In the past, we’ve looked at a dose-to-brew ratio and brew time to see what works best. Today, we’ll take a look at the grind setting, which is the most complicated of all the variables.
It is important to know how fine or coarse you should grind your coffee and when you should use your grind setting to adjust the flavor to your liking.
Even though making espresso is a lot of fun, it can also be extremely frustrating, especially when you’re just getting started. The fact that this variable is the most difficult to work with outweighs all of the others, in my opinion.
Is the grind on my espresso machine too fine?
Consider the following scenario: change the grind setting to something a little finer. You’ll be exposing a significant amount more surface area of the ground coffee due to this.
If you think about it, if you cut an apple into large pieces, there isn’t much surface area exposed. But if you cut it into small pieces, you’ll be able to see a lot more of the inside of the apple, and the same is true for a coffee bean, which is also true.
Increasing the surface area of the coffee grounds is beneficial for extracting more flavor from them, but changing the surface area also changes how the grounds interact with one another.
In addition, the finer the pieces are when they are tamped down in your little pack of coffee, the better they fit together and the more difficult it is for the water to flow through them. This will increase the time that the water and the coffee come into contact.
Consequently, you only get one shot at the surface area, which impacts flow rate and contact time as well, which is a bit of a pain in the neck. Changing the grind setting for an extra twist is also quite often a bit of a waste of time and effort.
This isn’t true of every single grinder that has ever been created, but it is very true of the many, many, many coffee grinders that people use to make espresso in the first place. Every time you use them, they don’t perfectly push out all of the coffee that has been ground in them.
In the grinding chamber, which contains the burrs as well as the exit chute, you’ll frequently find some residual ground coffee that was ground at a previous setting, which may have been before you adjusted.
As a result, whenever you make a change, you must purge out some coffee to replace the old grounds set at the incorrect ground setting with new ones.
Moreover, it is frustrating because some grinders require extensive purging while others do not, but in either case, the coffee is wasted, and you never get to enjoy it.
You are wasting coffee by not changing the grind setting, and changing the grind setting is a frustrating task that must be completed.
You won’t be able to do the extraction work necessary to extract all of the good flavors using only a small amount of water unless you grind the ingredients finely enough.
Because the nature of espresso is such that you only want to use a small amount of water to produce a strong concentrated thick delicious sweet espresso at the end, this is how it is done in the kitchen.
People discovered that to brew faster, you needed to grind finer grains fairly early on. So in this way, the increased surface area meant that those flavors were more accessible, but you quickly reached the point where there was a problem with the flavor accessibility.
Different methods were developed in the early years of espresso production to get water through the finely ground coffee to increase the pressure with which the water was pushed through with the coffee.
Eventually, using compressed springs, we achieved the pressures we use today, which are approximately nine pressure bars.
It’s the equivalent of 130 psi in strange money, but it’s nine atmospheres of pressure in real life. That is a significant amount of pressure, which can cause issues with espresso brewing.
As a general rule, you want to make the puck as fine as possible while exposing the greatest amount of surface area possible before you break it.
Espresso brewing takes place at these extremely low pressures, which are dependent on the amount of resistance provided by the coffee cake. However, the extremely high pressured water may eventually find a channel to run a more convenient pathway.
As a result of a broken espresso puck, more water is forced through less coffee, causing it to channel.
Channeling can be found in almost every expression at some point and to varying degrees. Even so, as you go finer and finer and finer, you increase the likelihood of a channel forming because you have created such a large amount of resistance to the pressure of the water.
The grind is not the only variable that influences how well your puck performs in creating consistent resistance throughout the entire brew cycle.
Your puck preparation and how evenly the coffee is distributed before you tamp it down before serving will be influenced by the depth of the puck as well. A common complaint from those who grind their grains a little too fine is that they experience over-extraction as a result.
When we think of that word, we think of very bitter flavors coming through in your espresso, which is something I’m sure I’ve done myself at some point or another. However, the puck as a whole may not be over-extracted in the traditional sense in most cases.
The puck may be under-extracted as a whole, but areas around the channels in which water has flowed much more quickly, as well as much larger amounts of water, are extremely over-extracted.
The shots now have a bitter harshness to them because they’ve given up more flavor than we wanted, but you could argue that this is more a result of uneven extraction than it is a result of over-extraction.
In other words, if you’re measuring this stuff with refractometers and looking at your total yields, you won’t notice a significant increase in extraction due to using extremely fine grinding. Instead, you’ll notice a decrease.
As a result, in the past, people were encouraged to experiment with a coarser grind than what was typically used for espresso.
Is it better to grind espresso finely or coarsely?
While it is true that you must use extremely coarse grains, I am not going to say that this is necessary because you will end up having to use a higher grain-to-shot ratio to achieve a more balanced shot in the end.
While using slightly coarser grounds results in a more even extraction than when using finely ground coffee, the final product feels and tastes different and has a slightly different texture and strength than when using finely ground coffee.
How Do I Adjust the Grind Settings on My Espresso Machine?
As a result, let’s talk about using grind in a much more practical manner. First and foremost, I would use grind to get my flow rate as close to optimal as possible. For example, consider the following scenario: I’m looking for 18 grams in and 36 grams out in approximately 30 seconds.
For the time being, I’ll be relying on my grind setting to get me to where I want to go. If the espresso is good but not perfect, I’ll taste it when I get there, and there are two other variables that we’ll discuss after I arrive.
If I’m still a long way off from being good tasting, for example, if I’m still very sour, I’m going to try a finer grind and see how that works out, even if it’s outside of my original spec.
If I can get my grind setting approximately correct, I will make those minor adjustments to the dose, the yield, and, possibly, the temperature of the coffee.
But, primarily, I would suspect that it has something to do with my coffee, both in and out. So they’re going to make it relatively simple for me to fine-tune that recipe.
The primary reason I prefer to use a grind like this for major changes, but not as frequently when I’m tweaking, is primarily practical.
When it comes to espresso, if you’re a beginner or intermediate, I believe that making fewer grind changes is probably the easier thing to do.
There’s waste from purging, and there’s a general frustration with making those changes and making them accurately, especially if you’re using a new grinder or are new to the process altogether.
So I believe that large changes in grind are beneficial, and if you have a stepped grinder where the steps between each set are quite large, I would recommend going with the finer of the two options, even if it means reducing your dose.
I’m just more likely to have a positive experience this way rather than being stuck with a grind that is a little coarser than I would prefer.
To make small adjustments, I would use grind if I lived in a world with infinite coffee, time, and resources. However, this requires a very good grinder, patience, and a significant amount of wasted coffee.
I’m not sure that’s the best real-world advice or recommendations you could provide. But, as a result, I believe that if you don’t waste a lot of coffee during the espresso-making process, you’ll be more likely to enjoy your espressos and the espresso-making process.
Is it better to grind espresso finely or coarsely?
So, at the risk of repeating myself, use your grind to get close to making a good-tasting espresso, and you will be successful. If the flavors are predominately sour, you may need to grind the ingredients a little finer. Consider coming back a little coarser if you find things are becoming a little too bitter and harsh or if you’re experiencing a lot of channeling at the moment.
Finally, I’d like to say
To conclude, I’ll provide you with a few simple rules to keep in mind when considering grind settings.
1. Once again, use it to get a sense of what you’re looking for in terms of taste. Don’t mess with your recipe; stick to it. Adjust your grind setting until it is reasonably good, and then tweak it further using your other recipe variables to achieve the desired result.
2. Generally speaking, try to make it as enjoyable as possible before you notice any channeling taking place. If you’re using a naked portafilter, channeling will be immediately apparent, and you’ll begin to notice an uneven flow in your basket.
Typically, this is visible in the last third of the espresso, but it can also be seen in the spotted portafilter.
Look for a sudden increase in flow rate as coffee begins to gush out of their fixtures in the last third of the chart, or possibly the last half if something has gone wrong with the machine.
Channeled espressos tend to be a little weaker in flavor than you might expect. In the finish, you get a kind of harsh, biting aftertaste due to the acidity combined with the bitterness—a hollow, acidic aftertaste combined with bitterness.
Even grinding directly from some grinders into a small collection chamber or bucket, shaking out any potential clumps, and then dosing into your portafilter has been recommended by me in the past.
Puck preparation is extremely important, but going too fine will channel regardless of the situation.
3. Only one flow-related variable should be changed at a time. If you’re changing your grind, don’t forget to adjust the amount of coffee in your bucket at the same time.
You won’t be able to comprehend or gain insight into the implications of either one in this manner, and you won’t be able to tell whether something has gone right or wrong. So to understand the nature of the change you’ve made in your grind, keep everything else the same while adjusting to your routine.
4. It is necessary to purge. It is preferable to purge and waste five grams of coffee rather than waste the entire dose because it was ground incorrectly.
Changing the grind setting on most grinders, whether it’s five grams or ten grams (it depends on the make and model), make sure you’re only getting the new grind setting that you want to test and see if it produces the espresso that you want to drink before proceeding.