What Happens If You Grind Coffee Too Fine: Hope For The Hopeless

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what happens if you grind coffee too fine

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My in-laws love their coffee. Morning, noon, and night. There’s no wrong time for a hot cup of java. 

Of course, this makes them easy to shop for come Christmas time. So, like a good son-in-law who shares a passion for caffeine, I bought them a simple grinder to introduce them to the world outside store-bought ground coffee.

Long story short, their routine cup of joe gave them an unexpected and not so welcomed surprise. 

It’s my fault, really. I should have taken the time to get them comfortable with it instead of relying on the prepackaged instructions. They’re victims of routine, and medium ground coffee already packaged for them is a blissful balance.

When coffee is ground too fine, not only will your favorite drip coffee maker be prone to clogging, but the taste of your brew will become bitter due to over-extraction.

bitter extraction taste
Is it too fine? Your taste buds will let you know.

And this is precisely what happened with their first stab at grinding their own coffee beans.

If you’re curious about how this happens and, more importantly, what to do about it, follow along. Because no grind should ever go to waste.

How Do You Know if Your Grind Is Too Fine?

Grinding your coffee too fine isn’t just a problem for traditional drip coffee users. Everyone has a preference, and each brewing process presents the opportunity for mistakes or miscalculations.

So if you’re new to grinding on your own, or you just picked up your very first espresso machine, how do you know if your grind is too fine?

how do you know if your grind is too fine
Use the senses you have to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Experienced brewers can tell their grind is too fine by the size or lack thereof of the grinds. But the surest sign your grounds are too fine is a sharp, biting taste on the first sip of coffee.

Before we talk more about how different grind sizes can affect the taste of your brew, let me teach you how to use your other senses for early detection.

Sense Number One: Touch

If you’ve seen your way around a grinder or two, you should be able to tell the difference in grind size by the feel of it between your fingers.

But if you’re confused about how to tell if your grounds are too fine, don’t sweat it! It’s easier than you think.

Step 1

Grab a large pinch of your ground coffee between your thumb and finger.

Step 2

Gently rub them back and forth, paying close attention to how they feel on your skin.

Step 3

If the grinds offer no resistance and feel like sugar granules, they’re likely too fine for most brewing methods. 

If rubbing the coffee grounds produces a sense of unevenness with little prickling sensations, that’s a sign of a coarser grind.

Sense Number Two: Sight

It doesn’t take a trained professional to see the difference between coarse and fine coffee grounds. Using the same method as before with a pinch of grinds, look for the small flakes or clumps of coarse coffee fragments.

look for a fingerprint in coffee grounds
These grinds are far too coarse to leave a mark.

If the coffee is ground too fine, you’ll notice the grinds look as textured as powdered sugar. A fingerprint will appear clear as day by pressing your thumb and finger together over the grinds. Otherwise, you’ll see a nondescript indentation.

However, the next best thing to inspecting the grinds in your hand is to examine them in your coffee maker or finished product. You see, grinds that are too fine for your selected brew method can easily find their way inside the gaps of your machine.

This leads to clogging, which affects functionality, or at the very least, makes it a pain to clean afterward. You might also find coffee grounds in your cup depending on filter use and other brewing factors.

If either of these instances happens to you, it’s probably time to consider how you prepare your coffee.

How Does Coffee Grind Size Affect Taste?

how does coffee grind size affect taste
The grind size has a big role in how your coffee tastes.

Now time for sense number three: taste. How does coffee grind size affect taste?

Changing the grind size for your coffee will alter the taste by regulating how much of the bean’s flavor is extractable during the brew time.

Traditionally, a coarse grind size will taste weak or watered down unless it’s allowed more time to brew. Alternatively, finer grinds can produce a fuller flavor with minimal effort and duration.

Now, I don’t want you to think that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Every grind size is capable of giving you an enjoyable drink experience. That said, the method you’re using and the time allowed at a given temperature must be considered.

Look at it this way; the coarser the grind, the longer it needs for the brewing process, so the extraction of caffeine and flavor found in its oils can deliver on expectations. To give it the required time, your brewing methods narrow down to drip coffee makers, a French press, Moka pots, and pour-overs.

narrowing down your coffee maker options
Once your grinds get too fine, your brewing options are limited.

The shortest time for brewing, meant for finer ground coffee, is mainly done using espresso machines or a Turkish coffee pot. 

Granted, some of the methods I mentioned for coarser grinds are perfectly fine when your grind size falls in that in-between range.

To be honest, taste is a choice. It’s your preference. You may prefer a coffee that’s a bit more bitter. If you aren’t sure, the best way to figure it out is to experiment and find the right grind size for you.

What to Do with Coffee Ground Too Fine

Ok, let’s get down to the issue at hand. If you’re still reading, I’m guessing your coffee grounds are too fine for your liking. So what are you supposed to do with them now?

Well, don’t throw them away! No one says you have to struggle through a beverage you’d typically never drink. We just have to find a new use for them.

don't throw away your coffee grounds
Don’t be hasty! There’s plenty we can do to fix this.

If you ground your coffee too fine, changing your brew method is the best way to salvage and make it drinkable. Decreasing the time used to extract its flavor or adjusting the temperature will save your grinds from a bitter experience.

Unfortunately, this may take you out of your comfort zone. If you’re strictly a drip coffee kind of person, taking a crack at a moka pot or pour-over might sound unappealing. That’s just how the cookie crumbles.

But hey, I’m not a monster. Espresso doesn’t sound like your thing? You’d be surprised what people do with leftover or unused coffee grounds. Everything from making a body scrub to mixing up some compost is on the table! Need a new organic odor remover? How about some ice melt for the front porch?

You think I’m kidding? I’m not. But that’s a story for another time.

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