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Why Your Grinder Is The Most Important Piece of Coffee Gear
Written by: Raj Jana
You find $50 on the street. You consider the possibilities and decide it’s time to take your coffee brewing to the next level. What do you purchase?
- A shiny new coffee maker
- A shiny new coffee grinder
As surprising as it may sound, owning a coffee grinder will be much more rewarding than upgrading your coffee maker. Yes, I realize it’s the coffee maker that brews the coffee but hear me out.
A great grinder will transform your coffee experience from the inside out. Your coffee will be more flavorful and delicious. You’ll be able to determine your coffee’s flavor and strength. You’ll be able to brew coffee that rivals your favorite coffee shop.
Whether you’re a newcomer to delicious coffee or you’ve been drinking black since you were in preschool, the truth is the same: a strong coffee grinder is the equipment key to coffee success.
Let me show you why.
Reason # 1: Freshly Ground Coffee Is The Best Coffee
Would you buy stale coffee? Not intentionally, but you might and not realize it. If you’ve ever bought a bag of pre-ground coffee (and who hasn’t?), you’ve bought stale coffee.
Stale coffee lacks any flavor. It’s more bitter than it has to be. It feels thin across your tongue. Pre-ground coffee is pre-staled.
Think all coffee just tastes like chocolate, nuts, or ash? You’re in for a tasty surprise.
Freshly ground (well grown and roasted) coffee can feature some incredible and wild flavors. Blueberries, cinnamon, brown sugar, apples - this only touches the surface of what some coffees can taste like when they are ground just before brewing.
Bread, apples, cookies, and coffee all suffer the same fate when they interact with oxygen: a slow breakdown of organic molecules that lead to the destruction of fresh, tasty flavors and textures. This process is called oxidation.
With coffee, oxidation also causes aromatic oils to evaporate. These oils are responsible for some of the most vivid experiences in coffee, including sweet fruity and floral flavors.
Intact organic molecules and aromatic oils are what make coffee delicious and lively. Unfortunately, neither one stands a chance against being pre-ground.
Here’s something to always remember: oxygen breaks down small pieces of food faster than large ones. Large particles are thick and have less surface area, so it takes more time for oxygen to do its dirty work. This applies to coffee perfectly.
Pre-ground coffee goes stale long before whole bean coffee.
We say that coffee is only fresh for thirty minutes after it is ground. Whole coffee beans, on the other hand, can remain at peak freshness for two weeks or more after being roasted.
You don’t want to waste your precious time with stale coffee. You want the best.
Only a reliable burr coffee grinder can offer you the full-flavored and fresh coffee you want. Once you have one, you’ll never be able to go back to pre-ground.
Reason #2: Use Any Coffee Brewer You Want
I know what it feels like to go through the coffee motions. Pre-ground coffee goes into the basket. Water goes into the pot. Sad, bitter coffee comes out. You drink it - sadly.
Life’s too short to be dissatisfied with bad coffee.
Life’s also too short to be limited to a single type of coffee maker.
Pre-ground coffee comes as a single grind size: fine. Few coffee makers in the world, with the exception of other auto-drip pots, thrive when the coffee beans are ground to this size.
The French press, for example, brews its best when the coffee beans are ground to a coarse size. These larger coffee particles compliment the mechanics of the French press, but fine grounds would clog the metal filter and brew bad coffee.
Here are some popular coffee brewers paired with appropriate grind sizes.
- Turkish Coffee - Super Fine
- Espresso - Super Fine
- Moka Pot - Fine
- Auto Drip - Fine (Pre-ground coffee is here)
- Pour Over - Coarse to Fine
- Aeropress - Medium to Fine
- French Press - Coarse
- Cold Brew Coffee - Coarse
Don’t let the lack of a grinder imprison you in a small realm of possibility. Life’s too short for that.
With a burr coffee grinder, you’ll be able to set the grind size so that it compliments your brewer.
Want to make a french press? Just adjust the grinder to a coarse setting. Need a shot of espresso, take it to a fine setting. Finish your coffee session with a simple pot from the drip maker? Set the grind size to fine.
Try doing all of that with pre-ground coffee.
Reason #3: The Power To Brew Better Coffee
Owning a home coffee grinder can enable you to brew better coffee every time. If you make a cup that doesn’t satisfy, you have the tool to fix it.
The method of refining your coffee over time simply requires you to taste your coffee with a little focus, then make a small grind size adjustment to use next time you brew. If the change is right, your next cup will be improved.
It all has to do with controlling coffee extraction.
Brewed coffee is the result of water interacting with ground coffee. The water gets into the coffee cells and pulls a lot of things out. Some of these things are dissolved, some aren’t.
The first things the water pulls out are bright with flavor, but also sour and acidic. As extraction continues, these harsh compounds are mellowed out with calm, smooth flavors.
The final stages of extraction pull out the deeper notes such as chocolate and nuts. After a certain point (which is different for every coffee), the only things left to be extracted are bitter tannins.
Your goal is to brew the coffee so that every extraction stage plays a role in the coffee’s overall balance. Stop too soon or extract too far and you’ll have coffee that’s not balanced or full-flavored.
Here’s how you can keep that from happening.
How To Control Extraction With A Coffee Grinder
Just like with oxygen, large coffee particles are invaded by water slowly, but small particles don’t take long to extract at all. Anyone can control how quickly this process takes by manipulating the size of the coffee grounds.
If you brew a cup of coffee and notice that it is acidic like a sour candy and doesn't taste well-rounded, you have under extracted the coffee. Since the goal is to extract more next time, you can grind the coffee at a finer setting to speed up the extraction.
If you brew a cup of coffee and notice muted flavors and a rough bitterness that scratches at the back of your throat, you have over extracted the coffee. The goal is now to extract less; a coarser grind setting will help you achieve that.
This technique works for all coffee makers, from espresso to drip pots to the French press. With a bit of focus and a small grind adjustment, you’ll become the master of your coffee.
Get Yourself A Coffee Grinder (But Not A Blade Grinder)
By now the benefits of owning your home coffee grinder should be evident. Though it adds another step to your coffee routine, it adds an even larger reward.
Finding the one that fits your circumstances is the next challenge. You may be tempted to skip this section and go to the nearest grocery store to find a coffee grinder. I urge you not to. You won’t find a reliable, empowering coffee grinder from the same store that sells pre-ground coffee.
Most of the top coffee grinders share a few features, and most bottom-level grinders are easy to spot if you know what you’re looking.
First thing first: you need to know what to avoid at all costs.
Blade grinders are easy to find in grocery stores - too easy to find. They’re cheap coffee grinders (but not in a good way) and won’t get you any farther than pre-ground coffee will.
Consistent, uniform coffee grounds extract at the same rate. Coffee grounds of different sizes extract at different rates. For balanced coffee, you need uniform grounds.
Blade Coffee grinders don’t grind - they chop. If you put a handful of coffee beans through a blade grinder for a few seconds, you’ll instantly notice that the grounds are all shapes and sizes. That won’t make you delicious coffee.
Blade grinders have no mechanism to allow you to choose a grind size either. Want to brew coffee in a French press one day and a drip pot the next? The blade grinder doesn’t distinguish between grind sizes. It just chops away.
Blade grinders will not bring you the results you want. They are inconsistent, don’t open any doors for using other brewers, and are simply a waste of money.
The only good option for a coffee grinder is a burr coffee grinder. Instead of using blades to chop and spin the beans, burrs funnel beans down a narrow pathway and grind them consistently.
Finding The Ideal Burr Coffee Grinder For You
This is the fun part. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the burr coffee grinder options you’ll come across in your search. This should help you determine exactly what features you would like, based on your preferences and circumstances.
Manual VS Electric
Manual Burr coffee grinders are excellent options for newcomers to home coffee grinding. They’re small, durable, and, thanks to low prices, require less commitment. Ironically, at $20-30, hand coffee grinders are often cheaper than blade grinders but perform much better.
Grinding coffee by hand can take some elbow grease, but it’s very rewarding.
- Your arm muscles will slowly become stronger with increased endurance.
- You will be provided with a unique sensory experience as the aromas release slowly and rise to your nostrils. It’s the appetizer before the meal.
- Your morning-mind will awake with focus and calm as you embrace the meditative ritual of grinding your coffee by hand.
- Manual grinders are typically very durable, lightweight, and easy to travel with.
Electric coffee grinders are convenient and quick but have drawbacks that deserve consideration.
- Electric burr grinders are usually loud and can be quite noxious early in the morning.
- Electric grinders under the $100 mark perform less reliably than $20 manual grinders, so the cost of an entree is higher.
- Electric grinders tend to meet their end more quickly than manual grinders as the parts fail.
If you’re looking for a great grinder that won’t break the bank and can you can take while you travel, I would suggest a hand grinder. If you’re looking for a quicker, less hands-on grinder and are willing to spend a nice chunk of change; electric is the way to go.
Steel VS Ceramic Burrs
It seems the grinder-making industry has found its way in ceramic burrs, but you’re still likely to find a few steel burrs out there in the wild. Here are a few things you should consider if you find yourself juggling the two.
- Steel burrs are not as hard as ceramic burrs (which is why steel knives dull on ceramic plates). This means that they dull more quickly (often twice as quickly), but are less likely to chip if a rock is mixed in with the beans.
- Dull burrs create more heat, which can alter the flavors and aromas in coffee. This means that steel burrs are more likely to damage your coffee before you even brew it. The change is minor, so you’re not likely to notice.
- Ceramic burrs are cheaper to produce and often make for an inexpensive coffee grinder.
Conical VS Flat Burrs
We wrote an entire post on this subject.
Will you take your coffee grinder traveling with you? A manual grinder is good for that.
Do you want to be able to grind coffee outdoors? A manual grinder is good for that.
Do you get up earlier than everyone else? An electric grinder may wake everyone up.
How Much Should You Spend On A Coffee Grinder?
Let's be real; the price is often the deciding factor. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a large budget to buy a reliable, consistent home coffee grinder.
With this small budget, you’re looking at blade grinders and manual grinders. I think you know which one you should get.
Manual grinders in this range can function as well as $100 electric grinders, so you can be satisfied with the results of an inexpensive hand grinder.
Most electric grinders up to $100 will be disappointing. They are built with cheap plastics, unaligned burrs, and have poorly designed settings.
Unless you’re willing to dish out another $30 for the entry-level Baratza Encore, I suggest sticking with a $20-30 manual grinder, which will last as long and produce satisfying results at a fraction of the cost.
Espresso Grinder Budget
If you’re on the hunt for a quality espresso grinder, I must offer you a word of warning.
Espresso requires extremely fine coffee grounds - much finer than most electric grinders will give you. Any grinder that claims it can achieve that fine of a setting under $150 will under-perform and produce espresso that’s not as refined and satisfying as it should be.
Amazingly, inexpensive manual grinders can achieve espresso fineness better than electric grinders three or four times the price. It’ll take an extra bit of elbow grease to grind the coffee so fine, but it’ll truly be as fine as it needs to be.
We Made Our Own Low-Budget Coffee Grinder
If you’re not looking for an electric grinder with a bunch of bells and whistles, you’re going to be perfectly satisfied with a simple, durable, consistent manual grinder.
Our is a budget-friendly grinder made with ceramic burrs, a light stainless steel case, and a lot of love. It’s easy to use, produces uniform coffee grounds, and will take your coffee to the next level.
It can achieve consistent coffee grounds for the , as well as espresso, and won’t break the bank.
We’re proud of our little grinder and the grand rewards it brings about. If you’re interested in seeing it in action, check out our unboxing video.
Let’s Brew Better Coffee Together
Whether by our equipment or someone else’s, we believe that empowering you to brew better coffee plays a small role in making the world a better place.
We invite you to take control of your coffee routine even more with our Grinding 101 education area, where we cover a variety of coffee grinding topics and beyond.
Here’s to fresh, mind-blowing coffee.