If you’re making your own coffee at home, everything begins with the grind. If you don’t get that right, the coffee you wind up with will be less than stellar.
Yes, you can buy pre-ground coffee, but it’ll begin to lose its flavour after a day of the packet being opened. If you want the best coffee you can get at home, you’ll need a grinder.
There are different types of grinder and the right one for you depends on your budget, how often you drink coffee and what brewing process you use. Read on to find out what to buy to suit your set-up.
Types of coffee grinder
Blade coffee grinders
Blade coffee grinders tend to be the cheapest and most ubiquitous type. You can buy one for £25 or $30.
If you’re buying a grinder, it won’t necessarily tell you if it’s blade or burr ,so look out for a product shot that shows you inside the grinder. If it looks like a propeller, with two opposing blades, then it’s a blade grinder.
Blade grinders are criticised by coffee lovers for their inconsistent results. The spinning action of a blade grinder tears randomly into the beans, producing what are known as ‘fines’ and ‘boulders’. Boulders are the bigger lumps you’ll find. The coffee flavour won’t be sufficiently extracted from them, which wastes beans and will affect the taste of your coffee. Meanwhile, ‘fines’ will be over-extracted, leading to a bitter edge to your brew.
If you do decide to go for a blade grinder, there are some tips to help you make better coffee with it:
- Look for one with a clear lid so you can monitor the grinding process.
- Add about 10% more beans than you want to use.
- Pulse the grinding button and then pause and shake up the grinder for more even results. Do this several times during the process.
- Sift out the boulders using a sieve. Re-grind the boulders.
- Finally, pour your prepared grounds evenly over a piece of kitchen roll. Put another piece on top of the grounds and rub your hand across it. Empty the grounds back into your container. You should find that the smallest particles of the fines – the dust – will still be stuck to the kitchen roll and won’t make their way into your coffee machine.
- One other tip is to freeze the beans before you grind them, which helps to limit the amount of fine dust produced.
However, depending on the type of coffee you’re making, the fines will make more or less of a difference. An espresso machine extracts flavour very quickly, so there’s less to worry about with fines. But if you’re using a percolator, you’ll wind up with a noticeably more bitter cup of coffee if your beans aren’t well ground.
Burr coffee grinders
Burrs are grinding discs, usually made of stainless steel. They produce a more uniform ground coffee than blades. When buying, you should look out for sharp edged burrs that slice into coffee beans, rather than ones with chunky teeth that crush them.
Some machines marketed as burr grinders function much more like blade grinders. In spite of what the name suggests, blade grinders are not as sharp as burrs. And it’s the sharpness that gets the cleanest cuts and produces less of the powdery coffee grounds that will create bitterness in your cup.
Unfortunately, this does mean paying more for your grinder. That is, unless you opt for a manual machine. Burr grinders come in two forms: automatic and manual. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Manual burr grinders
The key advantage of a manual grinder is price. To get a good automatic grinder, you’ll need to spend about £100/ $100. But you can get a good quality manual burr grinder for less.
Manual grinders are also smaller, more portable and won’t add to your electricity bill.
On the negative side, grinding is hard work. You’ll need to grind for about a minute to get enough coffee for a cup. And what’s more, as different brewing processes require more or less finely ground coffee (which we’ll come on to in a minute) there can be a lot of elbow grease involved before you can get on with the business of enjoying your morning brew.
If you’re going to buy a manual grinder, here are the features to look out for:
- Your grinder should allow you to adjust the size of the grind. Check that it can swap between settings easily.
- A longer handle will make the grinding process a bit easier.
- Finally, the best manual grinders usually have bearings, which will again make grinding smoother and easier.
Automatic burr grinders
Automatic burr grinders are the easiest to use, and in most cases, the best machines on offer. You can get a good one for about £100/$100 but they go up in price to £1,000 or more. However, only people involved in the coffee business in a professional capacity tend to spend this much.
If you’re going to buy one, look for an automatic coffee grinder that is simple to use, clean and maintain.
Most automatic grinders will have a pulse setting. If you plan to grind a lot of coffee, you should also look for one that also has auto-grind and timed grind functions.
If you want to make Turkish coffee, it will need an extremely fine setting. You may need to buy a specialist grinder, or a very high-end machine with over 40 grinding settings.
The coffee aficionado
That’s the information you need to get a high-quality coffee at home. But beyond this point, there is a wealth of fine detail on burr material (stainless steel or ceramic), burr shape (conical versus flat), burr size, stepped versus no-step burrs and grinding settings that you can explore if you have an interest.
At this level, it’s hard to say what’s ‘best’ as to some extent it will be a matter of preference, taste and desired outcome. It’s also a matter of how much money you can spend on equipment and how much time you can dedicate to sampling different brews.
How finely ground should your coffee be?
Depending on your brewing method, your coffee should be more or less finely ground. Here are some rough guidelines. If you buy an automatic burr grinder, it may well have suggested settings. If you have a pulse or manual grinder, you will need to experiment.
- Extra fine: Turkish coffee
- Finely ground: Espresso maker, Moka pot, AeroPress (this can use anything from finely ground to medium ground coffee, depending on its brewing time)
- Medium: Drip coffee machines
- Coarse: cafetière, percolator