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My Baratza Encore grinder has been the worst purchase I've ever made.

Don't get me wrong, the machine does its job perfectly - it transforms big pieces of coffee into little ones with consistency and speed. The problem is, every pot of coffee I make with freshly-ground beans comes out thin and watery. Or, if I add more coffee (or modify the grind size) over-extracted and watery. I don't have this same problem with using pre-ground stuff from the supermarket in the same coffee maker.

I use a pretty standard Hamilton Beach drip maker on "Regular" setting. Pre-ground coffee usually comes out between "ok" and "pretty alright" with one heaping tablespoon per "2 cup" marker on the tank.

Once I got the grinder I started experimenting with grind size and bean. I've since brewed more than 20 pots have not yet had a single one that I wanted to finish; I've varied grind sizes, coffee portions, tried different roasts...nothing comes out right. I've tried both exacting measurements and seat-of-the-pants tablespoons but always come up short. I've compared my ground beans to the store-bought stuff to make sure it's the same but still no luck. The only coffee to come of the grinder that was drinkable is the coarsely-ground coffee I've made into cold brew. I also experimented with a french press but gave up in frustration there as well.

I like a good cup of coffee but also don't want much fuss in the morning. So far, the experience of trying to grind my own coffee has been nothing but an outrageous frustration. What am I doing wrong?

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  • This should be a comment, but I'm new here, sorry! You might need to be more precise as to what pre-ground coffee do you like and what whole beans are you trying? It certainly seems it should be the beans if the grind size is the same and the machine is the same and the water is the same... The grinder by itself shouldn't make that big of a difference especially if you compare using the same size... unless it's unusually dirty or something strange like that... Look here, this might
    – user10457
    Jul 21, 2021 at 8:37
  • I'm addition to the below answers, I also want to point out two things: first, that there's no accounting for taste, and second, that, for most people, an appreciation for the taste of coffee is an acquired taste. Of course there are differences between fresh ground coffee and packaged, processed coffee, but without knowing what you like about your packaged, processed coffee, we're kind of shooting blind. It's kind of like asking if someone can tell me why I like the color green better than orange.
    – R Mac
    Jul 31, 2021 at 13:16

4 Answers 4

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Or, if I add more coffee (or modify the grind size) over-extracted and watery. I don't have this same problem with using pre-ground stuff from the supermarket in the same coffee maker.

I use a pretty standard Hamilton Beach drip maker on "Regular" setting. Pre-ground coffee usually comes out between "ok" and "pretty alright" with one heaping tablespoon per "2 cup" marker on the tank.

It might also be that you're not measuring fairly. A tablespoon of pre-ground coffee may have a different weight to a tablespoon of coffee you grind yourself. To be more consistent, I suggest using weight-based ratios. For example 1:15 which means you use 1 part coffee to 15 parts water (both measured by weight).

One way to explain a watery result is that you're using too little coffee for the amount of water you're adding. If it tastes over-extracted when you increase the dosage (the amount of coffee) then you might be grinding too fine. An easy way to check for this is by grinding coarser and sticking to the aforementioned brew ratio. If it tastes over-extracted at that ratio then it means your grinds are too fine.

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The issue I want to highlight that isn't covered by the other answers is subjectivity. There is a consensus that fresh ground coffee is always better, but this is not necessarily the case.

As many online sources will tell you, coffee "rusts" when exposed to oxygen. When grinding you increase the surface area of your coffee, thus exposing more of it to oxygen, meaning more of it can rust. This is why you're always recommended to brew as quickly after grinding as possible.

Using freshly ground coffee like this means the oils have not yet oxidised resulting in a more tangy, fragrant cup that highlights the different individual notes of the bean. Using pre-ground oxidised coffee results in a more bitter flavour, that has a more consistent taste with less notes. Most people will prefer the added flavour over the bitterness, but this is not the case for everyone.

From the issues you describe, you might personally prefer the bitterness and consistency of the pre-ground over the tanginess of fresh ground. Which might mean your grinder was indeed a waste of money. However not all is lost, there is two ways you can test this: The easiest way is to grind your coffee the day before, leave it to sit overnight, and use it to brew in the morning. If you prefer the result over a freshly ground pot, there's your answer.

The other way is to keep experimenting with different coffee beans, especially with darker roasts for the more bitter flavour. If you keep going for similar roasts as you were before, the notes of bitterness will not be present and the grind will always be disappointing. For example: when I switched to a fresh ground bean-to-cup machine from a pre-ground drip machine, it took me trying over 20 different beans until I found one I liked. Whereas all the pre-grounds I used previously all ranged from various stages of "fairly acceptable".

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An issue not mentioned. After coffee beans are roasted they out-gas CO2 for 1 or 2 days. During this period, if ground, the grounds are rather hydrophobic and make a very weak beverage in any drip system. Using very recently roasted beans might explain your symptoms.

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It sounds like there are a number of things going on. It may also be the case that you don't like the taste of the result, but may be misidentifying the nature of the taste you don't like. For example, you describe the taste as thin and watery, and when you add more coffee, it tastes over-extracted and watery. If you hold everything constant except the amount of coffee, more coffee will give a stronger brew but won't be over-extracted compared to less coffee. So what you're calling "over-extracted" would be a stronger flavor that you don't like, rather than the taste of over-extraction.

To get to a taste that you like will require some experimentation in a structured way. A few suggestions:

  • Grind size: Eliminate this variable by sticking with the same grind size as the pre-ground coffee. The granules should be small but distinct pieces, like table salt size or slightly larger. Smaller than that starts to look like fluffy powder that may cake into clumps. Grinding too fine for a drip brewer affects how fast the water drains through the filter. Draining too slowly may cause over-extraction. It can also cause the water level to go too high in the filter funnel, with some of it overflowing the filter, bypassing the coffee grounds and giving you a thin brew.

  • Coffee amount: One heaping tablespoon per 2 cup marker is very weak, and will give you thin-tasting coffee. "Heaping" is also a poorly-reproducible amount, so the strength will vary from batch to batch. A more typical amount is at least one level or rounded tablespoon per 6 oz cup. If you don't have a gram scale, try 2-3 level tablespoons per 2 cup marker as a starting point, then adjust to taste.

  • Coffee beans: There is a huge difference in taste across different coffees and roasts. There is also much more variety available pre-ground. What you tend to find in whole bean coffee in your local store is a limited selection of what sells to people who are into grinding their own beans. I've gone through a lot of the coffees available in my area trying to find ones I like; many of the ones I find don't taste good to me. That could be part of what you're experiencing.

    It's easier to figure out the taste issue if you minimize the differences. To zero in on your problem, try coffee as similar as you can get in whole beans to what you like pre-ground. Especially start with the same type of roast.

    For example, if the pre-ground coffee you normally get is one of the popular, brand name, medium roast blends, and that isn't available as whole beans, start with beans that are likely to be similar. In this example, some coffees likely to be available that will taste the most similar would include Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts standard blend coffee sold as whole beans. Eight O'Clock coffee tends to be readily available as whole beans; their Columbian would be a good one to try if you like the taste of typical restaurant coffee.

Once you get the brewing process refined, experiment with other coffees. Note that when starting with whole beans, different coffees will brew a little different in terms of their extraction. So a new coffee may require a few pots to zero in on the taste. If you stick with a drip brewer, don't vary the grind size. The brewer will determine water temperature and brew time. The primary thing to vary would be the amount of coffee.

You may also find that varying too much from a medium roast has too much effect on extraction to get a taste you like varying only the amount of coffee. If you want more control over the process, and the ability to get a taste you like from a wider variety of coffees, a drip coffee maker isn't the best tool. You might want to look at something like an AeroPress.

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