What Is The Best Grind Size for Espresso?

by Scott Deans | Last Updated: April 2, 2021

Espresso junkies, latte lovers, and Cappucino connoisseurs listen up. If you love the rich, dark, syrupy coffee that only comes from true espresso brewing then you may have been wondering how this delicious coffee comes to be.

Any budding barista will know the importance of using the correct coffee grind size for your brew method and this leads us on to the question of what is the best grind size for espresso? If only the answer was simple!

For espresso brewing, you need to use a fine grind setting; so the ground particles will be around 1/32 of an inch, or 0.8 mm. Although this exact value can vary with different coffee beans, as well as between different espresso makers. Practice makes perfect, so start with a medium-fine setting and adjust your grinder based on the quality of espresso produced.

What Is The Best Grind Size for Espresso

What Defines An Espresso?

An espresso is a rich, dark, concentrated shot of coffee. It is brewed at about 9 Bars of pressure which allows full flavor extraction in a short period of time. It’s usually served in 1 ounce single shots or 2 ounces for a double shot. It is characterized by the thick creamy top layer called the crema that floats on top.

Best Coffee Grind Size For Espresso

A fine grind or espresso grind is needed when your using the espresso brewing method. This creates a large surface area that allows all the wonderful coffee flavors to impart into the hot water. You want your coffee to be the texture of finely ground table salt.

The exact setting you’ll need for your coffee grinder does come down to a bit of trial and error. The perfect grind varies with coffee type as well as with espresso machines and you may need a different grind for every new bag of coffee you buy.

To discover the correct grind setting you need to brew a cup of coffee and see how long the brew time lasts. If it runs through very quickly and the coffee is thin and watery then you were using a too coarse grind. Try a finer grind next time.

Coffee beans grounds and tamped in portafilters

If the water takes ages to come through and the espresso shot is very concentrated and thick then you need to go coarser. Try a medium-fine setting next time.

In general, your perfect grind setting will grind your beans down to particle sizes of around 1/32 of an inch (0.8 mm) or even a little smaller.

Blade Grinder Vs Burr Grinder

The type of coffee grinder you use is very important to get the full flavor out of your beans. A blade grinder works a bit like a food processor, randomly chopping up the beans into uneven pieces. The result gives an uneven ground coffee with some fine and some coarse grounds. This leads to the channeling of water through the coffee puck and causes bitter over-extraction of some areas with some areas remaining untouched. The blades can also heat up and this can burn the beans before you even start your coffee brewing.

Burr grinders, on the other hand, crush the coffee beans down to a certain size. Once the bits are small enough to fall through the burrs, they’re not crushed anymore.

Want a finder grind? Adjust the mechanism to the burrs are closer together.

Want a coarser grind? Adjust the mechanism so the burrs are further apart.

A burr grinder can come in two forms; A flat burr or conical burr grinder. The conical burrs give you the best control over your coffee grind and they don’t tend to clog up as flat burrs do. To ensure your coffee tastes as delicious as possible, opt for a conical burr grinder. Some of the best burr grinders on the market are the Baratza Encore and Breville Smart Grinder Pro.

all stages of a latte from bean to cup

How To Make Perfect Espresso

Coffee Beans

The kind of coffee you choose to make espresso really comes down to your personal preferences. A dark roast goes well in espresso due to lovely coffee oils and deep flavors but if you prefer light roasts you can use these as well.

The key point for a great cup of coffee is to use freshly roasted beans and only grind up the exact amount you plan to use. Pre-ground coffee can be used but it doesn’t hold onto as much flavor and aroma as coffee beans do.

Water

The perfect water temperature for brewing any kind of hot coffee falls between 195-205F. Most espresso machines should do this for you but if you find your coffee is tasting very bitter then it may be a good idea to check your coffee maker in case it’s getting too hot.

Use filtered water to ensure no unpleasant water tastes impart into your espresso and if you have a plumbed coffee machine, consider attaching a water filter at the inlet.

Prep the Machine

An array of espresso

You need to switch the machine on in advance so that it has a chance to heat up. Most espresso machines have an indicator light to tell you it’s good to go. It’s worth checking that the machine hasn’t been used recently for steaming milk as this can make the group head far too hot and you end up with a bitter, burnt coffee.

Flush the machine through to check the water siphons correctly and to warm the group head.

Get your coffee ready at the right grind setting for you. It may range from an extra fine grind to a medium-fine grind depending on your equipment and coffee beans used. Add the coffee to the portafilter and tamp it down gently.

Pre-Infusion

Fix the portafilter to the group head and make sure it clicks into place. The pre-infusion step is adopted by a lot of baristas to avoid channeling of water and this reduces the chance of over-extraction. The idea is that you let a small volume of low-pressure water into the puck for a few seconds to soak it before the main infusion. Some espresso machines have this feature built-in so will carry out this step for you. If your machine can’t manage this then switching it on for 2-5 seconds or so and then off again. Wait a few seconds and then start the espresso brewing process.

Draw Your Shot

The espresso should take around 25-30 seconds to complete. You want to switch on the machine and wait until the liquid pouring out the group head loses that dark color and thick texture. Switch the machine off when the coffee is ready and assess your java. It should be thick in texture and 1 to 2 ounces in volume (depending on whether you chose to brew a single or double-shot).

The crema should fully cover the top of the coffee and if you break it with a spoon it should join back together very quickly.

Dispose of your coffee grounds (ideally in the compost), flush the machine through, and wipe the group head before you switch it off.

Any Extras?

A Barista making a latte

Now is the time to personalize your espresso. You can enjoy it as it or you can add steamed milk to make a latte, cappuccino, macchiato, or anything else you fancy. A pinch of sea salt can enhance the flavor or a squeeze of lemon can go down nicely.

Enjoy

The last step is to sit back and enjoy your good coffee. You earned it!


Other Brew Methods To Consider

Moka Pot

Also known as the stovetop espresso maker, a Moka pot uses steam pressure to force hot water from the lower portion of the device, up through the coffee grounds ready to pour from the upper chamber. The Moka pot makes a dark and almost bitter brew that’s similar to espresso but without crema. You want to use coffee of a coarser grind than for espresso, somewhere between medium and medium-fine does well.

Aeropress

The Aeropress is a really good option for brewing espresso-like coffee at home or on the go. It’s lightweight and extremely portable and makes a delicate and sweet espresso-like brew. A fine to medium grind is needed and the device works to create pressure to brew the coffee alongside hot water. You simply follow the instructions, press the plunger and delicious coffee is dispensed straight into your favorite mug.

Turkish Coffee

A Frothy Turkish Pot

A very bold brewing method, the Turkish pot is a unique and fun way to brew coffee. The coffee needs to be an extra fine grind, finer than espresso coffee and similar to powdered sugar. This brew method boils the coffee in the water repeatedly to give an intense and highly flavorful cup of joe.

French Press

For a thick and rich brew that a lot of coffee lovers swear by you may want to consider the French press. Start with coffee of an extra coarse grind and add hot water. Wait for 4 minutes and then press down the plunger. It’s that simple!

Pour-Over

Popular choices include the Chemex and Hario V60. Pour-over makes a delicate and smooth cup of joe, similar to drip coffee but a bit lighter. You want to use coffee of a medium-coarse grind, add to the filter paper, and gently pour the water over it.

Cold Brew

If coffee is just too bitter for your taste buds then this brew method will be the answer you’ve been searching for. Cold brew coffee uses cold water and a long brew time to gently extract the lightest and sweetest notes from your coffee beans. Using coarsely ground coffee, let it steep in cool water for 12 or more hours and strain away the grounds. This resulting java can be topped up with cold water until it’s the perfect taste for you and can be enjoyed over ice or even heated up to drink as hot coffee if you prefer.

Final Thoughts

Espresso making needs a fine grind setting but this can vary between medium fine to ultra fine depending on your equipment and coffee type used. The individual grounds will have particle sizes of around 1/32 of an inch or 0.8 mm.

With that said, you still need to play around with your grinder, espresso machine, and the different beans themselves. It takes time and patience to brew the perfect espresso but if you put in the practice, you won’t regret it in the long run.

Happy Brewing!

Can you guess what keeps me up at night? You guessed it! Copious amounts of coffee beans. What? I brew them first.