You may have read my article on why we never sell ground coffee. If not, you might want to: Whole Bean Only – Why It Matters.
Once you’ve read it, or if you have already, you may recall a little segment where I talk about boot-ground coffee being better than pre-ground… and this is true.
That having been said, our goal is not merely “good enough.” You probably are already aware of this, even if you’ve only tried our coffee once. So, in the spirit of good, better, and best, I ask you to take a hard look at what many (myself included) consider to be the second most important tool in regards to coffee excellence: your grinder.
A Few Things To Consider
Whether looking to acquire your first grinder, or upgrading from your current grinder, there are a few key factors that you’ll want to consider, aside from grind quality.
Naturally, cost is important for the average consumer. Be realistic about what it will cost, and be willing to part with the money. High quality grinders often give many, many years of service (much unlike cheap grinders), so it is worth considering when thinking twice about the previous sentence.
Usable Counter Space
Commercial grinders often take up a good amount of space on your kitchen counter. If you are a die-hard coffee lover (like me), you probably don’t mind giving up a little bit of usable space for the sake of a better cup of coffee. Thankfully, however, there are an awful lot of excellent domestic grinders that don’t take up a lot of space.
Good grinders come in one of two styles of burr assembly: flat or conical. The general consensus is that conical burrs tend to enhance aromatics, while flat burrs tend to sort of even out and meld flavors in the cup. So, if you love acidity, consider going conical. If you love body, consider going flat. Ultimately, this may make less of a difference than the previous two considerations, but if you’re between two otherwise comparable grinders, this information may be useful in making a final decision.
Intended Brew Method(s)
Do you plan to brew drip coffee? French Press? Aeropress? Espresso? Different brew methods require different sized coffee particles for optimum results. Some grinders are purpose built for espresso, some are versatile, and some are best suited for drip brew methods. Knowing your brewing requirements will help to quickly narrow down the list for you, and make it easier to sort by price. If the quality of your espresso is at all important to you, I highly recommend considering a purpose built espresso grinder. If not, you don’t require as much precision and may be quite happy with a less expensive grinder.
Espresso: Precision is Significant
Espresso is made using very fine coffee particles, and require a grinder capable of producing a consistent grind at a very fine setting. The reason consistency is so important in an espresso grinder is that espresso brewing happens under a lot of pressure (9bar, or ~135psi) in a very short amount of time. Inconsistencies in grind will not only result in a varied of extraction rate, but may also result in extreme channeling.
Doser, or Doserless?
A doser is a container on the front of an espresso grinder that catches the coffee as it is ground, and dispenses it into the portafilter by pulling the doser handle. It was originally designed to dispense pre-measured volumes of ground coffee for speed of use. (i.e. – 1 pull of the handle for 1 shot of espresso, or 2 pulls for a double shot) We have moved beyond pre-grinding coffee for any application, but the doser design still has its fans (as I am). When the handle is pulled continuously during grinding, the coffee is still ground fresh per espresso, and the vanes in the doser help to break up clumps and “fluff” the grounds before they fall into the filterbasket.
There are two sides to this. The up side is consistency of the condition of the grounds (fluffy vs clumpy). The down side to a doser, is that a very small amount of residual stale grounds is inevitable. For this reason, many people favor espresso grinders without a doser. These are referred to as doserless grinders. The benefit of these is that you do not have the pull the doser handle to dispense coffee into the portafilter, and there is presumably no stale coffee present in the espresso. Which should you choose? That’s up to you. We all arrange priorities differently. If control of dose preparation is more important to you, go with a doser model. If absolute freshness is more important to you, go with a doserless.
All Purpose Domestic Grinders
If you are currently in the market for a grinder that is capable of an acceptable grind for espresso all the way up to French Press, it’s a great time to be a buyer. A few short years ago, one had to choose whether they wanted the primary focus of their grinder to be espresso, or everything else. Now, consumer demand has grown so much that Baratza has released several domestic grinders that do double duty almost seamlessly.
In addition, these grinders are fantastic for all around use, even if you never plan to use it for espresso. Many coffee professionals use just such a grinder for cupping and home use.
Of course, if you’re obsessive about your espresso, even if you enjoy other brew methods, you may consider looking into a new (or used) commercial espresso grinder. (like I did) No, it’s not as convenient as an all purpose grinder with a grounds catch bin, but it is certainly faster with a pretty great grind quality (provided you don’t grind too coarse).
Doing it By Hand
This is by far the cheapest and most travel-friendly option. There are a few hand grinders on the market that are fantastic, especially at finer grind settings. Some of the more common and cheaper models come from Japan (Hario, Kyocera, Porlex), some more stylish and useful hand grinders from Germany are slightly more expensive(Zassenhaus), while some that focus more on precision can be more expensive (Orphan Espresso – USA).
If you plan to brew a large volume of coffee, or if you pull back to back shots of espresso, a hand grinder may be more trouble than the savings is worth. That having been said, the fragrance from coffee ground by a ceramic hand mill is vastly superior to coffee ground by an electric grinder on average.
Which one is right for you?
There should be enough information here by now that you can make a basic decision about what kind of grinder is right for you. It is important to remember, however, that when it comes to electric grinders, the old adage “You get what you pay for” is absolutely true. If you see a grinder for less than $100, I would skip it entirely. If a grinder’s packaging says “burr grinder”, it is not an indication that it is capable of producing a consistently even grind. If you’re unsure, ask what material the burrs are made of. Ceramic and steel are good materials. Ask if the burrs are replaceable. Every good electric grinder (and several manual grinders) have replaceable burr sets.
It is important also to note that the grinder is the single most important tool in regards to taste. The better your grinder, the better your coffee will taste.
As always, if you are still on the fence and would like help, I (Jason) am always available via our Contact form, and I would be more than happy to help guide your decision based on your needs. Happy brewing!