While I adore my weekday on-the-go coffee, my husband and I love to brew our own on the weekend. I’ve been told time and again that coffee tastes best when you grind your own beans, but I find doing so super confusing and, truthfully, don’t really know what the grind is supposed to look like.

In order to decipher this modern day mystery, I turned to the experts at my local coffee roaster, the lovely Caffé Ammi. Below are pro tips and a visual guide to grinding coffee that will help even beginners brew the perfect cup of joe.

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Related: The secret for how to make coffee less bitter.

The Cool Mom Eats Beginner’s Guide to Grinding Coffee

Comparing the beans: A visual guide to grinding coffee beans for beginners and aficionados | © Jane Sweeney for Cool Mom Eats

Nerdy coffee research

Grinding coffee beans is tricky because there is no standard for what fine, medium, and coarse look like. And even when you get expert input, the visual differences between the three grinds are subtle. When I asked Jim Bradshaw, Caffé Ammi’s Roastmaster (yes, this is a job!), for a top line explanation, he told me to think about it in terms of both sight and feel.

Here’s how he broke it down:

Visual guide to grinding coffee: Fine (espresso) | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Visual guide to grinding coffee: Fine (espresso) | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Tip: The finer the grind, the more coffee flavor you can extract. 

1. FINE
Best for: Espresso.
Feels like: Bordering on a flour-like consistency.
Espresso needs a fine grind because water is forced through the coffee with high pressure, and if it doesn’t extract well, you won’t get the big, rich flavor you expect from espresso.

Related: 5 reasons why I started drinking coffee again – and am so glad that I did.

 

Visual guide to grinding coffee: Medium-Fine | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Visual guide to grinding coffee: Medium-Fine | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Tip: If you want your drip coffee to have a “stronger” coffee flavor, grind the beans a bit finer.

2. MEDIUM-FINE
Best for: Pour over or drip machines when you want a more robust coffee flavor.
Feels like: Kosher salt or granulated sugar (a little finer than beach sand).
Keep in mind that, in this case, “stronger” is about coffee flavor, not level of caffeine. An important distinction!

Related: The big question: When should you let kids drink coffee?

 

Visual guide to grinding coffee: Medium (classic) drip | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Visual guide to grinding coffee: Medium | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Tip: Darker roasts do not necessarily have more caffeine. In fact, a light coffee can have more caffeine than a dark roast.

3. MEDIUM
Best for: Conventional drip machines
Feels like: Beach sand
This will yield a nice, balanced coffee. Medium grind is great for your regular Cuisinart and Kitchen-Aid brew machines.

Related: 8 unexpected and totally delicious ways to upgrade your coffee.

 

Visual guide to grinding coffee: Coarse French Press | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Visual guide to grinding coffee: Coarse | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

4. COARSE
Best for: French Press or Chemex
Looks like: Distinct particles with rough edges
A coarse grind will prevent finer coffee particles from seeping into the coffee (yikes) and imparting a bitter taste.

Related: How to make cold brew coffee at home in 5 easy steps.

 

Bottom line:
If you want to master brewing the perfect cup of coffee at home, Jim recommends investing in a burr grinder to deliver the best results. Burr grinders have two grooved disks that rotate in precision, requiring the beans to pass through the disks only once. This yields a much more consistent grind compared to a typical blade grinder.

But, if like me, you only have a blade grinder, the best advice I can give you is to shake the machine like a cocktail shaker while grinding your beans. It will help produce a more consistent grind. Also: experiment a little!

Everybody has a different definition of what constitutes flavor and “strength,” Make small adjustments — and take notes — until you find the grind and brew that is, as Goldilocks says, just right for you.

 

Top photo by Michal Grosicki for Unsplash

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