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How To Grind Your Coffee Beans For Espresso Or French Press

All home espresso brewing is a delicate dance between two things; the machine, and the coffee beans. Both have to be just right in order to get the best espresso.

Wait, did just say the phrase "delicate dance"? I really need to man up here...moving on.

I've seen people spend four thousand dollars on an espresso maker and then literally use Folgers coffee beans, and I've seen people with a $30 Krups steam powered piece of junk using $40 an ounce espresso beans...neither makes any sense.

There's actually a third spoke to the espresso making wheel, and it's sort of related to both of the first two. How fine or coarse you grind your coffee beans can have a huge impact on the taste of your espresso, and sometimes can even destroy your machine! (yes, there's nothing more frustrating then seeing your machine spew hot water and coffee grinds all over your counter...)

Bean Grinding Basics

How fine should you grind your beans? Pretty fine. If you've got a fancy conical burr grinder then it probably has pre-programmed settings that will grind your beans to the exact levels needed.

If you're using a cheap grinder from Wal-mart, you'll have to eyeball it. Beans should be ground finer then you would normally grind them for coffee.

Plus your machine will play a role. If you've got a cheap steam-powered machine you'll need to grind your beans as fine as possible. True espresso needs at least 9 bars of pressure to turn into espresso...steam powered machines usually only pull between 1 and 1.5 bars of pressure.

If you're using a steam machine, you're espresso's going to taste bad no matter what (because it's not really espresso because the pressure isn't high enough to convert it into espresso) but by grinding your beans as fine as possible, you make it easier for the water to go through the coffee and help the little feller along as much as possible.

Those of you with real pump-powered espresso machines, especially normal semi-automatic machines like most people have, will need to experiment a little bit. Here's how.

Timing Is Everything...

A regular shot of espresso should take anywhere from between 17 to 22 seconds or so to brew. So fill your machine with coffee grounds and water, press the button, and count to 17 or so, then turn the machine off.

Taste the espresso. How is it? Did you get a full 1 to 2 ounces? Is it too bitter? Not strong enough?

Timing here is important:

  • Did your shot come out too quickly?
  • Did your shot come out too slowly?

Did you get a whole shot of espresso in just 10 seconds? That probably means that your beans were ground too coarsely. Try grinding them finer next time.

On the other hand, if after 20 seconds or so you've only got half a shot of espresso in your cup, it probably means that the beans were ground too fine. Grind them coarser next time.

That's really all there is to it. So experiment! That's a big part of the fun behind home espresso making. It lets you tweak things and get it just exactly the way you like it! Once you know exactly how you like it, you'll be able to enjoy the perfect shot of espresso every time and you'll wonder why you ever paid for a drink at Starbucks!

What About French Presses?

I know, I know...French presses aren't espresso or even slightly related. But I like to make a pot of French press coffee from time to time, and since we're talking about grinding beans I thought I'd slip it in here for those of you like me.

Unlike espresso, coffee beans should be ground coarsely for French presses. If you've got a fancy grinder, it probably either has a French press setting or a "coarse" setting. Either will do. If you're using a cheap grinder, you can easily eyeball it. Just make it pretty pebbly, coarser than for regular coffee.

Again, you can experiment here. The French Press is pretty forgiving, and it's not like there's a really "bad" way to do it.

Whether For Espresso or French Press - Take The Time To Learn

This whole article might seem silly to you, but try to take it seriously. Learning how to grind your coffee beans perfectly will give you better espresso. And really, what's the point of all of this if not to make the best possible espresso you can?

Give it a try...experiment a little. You'll thank me in the end!

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