Coffee is a complicated beverage to perfect and each process involved is as fundamental as the next. Grinding is the stage of the process that literally crushes the flavours out of the beans, ready to be drawn out through brewing. Breaking the beans up into either coarse pieces or a fine powder allows the water to access each and every flavour and aroma. The importance of a quality grind is obvious, but the methodology of how that can be achieved is far more complex. Creating your perfect home-made brew is down to the perfect grind.
The quality of the grind is all about consistency. The consistency of the particles that the grinder produces from the beans is ultimately what makes or breaks a brew. For domestic use, there are two main types of grinder available, a blade grinder and a burr grinder.
The first and more widely used machine due to its inexpensive selling price is the electric blade-style grinder. Its price stamp is unfortunately evident in the quality of the grind. This type of grinder has a small motor that spins metal blades, which breaks up the whole coffee beans. The process of smashing up the beans into pieces means that the result is extremely inconsistent. Its product is a grind of irregular size and texture; large pieces of the bean lay amongst some very fine powder. Flavours produced by this kind of grind can be extremely unpleasant with contrasting tastes fighting against each other in one cup. Large pieces of the beans add an offensive sourness to a bitter flavoured brew created by the finely ground powder. The quality of the grind produced by this grinder is disappointingly poor and the brew produced will be equally disappointing. Superb flavour combinations within a bean can be completely ruined by this imperfect grinding method.
Burr-style grinders give you the best chance to achieve that perfect grind. Despite being more expensive, they are becoming increasingly common and are available in both manual and electric models. The quality of the grind from a burr-style grinder is evidently of a much higher calibre than the blade-style. Unsurprisingly, it is the consistency of the grind that means these grinders are ideal for the perfect grind. They grind the beans with two cutting discs, referred to as burrs that face one another. Burrs have a gap between them and the beans cannot escape them until they have been ground to the size of the gap and so have all been ground to an even size. The distance between the burrs can be adjusted depending on the grind you want to achieve which can impact the flavours of the final brew. Adjusting the grind can allow people to find their ideal grind and ultimately their perfect brew. Burr-style grinders are not just best because of the consistency of the grind, but also because they can be adjusted to suit the coffee. Every bean is different so every bean needs a different grind, something the burr-style grinders are perfectly designed to deliver.
Each and every bean is different so each and every bean must be treated differently through the grinding process. Depending on the bean and how it has been roasted, the grind can be very fine to rather coarse in texture. Darker roasts often need to be ground to produce a coarse grind as they tend to be more brittle in comparison to a lightly roasted fine grind. Grinds also need to be adjusted depending on the origin of the coffee; from Colombia to Costa Rica, alterations should be made to the grind to suit the coffee and ensure every flavour is released perfectly into the brew. Beans grown in higher altitude areas often require a finer grind. Trial and error is sometimes the only way to achieve the ideal blend. Eventually, you will find the perfect grind for every brew.
Freshness is another fundamental factor in achieving the perfect grind. It is relatively simple, but time is of the essence when grinding coffee at its pinnacle freshness. From the moment the bean is roasted, the freshness of the coffee begins to depreciate and it is a race against time to grind at peak freshness before the perfection is lost. When the freshness is gone, so is the chance to get that perfect brew. Grinding at home gives you the best chance to achieve the freshest brew with the highest quality. The time between grinding and brewing can make or break for the cup. Brewing just moments after grinding ensures that freshness has no opportunity to be lost from the coffee.
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Written by Katie Humphrey