Find Your Grind

The Zassenhaus Manual burr grinder

The Zassenhaus Manual burr grinder

We’re at the midpoint of our Coffee Month feature, and it’s safe to say we’ve had an effective first half. We debated the French-ness of French presses, showed some step-by-step press tips, and peeked into the rich world of espresso and the macchinetta, with some chocolate espresso brownies to top it off. What’s in store for the second half? Glad you asked…

A recurring theme throughout the month, and with coffee in general, is choosing the right grind. The importance can’t be overstated. We’ll be talking about the difference between burr and blade grinders in-store (shameless plug alert!) this Saturday from 11-3. Today we’re going to visit just what different grinds mean and why it’s important to have the right one. What’s the difference between coarse and fine? Why does it matter? What are coffee oils? Can they go in my car? (Spoiler: No.) The answers to these questions and more await!

As a kicker, we’ll be talking in the store about the little-known (in this part of the world, anyway) but delicious Turkish coffee brewing method, which requires the finest grind around.

How does one achieve a perfect grind? One way to think about it is timing – specifically, the length of time the water comes in contact with the beans. If the contact time is very short, as with espresso, the grind must be very fine; a necessity in order to expose more surface from which the fast moving pressurized water can extract maximum flavor from the oils.

Tre Spade Flywheel coffee mill

Tre Spade’s gorgeous old-school Flywheel coffee mill

For methods requiring more time, such as French presses or percolators, a coarser grind works best. Too fine a grind, the flavors will be released quickly, and as the grounds continue to steep some of the more harsh and bitter elements will be drawn out as well. As we wrote a few weeks ago, a French Press also needs a coarser grind to keep from clogging the mesh filter and to keep sediment from making its way into your cup; the same is true of percolators and dripolators. In fact, in almost any coffeemaker, if your grind is really too fine, the coffee will solidify into a sort of brick as it absorbs water, stopping the flow completely. So don’t automatically assume that finer equals better!

Grinding right before brewing helps preserve the essential oils. (It also makes my kitchen smell heavenly.) The oil in coffee is what provides its distinct taste. As soon as coffee beans are ground, they begin to lose those oils and the accompanying flavors. The process happens slowly, but the sooner you brew after grinding, the more delicious oils and fresh flavors you’ll draw out.

Once you know what size grind you need, all that’s left is to find something to grind with. The biggest thing to consider is whether you want a blade or a burr grinder. We’ll be going in-depth on the difference this weekend, but here’s a cheat sheet: Blade grinders are less expensive but require more work and practice to produce a consistent grind, and it will never be perfect. Burr mills are more expensive but will get you a perfect product every time.

Need help figuring out what your grind should look like? Terms like ‘fine’ and ‘coarse’ may seem vague, but they do represent a standardized ideal when it comes to best practices for coffee brewing. Since words can only do so much justice, here’s a rough guide to what the various grinds should look like, courtesy of

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Match your coffeemaker to a grind and get brewing! If you’re not sure what sort of grind to use, check your coffeemaker’s manual to find out. But remember, the best way to figure out exactly what grind floats your boat is to experiment until you get the flavor you’re looking for. That’s especially true for certain types of coffeemakers like Chemex and other pour-over brewers, which give you a ton of leeway in grind size since you govern the timing, by how fast/slow you pour hot water over the grounds.

7 oz Ibrik, Turkish Coffee Pot

7 oz Ibrik, Turkish Coffee Pot

You may have noticed the extra-fine grind for Turkish coffee, which requires even smaller particles than espresso. As you might remember from last week, espresso is coffee brewed “under pressure” for a very short amount of time. While you might expect that an even finer grind would lead to an even faster cup, Turkish coffee is an exception to our timing rule above – despite the fact that it requires the finest of grinds, the brewing process may take up to 20 minutes. But the results are worth it.

Since the grounds are too fine for water to flow through them, Turkish coffee is brewed in a small pot using sugar, coffee grounds and water. By contrast with the espresso-making process, you never want to let the water boil. In fact, you need to carefully monitor the pot while the hot water draws out the flavor from both the sugar and the grounds. It does take some practice to perfect – here is a step by step, courtesy of

Classic Copper Turkish Coffee Grinder

Classic Copper Turkish Coffee Grinder

If you’re ready to give it a go, you’ll need a few supplies. The Turkish coffee maker, also called a “cezve”, “jezve”, “briki”, “mbiki”, “toorka” or “ibrik” – it could be a secret agent with all those aliases! – has a wide bottom, a narrow neck and a long handle. Copper or brass designs are traditional and still preferred by most, but stainless steel is becoming more popular. You get the best results if you brew a full pot, so serious drinkers often own several sizes.

Turkish coffee grinders, called “kahve degirmeni”, have a long, tubular design with burrs to grind the coffee to a powder. (This grinder was also adapted and popularized by Jeff Smith – the Frugal Gourmet – as a very effective high-output pepper mill.)

Stop by the store this Saturday from 11-3 to catch a glimpse of our full grinder selection and get some personal tips on how to achieve your perfect grind! As an extra-special bonus, we’ll be holding a drawing for a Kyocera ceramic coffee grinder (a $50 value) with the winner to be announced Sunday. No purchase is necessary to enter – the only thing you need to do is show up and fill out a card. See you then!

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