean hopper
  • Easy to clean
Cons
  • Fairly noisy
  • Bottom burr doesn’t remove

Best Hand-Grinder: JavaPresse Manual Burr Grinder

If you want a quieter solution than an electric grinder, we liked the JavaPresse. This grinder is very reasonably priced and best suited for a coarser grind, as finer grinds will take quite a bit of elbow grease. We loved the window so you can see your grounds appear.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Quiet
  • Ergonomic handle
Cons
  • Bottom burr doesn’t remove
  • Requires physical labor

Best Upgrade Pick: Bodum BISTRO Burr Grinder

If you like a few more bells and whistles, we thought the Bodum BISTRO was quite fun. The grinds dispense into a removable glass catcher that is dishwasher-safe. The Bodum BISTRO also has 12 adjustable settings and a timer function make it a pretty foolproof way to perfectly grind coffee.

Pros
  • Glass catcher / dispenser
  • Timer
  • Easy to clean
Cons
  • Somewhat noisy
  • Small hopper

Final Note

There you have it! Our complete coffee grinding guide should free you from the daily torture of under- or over-extracted coffee. Armed with some great beans and a coffee grinder, you can tweak your daily brew to get the perfect brew!

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