We go to great lengths to produce a delightful cup of coffee for our daily fresh start. To maximize the flavor and crispness from your java, you must grind your own beans.
I used to walk into my local coffee shop and soak up their exceptional selection of organic, fair trade coffee. I regularly conversed with the baristas about the flavor combinations, learning about each blend’s origin. Some from Columbia, a mix or two from Africa, even Mexico was well represented. Then, I’d walk my bag of choice to the register. “Please grind this for French Press,” I’d say. I knew that they’d hit the perfect level of coarseness.
One day as part of my normal chit-chat, I asked “How long will my grind stay fresh?” I got the reply I was looking for. “You’re good for about a week, not longer.” It was music to my ears. That’s how long it takes me to go through a bag.
Then I read this, from the New York Times:
The volatile flavors and aromatics concentrated inside a coffee bean are exposed by grinding; when you make coffee, you are dissolving a portion of the bean’s solids in water. By crushing coffee beans into small pieces, you have better access to those tasty solubles. Grind just before brewing and you have a good chance of getting most of them into the cup; grind 10 minutes ahead and a noticeable amount of flavor will have dissipated. Grind the night before and you throw in the towel before you step in the ring.
The night before? What!? That asshole at my trusted coffee shop (you know who you are, dude with the crazy long beard and nose ring with the faded dragon tattoo peeking out of your collar) has been steering me wrong! I kid….sort of.
There seem to be two reasons most people do not grind just before brewing. First, markets, coffee shops and roasters enable a bad habit by offering complimentary grinding. They do it in the name of customer service, but they are not doing you any favors. That is doubly true if the grinders are not cleaned regularly and your coffee carries traces of what went through the machine earlier.
It’s true that I was lured in by the convenience, but it’s time for me to take responsibility here. I knew the flavor of my coffee was suffering with every moment between the grind and the brew; that’s why I felt compelled to pose the question in the first place. The day I brought my bag home was always the most spectacular drinking experience.
Of course, in order to grind my own coffee, I needed another gadget. This is the NYT advice:
Second, a good grinder does not come cheap. You want a solid burr grinder that crushes the beans into consistently sized particles, not a flimsy blade grinder that chops some into fine powder and some into coarse chunks. A well-built electric burr grinder suited for brewing starts at about $100, though you can easily spend $250; pay less and you are likely to have problems with the motor, the burrs or how the beans flow from the hopper.
Frankly, my grinder is an entry level model that I purchased for under $20, and it works great. In fairness, a coarse grind is ideal for French press, and if it’s a bit uneven, I’m not concerned. When I graduate to expert status (I’m currently a brown belt), I’ll upgrade my grinder game to match.
Cheers to ethereal grind and a delectable cup,