Once you start really developing a taste for coffee and try experimenting with various blends and roasts of coffee, one more factor you’ll start considering is the coarseness of your grounds.
In fact, there is a three part pyramid to making great coffee:
- Brewing method(this includes temperature, water, and ratio)
- Blend of coffee
- Coarseness of grind
What does coarse ground mean?
Coarse ground is simply a way of saying that the coffee beans are ground into a small crystal-like consistency rather than a powder-like consistency.
Adjusting the coarseness of the grounds will influence how fast the coffee is extracted and brewed.
Grind size reference chart
The image below is a good reference of the kind of grind sizes there are. There is a quarter next to each of the grind sizes so you can get an idea of how coarse or fine each grind actually is:
What is the importance of ground coarseness
You are using the highest quality, freshly roasted coffee beans, mastered the temperature, you’re using the purest possible water, and your brewing game is right on point, removing the coffee at the exact time and with the exact delicateness required, yet you still end up with a bad tasting coffee.
This can even happen if you’re using a really high end machine that gets the temperature and brewing time perfect every time.
What’s the problem? It’s your grind size.
The grind size is how coarse or fine you grind your coffee beans. You can also use a manual grinder. As any barista worth their salt(or coffee) knows, the best and freshest tasting coffee will always be freshly ground from freshly – or as freshly as possible – roasted beans.
Depending on the brewing method, you’ll need to adjust your grind size – sometimes you’ll need a very coarse grind, and other times, you’ll need a very fine grind. Still other times, you’ll want something in between.
This is because of simple science: increasing surface area.
Put simply, a coarse grind exposes less coffee to water, whereas a finer grind exposes more coffee to water.
It’s the same science behind why granulated sugar will dissolve quicker than coarse sugar.
With a coarse grind, the water interacts with the coffee very gradually, gently extracting the flavor from the grinds.
With a fine grind, the water interacts with the coffee very quickly, extracting a lot of flavor in a very short amount of time.
Coffee is coffee, right?
Actually, picking the right coffee is not a straightforward task. Besides deciding on a coffee bean for the flavor, you also need to consider grind size/coarseness.
Coffees that use coarse grinds
Really, there are just two common coffee beverages that use coarse grounds: french press and cold brew.
French press grounds will be slightly less coarse than cold brew grounds, which will be very, very coarse.
The key factor behind the coarseness of these two coffee preparations is brewing time.
Coarse Ground Coffee for French Press
French press takes around 4 minutes to brew, which is quite a lot. In a french press, all the water is interacting with all the coffee at the same time. A coarser ground ensures that the flavors and oils are very slowly and gradually extracted from the grounds as the water slowly works its way into them.
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Coarse Ground Coffee for Cold Brew
Cold brew, on the other hand, takes around 12 to 24 hours to brew, and is done in cold water. Cold water is slower on a molecular level so the speed of interaction will be even less, and the extremely coarse grounds ensure that a very gently and mild flavor is extracted.
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Can you use fine ground coffee for cold brew?
I mean you could, but you shouldn’t. Cold brew is a slow and gentle extraction process and super coarse grounds ensure the gentlest extraction possible.
If you use too fine a ground in cold brew or french press coffee, you’ll end up with gritty, bitter or acidic coffee, and nobody wants that!
Is coarse ground coffee stronger?
Generally, no. The whole point of coarse ground coffee is to provide a richer and more mellow flavor. Finer ground coffees like espresso have a very intense flavor, whereas coarse ground coffees like cold brew have a very soft and mild flavor.
If you’re asking in terms of caffeine content, then it’s still the same: coarsely ground coffee preparations will have a little less caffeine than finely ground coffee preparations.
Which grind size do you need for other coffees?
If you have a fancy super automatic espresso machine and you love espresso beverages, then you don’t need to worry because your espresso machine will take care of all of the grinding for you.
However, if you’re grinding by hand, here’s a quick go to guide for the types of grounds required for different coffee beverages:
Espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, and lattes
I’ve combined all of these into one section because these coffees all have espresso shots at their heart. Espresso is brewed with very high pressure, exact temperature, and very quickly.
Once the pressure builds up, the water/steam is forced through the puck of coffee grounds you’ve tamped and within a few seconds, you’ll have a delicious shot of espresso.
In order to maximize the surface area to ensure maximum extraction in the least amount of time, you’ll need superfine grounds. The grounds should feel very soft and smooth to the touch – that’s how smooth they need to be. If the grinds are too coarse, then you’ll have under-extracted and less tasty coffee.
Drip coffee and pour over
Drip coffee and pour over coffee brew using the force of gravity to get water through the coffee grounds. While this is not as fast as espresso, there’s still no barrier between the water and the carafe below, so the coffee will just percolate through the coffee grounds, filter, and end up in the coffee pot.
To make the best drip and pour over coffee, you will want medium-fine grounds. This maximizes the surface area without making the grounds so fine that your coffee becomes murky or over-extracted.
Aeropress coffee is a relatively new entrance to the world of coffee but it’s certainly taken it by storm thanks to it’s super quick extraction process and ease of use.
Since the extraction is a fast process, you guessed it, you’ll need fine to medium fine grounds. If the grounds are too coarse, you’ll end up with under-extracted coffee.
Of course, if you’re stuck with coarse grounds and don’t have a grinder handy, you can just let the coffee sit in the aeropress for a a bit longer for more extraction time.
Moka Pots or stovetop espresso makers also need very find grounds, since the water turns into steam and is forced up a pipe into the top chamber of the pot.
The brewing process is very quick so a fine grind is necessary to get the ideal intensity and flavor of coffee.