Timing Matters: Here’s When To Grind Coffee Beans
If you’re a serious coffee drinker, you might wonder why the coffee made by your neighborhood barista tastes so much better than what you make at home. Truth is, your local coffee joint isn’t adding a secret ingredient to the coffee: they’re simply letting the beans speak for themselves.
Believe it or not, when you grind coffee beans — combined with the grind and brewing method — has a big impact on the coffee’s taste. If you’re sick of paying more for a cup of joe at the cafe, it’s high time to learn the secret to brewing better coffee at home. Learn what grind is best for your brewing method, as well as when to grind coffee beans for the perfect cup of coffee.
Buy Quality Whole Bean Coffee
While you don’t need a $2,000 espresso machine to make great coffee, you can’t cheap out on one thing: coffee beans. You need to start with high-quality, whole-bean coffee. There’s nothing wrong with picking up whole-bean coffee at the grocery store, but it can’t hurt to buy from a local roaster. You’ll support a small business and enjoy fresher coffee, too (do you really want beans that have been sitting in a warehouse for a year?).
The roast you buy will affect the coffee’s flavor. Darker roasts have a strong, bitter taste while medium roasts tend to be lighter and smoother. Fifty-one percent of coffee drinkers prefer a medium roast, while 41% prefer a dark roast — it depends on how strong you prefer your coffee.
Grind Whole Bean Coffee at Home
Roughly 75% of coffee drinkers make their cup of joe with pre-ground coffee from the grocery store. Just one in five U.S. coffee drinkers grind their own beans, but that’s what you need to do if you want the best taste. Most people buy pre-ground coffee, but if you want to create a masterful cup of art, you need to start with whole-bean coffee and know when to grind coffee beans.
That might sound like an unnecessary step, but this actually does yield a better cup of coffee. It all comes down to science: when you grind the coffee, you release its natural oils and aromatics. Oxidation starts immediately, and that means the clock starts ticking the moment you grind your coffee. This is the reason why coffee shops always start with whole-bean coffee and grind it to order.
Get a Solid Coffee Grinder
Of course, how you grind your coffee can also have an impact on its taste. You need a consistent grind on your beans to ensure that the coffee brews evenly so you get a consistent product every time.
There are so many grinding methods you can choose from, including:
- Mortar and pestle: This is a very old-school way of grinding coffee. This is a lot of work and does come with the risk of an uneven grind. Even so, if you have a mortar and pestle and don’t mind putting in a little elbow grease, you can grind your own coffee the ancient way.
- Rolling pin: Place your beans into a Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. This definitely isn’t ideal and will likely lead to an inconsistent grind, so it’s best reserved for coarse grind brewing methods, like the French press. We don’t recommend using a rolling pin for grinding coffee, but if that’s what you’ve got on your current budget, you can work with it.
- Hand grinder: Hand grinders are a mechanical version of a burr grinder. They tend to be cheaper and don’t make nearly as much noise, but they do require more work. Even so, hand grinders are ideal for traveling, camping, or when you don’t have access to electricity.
- Blade grinder: Blade grinders are more affordable than burr grinders, but they won’t yield the best cup of coffee. For one, they don’t process beans consistently. Blade grinders also generate heat, which can lead to more oxidation. Translation: you’ll get an inconsistent cup of coffee and it won’t have as much flavor.
- Burr grinder: Burr coffee grinders are the gold standard. These grinders pulverize beans with rotating burrs, which preserves the flavor of the beans. If you really want to be fancy, go with a conical burr grinder, which allows you to customize grind level and speed. The major downside is that burr grinders are super noisy.
As you can see, there are plenty of grinders on the market. Go with a grinder that balances quality and affordability.
Choose the Right Grind Level for Your Brewing Method
Next, choose the right coffee grind size for your beans. How finely you grind the beans will have a huge impact on the final flavor. The smaller the size of the grain of coffee, the more surface area is exposed to hot water. Generally speaking, finer grinds expose more of the bean to water, which means they require less time to brew. Coarser grinds take longer to brew stronger coffee because the ground coffee has a less exposed surface area.
You need to brew fresh, whole-bean coffee according to your brew method. If you pick the wrong grind level, you risk creating a bitter, silty cup of coffee. For example, if you use a fine grind for French press coffee, you’re going to have a ton of silt in your coffee.
Choose from these different grinds to brew the best coffee ever:
- Extra coarse: This coffee is the size of cracked peppercorns. It’s most popular for cold brew because you’re exposing the ground beans to water for up to 12 hours.
- Coarse: This should be the size of coarse sea salt. Use it for a French press, a percolator, Chemex, or pour-over coffee.
- Medium: This should be the size of sand. Medium-coarse grind coffee is ideal for drip coffee makers.
- Fine: This should be the size of sugar, and it’s ideal for Moka pots.
- Extra fine: This type of grind is the size of powdered sugar. Use extra fine coffee for an espresso machine or Aeropress.
- Turkish grind: You probably aren’t making Turkish coffee at home, but if you are, Turkish grinds are the size of baby powder. It’s incredibly fine because you don’t filter Turkish coffee — you drink the grounds with the coffee.
Plan When To Grind Coffee Beans
If you’re wondering when to grind coffee beans, the best time to do it is immediately before you brew, regardless of your brewing method.
Remember, coffee beans release their best flavor right after you grind them. If you buy pre-ground coffee — or if you grind an entire bag of coffee at once — you’re missing out on the bean’s depth of flavor.
Some people will grind beans the night before. This isn’t ideal, but it’s still better than buying ground coffee. If you don’t want to wake up everyone in the house with a burr grinder at 6 AM, it’s okay to grind the night before. But only grind the exact amount you need for what you’re brewing. If you take a bag of whole beans home and grind them all at once, it’s no better than buying pre-ground coffee at the grocery store.
Pro tip: If you have to grind the night before, store your grinds in the refrigerator overnight. This will slow down the oxidation process and preserve the bean’s flavor until morning.
Master When To Grind Coffee Beans for the Perfect Cup of Coffee
Coffee is simultaneously the simplest and the most complex drink in the world. If you want to up your coffee game, it’s important to master the art of when to grind coffee beans so you extract the most flavor. To get the best cup of coffee, be sure to:
- Buy quality whole-bean coffee.
- Grind coffee at home.
- Get a solid coffee grinder.
- Choose the right grind level.
- Grind immediately before brewing.
Not sure where to find quality coffee beans? We’ve got you covered. Check out Cup & Bean’s guide to the best coffee beans on the planet.