The kinds of coffee available today are more varied than a mere decade ago. Whole bean coffee bags are as common as ground coffee and instant coffee on grocery shelves, and you can even purchase beans online to be safely delivered to your home. With ground coffee being accessible, not to mention that most shops can grind your bag of beans at purchase, is it really necessary to have your own grinder? Read on to see if this piece of coffee equipment is something you can or cannot do without.
There are two main reasons why having your own grinder is important: Having your coffee freshly ground for brewing, and being able to grind to your specifications.
Freshly-ground is best for brewing!
You may notice that most coffee bags for sale are opaque and has a one-way valve to keep the freshness. Exposure to light and air gradually makes coffee stale. Once coffee beans are roasted, they already start losing flavor. Roasting draws out the moisture from inside the green bean. As the water comes out to the surface of the bean, it also bring out the oils that have the flavor notes. These oils have those fickle notes (fruity, floral, herby) that quickly evaporate.
Imagine how much faster these unique flavors are lost if the beans are already ground. Grinding coffee breaks it down to smaller particles, multiplying the exposed area. Now you have a greater surface from which the oils and fragrance can escape from. An intact roasted coffee bean holds its flavors much better, and lasts weeks longer on the shelf than ground coffee.
If you are getting serious about your coffee, grinding to your taste is part of the discovery process.
Baristas have a process before using the espresso machine for service. They taste-test the espresso shot and adjust their grinders to get the taste just right. This is called “dialing-in” the grind size, and they check for every batch of coffee beans. They do this quality check because the size of your grind is one of the factors that affect coffee extraction and flavor. The goal is to have a grind that is suited to the kind of brewing method that you are going to do. At home, using a dedicated coffee grinder is much better than using a spice mill and leagues better than using a mortar and pestle to pulverize your coffee beans. A quality grinder will give you a uniform result that will brew and extract the coffee much more evenly.
If you have different methods of brewing, or live with and share coffee with others in your house, a grinder gives you the freedom have coffee ground particularly for drip machine, French press, or pour-overs. Another plus for having your own grinder is being able to change and tweak your grind size.
Specialty coffee is also more complex, much more so than regular coffee. A simple change in the size of your grind can bring out a wonderful nuttiness or a hint of spiciness. Since the grind influences brewing so much, own the control over this by having your own grinder. Otherwise, you are missing out on the premium flavors of your specialty-grade beans.
What kind of Grinder do I need?
There are many types of coffee grinders, both basic and professional-grade, at various price points to suit your style. You need a grinder that can go as fine or as course as you need. It also depends on whether it will be for small batch home use, or single serve manual brewing. Keep your style brewing in mind when choosing a grinder.
Blade versus Conical Burr, and Ceramic and Steel Burrs
Most spice grinders, blenders, and lower quality coffee grinder have blades. These chopping blades rotate at a high speed, slicing the spices. This method ends up with almost no control on how fine and how consistent will be the ending grind.
In comes the burr grinders. The main mechanism inside that crushes the beans are the burrs–a pair of toothed revolving pieces that catch the bean and break it. The size of the grind depends on the distance between these two pieces.
Burr grinders also come as flat and conical, and the materials also range from steel to ceramic. Flat seems to be more consistent, and ceramic burrs tend to heat up less than steel burrs. Conicals burrs, o the other hand, heat up less quickly and are also relatively more affordable. Steel burrs are usually sharper and more precise than ceramic, and is a good choice for automatic grinders.
What should I look for when choosing my grinder?
The first thing to do is to check what kind of brewing do you usually do, and where you most often brew your coffee. If you brew at home, for a few people, and would appreciate a fast process, it would be a good buy to invest in an automatic grinder. Going further, if you are looking for commercial purposes, an automatic grinder is for sure the way to go. Most Automatic grinders have defined grind settings, which can be helpful in creating and replicating consistent cups. If you are grinding mostly for espresso, it would also be better to choose an automatic grinder for the power.
If you only brew single cups at a time, or travel a lot, and would appreciate portability, then a manual hand grinder is best. There are many cheap ones in the market, but these are often blade grinders. Investing in a good ceramic burr manual grinder might feel like expensive, but the ceramic would last longer and sharper than steel burrs. Manual grinders are also much lighter compared to tabletop automatic grinders.
Final Thoughts: Will having my own grinder be worth it?
We’ve established that there are a few factors that contribute to a good cup, and that the grind is a big part of it. If you brew coffee a lot, buying a grinder will pay off quickly. If you are also getting started with specialty coffee, having the option to have freshly ground beans is a key step in being able to discover flavor nuances.
If you want to check out what grinder we use as a specialty coffee roaster, or ask for some recommendations, chat us up on any of our socials: South Slope Coffee!