Choosing A Coffee Grinder
Grinding Before Brewing Does Make A Difference!
Key Rule for Grinding Your Coffee Beans: Invest in a Burr coffee grinder, and grind right before brewing to get the most out of the coffee beans.
“The difficulties of packaging and storing ground beans to retain maximum freshness have led to the unbreakable rule that you should always grind beans at home just before brewing” (Kummer, 57). The flavor difference is very noticeable when you grind the beans at home. Don’t overlook this important step! “Grinding is critical to the brewing process. The job of any coffee grinder is to divide the beans into same-size pieces. This might seem simple, but grinders are the Achilles’ heel of many a home-brewing station” (Sinnott, 7).
Since every method of brewing coffee requires its own specific grind level, having a coffee grinder at home allows you to manipulate your grind to whatever method you want to brew at a given time. For example, if you want an espresso shot, you’ll need to grind your beans finely, whereas if you wanted French Press coffee, you would need coarsely ground coffee. If you don’t have a coffee grinder and purchase pre-ground coffee, you’re basically forced to brew your coffee according to the grind size that you purchased. While you technically can use the pre-ground coffee for any brewing method, you certainly won’t maximize the flavor and aroma of your beans if you do this.
I hope that I’ve convinced you by now that you should purchase a coffee grinder if you really want to elevate your coffee game. Before you go to your nearest Walmart, we should quickly discuss grinder technology. Not all grinders are created equal.
There are two general grinder technologies in the market. Unfortunately, most people use what’s called a propeller grinder which grinds coffee with a spinning blade. These grinders are cheap (anywhere from $15 to $30) but will not do an adequate job for a superior cup of coffee. Don’t waste your money on these. Since each brewing method requires a specific grind size, “the best grinder is one that consistently produces even-sized particles” (Sinnott, 81). Corby Kummer sums up the main problem with propeller grinders: “the granules produced by a propeller grinder vary greatly in size, from the fine powdered beneath the blade at the bottom of the chamber to the coarser pieces at the top. This powder, or ‘fines,’ can slow the passage of water through coffee in a filter causing bitter and sour substances to enter the brew” (Kummer, 62).
What you really need is a burr grinder (sometimes called a ‘coffee mill’). These grinders use a rotating metal or ceramic disc to grind coffee beans with much more precision than propeller grinders. “The notched metal discs of the coffee mill revolve against each other and shred the beans a few at a time. This is the same principle by which people have ground wheat and other grains for millennia, using millstones” (Kummer, 58).
A manual burr grinder works well if you’re only brewing one or two cups at a time. I use a Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill (MSCS-2TB), which works great and is easy to use. I’ve seen it for as low as $60 on Amazon. If you plan to brew much larger batches, you’ll need an electric burr grinder... manually grinding that much coffee will take too long.
I’ve heard good things about the Breville Smart Grinder Pro, which can cost about $200-$230 (I’ve seen significant discounts around the holiday season). While this might seem a bit pricey, Kummer calls burr mills an “essential investment” if you’re looking for a superior cup of coffee. The industrial Ditting grinder we use are the best ones on the market, typically reserved for cafes and commercial roasters. Some models go as high as $3,000, and are heavily used, grinding up to 100 pounds per day. You’ll often see these in some supermarkets for public use. Be wary of these. “They suffer from heavy and often careless use, and the grinding plates rarely receive the regular calibration they need” (Kummer, 58).
Now that you have your burr grinder, I should mention that even today, coffee aficionados argue over what the best grind level is for each brewing method (Pendergrast, 387). So ultimately, it will be up to your taste buds to decide. As a general tip, I’ve read that “most novices grind too fine. Start out grinding coarser than you think you’ll need. Then move a notch at a time finer until you reach the perfect grind and taste” (Sinnott, 85).
- Written by Coffee Mike
I like to include the following disclaimer below each of my blogs. I try to make references wherever applicable, but I’ve read many books, dozens of articles, watched documentaries and taken courses on these subjects over the years. I mention this because sometimes I may forget the exact source of my information, so I ask the authors to forgive me if I have not cited some information where I should have.
Kummer, Corby. The Joy of Coffee: The Essential Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995. Pages 57-58, 62.
Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Page 387.
Sinnott, Kevin. The Art and Craft of Coffee: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Selecting, Roasting, and Brewing Exquisite Coffee. Beverly: Quarry Books, 2010. Pages 7, 81, 85.