Coffee Grinders 101 - The Basics
Are you ready to up your coffee game and start grinding your own beans?
If so, you've come to the right place. Here's a brief lesson on the basics of coffee grinders to get you started.
Not all coffee grinders are created equal.
At their core, coffee grinders take whole beans and reduce them to grounds of varying granularity. Manufacturers use different methods, materials, and form factors to accomplish this. Unlike mankind, not all grinders are created equal.
Searching for your next grinder may feel like a daunting task due to the plethora of options on the market. (We're biased, of course, but we don't think you can beat the Vivaant Manual Coffee Grinder.)
If you take the time to understand the various grinding mechanisms and the pros and cons associated with them, you can narrow down the options to get one step closer to finding your perfect grinder.
A Review of Coffee Grinder Mechanics
Here are the most common coffee grinders on the market with a summary of features, pros, and cons:
Blade Coffee Grinders
- found mostly in economical electric grinders
- can produce inconsistent grounds
- operate similarly to blenders and food processors
- chop coffee beans rather than grind them
Burr Coffee Grinders: Three Main Types
Most burr coffee grinders use one of three types of burrs:
- limited to electric grinders
- produce uniform results
- found in both electric and manual grinders
- high quality steel burrs, capable of producing most uniform results
- does not require high speed for grinding
- found in commercial and industrial grinders
- designed to produce mostly course grounds
Burr Material: Ceramic vs. Metal
When it comes to coffee grinders that use burrs to grind beans, ceramic and metal are the two most common options for burr material, with stainless steel being the most common metal.
I understand that some people believe ceramic burrs to be less prone to heating during grinding compared to steel — and therefore less likely to affect the taste of the coffee. However, evidence to support this belief is hard to find, and even if it were true, the effect would be negligible in all cases except when grinding large quantities of coffee beans at once, such as in an industrial setting.
Ceramic burrs, when new, are less sharp than their stainless steel counterparts. However, they hold their edges longer, and you don't have to worry about corrosion or rusting with ceramic.
That said, ceramic burrs are more fragile and therefore more susceptible to chipping than stainless.
Good stainless steel burrs, when new, are significantly sharper than ceramic. However, they can dull over time. Stainless is less prone to rusting than ordinary steel due to the chromium within the steel, but you still should dry off the burrs after cleaning to avoid any chance of corrosion.
Electric Coffee Grinder or Manual Coffee Grinder?
When it comes to powering your grinder, you have two options: Electricity vs. Elbow grease.
Electric Coffee Grinders:
Electric coffee grinders have options for every budget, are fast and efficient, and are a good option if you grind in large quantities. Electric coffee grinders are convenient because they require no manual labor; as as long as you have a power outlet nearby, you'll be good to go.
As for their downsides, electric coffee grinders can be noisy and hard to clean. Higher-end electric coffee grinders can be costly. Also, and if you take your coffee beans off-grid, you might be out of luck.
Electric coffee grinders typically come equipped with either blades or burrs.
Electric coffee grinders that come with blades work in a fashion similar to blenders and food processors: in other words, you're not really grinding your coffee beans — you're chopping them. The problem with such coffee grinders is that they can produce very inconsistent particle sizes, resulting in coffee grounds that might be too fine or too course for your brewing method.
Manual Coffee Grinders:
Manual coffee grinders give you the flexibility of grinding cordlessly. They tend to be lightweight, compact, and portable; so, if you travel frequently or camp for long durations, manual coffee grinders may be a good option.
Manual coffee grinders also generate virtually no heat compared to their powered counterparts (although, as we mentioned above, this is likely a non-issue for most people in most cases).
Disassembly and cleanup of manual coffee grinders is a snap, as many of the components can be separated for easy cleaning.
One of the downsides of manual coffee grinders is that they can be slower than electric grinders, making it difficult to produce large quantities in a reasonable time frame.
Of course, if you are opposed to expending a bit of manual labor in order to get your morning brew, a powered coffee grinder may be a better fit for you.
When choosing the optimal manual coffee grinder, consider ergonomics, grind capacity, ease of grinding, burr material, grind consistency, and ease of portability. For manual grinders, it is generally accepted that stainless steel burrs are the best all-around option for efficiency and consistency.
Weighing Your Coffee Grinding Options
When weighing your options, one of your primary considerations should be the primary brew method for which the coffee grinder will be used.
For example, if you're primarily grinding for cold brew coffee, avoid an electric coffee grinder around the $50 price point. Why? Because it will probably be equipped with with an inexpensive grinding mechanism (most likely in the form of spinning blades), resulting in an unpredictable grind that will make it hard to get the grind you desire. (Overgrinding coffee beans tends to result in a bitter cold brew batch.)
Howver, that same inexpensive electric coffee grinder could be well-suited for espresso applications.
When choosing a coffee grinder — just like in life— your decision might just come down to basic personal preference.
Whatever coffee grinding method you choose, we know that freshly ground coffee beans make a better cup of coffee than store-bought grounds any day of the week.
What are your thoughts and preferences and experiences? Do you currently grind your own coffee beans? What's your favorite method? Let us know in the comments below; we'd love to hear from you.