There are many crucial steps to getting a good cup of coffee. You always want to use high-quality beans, clean water, and a suitable brew method. But one of the most critical steps to consider is getting a good grind. All the clean water and great brew methods in the world will not help a bad grind. Let's look at the two types of grinders on the market most commonly used. Spoiler alert: almost everybody starts with the first one.
Sure, it gets the job done, and they are relatively inexpensive. I think I paid $20 for my first blade grinder back in the '90s, and I thought I was hot stuff. "Why yes, I do use whole-bean coffee and grind my own!" Nothing like a bit of arrogance sprinkled with ignorance. However, I had to eventually...face the grind.
The biggest drawback to the blade grinder is the coffee doesn't leave the chamber after being ground. What this means is the coffee continues in the grinding process until the grinder is turned off. The result is you are left with an inconsistent grind where some particles are much smaller than others, leading to an over-extracted brew that loses some of the lighter nuances of the cup. Your palette will adjust to this, and sadly, if all you ever use is a blade grinder, you will never know the difference. But have no fear! There is a better way to grind.
Enter the burr grinder. The burr grinder incorporates either two grooved discs that rotate against each other or a conical/ball assembly where there is a grooved cone with a grooved ball raised or lowered inside the cone to achieve the desired grind. The benefit of the burr grinder is a consistent grind from start to finish as the coffee enters the space between the burrs. The coffee is crushed to a size that can pass through the burrs and then exits the grinder into a holding chamber. The result is the coffee is kept from being ground over and over again.
The drawback to burr grinders is that they tend to be more expensive. They range from around $40 for a relatively basic model to hundreds of dollars for machines that allow you to make minute adjustments and grind coffee fine enough for espresso. In fact, one of my colleagues at Just Love used a burr grinder to grind his coffee so fine he used it as "instant coffee" on a backpacking trip and thought it was a great cup of coffee. The cheaper models use louder motors and lower quality burrs and typically do not have the level of adjustments of the more expensive models. You can find some of the less costly models for starting at the big box retailers and more expensive versions at higher-end retailers such as Williams-Sonoma. At Just Love Coffee Roasters, we carry a model that prices out at about $140 and will give you plenty of adjustments coupled with a slightly more quiet motor.
If you are interested in doing espresso at home, do not, let me repeat, DO NOT skimp on the grinder you use. Consider brands such as Baratza, Mazzer, Rancilio, and Ascaso to name a few favorites. They may be more expensive, but a quality grinder will be an investment well worth the cost.
When you change to a burr grinder, you will find some distinct but enjoyable differences in your cup. Don't be discouraged if your taste buds revolt initially. If you have gotten used to a particular grind with your brew, your taste buds will need a little time to adjust to the new flavors they are experiencing! Just keep grinding it out and enjoy the exploration.
What's your favorite grinder? Leave your comments below. If you have any questions about a grinder, don't hesitate to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.