Everybody knows that a good cup of coffee or shot of espresso owes its flavor to the quality of its beans. But what good are supreme beans if you don’t grind them properly? Finding the right coffee grinder can mean the difference between a bitter blend and a blissful brew, and you don’t have to spend a lot to reap the fresh and flavorful rewards. Whether brewing at home or in a coffee shop, grinding your own beans is a must for coffee drinkers looking for maximum flavor. Pronto’s Coffee Grinder Buying Guide can help you make the right purchase to satisfy your caffeine craving (see also Coffee Maker Buying Guide, Espresso Machine Buying Guide).
Blade coffee grinders are less expensive, but they can produce an inconsistent grind and are prone to overheating. Conical and flat-plate burr grinders are consistent--and the best bet for both coffee and espresso grinds, but casual coffee drinkers might be put off by the higher cost.
If you prefer speed over taste, then stick with electric coffee grinders. You might also find the automatic grind feature offers more consistent results. If you’re willing to invest a little elbow grease, manual coffee grinders provide an inexpensive option with high-quality results.
Smaller blade coffee grinders are less expensive but can wear out faster than burr grinders. For frequent grinding of large amounts of beans, invest in electric burr coffee grinders.
Commercial-quality coffee grinders offer convenient features such as dosers and timers that can improve the efficiency and quality of your brew. These features add considerably to the cost of a coffee grinder, so unless you’re constantly falling behind in your at-home coffee production, skip them and leave them to the connoisseurs.
Coffee grinders make quick work of spices and spice blends. If you’re short on counter space but still want to grind your own coffee, upgrade your coffeemaker to one with a built-in coffee grinder (see Coffeemakers, Espresso Machines).
Whether electric or manual, blade grinders offer a relatively inexpensive method of bean grinding. Blades chop up the beans into small parts and are recommended for casual coffee drinkers.
The doser is a small compartment at the bottom of the grinding chamber for pre-grinding coffee. A convenient feature for those pressed for time who make multiple pots of coffee throughout the day.
Conical and flat blade burrs crush the beans in a uniform fashion. They are typically more expensive than electric blade coffee grinders, but they produce the highest quality grind.
The grind is the size of the coffee bean pieces before the coffee is brewed. Espresso depends on a smaller grind to maximize flavor extraction in a short period of time, while drip coffee has a coarse grind to prevent overextraction or bitterness.
A coffee grinder needs to support your favorite brew. The size of your grounds must correspond to the length of your brew time. Espresso production relies on a very quick brew process that extracts from the grounds using high pressure. For that reason, espresso grounds are finer than their coffee counterparts. In contrast, drip coffee takes roughly eight minutes to brew. If the grind is too fine, the brew process will extract too many of the oils from the grounds, and the coffee will taste bitter.
That being said, there’s no single right way to grind a coffee bean, but coffee connoisseurs will tell you that grinding the beans yourself is necessary for superior taste. Depending on your budget, your options can range from adequate to exceptional. Even the least expensive coffee grinders can help you turn out a good cup of coffee.
Grinders have varying settings for positioning, the adjustment of the burr that regulates grind size. Most high-end coffee grinders allow you to set the positioning to a precise degree. “Stepped” machines come with preset adjustments for burr positioning (e.g., Turkish, extra-fine, fine, medium, coarse), while “stepless” coffee grinders offer an almost limitless number of settings. Purchasing a stepped coffee grinder doesn’t mean you’re limited to only a few grinds. Some come with up to 50 preset levels, which is a robust offering, even for the most finicky coffee drinker. Unless budget is a concern or you need absolute control over your beans, choose a stepped coffee grinder.
The least expensive coffee grinders are blade grinders. Most are priced under $100. Blade coffee grinders use small blades to pulverize the beans. In order to achieve a finer grind, simply let the coffee grinder run for a few extra seconds. While blade grinders are usually suitable for the casual coffee drinker, be warned that they come with a couple of downsides. First, they produce an inconsistent grind size of both “coffee dust” (which can clog the grinder) and larger pieces of bean. Second, when a blade coffee grinder runs for too long, it can overheat, causing the oils in the beans to burn and produce a bitter taste.
If you’re willing to spend a little more on a high-quality coffee grinder, the burr grinder is your best option. These coffee grinders come in two varieties: flat blade and conical burr. Both use a crushing method to produce a uniform grind. The conical burr grinder uses two cone-shaped burrs, while the flat blade uses two parallel burrs. Burr coffee grinders are recommended for espresso because they are able to produce a small enough grind for maximum flavor extraction without burning the beans during the grind process. They produce a uniform grind by passing each bean through the burrs only once. In contrast, blade coffee grinders keep regrinding the coffee into smaller, creating an inconsistent grind.
Once you’ve decided on blades or burrs, you also have the option of automated grinding or providing the muscle yourself (both blades and burrs come in manual versions). Manual coffee grinders employ a hand crank instead of an electric motor to turn the blades or burr plates. A manual coffee grinder is a good choice if you don’t mind putting in a little extra work. They are relatively inexpensive (usually under $100), and they tend to produce a very consistent grind size.
Automatic coffee grinders that come with additional features such as automatic shutoff can prevent you from under- or over-grinding your beans. You may find it worthwhile to spend the extra money for the automation and control over the consistency of your grind, but it is not vital once you get the hang of grinding your own beans.
If you’re watching your pennies and intend to grind small batches of beans for 1-2 people, then less expensive, blade coffee grinders are a better choice. These smaller machines can burn out quickly from overuse, making larger, automated burr grinders the best investment for frequent grinding or grinding for large families or offices.
Some commercial-grade grinders come with a doser, which is a small compartment at the base of the grinding chamber. In coffee shops, this is a handy feature that allows baristas to simply pull a lever to dispense the correct amount of coffee or espresso. For home use, this function is not quite as necessary because you want your grounds to be as fresh as possible. Dosers pregrind the beans for later use, which is helpful only if you’re hosting a large party.
The preferred consistency of the grind will determine the length of time you’ll want to run the coffee grinder. The longer it runs, the finer the grind will turn out. If you are grinding for a drip coffeemaker, aim for 20-45 seconds. If you choose a grinder with a built-in timer, you’ll take the guesswork out of the process and produce the optimal grind every morning with very little effort.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not to invest in a coffee grinder, you should know that they are more versatile than they seem at first blush. You can also use coffee grinders to chop up spices. For the home chef, this is a wonderful added feature that can help justify the cost of another appliance.
You can also find drip coffeemakers with built-in blade coffee grinders. These machines cut down on time and save kitchen space. Simply load the bean chamber and push “Start.” The coffeemaker will grind the beans and brew the coffee in under ten minutes.