Using a coffee grinder to grind your own beans is an essential step to enjoying a great cup of coffee. It’s important to start with the freshest beans possible and wait to grind the beans until just before you’re ready to brew. Once coffee beans are ground, they’ll begin to stale rapidly which will result in a less flavorful cup of coffee. When you have your beans pre-ground at the store, you are sacrificing one of the most important flavor preserving steps you can take.
Don't unlock the flavor of your fresh coffee beans until it's time to brew. Yes, it's a little more work to grind your beans each day, but it's well worth the extra flavor. This is the "daily grind" you can look forward to and enjoy. Make the coffee grinder a welcomed part or your daily coffee ritual.
There are two basic types of coffee grinders - the simpler blade grinder and the more capable burr or mill coffee grinder. For the more common automatic drip coffee machines, a blade grinder may be adequate. If you like to brew coffee with a French press or make your own espresso, then a burr or mill grinder is a must in order to control the type of grind (coarse, medium or fine) that best matches your preferred brewing method.
A good quality burr or mill coffee grinder is one of the best investments you can make to enhance your enjoyment of great gourmet coffee.
Blade grinders are popular because they’re less expensive and simple to use. The blade grinder is actually more of a chopper or chipper than a grinder. It has a whirring blade that slices, chips and hacks away at the beans producing fine chunks of coffee mixed with powder. The resulting grind will work OK for making drip coffee, but won’t work well at all for brewing with a French press, vacuum pot, or espresso machine.
The primary drawbacks with the blade coffee grinder are the lack of control (cannot control the type of grind – coarse, medium or fine), and the friction caused by the blade can actually heat up the coffee beans prior to brewing, robbing your coffee of some of the flavor and aroma.
In principle, it seems like a blade coffee grinder should work just fine. For a finer grind, just grind for a longer period of time, and for a coarser grind, just grind for a short period of time. The problem, however, is that with a shorter grind duration, the chipping action of the blades produces inconsistent particle sizes, including some finer powder that is unavoidable.
If you are trying produce a coarser grind for use with a French press, with a blade grinder you will wind up with some particles the right size, and some particles too small including a finer powder that will pass through the filter and wind up as sediment in your cup. It is also difficult to control the extraction time when you brew coffee without a consistent grind. The finer the particles, the faster the extraction time. The coarser the particles, the longer the extraction time.
If you try to achieve a very fine grind with a blade grinder, perhaps for making espresso, you have to spin the blades for as long as 60 seconds. The friction from the blades will actually start to heat up the grind before you start to brew. This pre heating of the coffee beans is undesirable and will allow some of the coffee flavor and aroma to escape beforehand. In the worse case, a slight burnt taste can even be imparted to the beans, which can be detectable in the coffee.
The key to an optimal grind is consistency. For any type of grind – coarse, medium or fine, you want to produce particles of the same consistent size. This consistency is what gives you the control you want.
By the way, if you decide to upgrade from your blade grinder to a burr grinder you can still put your blade grinder to good use. A blade grinder is the perfect device for grinding fresh spices as well. The same principle of freshness applies to spices as well. Try it - you’ll be pleased.
Burr or Mill Grinder
A superior method of grinding coffee beans is the Burr or Mill coffee grinder. There are two types of burr grinders – flat and conical. With a flat burr grinder, two pieces of burred metal lie on top of one another. In a conical burr grinder, the burred metal is a conical shape with a smaller cone situated inside a larger cone. The beans pass between these metal surfaces as the metal surfaces are forced together. In some models both metal surfaces move, and in other models, only one of the metal surfaces move.
In a burr grinder, the distance between the two burred metal surfaces can be carefully controlled by the setting. The closer each burred metal surface is to the other, the finer is the resulting coffee grain. This action crushes the beans into even, consistent particle sizes and transfers less heat to the grind due to friction. An electric motor rotates or moves these surfaces making the grinding action more automatic and less physical effort for you.
Coffee roasters and commercial coffee companies use burr grinders. Burr grinders are available in all sizes ranging from large commercial grinders to more affordable countertop models.
There is some debate over which is best, the flat or conical design. Some contend that the conical design dissipates heat more readily which means less heat imparted to the beans. Whether flat or conical, more important is the quality of the machine. The better quality burr grinders will cost a little more money, but will give you more precise control over the type of grind, and the construction is more sturdy and durable, giving you longer and reliable service. The less expensive, entry level burr grinders don’t work as well as the somewhat more expensive models, but are most definitely an improvement over the blade grinders.
If you are serious about the quality of your coffee enjoyment, the modest investment you make in a better quality burr coffee grinder is one of the best steps you can take.
A manual or hand grinder is similar to a burr grinder but without the electric motor. The manual grinder is capable of producing the same even and consistent grind as the burr grinder, but requires that you turn the crank by hand. This does tank some physical effort and will take more time to complete the grinding process. One advantage is that because the burred metal surfaces are moving slower in a hand grinder, less heat is generated.
Hand grinders can produce an excellent result and will cost less than an electric burr grinder. You can purchase a good quality hand grinder for under $100 that will definitely produce a better result than a blade grinder or an entry level burr grinder.
Type of Grind
A burr coffee grinder will give you the ability to control the type of grind. It's critical to match how coarse or fine the grind with the type of brewing method you prefer.
- Coarse – a consistent coarser grind is primarily used for a French press or press pot. We won’t even mention the percolator, which also requires a coarser grind.
- Medium/coarse – appropriate for vacuum pot brewing and drip brewing with a permanent filter.
- Medium – appropriate for drip coffee makers and vacuum pot brewers.
- Fine – a finer consistent grind is a must for the espresso extraction to be perfect. Only the better burr grinders allow you to dial in the precise level of fine grind to achieve the ideal 20 to 30 second espresso extraction cycle. As they say, when it comes to espresso, its all in the grind.
For more coffee grinding information and details, see "coffee grinding physics, not as complicated as it sounds".
To achieve the best result, don't overlook the coffee grinder. Grinding coffee beans to the proper coarse or fine level that matches the coffee brewing method you prefer is one of the most important steps you can take to enhance your coffee experience.