Welcome to Level Up, a series of columns about upping your coffee game.
Although it may feel sacrilegious to harm coffee beans, there’s no avoiding the fact that brewing an excellent cup of coffee requires violently ripping them to shreds. And like most dirty work, you should do it yourself.
When to grind your beans
Grinding at home immediately before brewing is absolutely crucial. When a barista asks a customer buying beans if they need them ground, it’s like politely offering to put an ice cube in a glass of pinot noir. While in whole bean form, the integrity of the gaseous content stays safely trapped inside. Once it’s ground, 50% dissipates within 15 minutes. That means half of your flavor has disappeared into thin air.
It’s true that how you use them may be more important, but for coffee grounds, size does matter. The smaller the grind, the more surface area is exposed, which makes for a quicker extraction. Since espresso only receives a 20-30 second blast of hot water, the grind should be as fine as powder. The eternity in coffee years it takes to brew a French press requires grounds so gritty that a prospector might mistake them for nuggets of black gold. A quick rule of thumb for adjustment: if your coffee tastes too bitter, the grind is likely too fine. Too sour, make it bigger.
For brewing with the Pakt Coffee Kit, you’ll want a medium/coarse ground, think the texture of kosher salt.
It should also be noted that not all grinders are created equal (there’s an app version that is very different). Coffee isn’t mustard seed, so don’t dare use a spice grinder. For consistent size, you’ll want a burr grinder. The Hario Slim Mill and the Porlex Mini are the professional picks for affordability and portability, and their manual crank doubles as a bicep toner. On the automatic front, the best entry-level option is the Baratza Encore. At the Cadillac end of the spectrum you’ll find the EK 43, available for the same price as a low mileage 2008 Toyota Corolla SE. That may seem like an obscene price to achieve the perfect grind, but that’s the price you pay to be a Level 10 Coffee Snob.
Dan Gentile is a writer and coffee enthusiast based in San Francisco, California.