Buying pre-ground coffee may be the more convenient option, but any coffee connoisseur will tell you that freshly ground coffee is an absolute must if you want to get the best flavor.
While selecting the best coffee grinder may seem a little daunting, this buyer’s guide, along with our handy coffee grinder reviews, will help you through the decision making process.
The importance of buying a coffee grinder
There is no point investing in a quality coffee machine if you are just going to buy pre-ground coffee. In order to make a truly great tasting cup of coffee you are going to need freshly ground beans. Switching to fresh ground coffee is one of the simplest things you can do to take your coffee game to the next level.
Why is buying a coffee grinder so important? Let’s take a look at what makes freshly ground coffee so much better than the pre-ground stuff:
The freshness factor: The thing about coffee is that as soon as you grind it, it starts to go stale. That’s because once you grind it, the volatile oils and aromatics within the coffee beans become exposed and start to dissolve. The oils are precisely what give coffee that incredible depth and range of flavor, which is the last thing you want to lose.
By the time it has hit supermarket shelves and sat on there for a few weeks, or months even, it will have definitely gone stale. In order to really get the flavors out of your beans, you will want to have the freshest coffee grounds possible. That means grinding it just before brewing, as you will notice the flavor will have already begun to dissipate after as little as 10 minutes.
The right grind: What some people don’t realize is that every coffee method is optimized for a particular grind size. If you want optimum results, then you’re going to need to make sure you match up the grind size correctly with both your coffee machine and the brewing method.
Having your own grinder makes that process a lot simpler and allows you to experiment until you find the grind that best suits your taste. With a quality grinder you can get the beans exactly to your liking nearly every time.
Types of coffee grinders
What you will quickly notice when reading coffee grinder reviews is that there are two main types of grinders on the market. The best coffee grinder for your needs will depend on a number of different factors.
Let’s take a closer look at each type of grinder.
The blade grinder is your probably going to be your cheapest option on the market. You can generally find blade grinders for about $30 or less. While these are fine for basic use, they’re not going to give you the best results.
The way that they work is by chopping up your beans with a sharp metal blade. They basically work like small blenders and are very similar in terms of function and aesthetics. What you tend to get is a very simple, plastic machine with a pulse button.
As you can imagine, this type of machine does not give you a great deal of control over the grinding, so you end up with uneven results. While they may satisfy some coffee drinkers, particularly those that drink drip coffee, they are not very popular amongst most coffee aficionados.
Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of blade grinders:
- Budget friendly: If you’re really strapped for cash, then you might want to consider this less expensive option. However, I recommend saving up for a burr grinder if you’re really looking to up your coffee making game.
- Compact: These grinders tend to be quite small, so they will take up less room on your countertop and will be easier to store.
- Easy to clean: The small size and simple design means they are relatively easy to clean, as you only have the container and blade to worry about.
- Simple to use: Beginners love these types of grinders because they are so easy to operate. You just press the pulse button for a quick and easy grind. Some even come with a timer, making the process that much simpler.
- Uneven grind: The biggest fault with blade grinders is that it is very difficult to control the grind, so you end up with some beans that are left too large and others that are ground too finely.
- Inconsistent: You control the grind by pressing the pulse button, which makes it much more difficult to get it to the right grind every time. It can be very easy to grind it too fine or too coarse, particularly because the blades tend to rotate at a very high RPM. Of course, those with timers will help with this process, but you are still left with an uneven grind.
- Overheating: Since the blade grinders operate at such a high RPM, the speed causes a great deal of friction. This friction translates to heat, which can cause oxidation and affect the flavor and aroma of the coffee. One way to try and avoid this is to do short, quick bursts using the pulse button. However, that makes it much more difficult to control the end result.
- Measuring is a must: When you use a blade grinder, the beans are kept in the same bowl that they are ground in. This makes it more difficult to control portions, so you need to be careful to measure out the right amount of beans first. In order to get the same results every time, you need to make sure you always measure out the right amount.
For serious coffee drinkers, a burr coffee grinder is your best option. While these are more expensive than blade units, most people will agree that the extra expense is worth it to get the most precise grind.
Burr grinders consist of two burrs (revolving abrasive surfaces), which slowly crush the beans into small particles, rather than cutting them. The positioning of the burr can typically be adjusted, giving you control over the grind size.
Since they grind a few beans at a time, you end up with a much more even and consistent result. The added advantage with this method is that it doesn’t heat up the beans, so you don’t have to worry about it affecting the flavors.
While there are different types of grinders out there, here are some of the main differences between a blade and a burr grinder:
- Separate bean storage: Unlike with a blade grinder, the burr grinder contains a separate storage space known as a hopper. This funnel-shaped container is non-porous and air tight, storing your remaining beans between grinding sessions.
The added benefit of a separate storage area is that you don’t have to worry about measuring out the right amount of beans every time. That makes the whole process much faster and simpler.
- Coarseness settings: For true coarseness adjustment, you have to go with the burr option. Most burr grinders will allow you to adjust the mechanism itself, which will affect the size of the coffee ground. In essence, the closer you place to two burrs to each other, the finer the resulting grind.
While blade grinders may be described as having adjustable settings, this would refer to a timer feature. While this may affect how long your beans are ground for, it does not offer you the same amount of control over the end results.
The two main advantages of using burr grinders are that they offer you both precision and versatility. You can get just the grind you are after, which allows you to make a variety of different coffees. Use it to grind you coffee for any purpose, from Espressos, to Turkish style coffee or French Press.
Types of burr grinders
When looking for burr grinders you will come across two main types; the conical burrs and the wheel (also known as flat) burrs.
Wheel burrs: Wheel burrs are the less expensive of the two. They consist of two round grinding wheels that are serrated on the side that faces the other. The burrs spin more quickly, which is what causes them to vibrate and make more noise.
Ultimately, they tend to be less popular than the conical variety, since they are typically louder, messier and less consistent.
Conical burrs: Conical burrs tend to be larger and more expensive, but of a much higher quality. If you’re looking for the best coffee grinder, then you should be looking for a conical burr grinder.
The burrs in these grinders are cone shaped, with ridges that help to crush the coffee. They require a lower RPM, which helps you to achieve a much more even and consistent grind. It also means that they tend to be quieter and less messy.
Another added benefit is that they are less likely to clog up if you are using flavored or oily coffee beans. If you want to achieve a consistent grind, without having to keep messing around with the settings, then this is the best grinder for you.
Getting the right grind
If you want to get your coffee right, you need to make sure you grind your beans to the right size. As a general rule, the finer the coffee beans are ground, the stronger the resulting taste of your coffee will be.
Use our guide to find out which grind size best suits which brewing method:
Course: A course grind is similar to a heavy kosher salt or potting soil. Expect chunky and distinct coffee beans. These are ideally suited for the French press, plunger pot, toddy makers, vacuum coffee pot and percolator.
Medium: This feels more like very coarse sand, so expect more of a gritty texture with noticeable flakes. This grind is best for auto drip coffee makers that have a flat bottom filter.
Fine: This has a much smoother texture, a little finer than table salt. This is best for drip coffee makers with cone shaped filters or stove top espresso pots.
Extra fine: With this type of ground you’re looking at something a little finer than granular sugar, so the grains are barely discernable. It’s not quite as fine as powdered sugar, as you can still feel some grit, but it’s not far off. This grind is best for pump and steam espresso machines.
Turkish: Much like flour, this grind is very powdery with no grains. You will need a quality burr grinder to achieve this fine finish.
As you can see, the best coffee grinder for your needs will really depend on what kind of coffee ground you need and your preferred brewing method. If you are an espresso fan, then you need to invest in a high quality burr grinder that will be able to achieve a fine and consistent grind.
If, on the other hand, you are happy to end up with a course grind to be used with a French press, then a blade grinder might be sufficient to suit your needs. While they may take some time to get the hang of, they do tend to be the cheaper option.
Be prepared to invest a decent amount of money if you are looking for a quality grinder. Remember, sometimes the grinder can be just as important for achieving a great tasting cup of coffee as the coffee machine itself.