A grinder is one of the most important pieces of equipment in brewing a great cup of coffee. A coffee’s distinct flavor notes are brought to life when the beans are ground as precisely and evenly as possible. And the way a coffee grinder is operated and maintained can have a huge impact on your grind consistency, and therefore the quality of your coffee.
Here are five essential tips for getting the most out of your coffee grinder for brewing better tasting coffee:
1. Match the Grind Size to the Brewing Method
Grind size is one of three core factors that determines extraction yield in coffee, in addition to temperature and brew time. The size of the coffee grind corresponds to the length of time for extraction using a particular brewing method. And the right grind size for the brewing method allows coffee brewers to bring out the best flavors of a coffee:
The ideal yield extracted from roasted coffee is between 18-22%, which is widely accepted and set by the SCA’s Golden Cup Standard. A coffee extracted in this range is considered balanced – a blend of bitter and sweet flavors for a delicious result.
A coffee will be under-extracted (under 18%) if the coffee grounds are too coarse for the brewing method. This is because larger particles have less surface area and release flavor more slowly, and the desirable flavors of sweetness and bitterness have not been sufficiently extracted. Under-extracted coffee will taste sour, acidic and salty.
Inversely, a coffee will be over-extracted (over 22%) if the grounds are too fine for the brewing method. Smaller particles have more surface area and release flavor more quickly, so the bitter components continue to be extracted after acids and sugars have largely completed extraction. Over-extracted coffee will taste bitter and hollow.
Think about this: if coffee dissolved at 100%, there wouldn’t be any leftover grinds in the filter!
2. Dial In Your Grinder
It’s crucial to modify the coffee grinder settings to produce the right grind size for your brewing method. All grinders have their own subtle idiosyncrasies, so it could take considerable time (and coffee) to determine the proper grind setting on your machine.
There are several factors that affect which grind setting to begin with – the grinder itself, the coffee beans, and even the temperature and humidity of the air. Besides starting with the recommended factory setting, there’s no right or wrong place to begin with dialing in a grinder – just pick a grind setting, and make appropriate changes from there.
Your palate can be a valuable tool to discern whether you’ve correctly dialed in your coffee grinder. If your coffee tastes sour, make the grind finer. And if the coffee tastes bitter, make the grind coarser. Grind size will also effect the body (sometimes called “mouthfeel”) of your brew, so use your palate to make observations and adjust the grind in the direction of your desired drink texture.
Once you adjust your grind setting, make sure to purge the leftover grounds before using a new coffee or making a new type of coffee beverage.
3. Clean Your Coffee Grinder
Coffee beans are a perishable and oily substance, and over time, coffee oils accumulate inside a grinder and form a residue that will turn rancid. If left alone, that residue will degrade the quality and flavor of each subsequent brew. And fine coffee grounds can be easily lodged in hard-to-reach crevasses of the grinder, which can lead to decreased performance or machine malfunction.
Foremost experts on the subject say that a clean coffee grinder produces better tasting brews. Kyle Ramage, the 2017 U.S. Barista Champion and an Urnex Ambassador, works for grinder manufacturer Mahlkonig and recommends cleaning with Grindz Grinder Cleaner.
“Grindz works really well for our espresso grinders,” Kyle said. “In the world of precision grinders, the cleaner the grinder, the more consistent the grinder.”
Cleaning your grinder with Grindz is an easy way to remove stale coffee residue and odors from the internal burrs and extend the life of your machine. Unlike with previous grinder cleaner methods, there’s no need to disassemble the machine to clean with Grindz. Simply add one cap full of Grindz into the hopper, and grind them through the machine, as you would with coffee beans. This effectively gently dislodges coffee particles while also absorbing coffee oil residue. Then discard the Grindz from the machine, and grind and discard the coffee beans to ensure no residue remains.
4. Keep Your Grinder Dry
Like any electrical appliance, a coffee grinder should not get wet. Moisture can build up in the machine, which causes the grounds to easily stick to the grinder, and they won’t flow as easily through it.
Moisture shouldn’t come near the burrs and grind chamber, especially if your grinder has steel burrs. Rust or corrosion can build up near the moving parts or the motor, which will reduce the overall performance of the grinder.
5. Grind Fresh, Quality Beans
It’s nearly impossible to brew a quality cup of coffee without beginning with quality beans. But each roast will have different results with different grinders. No two coffees will use the exact same grinder settings for ideal extraction, which is why it’s necessary to dial in your grinder for each new batch of coffee used.
But for all roasts, fresh coffee is key. Coffee should ideally be used about four days after the roast date, and used up within 10-12 days. As that time passes, the beans become less fresh, and grinder settings might need to be tweaked.
By following these five coffee grinder tips, you'll be well on your way to operating your grinder like a pro and brewing a better tasting cup of coffee.
For more tips on making a better brew, check out Three Reasons You May Not Be Brewing The Best Tasting Coffee.