How to make coffee that doesn’t suck: Grinding your beans

We’ve all been there. Someone offers us a cup of coffee and It’s. Just. Wrong. It’s vinegary. It’s gritty. It’s nasty and bitter. It’s (worst of all) way too weak. Bad coffee can reduce a grown man to tears. It can ruin marriages. It can even ruin your shot at salvation. God HATES bad coffee.

Bad coffee is bad news.

“But El Chris!” You’ll cry, “I’m no coffee nut, I just like drinking the stuff! What can I DOOO?” Fear not, dear readers, for El Chris will show you how to grind your coffee RIGHT.

The grind is a VERY important part of brewing good coffee. It makes as much of a difference as the beans you use. Today you’ll learn how to grind for a percolator, French press, drip coffee pot, and espresso maker. You’ll also learn what to look for on pre-packaged coffee. More on that later.


This is my grinder. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without it, I am nothing. NOTHING.

Aside from being a delicious type of sandwich, a grinder is crucial. There are two types of grinders: a burr grinder and a blade grinder. Blade grinders use two blades shaped like a propeller to chop up the beans. Blade grinders are cheaper, simpler, and infinitely more popular, but they lack consistency in the grind. When I grind coarse coffee in my blade grinder, I find some whole beans leftover that weren’t touched by the blades. This burr grinder is infinitely better and far more consistent, but they can cost a little more than blade grinders. I will be demonstrating with a blade grinder today. I like this one because it’s adjustable, but unfortunately it’s not made anymore. If you REALLY like mine, you can get a similar one here but you might as well get the burr grinder.

Percolator and French Press

classic vintage percolator percolator coffee coarse grind coarsely ground coffee coffee pot cowboy coffee
A classic percolator, just like your parents & grandparents used.
bodum french press french press french press coffee coffee maker coffee pot
The Bodum French press. Classic design, great coffee and durability.

Both of these use coarsely ground coffee, but that’s often overlooked, resulting in super bad coffee.

Percolation is the oldest modern method of brewing coffee. It’s still used to make lots of coffee quickly, but it’s often done with drip-grind coffee (which is any coffee that you buy pre-ground, like Starbucks, Folgers, Archer Farms, etc…) which is too fine for the built-in filters used by percolators. If the coffee is too fine, it slips through the metal filter and rests at the bottom of your pot, then it winds up in your mouth.

The same issue happens with a French press. A French press, like a percolator, doesn’t use a paper filter. The Patient Wife and I got this one for our wedding and it has served us well morning after morning and has saved us a TON on filters. You know, because a French press doesn’t need filters.
Anyway, if your coffee is ground too fine, it will slip through the mesh filter and give you gritty sludge at the bottom of your cup. A mouthful of that will destroy everything you love and probably your morning.

Properly ground coarse coffee should feel like kosher salt.

summit beer summit epa summit extra pale ale coarse ground coras corase grind coffee good turn coffee
Coarse ground coffee, perfect for a French press or a percolator.

 Drip Brewers

Drip brew drip brewer drip-brew drip-brewer drip-brew Drip brew coffee drip brewer coffee drip-brew coffee drip-brewer coffee drip-brew coffee coffee pot black and decker black & decker
A standard drip-brewer

These are your Mr Coffees, your “Free coffee maker if you sign up for Gevalia!” and likely your office and home coffee maker. If you ever buy a bag or can of coffee in the grocery store, it’s a drip grind. Electric drip brewers revolutionized home brewing because the temperature could be more precisely controlled and suddenly coffee tasted good. Boiling water is so hot that it over-extracts the coffee and makes really acidic, REALLY bitter coffee. Drip brewers don’t do that.

Drip brew coffee should be ground finer than percolator or French press. It should feel like sand.

Proper drip grind

Espresso makers

espresso coffee espresso maker coffee maker expresso mr coffee steam powered espresso maker
A very popular, low-cost espresso maker. I used one of these for years.

espresso maker stovetop espresso maker camping espresso maker camping expresso camp coffee
A camping espresso maker. Most scoutmasters have one of these hooked to an IV bag.

This one is tricky. Espresso is both a roast and a grind and that throws a LOT of people off. You can put ANY coffee bean, espresso ROAST or otherwise, through your espresso maker.

Especially with espresso, it’s always best to buy the whole beans and grind them yourself. If you buy a bag of espresso at the store and it’s ground, odds are it’s ground for a drip brewer and NOT for an espresso maker. Starbucks and Caribou Coffee are AWFUL at this. This is too coarse for an espresso maker and will result in weak, watery espresso. Even if it isn’t labeled as drip grind, you can tell it is if you read the instructions. If it says to use 1 tablespoon of coffee for 6-8 ounces of water, then it’s drip grind. You can actually grind any roast of coffee into espresso, but we’ll get to that another time. Well-ground espresso should look like fine sugar. If it’s more like flour or powdered sugar, your espresso maker will clog and spray hot water everywhere, so watch for that.

fine espresso coffee fine ground fine grind grain belt beer cap coffee espresso coffe cofee expresso espress espreso expreso
Properly ground fine coffee.

This week, I’ll teach you how to make coffee using each of these methods, plus a few other non-traditional methods not covered here. Never again will you make a crappy cup of coffee. Remember folks, God HATES bad coffee.

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Author: El Chris

I’m full of snark that doesn’t always come out. I have a soft spot for kids and people with special needs. I’m a disability advocate by day, and a coffee roasting photographer by night. You’ll love me, but your parents will love me more.

9 thoughts on “How to make coffee that doesn’t suck: Grinding your beans”

  1. You know your coffee! I’m experimenting with a French Press and will get an espresso maker soon, but great advice!

    1. Thanks, Nick! You’ll love the French press, and you’ll also love the espresso maker. You’ll be making depth charges in no time!

  2. Great advice, and funny commentary to boot. I really am Kim Kardashian, Just google and watch my infamous tape. 😀 😉 :X

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