Grinding your own coffee at home can dramatically increase your brewed coffee quality. Coffee loses it’s freshness much faster in ground form over whole bean form. If you are looking to increase your cup quality and you are not grinding your own coffee, buying the right coffee grinder will give you some serious bang for your buck.
There are two basic types of coffee grinders you can purchase. The first is a standard blade type grinder (think Magic Bullet). The second type is what is known as a burr grinder. These two types of grinders have totally different ways of grinding coffee and thus have different results.
The importance of particle size and consistency
Before I break down the two types of grinders and make a few recommendations, I would like to talk about particle size and consistency . Particle size as It relates to coffee is how coarse or fine you grind your coffee. Based on your brewing method, you may want a larger particle size (for an immersion brewing technique like French Press brewing) or smaller particle size (Like for espresso).
One of the most important elements with particle size is consistency. You want to have all the particles to be roughly the same size. You do not want some really big chunks and some fine powdery chunks in your grind.
If you have an inconsistent grind, you will have an inconsistent cup of coffee. You will not get all the flavors you want out of the big chunks of coffee and the powdery coffee dust will be over extracted and result in flavors you do no want in your cup. Particle size and consistency is important for cup quality.
Blade grinders are relatively inexpensive and readily available. The basic concept of a blade grinder is a sharp blade that hacks up the coffee into small pieces. There is low control on both particle size and particle consistency but there are some things you can do to increase grind quality.
The nice thing about blade grinders is you can probably find someone with one that they are not using or pick one up for a couple bucks at a thrift store. If you don’t want to go the used route, you can pick one up at a Target or similar type store for around twenty bucks.
A problem with blade grinders is in their grind particle size repeatability and consistency. It is hard to dial in a brewing technique if you are unable to keep the particle size the same each time that you brew. It is also hard to repeat your good results because your grind is constantly changing.
Despite some of the design flaws of a blade coffee grinder, a properly used blade grinder is still preferable to buying pre-ground coffee. The inexpensive price point of a blade grinder as well as their smaller size make them a good candidate for someone who is just starting to learn about grinding their beans at home.
If you are going to use a blade grinder, here are a few tips to maximize your results.
- Try to time the amount of time you are grinding your coffee in a blade grinder. This will help to dial in a particle size. If you ground the coffee for 10 seconds and it was too fine, next time try 8 seconds.
- Shake the blade grinder a few times while you are grinding the coffee. This will help to get a more consistent grind.
- Grind your coffee in short one second pulses, shaking in between. Then count and remember the number of pulses your used to try and maximize consistency and repeatability.Shake the blade grinder a few times while you are grinding the coffee. This will help to get a more consistent grind.
- Try not to use a blade grinder with extremely dull blades. This will make grinding constancy nearly impossible.
Burr grinders, for the most part, are a step up from blade grinders. It is easier to get a consistent grind and dial in a particle size. Burr grinders operate with a set of metal or ceramic burrs that crush that coffee beans. They either use flat or conical burrs and can be set to a variety of particle sizes. When the ground coffee reaches the right size, it falls out of the burr and into the hopper.
Burr grinders can be expensive. They start at around $50.00 and can get upwards of $500.00 pretty fast. You may be wondering who would pay over five hundred dollars or more for a coffee grinder and the answer is coffee shops and hardcore espresso enthusiasts. Most people who brew coffee at home can not afford or justify spending that type of money on a coffee grinder. For the home manual brewer, you can get a very nice burr grinder that will meet your needs in the $150.00 range.
If you can afford to buy a quality burr grinder and have counter space to store it (burr grinders are quite a bit larger than blade grinders), it will make a big difference in the quality of your manually brewed coffee. Burr grinders make it much easier to repeat results by giving greater control of particle size and consistency. It is easy to grind a little coarser or a little finer and experiment with the results. Once you have a particle size dialed in for a particular brew method, you can use the same grind setting each time and have a process that is repeatable.
At this point you may be feeling pretty discouraged and feel like you are at least few hundred of dollars away from being able to brew a delicious artisan cup of coffee at your house. Don’t be. There is another option.
If you are interested in manual brewing on a small scale, a hand mill is the perfect solution for you. I like the hand grinder because it is economical and practical for brewing a cup or two at a time. And let’s face it, it is cool. If you are going to be brewing a cup of coffee by hand, you might as well up the ante and hand grind that sucker as well.
Hand grinders are burr grinders. They are just missing some of the bells and whistles of an electric burr grinder. The grind size is normally adjusted with a small nut. This makes repeatability a little bit of an issue if you are constantly adjusting the grind size for different brew methods. For the price, it is a good compromise.
The advantages of a hand grinder are in their size and price. They do not take up very much room and they produce a fairly quality grind for manual brewing purposes. They are very portable and work anywhere. If you have a hand grinder, coffee, and a drip brewer, you are only some boiling water away from a handmade cup of coffee.
I plan to do some in-depth reviews on coffee brewing equipment in the future, but for now I can recommend some places to start looking at equipment.
If you are planning on purchasing a blade grinder, I would do a little research on the longevity and durability of the options out there. I used a hand-me-down Mr. Coffee for years without issue, but their are definitely fancier, more powerful, and prettier models out there.
Electric Burr Grinder
Baratza seems to be making some quality grinders these days. People are recommending them and I see them lots of places. The Baratza Encore Conical Mill, is probably the grinder that I see recommended the most for an entry level burr grinder. For around $130.00 it seems to be a great option. The only downside is it’s size. It is quite tall and will definitely be taking up some serious counter space. I have not personally used this grinder. You may be able to save some money and purchase a refurbished grinder directly from Baratza here.
I personally use the Breville BCG450XL Conical Burr Grinder. At $170.00, I think there are better coffee grinders out there. I bought mine at a resale shop for… $7.00 and it has definitely been worth that. It has a compact size that easily fits under my cabinets. The grind quality is pretty good, although I don’t have another grinder in this price point to directly compare it to. The main issue I have with the BCG450XL is the fact that it tends to jam if I use very lightly roasted beans.
The Hario Slim Mill is popular and inexpensive. I use it all the time and I love it. The Slim Mill has compact design and is made out of durable plastic. It has survived the rigors of a week of loaded touring on my bicycle and I bring it to work with me everyday with some coffee in case I want to make a drip brew there.
Hario also makes the Skerton Coffee Mill. It is slightly larger in size and comes with a glass container to catch the coffee after it is ground. The nice thing about the Skerton is that it will fit on top of a mason jar when you inevitably break the glass piece.
There are a few hand mills made by Porlex as well. These grinders are great quality and are a little more expensive than the Hario options. They have a chic stainless steel design and are also quite portable.
Do you have any coffee grinders that you are already using that your would recommend? What is your dream coffee grinder? (I want a Rancilio Rocky). If you are just getting into brewing coffee manually, I recommend taking some time to explore what your needs are. A hand grinder is a great idea unless you routinely make 12 cups of coffee every morning (Your forearm will definitely get tired) and a Rancilio Rocky grinder is a magnificent grinder if you don’t need that money to pay your bills. Do some research and figure out what grinder will work best for your situation.