There isn’t one perfect grind size. The right grind size varies based on the type of brew method you plan to use.
The reason for this is because grind size is directly related to the extraction of the coffee flavors from the beans. Each brew method varies, so we need to adjust our grind size (and other variables) accordingly!
And we can’t stress this enough – only use a burr grinder for grinder, never a blade grinder.
Continue reading to learn more about the grind sizes and how we can adjust them to brew great tasting coffee.
Why does coffee grind size matter?
The quick answer is flavor extraction.
For those that aren’t as familiar with extraction, or those who may even have a healthy skepticism about it, let’s dive deeper into the subject.
For starters, everyone wants a great cup of coffee. The definition of “great cup of coffee” may vary slightly from person to person, generally depending on the person’s preference on caffeine and flavor profile (taste).
So instead we have to focus on the better defined qualities of different roast types and brew methods.
For example, someone who likes a very dark roasted, full-bodied coffee generally doesn’t want to brew their beans in the same manner as someone who likes a light roast because the extraction of flavors may be off and not taste like a true dark roast.
But things can get complicated quickly if we try to control every little detail of brewing. It’s best to focus on what really matters and make a noticeable difference – roast type, water temperature, coffee to water ratio, brew time, and grind size.
To understand how grind size affects flavor extraction, let’s think about why we grind coffee beans.
We grind beans so that the organic compounds that create the flavor can be extracted. Flavor is extracted by breaking beans into small particles and boiling them. The size of those particles (grind size) creates different levels of flavor.
According to a research done by at Latrobe University, the grind size makes a difference in whether coffee flavor is extracted properly. A larger grind size has less surface area from which to extract, and has larger gaps between the grind particles. This creates the possibility of water running through the grinds faster without fully extracting the flavor (i.e., under extraction).
On the other hand, too fine of a grind size provides more surface area to extract from and smaller gaps between the particles, which means holding the water longer and resulting in too much flavor extraction (i.e., over extraction).
To better understand, think of filling one bucket with rocks and another with sand. The rocks and sand act as our large and small grinds for the coffee.
If you pour water into both buckets, the water will run quickly to the bottom of the one with the rocks, barely spending any time in contact with the rocks (under extraction). But the water that is poured onto the sand will take a while to slowly move to the bottom and be in contact with the sand the whole time (over extraction).
Both under and over extraction create coffee with an undesirable taste. Under extracted coffee is very acidic and sour, while over extracted coffee is bitter and has a dull/hollow taste.
So you can see that even with the perfect beans, the wrong grind size can screw up our intended flavor.
What are the different grind sizes?
Grind sizes can be classified in seven categories: Extra Coarse, Coarse, Medium-Coarse, Medium, Medium-Fine, Fine, and Extra Fine. If you take away nothing else from this article, just remember these categories.
The grind size chart below has a breakdown of each grind size and its applications. Basic guidance from the National Coffee Association says the optimal grind size is dictated by how long coffee grounds stay in contact with water. For brewing methods that need longer times, a coarse grind is more suitable. For brewing methods that are faster, finer grinds are more suitable.
|Grind Type||Appearance||Preferred Brewing Method|
|Extra Coarse||Cracked peppercorns||Cold Brew, Cowboy Coffee|
|Coarse||Sea Salt||French Press, Percolator, Cupping (Tasting), Cold Brew|
|Medium-Coarse||Rough Sand||Pour Over (Chemex and Clever Dripper), Cafe Solo, Siphon|
|Medium||Sand||Pour over, AeroPress, Drip (Flat-Bottom Filters), Siphon|
|Medium-Fine||Fine Sand||Pour Over (Bonavita Immersion Dripper, Hario V60), Aeropress, Siphon|
|Fine||Salt||Espresso, AeroPress, Moka Pot|
Put in a different form, the chart below shows the range for each coffee grind size that applies to the different brewing methods.
Now let’s take a look at what each of these grind sizes actually looks like.
- Extra Coarse: This grind has the largest particle sizes which are used for brews requiring longer extraction times. You’ll likely need the largest size setting on your grinder to make this.
- Coarse: This grind has smaller particle sizes than extra coarse, but they’re still on the larger size. These are used for brewing methods needing longer brew times, like the French press.
- Medium-Coarse: This is one step coarser than what you get with typical ground coffee from a store. It looks like rough sand.
- Medium: A Medium grind is what you’ll see most times at the store when you buy ground coffee since it’s good for drip coffee machines which are very common.
- Medium-Fine: The Medium-Fine grind size can sometimes be acceptable to use for brewing methods that require a Medium or Fine grind since it’s right between those two.
- Fine: This is another common grind size used in pre-ground coffee. We’re now on the lower end of the spectrum of grind size, with faster extraction times.
- Extra Fine: This grind has the smallest particle sizes and the fastest extraction time. This grind brews strong Turkish coffee.
What type of grinder should you use?
Although it’s commonly overlooked, the type of grinder does affect the consistency of the grind. And if you don’t have a consistent grind, your flavor extraction is going to be off.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of grinders – Burr and Blade.
Burr grinders, sometimes referred to as mill grinders, are made up of two revolving abrasive surfaces (called burrs). Coffee beans are ground between these surfaces, a few beans at a time.
The beans are placed in the middle, and are ground slowly as the wheel or disc turns. Burr grinders are considered to be better than blade grinders because the beans are ground in a uniform size, giving you more control over the grind than you do with a blade.
If you can afford it, ALWAYS go with the burr grinder over the blade grinder.
There are two types of burr grinders: wheel burr and conical burr.
A wheel burr grinder is faster and noisier, but less expensive than the conical burr grinder. The conical burr grinder is considered to be the slower of the two, and works by grinding the beans down as they fall into the teeth. Once the beans reach a certain size they fall through. This might be slower, but it’s also quieter, offers more adjustment options, and is less likely to clog.
Blade grinders are cheaper compared to burr grinders, and easy to use. This makes them more common, but that’s not necessarily a good thing! They work quickly and at a high speed, but this can cause them to overheat and affect the flavor of the beans.
A blade grinder uses sharp metal blades to chop the beans, with the grind size controlled by using the power button intermittently to create pulsing action. Blade grinders generally produce less consistent grind sizes than burr grinders.
For those who are using blade grinders, one quick trick to get a more consistent grind size is to force the grinder to pulse. The next time you grind beans, instead of just letting the grinder run, measure the amount of beans and run the grinder in spurts of a few seconds, constantly checking on the progress of the beans. When you get close to the desired grind size, stop and take note of the amount of seconds it took to get there using the pulse function and try to mimic that moving forward.
If shopping for a blade grinder, consider models that offer a built in timer or auto shutoff feature.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have some more questions or need to get a quick answer? Here are answers to some common grind size questions.
Grinding your beans every time you want to make coffee will give you the freshest possible flavor for the beans you have. With a good grinder, this shouldn’t take much time at all.
But it’s an extra step, and that can sometimes feel like too much effort during a stressful day. We completely understand.
If you absolutely need the convenience, you should still buy whole beans and grind them yourself ahead of time instead of buying pre-ground coffee. At least then you know when the beans were ground. If you go this route, take a look at our article on how to store ground coffee.
There isn’t a single “normal” or “typical” grind size for all coffee. Each different brewing method has its own recommended grind size. The typical grind size of coffee you buy in stores is usually Medium (or sometimes Fine).
No, coffee isn’t stronger just because it has a finer grind size. Finer grind sizes need less brewing time because flavor extraction occurs faster. So in theory if you use a fine grind and coarse grind for the same brewing method you will get stronger coffee with the Fine grind. But, that’s why there are different brewing methods that use the coarser grounds.
One other important note is that because finer ground coffee has faster flavor extraction, there is a risk of over extraction which could create a very bitter tasting coffee which is strong but not in the way most people want!
It’s best to use a Coarse or Medium-Coarse grind for the French press. Using a Medium or smaller grind size puts your coffee at risk of over extraction and having silt in your coffee.
Use Fine ground coffee when brewing espresso. An espresso machine uses pressure during brewing to force the water through the ground coffee. If you use the Extra-Fine size you’ll reduce the flow of water through the coffee, and if you use a larger size than Fine the water will flow past the coffee without getting a good extraction.
Cold brew requires steeping the coffee for a longer time (up to 48 hours), so it’s best to use an Extra-Coarse grind size.
But if you want to experiment with flavors, you can use a Coarse or Medium-Coarse grind size as long as you shorten the time you steep the coffee! The finer you go, the faster the extraction is, so you’ll need to experiment to really dial in the steeping time with a different grind size.
Any of the three sizes from Medium-Coarse to Medium-Fine can be used when brewing pour over coffee. Depending on the taste of the coffee, you can adjust the size within this range and the brew time to dial in the flavor.
Specifically for certain pour over brands, use the following:
- Hario V60: Medium-Fine
- Bonavita Immersion Dripper: Medium-Fine
- Chemex: Medium-Coarse
- Clever Dripper: Medium-Coarse
If you’re using a percolator, make sure you’re using a Coarse grind size to get the best coffee.
With an AeroPress you can use grind sizes from Fine to Medium, so there isn’t a best size to use. If absolutely necessary you can even use Medium Coarse or Coarse grinds, but we don’t recommend that if you have a choice.
Depending on what you choose, you’ll need to adjust the brewing time as follows:
- Fine: 1-2 minutes
- Medium-Fine: 2-3 minutes
- Medium: 3-4 minutes
- Medium-Coarse / Coarse: 4-5 minutes
For the typical drip coffee machine with a flat-bottom filter, you want to stick with a Medium grind size.
The Moka pot is similar to espresso, in that it brews coffee on the stronger side. To get that proper flavor extraction, the Moka pot requires a Fine grind size.
The siphon coffee maker performs best when using a Medium or Medium-Fine grind size.
Technically you can use a blender to grind your beans, but it’s going to be a very inconsistent grind and gives you grind sizes all over the place. So we don’t recommend using a blender in place of an actual coffee grinder.
The Bottom Line
Grind size, although not the most critical factor in determining the quality of your brew, makes a meaningful difference in the flavor of your coffee.
We grind beans so that the organic compounds that create the flavor can be extracted properly. Different sizes of ground beans (grind size) create different levels of flavor.
The seven different grind sizes are Extra Coarse, Coarse, Medium-Coarse, Medium, Medium-Fine, Fine, and Extra-Fine. The optimal grind size for a specific brewing method depends on the brew time.
The type of grinder we use (Blade or Burr) can impact the consistency of grind size, and even the flavor. We ALWAYS recommend getting a burr grinder if you can afford it.
Now that you’re an expert on grind size, go check out our article on coffee to water ratio to use for brewing. Optimizing both the grind size and this ratio will help you take your brewing to the next level!