I started drinking pre-ground coffee. I did not want to invest in buying a grinder, many of which were expensive. It was not until much later in my home brewing journey that I learned there are many affordable grinders on the market.
I also did not want the burden of grinding beans every time I wanted to make a cup. I was not sure how much strength I’d need to exert to make a cup of coffee. I played it safe and bought pre-ground beans. But, I had two issues with pre-ground beans.
First, pre-ground beans came in different sizes. Although many coffee roasters from whom I ordered had “Aeropress grind” beans, there is no standard behind this description. Some beans were finer than others. Looking back, this probably had an impact on my ability to extract flavors from each coffee.
My biggest issue was that I had read pre-ground beans could not be as fresh as newly-ground beans. This is because ground coffee starts to lose its freshness fifteen minutes after it is ground. I know that roasters take great care to package their coffee correctly but there is no way for them to completely avoid the decline in freshness that is associated with pre-grounding.
Before I participated in the Steampunk cupping session, I bought a grinder.
Using Whole Coffee Beans
I got some good practice on my grinder by starting with a cupping session. The kit for my session came with a bag that said roughly what grind I should be aiming for. That grind size turned out to be what I needed for my Aeropress. A stroke of luck. When I got my grinder, I spent some time calibrating it with some sample beans that came with the kit. I tinkered until I got a grind size consistent with that in the sample bag.
If you have just purchased a coffee grinder, your first move should be to calibrate your grinder. My grinder, a Hario Mini Mill, is a little bit less intuitive than others on the market. It does not have a dial that corresponds with any numbers so there is a lot of guesswork involved in calibrating the grinder. This has only been an issue for me once, which I’ll talk more about in a minute.
Once I had calibrated my grinder, I was ready to go. I could use my grinder for every cup of coffee that I wanted to brew.
A New Stage to the Production Process
Grinding adds an additional level to the process I use to make a cup of coffee. Since I have started grinding, I have found this process therapeutic. I have to be fully present when I grind. I’ve even come to feel how my beans grind differently depending on the setting I use. I like it when I encounter a bigger bean because I have to push a little bit harder. I cannot escape what the grinder is telling me.
I grind my coffee just before I start boiling the kettle. I boil the kettle when I am about to finish grinding. This helps me save time. I could boil the kettle as soon as I start grinding but some days I am quicker than others. I don’t want to start grinding one day and lose track of my kettle boiling. I may over-boil the water.
I grind 14g of beans for my Aeropress and French press (one cup). It takes me about three or four minutes, I think, but I would have to time myself. I’ve never kept close track of how long it takes me to grind my beans. I know that grinding is another factor I have to think about when I’m brewing coffee but that is fine because brewing coffee is a ritual to me. I enjoy every part of the process.
I use a Hario Mini Mill. I saw the grinder for sale on Union Hand-roasted’s website and so I assumed it would be a good grinder. I did not want to spend too much on a grinder. I spent about 25 pounds on this one. I know that some manual grinders cost upwards of 60 pounds but all I need is a grinder that lets me achieve a consistent grind. The model I have does this well. I do not need to upgrade.
The Hario Mini Mill can store up to 24g of ground coffee if I remember correctly. It has four parts: the grind chamber, a chamber to store beans, a lid for the grind chamber, and the handle you use to grind beans.
My grinder has consistently ground my coffee every time I have used it. After initial configuration, I did not change the setting on the grinder. This is because I’ve been happy with my grind setting. This made me blind to how difficult it is to calibrate the grinder across multiple grinds.
I planned on alternating between the French press and Aeropress so that I know I’d get at least one good cup of coffee each day (from my Aeropress) while I played around with my French press. I could do this but it would take a lot of time. I need to change the grinder setting for Aeropress and French press. They both use very different grind sizes. The Aeropress uses a medium-to-fine grind whereas the French press uses a coarse grind.
Configuring my grinder to a coarser size was quite easy. The trouble came when I wanted to make my grind finer for my Aeropress. I had trouble adjusting the dial. When I finally thought I’d got a good grind, it turns out it was too fine.
This was only an issue because my grinder does not have any numerical settings. If it did, I’d easily be able to say (3) Aeropress or (9) French press. I have to manually try different settings until I find one that I like. I can count the clicks on my grinder but this is not easy to keep track of.
A New Take on Coffee
Grinding coffee changed the way I brew coffee. Not only does grinding extend my coffee-making ritual, it also makes my coffee taste much better. I did not do a side-by-side comparison but I know that freshly-ground coffee tastes much better.
I can tell the freshness of my coffee by looking at the bloom when I start to brew. A vigorous bloom correlates with fresh beans. A lifeless or “flat” bloom tells me that my beans are no longer as fresh as they once were. I rarely saw a very bubbly bloom when I used pre-ground coffee. I now get quite a lot of bubbles with every bean I use, assuming I am using fresh beans.
My coffee grounds have a stronger fragrance. My coffee emits stronger aromas during brewing. My coffee tastes better. I did not know how much of a difference grinding would make until I tried it out for myself. I am somewhat frustrated by how difficult it is to calibrate my grinder but I’ve come to learn that you get what you pay for. My grinder serves me well. I don’t intend on upgrading any time soon.