How Coffee Ground Size Affects The Flavour?

How Coffee Ground Size Affects The Flavour?

Is the coffee bitter? Is it sour?

We all want good coffee, sweet and smooth, with an explosive aroma and a long finish, and we want to get it every time.

There are many variables that affect the taste of coffee: time, temperature, brewing equipment, etc. But the main key to good coffee is, apart from good beans and good equipment, the size of the grind.

Let's look at why grind size has such a big impact.

The Right Size Makes For Better Coffee

The secret to good coffee is extraction, but what does extraction really mean? Extraction is the process by which the flavours and aromas of the coffee beans are released into the water and combined with the water, resulting in a delicious cup of coffee.

When you drink coffee, do you know how many steps your coffee goes through from the beans to the cup in your hand? Do you know how processing affects the chemical composition and flavor of coffee?

However, each of these flavours and aromatic substances represents a particular flavour. Some are sweet, some are bitter, some are fruity, and some are astringent. These substances are also extracted at different points in time.

Todd, the 2014 and 2016 US brewing champion, told the authors that the order of substances extracted from coffee is.

Acidity, sweetness, bitterness, and finally, astringency.

This means that while controlling the extraction rate, you can control how much of the substance dissolves into the coffee - in other words, you can determine the flavour of the coffee. Whether you are hand brewing or making espresso, this is a fundamental criterion for creating a brew recipe.

And, of course, the size of the grind is also a consideration.

How The Size Of The Coffee Grounds Changes The Flavour

There are many factors that affect coffee flavour: grind size, brewing time, water temperature, bean quality, roast level, etc.

Let's quickly define these variables.

What temperature water do you usually use to brew coffee? Do you know how temperature affects the flavor and aroma of coffee?

  • Quality of beans: different origins, varieties, and processing methods can affect the flavour of the coffee.
  • Degree of roasting: If the coffee is not roasted, it will have a foul and sour taste. But aside from these two conditions, there are several different roasting levels: lighter roasts have more fruit and acidity; medium roasts have more sweetness; darker roasts have more body, more pronounced bitterness, and less complexity of flavour (which is why many roasters of fine beans tend to choose light to medium roasts). However, not only does this affect the flavour, the darker the roast, the faster the substances are released during the brewing process, which will be discussed later.
  • Brew time: the longer the brew time, the more substances are extracted.
  • Next comes grind size, one of the most powerful variables controlling extraction.

Grind size is one of the biggest variables in the brewing process, increasing the surface area of the coffee and allowing the hot water to extract more material in the same amount of time.

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When The Grind Size Is Wrong?

We've talked about the correct grind size above. But what if the grind is the wrong size today?

If the ground coffee is too coarse, the coffee will usually be thinner and less concentrated, as less flavour and substance will be extracted. Remember, the coarser the grind, the smaller the surface area and, therefore, the lower the extraction rate.

Also, if the grind is too fine, too much material may be extracted, and you may get a bitter or even ashy taste. The coffee will also be too strong, making it difficult to swallow or even eat.

The right size makes the coffee taste better, while too coarse or too fine a grind can make it bitter, astringent, and foul-smelling. So how do we adjust? What other factors come into play?

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Is There A Universal Grind Size?

The ideal grind size depends on many factors.

  • Beans: Since coffee has so many different flavours when you buy a new bean, you have to adjust the grind setting to get the best out of the bean.
  • Brewing appliances: Different brewing appliances may accommodate different grind sizes. For example, espresso is a fine grind, while French presses usually use a coarser grind to achieve the best results.
  • There are a number of reasons for these differences, including the fact that French presses are steeped coffees, which require a longer brewing time, usually around four minutes, where the coarser grind slows the release of substances. On the other hand, espresso is brewed for a shorter time, usually about 20-30 seconds. It uses pressure to force hot water through a high density of ground coffee cake, making it suitable for finer grinds.
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  • Roast date: Don't forget that coffee is a crop. Just like bread or milk, it has its own best time to taste. When the beans are roasted, they begin to deteriorate and lose their flavour. To compensate for this loss of flavour, you can adjust the size. To compensate for the loss of flavour, the beans can be resized. Firstly, the amount of ground coffee can be increased, and the grind coarsened so that the flavour of the beans that have been left for a while can be brought back into play.
  • Roast level: The different roast levels affect not only the flavour of the extracted coffee but also the rate of release of the substances during extraction. Darker roasted beans are more absorbent due to their longer roasting time and lower moisture content, which means that the extraction rate is faster. Generally speaking, a coarser grind is recommended for darker roasts and a finer grind for lighter roasts.

Grind Size: The Key To Recipe Creation

If grind size is only one of the many variables that affect extraction, why should we be so concerned about it? Because it is arguably the most influential variable.

The grind size is easy to manipulate and is the main contributor to the flavour of the coffee. Of course, there are many other variables that affect the final extraction result, but grind size is relatively easy to adjust and reproducible variable compared to the other variables.

In addition, grind size also has a knock-on effect on other variables. Brew time is the time it takes for the water to flow through the ground coffee and pass through the filter material, so the size of the grind affects the time it takes for the water to flow through. Imagine a cup of sand and a cup of pebbles, and pouring equal amounts of water into both cups, you will see that the water in the sand cup will flow more slowly.

This means that the test flexibility for the variable of grinding size is lower than for a variable such as water temperature. The wrong size level can have a huge negative impact on the quality of the coffee.

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In addition, when using hand and bulk brewing methods, the grind size affects the disturbance of the water. The turbulence can also have a significant impact on the extraction.

You want all the grounds to be extracted to the same degree or as uniformly as possible in order to maintain the quality of the coffee and replicate the flavour of the brew. This means that the powder must be in contact with the water for the same length of time.

Slight turbulence is a good thing, as it moves the coffee powder and ensures that the water is in full contact with the powder. However, you don't want the turbulence to push up the powder layer when brewing so that the powder that forms a wall on the side of the filter does not get fully extracted. This will result in a foul, acidic coffee, which, unfortunately, is more likely to happen the finer you grind.

The wrong grind size cannot be remedied by simply adjusting other variables, as it affects many other variables as well, so once you have confirmed the powder to water ratio of your coffee, then you need to confirm the grind size. This will help you to adjust the brewing time if you are hand-brewing or brewing large quantities of coffee. Only after this will you focus on variables such as water temperature and turbulence.

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Tips To Help Improve The Grind

You already know how much of an impact the right grind can have, but how do you make sure that the size of the grind is accurate?

Firstly, remember that the stability of the grind is key. If the size of the coffee powder varies, there will be different extraction rates, and the result will be an unpleasant flavour. Even if the coffee is good, it will be difficult to reproduce this good flavour, so the stability and quality of the grind are important.

But it's not enough to buy good equipment, and you have to keep the machine in good condition. The condition of your grinder will depend largely on maintenance and cleaning habits, so make sure you clean your grinder regularly and replace the cutter discs when needed (and consider the manufacturer's recommendations too).

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When choosing the correct grind configuration, make sure the grind size is appropriate for your brewing style, for the beans you are brewing, and for the size you feel is right for you. Make sure you record the brewing recipe, then taste the coffee and record how it tastes.

If the coffee doesn't taste as good as you'd like, adjust only one parameter on the grinder at a time and leave everything else untouched. Of course, some grinders have more settings to adjust to make it easier and more controllable, but whatever you do, remember exactly what grind you're using to ensure you can replicate it in the future.

Grind size has a huge impact on the flavour of your coffee, and it can be difficult to fully master, but thankfully it's easy to use once you've worked out the logic.

The easiest way to find the right grind setting is to test, taste and record what you're drinking, adjusting one variable at a time until you find the best combination.

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