Sifting Grinds: Waste or Necessity?

Ever since I last wrote here I have moved to a different country and opened a coffee roaster. So much has happened that I have wanted to write about, and yet I have refrained from doing so as I am frightened. Everything happens so fast that a new thought or experiment can be something completely different or trash the next day. However yesterday something happened that I felt compelled to come back and write about.

Recently I have stumbled upon a lot of posts on forums about sifting coffee grinds pre extraction. This seems like arriving at obvious relief for a symptom of the equipment we have at hand: grinders that produce fines. These fines  habitually over extract and make part, or a percentage of our final infusion, bitter, astringent, and unpleasant. Not to say that the resulting beverage is all that, just that part of that beverage is so. While manufacturing a grinding device that doesn’t produce fines is a feat worthy of the most accomplished engineers of all fields, eliminating fines is a task a mere mortal can accomplish. Simply sift.

After all the stumbling, and then watching Matt Perger’s world winning routine, I realized it would be silly not to experiment with sifting myself.

Wow. That is, in summary, the best word to describe the results. Coffee as we know it, is only a result of the equipment at our disposal. Had we grinders that produced perfectly even grind distributions we would know an extraction of the roasted coffee seed that was stunningly sweet, luscious, full, and without a hint of unpleasant bitterness or harshness. The beverage coming from sifted coffee is so unique and different I am afraid if I served it sans explanation it would be dismissed as some type of non-coffee beverage.

My mind poses the question “Is this something worth pursuing?”

On one hand there is the cost of such an endeavor, I mean you are literally “wasting” up to 20% of the coffee you’ve just ground.  Or are you? Is it truly waste if it results in a higher quality beverage? The food industry uses a term I think applies: “EP.” It stands for edible portion. When a chef buys a case of oranges he could by all means Vitamix the whole case into orange juice and crate a more cost friendly beverage, but he and everyone knows that orange pith is bitter and nasty in juice (much like coffee fines!). So when he costs his juice, he uses a multiplier that takes into account the fact that part of the orange, and therefore price paid, is going straight to the bin. This can easily apply to coffee beverages. Plus, if were adventurous, we can turn coffee grounds into mushroom kits or fire logs and turn a penny on your “waste”.

If as micro-roasters, we are truly committed to quality, I think it is our duty to not compromise. I think we should all evaluate the possibility of our infusions all coming from sifted coffee. I believe removing fines from coffee produces a higher yield, better tasting beverage. After all we ask so many people before us in the cycle to be meticulous with selecting cherries, processed coffee, and even lots. It would be imprudent on our part not to do some selecting of our own.

What do you think?

2 Responses to “Sifting Grinds: Waste or Necessity?”
  1. Fabian says:

    I think it surely depends on what you do with the leftovers. 20 Percent is a lot and even though you can look at it through the lense of a business man, you should not be throwing these coffee grinds away. Yes, perhaps you could have a huge mushroom log somewhere or you could give your fines to someone who wants them.

    It also depends on your consumer. Personally, I drink my coffee with milk and honey, so I would probably not notice the fines. But maybe the people who are drinking your coffee really know what’s up. As you said, you are a small coffee roaster. Take advantage of it, and find out from your customers what they want.

    • lalinpv says:

      You are right Fabian, it would be wise to use those leftovers. Which is why I proposed two different projects to do so. Not one large mushroom log but selling mushroom log kits so people can grow mushrooms at home. Check the link on the second project I mention, I think you would enjoy it.

      20% waste in a food product is really not unheard of. Given the fact that it is leading to a better quality final product and the waste is being utilized some other way, I think it makes for a good improvement. Lastly, I gave 20% as a high figure, if you have a good burr grinder you ar most certainly not producing 20% fines. Much much less.

      Lastly, you are spot on about this being for the right person. However, it is our job to curate what beverages we chose to offer which in turn determines the type of people who come drink coffee at our store. If people are adamant about having sugar and milk in their coffee, that is fine, purely subjective, and not my place to tell them not to do it, however I can limit that experience in my shop.

      I hope this addresses your concerns.

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