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Coffee Grinders

All about the grind.

Coffee grinders and you.

I forget what it was like to live before the time when I thought about coffee grinders every day. There must have been a time. I used to walk into a coffee shop and order one drink and walk away, not considering the mechanics of what happened to make my coffee taste just right. I used to buy pre-ground coffee off the shelf of the grocery store and scoop it willy nilly into an automatic brewer at home. Most likely, I only learned about fresh ground coffee when I got my first coffee shop job and was forced to care as part of the training.

Even for years after that, I am not so sure that I understood the real importance of grinding the beans. Over the course of years, I went on a coffee grinder journey – partially on purpose but often not. From dipping my toes in with grind size, to spend as little as possible on a crappy blade grinder, to spending thousands on commercial grinding machines, I’ve explored about every nook and cranny of the coffee grinder universe at this point. When you’re covered in sweat, grease, and blood and you have every piece of a $4,800 espresso grinder disassembled and strewn about your place of business, trying and trying and trying to get it to work again so that you can open shop in the morning, you learn a thing or two.

coffee grinds
parengo coffee bag and beans

BUT WHY?

I write about freshness, grind size, and coffee brewing in other posts, so I won’t get into all the technical nomenclature here, but if you haven’t read those yet, trust me for a few paragraphs when I tell you that fresher coffee (covered in our roasting post), the ground just before use, ground to the right size for the context, is always better. 100% of the time. No matter what. With liberty and justice for all. Amen.

BLADE GRINDERS

Everyone’s first purchase when he or she forays into the fresh coffee territory is a cheap blade grinder from a local department or big box store. Blade grinders are basically a hopper with a propeller at the bottom, sort of like a tiny blender. You pack them full of beans, turn them on, and they chop the coffee cup. Actually, they can also be used to chop of dried spices, which is cool. However, beyond that, they are not so cool. The problem is, the blades slice the beans. Just like when you’re slicing a potato or cucumber, the pieces are all slightly different. In a salad or casserole, this is no big deal, but in a cup of coffee, it can be devastating. Tiny particles, or “fines,” can be the size of dust, while the largest slices are practically pebbles – all going into the same brew. You can’t get an accurate product like this!

If you must use a blade grinder, hold it in your hands and shake it while it grinds. This helps the beans to bounce around inside on the blades instead of the tiny particles getting packed beneath the blades and turning into powder. When that becomes too much of a hassle, and when you’re ready to step up into the big leagues, upgrade to some burrs.

three mugs filled with coffee beans, liquid, and coffee grinds
collecting coffee grounds from a dispenser

BURR GRINDERS

Burr grinders are high-tech these days. They include scales and timers, dosers and tampers, gadgets and gizmos aplenty, whosits and whatsits galore. I, personally, have twenty thingamabobs. But who cares?

You should. These technological improvements help coffee shops make your coffee perfect every day. Scales and timers ensure accuracy, down to the tenth of a gram or the second. And all of these enhancements have been added to burr grinders because THEY ARE THE BEST! Here’s why:

Burr grinders – whether flat or conical – consist of a stationary hard thing and another hard thing that moves really, really fast. These hard things (the burrs) can be made of ceramic, metal, or plastic. Plastic can get destroyed or warped pretty quickly, and metal can hold moisture or build up heat from friction, so ceramic is preferred by most baristas. Beans fall between the hard things, are crushed by them into equal-sized particles, and then thrown out into the world where we call them coffee grounds. Consistency is key! Burr grinders will rarely pack coffee into powder or create fines, especially if the machines are high quality. Unfortunately, most top-of-the-line digital and electric burr coffee grinders cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

HAND GRINDERS

Luckily, some things in this world are still unplugged! A fantastic option for a home brewer who does not care to spend $400 or more on a digital and electric grinder is a hand grinder, manual grinder, or coffee mill. These terms are basically interchangeable. Often cylindrical or box-shaped, hand grinders put coffee above ceramic, metal, or plastic burrs (of course, we prefer ceramic). The user then cranks a handle, turning the burrs and spitting out the ground coffee into a cup or a drawer. Drawbacks include size and difficulty. Hand grinders are smaller than electric grinders and can only handle the number of beans it takes to make one cup at a time. They are smaller because they are difficult to crank! The amount of energy and strength some grinders require to churn out the grounds will make you feel like you earned it.

High-quality hand coffee grinders with nice ceramic burrs are pretty easy to use with regular cleaning. Also, make sure to keep all the screws tight over time. We offer some great options, including a slick, Modern Grinder and the hand grinder that comes in our Travel Pour Over Kit. Hand grinders like these are easy to pack into a backpack or suitcase, and once you start grinding your coffee fresh every morning, you won’t be able to leave home without it! I haven’t used pre-ground or blade-ground coffee in about a decade. Welcome down the rabbit hole.

coffee mug on a table with printed photos