Getting Your Grind Right

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If you want to make consistently fantastic coffee, what's the most important thing you can do? Get the grind right ... not too coarse, not too fine. Just right, like Goldilocks. We call it "dialing in," and we do it every day for every type of coffee that we serve in our cafes. Here's how you can dial in at home.

Ok, so you've spent $25 on a high-end coffee. It smells amazing - even before you open the bag! What do you need to do to translate that rich aroma into something you can drink out of a cup?

You need to perform a controlled experiment, using your palate to determine the perfect grind for the type of coffee you've bought. Once you've found the right grind level, you can usually keep your home grinder at that setting for the whole time you are brewing that coffee, assuming you use it up within about a week and store it correctly. (See storage instructions on the bag.)

K30 Coffee Grinder at Capitol Coffee Works
DO touch that dial! Adjusting your grind setting is the key to getting all the best flavor from your coffee. We dial in the grind fresh, every day, and sometimes more often.

There are a few basics you'll want to be sure of, before you begin:

  1. Make sure all your coffee-making equipment is squeaky clean - no old coffee grinds, no oily residue in your coffee pot. This is especially important if you've used an oily, dark-roast previously.
  2. Make sure you have the right filters - if you use coffee filters, make sure they aren't leaching any off-tastes. You can test this by pouring boiling water through the filter and tasting that water.
  3. Use a good scale and kettle - to measure the amount of water and coffee accurately, it's best to weigh them. If you make pour-overs or french presses, a good kettle or thermometer helps you ensure your water is a consistent temperature while brewing.
  4. Know your brew ratio - how much coffee you use depends on your brewing device. (See our Brew Guides for recipes.) A good starting ratio is 16:1. We usually use grams, but you can also use 16 oz. water to 1 oz. coffee.

Once you've got the basics covered, you can feel confident that your equipment, water temperature, and dosage are consistent. (In other words, you've isolated temperature, mass, and cleanliness as your control variables.)

Now you can dive into the most important part of the brewing equation: finding the perfect grind. (Grind level is the independent variable, and the taste of coffee in the cup is the dependent variable.)

Here's how the experiment works:

Make your best guess about how fine to grind your coffee. Grind, dose, and brew as you would normally.

Now, taste your first cup. How does it taste?

  • If it tastes bitter, like aspirin, it is over-extracted. Set your grinder a little coarser.
  • If it tastes sour, like citric acid, it is under-extracted. Set your grinder finer.
  • Keep tasting and adjusting the grind until you get a nice balanced taste.

This method works very well in any brewing device, from an automatic drip machine to espresso. Everyone on our team uses this method every day to "dial in" the best possible grind for each coffee.

If you use a device where you can see how long it takes for the water to flow through the coffee grinds, such as a home espresso machine or pour-over, you can also integrate a time variable. Here's how:

Make your best guess about how fine to grind your coffee. Grind, dose, and brew as you would normally. Watch how long it takes for the water to go through the coffee grounds.

  • If it seems to go through slower than usual, set your grinder a little coarser.
  • If it seems to go through faster than usual, set your grinder a little finer.
  • Keep tasting and adjusting the grind until the water flow rate seems normal, and you get a nice balanced taste.

Happy brewing from your Seattle Coffee Works team!