Why a coffee grinder is essential for great tasting coffee
Have you ever wondered why your homemade coffee tastes harsh, bitter, lacks flavor, or even gives you heartburn? Should you buy more expensive coffee beans? Should you change the brewing method, get a better coffee machine, or…? My guess is, you are using store-ground coffee beans or one of those cheap blade grinders. The grind is most likely the root of the problem.
Brewing coffee is all about extraction
Coffee beans contain not only caffeine but also a multitude of components responsible for its taste and flavor profile. There are also lots of antioxidants for the benefit of our health. These components are extracted at different temperatures; some may also take longer than others. We want to extract the best mix of these components and get all the aromas into our cup. And we would like to avoid extracting components which could ruin the taste or even cause problems like heartburn, a. k. a. acid reflux or GERD in sensitive people.
Every brewing method requires a specific grind size because the extraction process is different. Try making espresso with store ground beans, or use an espresso grind for pour-over coffee, and you will understand. It just does not work.
The correct grind size plays a vital role in the extraction process. Finer grinds allow for deeper and faster extraction, which will be fine for an espresso machine. Use an espresso grind with other brewing methods, and you end up with a bitter brew. A very coarse grind and lower temperature allow extending the extraction process to several hours. The result is a cold brew without bitterness.
Grind your own coffee for best results
The aromas of coffee are volatile. Roasted coffee beans will lose most of their flavor within 2 to 3 weeks after roasting, depending on storage. Pre-ground coffee loses its aromas even faster. Make sure you get the best out of your coffee and use freshly roasted beans and always grind them right before brewing.
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Which type of coffee grinder should you use?
There are two types of coffee grinders, blade grinder, and burr coffee grinder. Burr coffee grinders come in manual and electric versions.
I will not make any recommendation for blade grinders here. Yes, they are cheap and convenient, but they have two major flaws.
- The blades crush the beans at top speed and heat them up, causing some flavors to evaporate prematurely.
- The longer you let the grinder run, the finer the grind. But it is nearly impossible to get a uniform grind size suitable for your brewing method. This will lead to extraction across a wide range of grind sizes.
Go for a burr grinder and get rid of the blade grinder you may have. Your reward is a coffee experience on a new level.
A burr coffee grinder will produce much more uniform particles, which translates into a better defined and cleaner taste profile. Because of the brittle nature of roasted coffee beans, you will still get a certain amount of fines (the dusty part), but not to the extent affecting the taste too much.
Both a manual or electric burr coffee grinder will do a proper job. Which one you choose is a matter of preference and budget.
How to choose the perfect burr coffee grinder?
Manual burr grinders – cheap and reliable
The boxy, old-fashioned coffee grinder made of wood is still around. If you are into nostalgia, that could be a fun and low-cost choice. Very slim coffee mills made from stainless steel and with a hand crank became very popular. They are a superb choice if you are on a budget or have not enough space in your kitchen. Also, when you are single or just with a partner, it may be enough for your grinding needs. But if you make coffee for a family or several guests, you will be better off with an electric coffee grinder. Grinding beans for more than two, three cups can become quite a chore.
But most of these manual coffee grinders can grind your beans as fine as required for Turkish coffee.
- Very affordable
- Small footprint
- Not heating your beans while grinding
- Less noisy than electric mills
- Durable ceramic burrs
- Adjustable grind settings for a wide range
- Good for a little workout
- Small capacity of only about 3 to 4 cups
- Finer grinds take quite a while to grind
- Ceramic burr can break when you drop the grinder
Some cheaper models may not have a marker for the settings. This is a problem when you want to switch between grind sizes and can’t find the previous setting’s exact position.
Grandma's coffee mill
This is a nostalgic grinder similar to what we used at home when I was a kid. It is very reasonably priced, but please note, it has only three settings: fine, medium and coarse. Suitable for drip coffee and cold brew, but not for espresso.
A manual coffee grinder of the extra class
A short while ago, I realized that my cheap handheld grinder with a ceramic burr had lost its sharpness. Yes, ceramic burr grinders are not immune to wear and tear. I started to look around for a replacement and found this one:
Electric burr coffee grinder
An overwhelming choice of suitable grinders is out there, and it gets better year after year. I had to go over my last year’s recommendations and make a few adjustments. This is my update evaluation for 2020.
Nearly every maker of coffee equipment offers a coffee grinder as well. Prices for a satisfactory machine start at around 100 bucks and go up almost indefinitely. Well, not quite, but I have seen a few for a couple of thousand bucks. But you can find excellent choices also in affordable price ranges.
Some essential features of an electric grinder you should look out for:
- slow grind speed to avoid overheating the beans
- consistent precision grinding in every grind setting
- no static electricity problems causing a mess
- easy to clean
- attractive design
My current favorite electric coffee grinder
The models Capresso 560 or 565 are also okay if you are on a budget, but grinding for Turkish coffee is not an option. And the price difference is not that big.
Their entry model Capresso Burr Coffee Grinder is the cheapest, below 50 bucks. Still, I would recommend staying clear of that one, even if you are on a tight budget. It is made from very cheap plastic, and the dial controls are not adequate. It also has many negative reviews on amazon.com complaining about malfunctioning or dying on you prematurely.
Another favorite coffee grinder
My next favorite is the new De’Longhi Dedica Conical Burr Grinder. De’Longhi is a very traditional Italian manufacturer for over 100 years and has a solid reputation. This one can grind directly into a portafilter, thus avoiding the mess of transferring the grounds.
Very easy to handle and easy to clean as you can remove the upper burrs.
You can adjust the settings to get the right amount of beans for a light, medium or strong cup.
A coffee grinder for the serious coffee lover
Have a look at one of Baratza’s top models, the Vario-W 986. If you are serious about your coffee and have a dime to spare, this is the machine you want. Actually, it’s not even the very top model, that would set you back almost double. But this one should leave no wish open.
Baratza is a well known brand, and their Baratza Encore is rather popular. There are well over 3,000 reviews on amazon. It is more of an entry-level model. The maximum fineness is for espresso, so it is of no help for friends of Turkish coffee. The plastic housing looks cheap, and I’m not too fond of the overall design. Well, that’s my personal view.