“It’s the grinder, stupid!” This is a phrase you can hear baristas say, and it’s true. Coffee making machines are very important, but a good coffee grinder may be even more so.
A good grinder ensures your coffee particles are all the same size which means they all get extracted equally. You can get great coffee from a great grinder and mediocre coffee machine combo, but get yourself a bad grinder and even if you spend thousands on your coffee machine, you will always have bad coffee.
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A few points on why we grind our beans before making the coffee (AKA “on-demand”)
- Contrary to what we may have been led to believe for most of our lives, coffee is not shelf‑stable. I mean, it is, because it doesn’t rot, but it loses its freshness relatively quickly. It’s not good for 2 years like the supermarket bought one says, it’s really just a few weeks.
- Depending on the coffee and how it’s stored, something like 2-5 weeks from roast date is the maximum you want to keep your coffee beans around for, so don’t buy three 1 kilo bags if you drink one cup a day – buy regularly instead of buying big. Some people refuse to drink coffee more than just a few days from roasting.
- Coffee goes stale because of a couple of things – it loses some of the good stuff by releasing aromas, and some of the bad stuff gets in (oxygen, humidity). After some time, most of the good things we’re after when drinking our coffee will be gone.
- The above means that coffee BEANS are good for those 2-5 weeks max. With GROUND coffee, this multiplies by a million, as each micro particle of coffee will release its good bits much more quickly than if it was trapped inside a “closed” bean, and the bad stuff will get into it much more quickly as well. This is the fundamental reason we grind on demand – it makes sure our coffee is as fresh as possible until it’s time to enjoy some delicious black goodness.
Some important grinder tips:
- A lot of finer points can be said about this, but as a general guide, the more even the coffee particles coming out of your grinder, the better the end result.
- Grinders with spinning blades are not a good choice for coffee. These grind the coffee in highly uneven particles (lots of fine “dust-like” particles, and lots of “sea salt” ones, which are then extracted differently when brewed). Smaller particles get extracted a lot, producing bitter coffee, larger particles don’t get extracted enough, producing sour coffee, and when all this is mixed in your cup the results are far from what you want. Side note, if you absolutely must use one for whatever reason, then check out this awesome video from James Hoffmann.
- Get a grinder with conical burrs or flat burrs. Whilst there are different preferences, these are not THAT meaningful. It is generally acceptable that a good grinder with conical or flat burrs will make for great tasting coffees.
- Grind on demand – once you grind your coffee, it starts to go stale quickly. So you can’t have a great tasting cup of coffee with pre‑ground coffee. Always grind right before you want to make your cup.
- Each coffee brewing method needs a specific grind setting which works best for it. Espresso needs very fine grinds, French Press needs coarse grinds, filter coffees need something in between. Not all grinders can produce coffee particles fine enough for espresso.
- If you plan to prepare both filter coffee and espresso drinks daily, you will need to adjust your grind size to suit the different methods. In this case, it makes sense to get a grinder which can jump between the different settings easily, as some are a pain to adjust back and forth, or produce a lot of wastage in the process.
- If you want to jump between different coffee beans in order to try new things, etc., it makes sense to try to get a grinder which allows you to switch between coffees easily. These are what you call “single-dosing” grinders, and you only put in the beans you want to grind each time you make coffee. Other grinders have what is called a “hopper” where the beans are stored, which makes sense if you only drink one type of coffee.
- You can go with a manual or electric grinder. Whilst there may be advantages in terms of flavour for manual grinders, the main difference for the home user would be price vs. convenience. For great taste results, you can achieve them with a manual grinder at a considerably lower price point than an equal quality electric grinder. You just have to spend a few minutes cranking it up vs. just waiting a few seconds for the machine to do its job.
Some grinder options you can look at
- Hario Skerton Pro – great grinder for filter coffees, good size, and produces very capable grinds in a relatively short time.
- Timemore Chestnut – this is a great hand grinder, considerably better in terms of performance than the Skerton (or pretty much any grinder costing less than €50), for a relatively decent price
- Comandante – this is one of the most capable and respected hand grinders. Can make espresso and filter, and it’s very easy to adjust settings on it. It does cost a small fortune.
Electric grinders, no jumping around between coffees beans and brewing methods:
- Eureka Mignon – a very capable grinder, a favourite between many home espresso enthusiasts, also relatively low noise compared to other electric grinders.
- Mazzer Mini – the Mazzers are an icon in the espresso world, and their mini version is great for home use.
Electric grinders, allowing you to change coffees or brewing methods more easily:
- Baratza Sette 270 and Vario – These machines are very capable grinders, and very easy to quickly adjust. Also quite popular, so you’ll always find some good resources about them online.
- Niche Zero – a very versatile grinder, which allows you to grind for all methods, it is pretty quiet, and has a relatively decent price for the performance. Unfortunately it’s only sold through Indiegogo so once you order, you’ll have to wait some time to receive it, usually a few months.
- Weber Workshops EG-1 – This is the Rolls Royce of home grinders, engineered to perfection, with incredible grinding capabilities and extremely low retention of coffee.
Recap – your priorities when choosing a new coffee grinder
So wrapping up, there are three things to remember when you want to choose a coffee grinder that’s perfect for you.
- Don’t buy a grinder with a spinning blade! Only buy a burr grinder
- You don’t have to spend a fortune, but don’t go too cheap. The cheaper options will likely become a limiting factor soon, and some of the mid-priced options will get you quite far.
- For the same price, normally a hand grinder will give you better performance than an electric one, but it will require more time and muscle – make sure you are prepared for a few minutes of boring cranking before each one of your coffees (some of us love this process actually!).
Hope this helps you out on your coffee journey – any questions, thoughts, suggestions or anything, just let us know in the comments below!