Coffee Fundamentals: Changing Your Grind

Today, the coffee world seems to some as a coin. On one side you have the commercial world like New England's favorite doughnut shop and Seattle's star Siren and on the other is the small coffee roastery in your small town that aims to bring you a fresh cup that you can sip on while you feel good about putting those dollars back into your community. Even though we have always aimed to help you up your coffee game, we want to be approachable because we know that it's no small task and can be intimidating at first. Since we are putting some cool new products on our shelves we want to not only help you improve those brewing skills but tell you why these fundamentals are important. We are going to start with arguably the most important aspect of brewing coffee: grind size. With everything else perfect about your brewing process, the wrong grind can bring your brew to an over-extracted stop. 

As most 6th grade science students have learned, water is unique. Perhaps the most unique substance in the universe as it's known as the universal solvent that can dissolve (just about) anything. That's really all coffee is when you boil it down: a bunch of suspended coffee particles that are permanently locked to these water molecules. Whether the water is hot or cold it's going to get those coffee bits over time and this is what makes the grind so important.

Coffee as a roasted, whole bean holds within it water, amino acids, sugars, carbohydrates, fiber, proteins, organic acids, lipids, minerals, and as everyone expects, caffeine. In fact there are more than 800 chemicals identified in coffee beans that provide them with the flavors and health benefits we know of today. When you take the beans and crush them into a powder it increases the surface area of the coffee making it easier for us to pull all of that good stuff out with hot water. Grinding coffee takes place on a spectrum of fine (think espresso or Turkish coffee; powder like) to course (think kosher salt). If you grind your coffee too fine for a certain brewing method you run the risk of dissolving some chemicals that are less desirable in your brew resulting in an over-extracted cup and on the flip side if you grind too course, the hot water might not have a chance to extract all, if any, of the good stuff which would give you an under-extracted brew. There are many other factors to what end up in your cup such as time, temperature, and brewing method but like we said before, if everything is perfect except your grind, you might not enjoy what you end up with.

So I think I've stressed the importance of grind size to death but what is also important to acknowledge is the consistency of the grind and how you get to it. To simplify things you can grind coffee three ways: the first option is to punch it with the power of your fists which tends to hurt and probably won't get you the consistent grinds needed. All joking aside, you can purchase one of the two types of grinders on the market being blade and burr grinders. A simple blade or spice grinder utilizes a general blade to aggressively chop up herbs and spices (or in your case beans) to expose surface area. While the blade grinder certainly grinds the coffee it lacks the ever important consistency needed for an even extraction. If you have a mixture of course and fine bits in your cup, some will over-extract and some will under-extract making it really difficult to hone in on a good brewing formula. What any good coffee shop uses or recommends is a burr grinder. This type of grinder utilizes two metal plates called burrs (pictured to the right) that are ringed with blades that crush the beans to a desired particle size. The burr grinder is hailed to be more consistent because once the beans enter the grinding chamber between the burrs, they cannot escape until they are ground to the desired size. While some coffee fines can make it into the final product, the overall grind is much more even and consistent. As far as cost goes, the blade grinders are much cheaper but the burr grinders will always give you a better drinking experience and the quality can really be found in the cup despite a slightly higher price point.

We offer two kinds of burr grinders at Borealis Coffee Company: the ever popular Baratza Encore and the newly released Fellow Ode Grinder. Both are astounding burr grinders that will get you to where you need to be as far as improving your brew. The Encore is a great entry level burr grinder that many starting out in the coffee world have in their homes and is easy to use even if you haven't had your morning cup yet. The Ode is a new product for the world and us at Borealis and we look forward to getting to know it. From what we've played with so far, it's the coffee lover's grinder with a bunch of settings and a sleek look. Opening the box when we first got them in, I felt like a 12 year old on Christmas morning opening his first gaming console. It really is a cool grinder and we hope the coffee nerd that walks in to buy one enjoys it as much as we do.

All fan-boy talk aside, I hope this quick write-up helps highlight the importance of grinding your coffee to the certain size needed for your brewing method. In the coming months we will be excited to share with you some more bits about improving your cup at home and we are always open to suggestions if there is a question itching at you. We are here to help and hopefully change your grind about how you brew at home.


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