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Barista at Home: Grinding Coffee

grinding coffee

The humble coffee grinder.

It’s the unsung hero of the coffee bar. Standing in the shadows of flashy espresso machines and towering batch brewers, grinding coffee without fanfare. If espresso equipment were a band, the coffee grinder would be the bass player.

Just like solid bass grooves underpin tasty melodies, grinding coffee properly can really help your espresso and brewed coffee sing. But what does it mean to grind coffee well? And how can the Barista at Home choose a grinder that’ll lay down a smooth bass-line for a pitch-perfect cup?

It’s all about flavor.

Properly ground coffee is the right size to brew delicious coffee.

Professional baristas know that controlling grind is an easy way to fine-tune their drip or espresso brewing. Readers of our Barista at Home: Brewing Essentials article will know why: the key to great coffee flavor is grinding coffee to the right size for the brewing method. Understanding that can help the Barista at Home brew delicious coffee in their own kitchen.

That knowledge also helps when choosing a grinder for your home coffee bar. A good grinder makes it easy to grind coffee to the right size. It should be consistent, always grinding coffee the way you expect at a given setting. It will also be easy to adjust, changing in a predictable fashion when necessary.

Grinding coffee particles to the correct size is important for flavor, but this song has a second verse.

Like your favorite ceramic coffee mug, a roasted coffee bean is brittle.

The process of grinding coffee involves shearing and shattering the brittle coffee bean structure into tiny bits. As anyone who’s ever dropped a ceramic coffee mug can attest, shattering usually produces an extremely wide range of pieces.

That wide range of pieces can be trouble for the barista.

Imagine you want to brew some coffee using a pour-over. Your favorite Dilworth Coffee brewing guide recommends a medium-fine grind. With that in mind, you measure out your coffee beans and grind them at the correct setting. Now, take a close look at the result:

Most grinders are happy to produce the medium-fine size grounds you wanted. Along with them, all grinders will also produce something you didn’t want: very large and very small particles that we call “boulders and dust”.

Too many boulders and dust means poor coffee flavor.

Coffee made from just those boulders might rock if given 6-8 minutes of contact time in a French Press. The dust might also be fine if brewed in an espresso machine. But since all of the grounds are instead destined for a 3-minute pour-over, the song may not be so sweet.

A little bit of variation is ok (in fact, the coffee I made with the grounds in the picture above was delicious). But brews made with too many boulders and dust will be an unbalanced mixture of sour (underextracted) and bitter (overextracted) coffee.

What does that mean for the Barista at Home? Whirley-blade grinders may be inexpensive, but they produce far too many boulders and dust for a great cup. For consistently tasty coffee, choose a grinder with high-quality grinding burrs like this one.

Good grinders are built to last.

You use your coffee equipment often; in many cases, before you’ve had your first cup of coffee. For that reason, it’s worth looking for a grinder that’s easily operated by sleepy brains and sturdy enough to survive the occasional bump.

Professional baristas also know that grinder burrs work best when sharp, and replace them occasionally. Burrs should last several years in the average home. When it comes time to replace those burrs (or your grinder has taken an unplanned trip to the kitchen floor) many manufacturers are happy to stand behind their products with parts and service support.

A good grinder is your coffee’s unsung hero.

Coffee grinders may not be the stars of the show, but by consistently grinding coffee properly they can help your brewed coffees hit the right note every time.

To talk about coffee grinders, or sweet bass grooves, call Dilworth Coffee at 866 849 1682 and ask for Brady.

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Barista at Home: Coffee Brewing Gear

coffee brewing gear

The gift-giving season is upon us. Need some ideas for your friendly neighborhood coffee geek?

Here’s a hint: home baristas love toys.

Make no mistake, professional baristas can MacGuyver rigs to brew great coffee out of some pretty random household items when needed. Having the right tools can make achieving good coffee easier, more consistent, and much more fun though.

In this second installment of our Barista at Home series, we’ll check out some of our favorite coffee brewing gear. We’ll also pinpoint which brewing essentials these tools use to help you make great coffee at home too.

Turn up the volume with Coffee-to-Water Ratio

A delicious cup of coffee has balance: excellent flavor and enjoyable strength. Strength in this case does not mean a “bold” or bitter flavor, it’s the intensity of the flavor. If coffee were music, strength would be the volume. Our goal is to turn that volume up to create an enjoyable experience without changing the sound, err… flavor quality.

This is pretty straightforward to do: the more ground coffee you use for a given amount of water, the stronger and more concentrated the resulting brew will be. Baristas refer to this recipe as the coffee-to-water ratio.

How strong? Dilworth Coffee recommends using 1 part coffee to 17 parts water (that’s 3.75oz coffee per half gallon, or about 55 grams per liter). With that ratio, and a proper extraction your finished brew should be a crowd-pleasing strength.

How can good coffee brewing gear help?

Most professional baristas count on a scale to weigh out the exact amount of coffee. They’ll also brew on a scale to make sure their water measurements are equally precise.

An accurate kitchen scale works (and is useful for other tasks). That said, I like the built-in timer feature on the Hario v60 Drip Scale. Those looking to splurge might upgrade to the Acai Pearl scale with its Bluetooth functionality.

Fine-tune with Temperature and Turbulence

Unless coldbrew is your thing, you need HOT water for proper brewing. How hot? We recommend 195-205 degree F water for best results. No precision digital thermometer handy? Just bring your water to a boil right before brewing.

While you could boil that water in your microwave, most pros’ coffee brewing gear includes a purpose-built kettle instead.

My go-to electric kettle is from Bonavita. It heats water quickly and features a long pouring spout to help control turbulence (more on that shortly). It’s digital sibling is a nice upgrade, giving you more precise control of the brewing water temperature.

Did I say turbulence? Buckle up, little coffee grounds! For a tasty extraction, we need to keep everything moving and interacting with the water. We describe that movement as turbulence.

The long “gooseneck” spouts on coffee pouring kettles enable the barista to pour with precision. Directing the water so it reaches all of the grounds makes turbulence more uniform.

Those spouts also limit water flow, which helps to control the magnitude of the turbulence. That’s important, since too bumpy of a ride can shake unpleasant flavors loose.

Have some fun with Brewing Devices

Scales and kettles may be useful tools, but brewing devices are where the fun really happens.

Most professional brew bars feature some kind of pourover brewing device, with popular choices including the Hario v60, Kalita Wave, and Beehouse or Bonmac drippers. I’ve enjoyed delicious coffee from all of these, though the Kalita Wave is my go-to method.

What makes the coffee from each of these methods unique? Variations in filter shape are responsible for some of the differences in the cup. Many pro baristas prefer the pointier cone shape of the v60, though flat-bottom or truncated-cone-shaped filters make it easier to consistently brew good coffee.

The number and size of the holes in the bottom of the device also make a difference. This can vary from the single small hole in a Bonmac to the wide-open v60. Like to tinker? Check out the adjustable December Dripper – it’s the hot new brewer of the year and sure to be on your favorite barista’s letter to Santa (hint hint).

No matter which brewer you choose, be sure to select the size that’s appropriate for you. I usually pick the two cup version, which performs equally well whether I’m brewing a single mug for myself or sharing with a friend.

Make your list, check it twice.

Good coffee brewing gear: it’s a good gift idea for the barista at home AND a great way to make better coffee. Want more information on brewing great coffee? Continue with Part 3 of our Barista at Home series, “Start with Good Coffee”. Also check out Dilworth Coffee’s Brewology resources or call Brady at 866 849 1682.