Intro

    Grinding coffee beans is probably one of the most over-looked steps when it comes to making a great cup of coffee.

    But since you're here and you want to learn how to grind coffee beans, my sense is that you already knew this.

    Additionally, if you had previously been brewing your coffee with pre-ground coffee (i.e. coffee that you bought in its ground form) or god forbid, K-cups, then grinding your own coffee beans is going to be a game-changer for you. 

    I promise!

    But first things first, let's start with the basics of grinding coffee.

Why grind coffee beans?

Coffee is a relatively fragile and perishable good.

Just like the fruit the coffee bean grows in, exposure to the elements (air, moisture, light, etc.) makes the roasted coffee bean lose a lot of its original aromas and flavors.

This is especially true once the coffee bean has been ground, thus shrinking the surface area of the bean into hundreds and thousands of small particles.

The elements do much quicker work on these small ground coffee particles , and because of this, the longer you wait to brew the coffee, the less of its original aroma and flavor will remain in your final cup.

Your local café grinds your coffee fresh before brewing for this very reason.

If you want to replicate or improve the coffee you're drinking from the café, you'll need to grind the coffee right before you brew.

When to grind coffee beans

The optimal time to grind your coffee beans is immediately before brewing your coffee. In other words, the less time that passes between when the water makes contact with the freshly ground coffee, the better.

This is especially true when brewing espresso, since the finer grinds that are required for brewing espresso oxidize much faster than their coarse counterparts.

Many coffee pros claim that ground coffee loses its aroma and flavors within minutes of being ground, but you should experiment with the timing to see what works best for you.

In the end, brewing your coffee soon after grinding doesn't negatively impact anything, so you don't have anything to lose by grinding your coffee right before brewing.

How to grind coffee beans

Coffee beans can be pretty dense after they're roasted, but still brittle enough to be ground by common household tools and appliances like a hammer or a blender.

Still, I wouldn't recommend this even under the most desperate of circumstances (OK fine, we'll go over how to do this later). 

Most people who start grinding their own coffee usually start with a simple coffee and spice blade grinder like the ubiquitous Krups.

The Blade Grinder

If I were to make an educated guess, most people in the world who grind their own coffee are using a blade grinder.

You've probably seen the ubiquitous Krups blade coffee grinder


Why?

Because they're inexpensive and have a very small footprint.

As an entry-level grinder, a blade grinder is a suitable option for most peoples' home coffee needs. However, blade grinders do have some glaring downsides that actually have the impact to affect your coffee in negative ways.

More on that in a little bit...

The Burr Grinder

A burr grinder is what separates coffee casuals from coffee enthusiasts.

Unlike a blade grinder, which chops down the beans into their ground form, a burr grinder crushes the beans.

This crushing effect takes place between two burrs, which are grooved pieces of metal or ceramic cogs, with one burr rotating inside of the other burr that remains stationary.

It's obviously not very easy to describe, so check this out:


Burr grinders are unanimously considered the optimal tool for grinding coffee, for several important reasons:

  • Burr grinders produce a more consistent grind particle size.
  • Burr grinders have a larger grind size range.

There are some other advantages you may have also heard about, but in my opinion, these are the two most important reasons.

How to use a blade grinder

Since a blade grinder is likely going to be your first coffee grinder purchase, let's talk about the best way to grind with a blade grinder.

Yes, you can simply throw your beans into the grind chamber, add the lid, and then hold down the button for 10 seconds, but this isn't necessarily the best way to use a blade grinder for the coffee that you're going to be brewing.

Before you press that button, you're going to want to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. How much coffee are you going to be brewing?

  2. What roast are the beans you are grinding? Dark? Medium? Light?

  3. What kind of coffee maker are you going to be brewing the coffee with?


The last question is especially important, because different brewing methods call for different grind sizes.

Espresso (you know, the drink that your latte is made from) for example, requires a much finer grind than french press. In fact, a blade grinder is not going to be able to grind finely enough for espresso, so if that's the drink you're trying to brew, you should upgrade to a burr grinder ASAP.

Still, you can grind coarser or finer with a blade grinder by controlling the amount of time you grind.

e.g. grinding for 5 seconds will produce a coarser grind than grinding for 20 seconds would.

Step 1: Measure Your Beans

Measure 1 tablespoon of coffee beans for every 6oz of brewed coffee you plan to make.

This is a good starting point for a standard brew ratio that a lot of coffee companies recommend. You likely won't be able to fit more than a couple tablespoons of coffee into your blade grinder, so if you plan to make more than a couple cups of coffee, you'll likely have to grind in batches.

Step 2: Add Your Beans to the Grind Chamber

Carefully add your coffee beans to the grinder chamber where the blade sits.

Step 3: Determine Target Grind Size

Most people who use blade grinders will simply press the start button for a random amount of time and hope for the best.

A better approach is to first decide on your target grind size for the brew method you're using, then start grinding.

Here's a chart to determine your target grind size for various brew methods:

Coarse - Best for: French Press, Immersion Cold Brew


Medium Coarse - Best for: Kalita Wave, Chemex


Medium - Best for: Auto Drip, Moka Pot, Percolator


Fine - Best for: V60, AeroPress, Siphon


Super Fine - Best for: Espresso, Turkish (Ibrik)

Another thing to keep in mind is your coffee's roast. I generally like to use a coarser grind than I normally would for dark roasts, and a finer grind for light roasts.

Medium roasts typically have better balance in their flavor profiles, so no need to over-analyze your grind for this roast level.

Step 4: Grind and Shake

Now, you can start grinding. But take it slow, especially if you're targeting a coarser grind.

Press the start button for about 2-3 seconds, pause, then shake the grinder. Repeat this a couple of times, then carefully remove the grinder's lid to check on your grind size and grind consistency.

If the grind looks to be an ideal size and consistency, you're all set! Just add the ground coffee to your coffee brewer and get ready to brew.

If the grind looks too coarse, repeat the grind and shake process.

Too fine?

Don't beat yourself up about it. Either use more water than you typically would, or reduce your total brew time (if you're coffeemaker allows you to control it).

James Hoffmann also has an excellent video on using a blade grinder to its full potential. Check it out here:

How to use a burr grinder

There is a lot more variety amongst burr grinders than there is with blade grinders.

Burr grinders not only come in different sizes and shapes, but also in manual and electric forms.

You'll likely be more inclined to invest in an electric burr grinder, but if budget is tight, space is limited, and portability is appealing, manual burr grinders (aka hand grinders) can be great options.

Step 1: Determine Your Target Grind Size

One of the major benefits of burr grinders is that you can choose your grind size by turning a dial or the bean hopper itself.

With a burr grinder, your grind size is not a function of the amount of time you spend grinding, so no need to do any counting.

What you will need to do is decide what kind of coffee brewing method you'll be grinding for.

  1. Add a small handful of coffee beans to your grinder's hopper, and grind a small amount of coffee (1g or so). 
  2. Observe the ground coffee closely, then decide if it needs to be finer or coarser for the brew method you'll be using.
  3. If you're not sure, refer to the images below:

Coarse - Best for: French Press, Immersion Cold Brew


Medium Coarse - Best for: Kalita Wave, Chemex


Medium - Best for: Auto Drip,  Percolator, Slow Drip Cold Brew

Fine - Best for: V60, AeroPress, Siphon


Super Fine - Best for: Espresso, Turkish (Ibrik)

Press the start button to start grinding the coffee, and slowly turn the grind size selection dial in the appropriate direction. Usually, a clockwise turn will grind finer, and a counter-clockwise turn will grind coarser.

Once you've arrived at your target grind size, you're ready to measure your coffee.

Step 2: Measure Your Beans

Even though you're using a burr grinder, nothing really changes with this step. If anything, you might be ready to start measuring your beans by weight with a gram scale instead of by volume. But that's another discussion for another day.

If you don't own a gram scale yet...

Measure 1 tablespoon of coffee beans for every 6oz of brewed coffee you plan to make, and add your beans to the grinder's hopper.

Step 3: Add Your Measured Beans to the Hopper

Burr grinders tend to have a lot more space for your coffee beans. Still, you should really only add the amount of coffee you plan to grind for your next brew.

To me, it's not a huge deal if you want to store your coffee beans in your coffee grinder's hopper, but I still try to avoid it so I can keep my beans protected from the elements.

Step 4: Grind Your Beans

No shaking necessary here.

Simply press the grind button, and collect your ground coffee in a small receptacle or directly into the coffee filter you'll be using.

If you're using a hand grinder, you'll want to crank the handle in a clockwise direction until all of the beans are ground.

How to use a hand grinder

I'd be remiss to not include instructions on how to grind coffee with a hand grinder, which is the original way to grind coffee (effectively, at least).

The steps are generally the same for manual and electric burr grinders, with a few small differences.

The differences:

  1. You should only change the grind setting with an empty hopper

  2. You have to crank a handle by-hand to activate the burrs and thus, grind the coffee

Many hand grinders also require modifications in order to ensure a more consistent grind, but I wouldn't worry about this when you're just starting out.

Step 1: Determine Your Target Grind Size

Place a couple coffee beans in your hand grinder's hopper, and get to cranking.

You'll have a small sample of ground coffee to observe and then decide if it needs to be coarser or finer for the coffeemaker you'll be using.

As always, refer to the grind chart before making any adjustments.

Step 2: Measure Your Beans

Even though you're using a burr grinder, nothing really changes with this step. If anything, you might be ready to start measuring your beans by weight with a gram scale instead of by volume. But that's another discussion for another day.

If you don't own a gram scale yet...

Measure 1 tablespoon of coffee beans for every 6oz of brewed coffee you plan to make, and add your beans to the grinder's hopper.

Step 3: Add Your Measured Beans to the Hopper

Manual hand grinders are almost always smaller than their automatic counterparts.

Add as much coffee as you're able to fit in the hopper. Make sure you don't skip step 1 before adding your beans, as most hand grinders' grind setting can't be changed once the beans have been added to the hopper.

Step 4: Grind Your Beans

The actual grinding process for a hand grinder is very manual.

You'll either love it or hate it, but one thing is certain: it's a great workout for your arms.

Entry-level hand grinders will require more effort in the grinding process, so you definitely get what you pay for here.

Higher-end burr grinders like the Lido have sharper burrs, and therefore require far less effort.

Regardless of your hand grinder's burr quality, it will always take longer to grind for espresso or turkish coffee than it will for french press coffee.

Coarser grind = shorter grind time and effort.

How to grind coffee without a coffee grinder

Even though I promised I wouldn't cover how to grind coffee without a coffee grinder, I realize that you may be in a situation where you simply don't have access to a coffee grinder.

Below are some common household tools you can use instead:

Blender, Food Processor, Vitmatix, Magic Bullet, etc.

These common kitchen appliances are great backup options if you don't have a coffee grinder on hand.

These are basically all different versions of what a blade coffee grinder is, so they'll definitely work as the next best thing.

Remember to use the grind and shake method that I outlined above.

Mortar and Pestle

I'm honestly not sure how many people actually own one of these, but if you love making guacamole, chances are good!

A mortar and pestle is a good backup option if you don't have a blade grinder. In fact, a mortar and pestle is probably your next best bet in terms of producing a grind that is comparable to what a burr grinder would give you.

The only major downside is that the mortar and pestle method isn't very convenient.

Hammer

If you're desperate enough that you need to use a hammer, please proceed with caution!

You can certainly grind (well, crush) coffee beans with a hammer, but it's not going to be the prettiest scene.

First, make sure you have a hard, forgiving surface to crush the beans against. Last thing you want is to put a hole in mom's beautiful countertop.

Next, wrap the hammer's head in cheesecloth to minimize any potential damage.

With your coffee beans place in a small bag or ziplock, gently start hammering on the outside of the bag to crush the coffee beans inside.

Ziplock bags are good because you can actually see how you're doing in terms of grind size and overall consistency.

Butcher's Knife

A large knife can be used for grinding coffee beans in much the same way that a hammer can be used. But again, you'll want to be very careful not to chop off  a finger here, so please proceed with caution.

While you could certainly use the blade's edge to chop your beans, the more efficient (and safe) way to crush your coffee beans is by laying the knife flat on top of your beans and then pressing down firmly.

If you've ever crushed garlic with a butcher's knife, it's basically the same thing.

Repeat this crushing process until you have a desirable consistency.

Note: this method is best for more coarsely ground coffee.

Rolling Pin

A rolling pin can be an effective way to crush coffee beans with a little bit less danger involved.

Like the aforementioned tools, a rolling pin will surely make a mess if you're not careful, so make sure to prepare accordingly.

Start  by placing your coffee beans in a sealed bag or between two pieces of parchment paper. Crush the beans by pressing the rolling pin against the surface of the bag.

You're not really rolling so much as you are pressing and kneading the rolling pin into the beans.

This method will yield similar results to those of a Butcher's Knife, but likely with a bit more consistency.

Grind Size Guide (for various coffee brewers)

As I mentioned before, different coffee brewing methods brew best with different grind sizes. In this section, we'll take a look at the recommended grind size for various coffee brewing methods.

French Press

French Press coffee makers typically brew best with coarsely ground coffee. Since the French Press uses a relatively porous permanent filter, ground coffee has an easier time bypassing the filter and making its way into your final cup of coffee. This is especially true when the coffee is ground too finely.

By contrast, coarsely ground coffee can be filtered out by a French Press, which mostly eliminates the "sludge" from the bottom of your cup of coffee.

Additionally, since French Press is what's known as an immersion brewing method (the coffee steeps in the hot water for the entire duration of the brew process), the extraction will be more complete. If you were to  use a finer grind with a full immersion brew method like the French Press, you might end up with an over-extracted (read: bitter) cup of coffee. 

French Press Grind

Espresso

If you intend of getting the best results from your brand new espresso machine, you better have a grinder that can handle the finer grind settings required for brewing an espresso.

And yes, espresso is what you need to make pretty much every drink you see on a Starbucks menu, including lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, and more.

Keep in mind that a fine grind is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to brewing espresso. Micro-level changes in grind size have macro-level affects on how the espresso brews and therefore, tastes, once it arrives in the cup.

But if you're starting at a very fine grind setting, you'll at least be a lot closer to the end-result you're looking for than you'd have been if starting with a coarse grind.


Espresso Grind

Drip and Pour-Over Coffee

Drip coffee is where the grind size guidelines get a little bit more complicated. If we were to keep things as simple as possible, we'd simply tell you to use a grind that falls between french press and espresso, but that's a huge range.

Even though a medium grind is generally what works best with drip coffee makers, there can be a lot of variability once you get into the specific coffee maker that is being used.

For example: the Chemex tends to brew best with a coarser grind setting because of its thick paper filters, while the Hario V60 is usually at its best with a finer grind.

So let's take a look at some recommended grind sizes for a few of these popular drip coffee makers:

Chemex 

As I just mentioned, the Chemex has very thick paper filters that slow down the brew process significantly. Even though the thick filter's primary purpose is to filter out bitter compounds from the coffee, this can backfire if you're using coffee that is too finely  ground.

Why?

Because the longer your hot water makes contact with your ground coffee, the more flavor that is extracted (good and bad flavors).

This is why you'll generally want to start on the coarser end with your grind when brewing with a Chemex.

Medium Coarse Grind

Kalita Wave

Like the Chemex, the Kalita Wave generally has a slower extraction than many of its counterparts. Unlike the Chemex though, this has less to do with the filters, and more to do with the actual construction of the dripper.

With just 3 small holes at the base of the dripper, the Kalita Wave results in a longer brew time than your typical pour over coffee maker with larger holes at the base.

The typical Kalita filter is also pretty thick, though not as thick as the Chemex's filters.

Medium Coarse Grind

Yep, I use the same grind that I use for the Chemex

Hario V60

The Hario V60 is on the other side of the spectrum when comparing its grind size to a Chemex. Yep, that means that you're going to be using a much finer grind with the Hario V60 than what you may have used with something like the Chemex.

There are two main reasons for this:

1) The single hole at the base of the V60 is quite large

2) The paper filters used with  the V60 are thinner (I've found that two V60 filters can match the thickness of a Chemex filter)

A medium-fine grind is a great jumping-off point for the V60.

Medium-Fine Grind

Moka Pot

The Moka Pot is a classic stovetop coffeemaker that makes a more concentrated coffee beverage than your standard drip coffeemaker. You'll hear many people refer to a Moka Pot's coffee as espresso, even though it technically is not.

Because of this common misconception, many people think a Moka Pot should use a comparable grind to what one would use with espresso. However, in my experience, a fine grind with a Moka Pot can result in a pretty bitter cup of coffee, which is why I recommend starting on a coarser setting.

Like the French Press, the Moka Pot has a built-in filtration system that has no problem letting fines pass through it, which is the main reason I like to start on the coarser end.

I don't go quite as coarse as I would with French Press though. If anything, the grind is most comparable to what I'd use with a Chemex.

Some of you reading this might adamantly disagree with me on this one and insist on using a fine grind, and that's well...fine. 

Ultimately, you should experiment with different grind sizes no matter what brew method you use. Find what works best for your taste preferences.

Medium Coarse Grind


Yep, I use the same grind that I use for the Chemex

Cold Brew

There are two common methods for brewing cold brew coffee, and each benefits from a different grind size. Let's go over both.

Immersion Cold Brew Method

The immersion cold brew method is the easiest and most-common way to make cold brewed coffee, since it doesn't actually require any special equipment.

Basically, this method involves steeping the ground coffee in water anywhere from 6 to 24 hours. Many people like to use a large pot or french press when making cold brew coffee with this method.

Because of the extended brew time, a coarse grind is generally recommended for the immersion cold brew method. It also helps minimize any coffee sediment ending up in your final cup after filtration, especially if you're not using paper filters.

French Press Grind

Slow Drip Cold Brew Method

The slow drip cold brew method was popularized by Japanese coffee culture, and generally involves slowly dripping water onto a bed of ground coffee before passing through a paper filter.

Since the water is not making extended contact with the ground coffee like it does with the immersion method, using a medium-fine grind is a good starting point for a balanced extraction.

The Bruer team did some interesting experiments on finding the optimal grind for their slow drip cold brew coffeemaker.

Medium Grind

Best Coffee Grinders

In the table below, I've provided a comparison of the top coffee grinders that have been reviewed here at The Coffee Concierge. 

When choosing  a coffee grinder, it's important to know what kind of brew method(s) you'll be using, so don't start your search until you're clear on this.

Capresso 560.01 Infinity Conical Burr Grinder, Black
Baratza Virtuoso - Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
Our Pick
Breville BCG820BSSXL The Smart Grinder Pro Coffee Bean Grinder, Brushed Stainless Steel
OXO BREW Conical Burr Coffee Grinder with Integrated Scale
Hario Mini Mill Slim Hand Coffee Grinder
Name
Capresso Infinity
Baratza Virtuoso
Breville Smart Grinder Pro
OXO On
Hario Mini Mill
Price
$70.92
$229.00
$192.00
$221.61
$26.56
Prime Eligibility
Amazon Rating
Coffee Concierge Rating
7.2
9.0
8.0
5.0
6.2
Capresso 560.01 Infinity Conical Burr Grinder, Black
Name
Capresso Infinity
Price
$70.92
Prime Eligibility
Amazon Rating
Coffee Concierge Rating
7.2
Coffee Concierge Review
Buy on Amazon
Baratza Virtuoso - Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
Name
Baratza Virtuoso
Price
$229.00
Prime Eligibility
Amazon Rating
Coffee Concierge Rating
9.0
Coffee Concierge Review
Buy on Amazon
Our Pick
Breville BCG820BSSXL The Smart Grinder Pro Coffee Bean Grinder, Brushed Stainless Steel
Name
Breville Smart Grinder Pro
Price
$192.00
Prime Eligibility
Amazon Rating
Coffee Concierge Rating
8.0
Coffee Concierge Review
Buy on Amazon
OXO BREW Conical Burr Coffee Grinder with Integrated Scale
Name
OXO On
Price
$221.61
Prime Eligibility
Amazon Rating
Coffee Concierge Rating
5.0
Coffee Concierge Review
Buy on Amazon
Hario Mini Mill Slim Hand Coffee Grinder
Name
Hario Mini Mill
Price
$26.56
Prime Eligibility
Amazon Rating
Coffee Concierge Rating
6.2
Coffee Concierge Review
Buy on Amazon


Conclusion

So there you have it: a thorough primer on how to grind coffee. I hope this was helpful.

Let me know what you think about this guide by leaving a comment below, I'd love your feedback. Also, if you have any specific questions about grinding coffee, you can leave those below.

Enjoy the grind, my friends!

Last update on 2019-06-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API