There are numerous coffee extraction methods, all of which create a unique flavor profile.
General Extraction Times and Grind Size
Extraction time is directly proportional to the size of your grind and the type of extraction method you’re using….in general, the longer the grinds are to be steeped in water, the larger the grind must be.
While there are numerous ways to extract coffee, looking at any typical commercial grinder will show you this proper relationship for the most popular extraction methods.
- Smallest grind = Turkish coffee (an unfiltered coffee drink where the grind is ground almost to a powder, added to water with sugar and spices, and then traditionally triple boiled)
- Small grind = Espresso (typically extraction times of approx. 18-28 seconds)
- Mid Range Grind = Drip Coffee (the grinds steep for a short period and then filter through a metal or paper filter)
- Course Grind = French Press (the large grinds steep in water for approx. 5-6 minutes)
- Largest Grind = Percolating (the grinds are literally boiled in water continuously for a matter of minutes typically creating a strong bitter brew)
The coffee bean itself is very complex, and is composed of hundreds of different compounds, some of which flavor your coffee positively and some that can flavor negatively if steeped too short or too long. Each tiny piece of ground coffee reacts with the hot water it steeps in. Smaller grinds allow more surface area to touch the water it floats in and thus, the good oils and other coffee compounds extract quickly thus causing a short steep time. Larger grinds create less coffee surface area allowing the coffee to remain in the water for a longer time before compounds are extracted that may misflavor the beverage.
Caffeine, the most well known compound found in coffee, and the most desirable flavors are typically extracted first. However, if you don’t allow your coffee to steep long enough for its grind size, your coffee will typically taste sour, under extracted, and weak. Likewise, steeping your coffee longer thinking it will create a stronger or more flavorful cup of coffee does not necessarily work. If it steeps too long, certain natural compounds will start extracting from the coffee and cause bitterness. Just like tea, to produce a ‘stronger’ cup, simply add more coffee and steep as usual.
It is important to note that caffeine levels are also often, but not always, directly related to how long coffee steeps since caffeine is a compound extracted during the steeping process. Simply, the longer the coffee steeps, the more caffeine is extracted. While espresso is often wrongfully viewed as strong coffee with a high amount of concentrated caffeine, based on usual serving sizes, an espresso shot has much less caffeine than a typical cup of drip or French press coffee. (On a per-volume basis though, espresso actually has two to three times the amount of caffeine as brewed coffee)
Coffee can often be temperamental…the freshness of the bean, the quality of the grind, the temperature and quality of the water, the type and quality of equipment, and the extraction time all can easily affect your favorite beverages flavor profile. However, since every coffee is different and every persons pallet are diverse, we recommend trying different water temperatures and steep times to dial in YOUR perfect cup.