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Getting Into The Grind

A good cup of specialty coffee is like a musical, a lot of performers and instruments come together to create magic! A very important performer in this medley is the grinding of coffee. The instruments you use, the way you grind it, the time taken, all of it matters. In this blog we will quickly skim through the basics of coffee grinding and what mistakes to avoid.

  1. Size: Whoever said size does not matter clearly doesn't know how to make good coffee. As a quick recap of brewing basics, coffee extraction is a function of the water quality, water temperature, contact time, grind size, and grind uniformity. Since extraction is impacted by so many factors, it will be unfair to create an oversimplified conclusion only based on the grind size of coffee. Keeping all other things equal, finer the grind size, greater will be the extraction, and vice versa. Of course, the instrument you use for brewing will also amplify or reduce this principle. For example, if the time of water contact with coffee will be different in percolation (say, pour over) vs submersion tools (say, french press). In general, if you want your cup to be clear and light, coarser grind with percolation tools is a the way to go. But if you rather have a heavy cup with strong flavours, perhaps go with a finer grind size.

  2. Uniformity: While there may not be any extra marks for a uniform grind, there are definitely penalty points if the grind is not uniform. If a grind is not uniform, extraction may be uneven, which will lead to an imbalance in the cup, regardless of how good the bean or the roast is. Uniformity is more a function of the grinder you use. As we will see in point 4 below, there may not be one right tool to grind coffee, but there are definitely wrong tools which should not be used.

  3. Timing: This point may come naturally to people who have been brewing coffee for some time, yet there is no harm in revisiting the basics every once a while. Once you grind your beans, the aroma and flavours within the beans are unlocked, and more importantly exposed to the elements of nature. Now you can pack it, seal it, but the attributes will only deteriorate here onwards. So it is advisable to grind coffee immediately before brewing as possible.

  4. Instrument: Coffee bean grinders can be classified in manual vs electric, burr vs blade based, and then some. Electric grinders offer greater uniformity and efficiency over manual grinders, however, occupy much more space, and are costlier. Regardless of manual or electric, the machine may use burrs or blades for grinding. Burrs have an edge over blades, again due to uniformity, ability to calibrate, and reduced heat generation while grinding so that the flavours are not impacted. Accordingly, it is natural for good burr grinders to be expensive as well. There is no right grinder, but there are wrong grinders. That is because some grinders don't offer certain grind sizes. So if, for example, you like to experiment with various pour over recipes, you would want a grinder that offers multiple calibrations. Also, depending upon the number of people you need to serve the efficiency will matter. If you are a professional barista, or you have a lot of people around that love coffee, or if time is a concern for you, you are better off with an electric grinder.

  5. Practicalities: When you manage volumes, especially if you own a café, or a roastery, this matters. Assuming that is the case, you may own an electric grinder with a decent capacity. However, there is a small loss in the bean to powder output. Maybe less than 0.2% (ideally), but when you look at a bustling operation, it amounts to a useful chunk, especially in a time when we are stretched on margins. So either you are not sticking to the recipe and using less coffee powder, or you end up bearing the loss. Also, if you are using multiple beans, cross contamination can take away the distinct character of each bean. To overcome this, it is essential that we look at our requirements, and select a grinder closest to the volume and efficiency requirements. One needs to weigh whether the extra costs are worth the efficiency.

In summary, grinding coffee is as critical an art as any other step towards a great cup of specialty coffee. Do it right, and the number of ways you can play around with your cup is limited only to your imagination. If you have any other thoughts on grinding coffee, please let us know in the comments. At JDButi Coffee, we offer whole beans, as well as ground coffee for more than 12 brewing techniques, if you are going to consume it shortly after ordering or if you don't want to invest in a grinder. See our shop for more.

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