What is the quickest way to improve the quality of your coffee
or espresso-based beverage? It's the use of a quality coffee grinder
to grind your coffee "fresh" immediately prior to use.
The keyword here is "quality coffee grinder."
Quality in a coffee grinder can be evaluated on several attributes
or variables. These include:
- Materials utilized for the structural integrity of the grinder
- Type of grinding mechanism
- Resultant precision/consistency of the grind fineness
- Range of grind settings
- Finest grind result
- Dispensing feature
- Matching grinder with espresso machine
Materials utilized for the structural integrity of the grinder - The majority of grinders built for the domestic (home) market
are manufactured with ABS plastic. Although the ABS plastic does
not maintain the structural integrity of a metal frame/metal body
grinder, the ABS plastic allows for a wider variety of colors
that would not chip and are resistant to rust from water that
exists in the kitchen of a home espresso bar. The ABS plastic
grinders also allow for easy storage into the cabinet or pantry/closet.
With a metal frame/metal body grinder, the heavier weight would
not allow the grinder to move during operation and the grinder
would less likely be moved to an "out of sight, out of mind"
cabinet. Therefore, greater use would hopefully occur. Another
material utilized in grinders is wood. Wood is primarily used
in hand grinders. Although used for aesthetics, quality wood construction
can offer many years of useful life. Although the structural integrity
of a grinder is an important attribute to consider, it is not
the most important - maybe second or third in level of importance.
Type of grinding mechanism -
This is a very important attribute. The grinding mechanism will
be directly related to the outcome of the next four variables
for a coffee grinder. There are two types of grinding mechanisms:
blade and burr. More information on these two types should be
Grinders vs. Burr Grinders
Resultant precision/consistency of the grind fineness - This is the MOST important attribute of a coffee grinder. A quality
grinder MUST be able to grind the coffee beans with precision
so that the coffee grind is consistent. Consistency of the coffee
grind is required for maximum and proper flavor extraction. The
reason is simple. You just have ground 2-3 ounces of freshly roasted
coffee beans for drip coffee or you grind 14 grams of coffee beans
for espresso. The grind is not consistent throughout the 2-3 ounces
or 14 grams. The result would be an un-even extraction. In drip
machines, water is dripped over the coffee grinds in the basket.
In water is forced through the coffee grind at 131 psi (pounds
per square inch). In both cases, the water will extract the solubles
to form a good cup of coffee or a decent shot of espresso. However,
your grind was not consistent. The reason is that the water (when
dripped over the coffee coffee in a drip coffee maker or forced
through the coffee grind in an espresso machine) would find the
path of least resistance. In other words, the water would channel
a path where it would find a coarser grind as the finer coffee
grind creates more resistance. With a consistent and precise coffee
grind, the resistance would be equal throughout the 2-3 ounces
or 14 grams of coffee in the aforementioned scenarios. An equal
extraction of the ground cup will result in a superior cup of
coffee or superior pull of espresso.
Range of grind settings - If you exclusively grind for espresso, or for drip, or for press
pot (French press), then this would NOT be an important attribute.
However, if you need to grind for multiple extraction methods,
then this is "somewhat" important to find a grinder
that can be a little more accomodating. Usually, a grinder with
a greater number of settings will offer one of two scenarios.
First, it could allow very high precision of changing the grind
fineness. In other words, a one click setting change can make
a minute difference (even to the naked eye) in the grind fineness.
Or, it can allow a wide range of grind fineness to accomodate
the different extraction methods for coffee preparation. We have
found that the majority of grinders with a greater number of settings
usually fit the latter category.
Great, a grinder with a greater number of settings is desirable.
Well, not really. We feel that this is ok, but it does pose a
problem with the precision/consistency attribute mentioned above.
When you start widely changing grind settings on a grinder, you
end up mixing the coarser grind with the finer grind or vice versa.
In other words, immediately after the change in grind fineness,
you have an INconsitent grind.
Finest grind result -
This is a very important attribute for espresso and turkish coffee
extraction methods. In both these cases, a very, very fine grind
is needed. There are many grinders that can not grind fine enough
for these applications, and the grinders that fit this category
are usually priced under $149 (from our research). Grinders priced
$149 or above are usually designed to produce a very fine grind
with consistency. Although a very fine grind is not important
for drip coffee methods, it is EXTREMELY important for espresso
and turkish coffee preparation methods.
Changing Grind Settings is a Requirement -
Based on the above attributes, a good quality grinder allows the user to change settings. First, coffee beans are grown on a tree. From year to year, the hardness and water density of the bean can change from harvest to harvest or from year to year. Second, the beans can be roasted in different seasons - this can impact the hardness and water denisty of the beans. Finally, the humidity level when grinding and age of the grinder's burrs can impact the end result in the cup. For the three aforementioned reasons, a good grinder is needed. When buying preground, some customers complain that the espresso is too fast or too slow. the main reason is that the supplier recenetly changed the burrs and did not compensate the setting for the new burrs. Thus, the grind becomes finer than usual. As the burrs age (in less than a month), the grinder grinds coarser and thus the flow can be too fast. We have customer who experienced the above with preground coffee too many times. With a good quality grinder on hand, the user can make adjustments to compensate for the aforementioned coffee bean changes. Sometimes a user can go a full year without changing the setting, but there will be a day when the setting has to be changed as no one knows if any of those changes occurred during harvest, roasting, or grinding (from a pre-ground coffee supplier).
Dispensing feature -
Once the coffee beans are ground, where does the ground coffee
go? In most cases, it ends up in the catch bin (a.k.a. ground
coffee bin). In some espresso grinders, the ground coffee beans
exit the grinding chamber into what we call a doser. This is the
apparatus that portions the ground coffee and is dosed into the
espresso machine's filter handle. These dosers are suitable for
customers preferring the grinder's doser to portion the coffee
instead of using the handheld scoop. We have some customers who
prefer the espresso grinder's doser so they may portion their
coffee for drip by placing the filter basket right underneath
the doser. As far as importance, the doser feature is a "nice-to-have",
but not a must have.
Some newer models of espresso grinders today allow the dispensing
of ground coffee directly into the drip coffee maker's filter
basket or espresso machine's filter handle. these are known as doserless or 'on-demand' coffee grinds. You can read more and see examples here on doserless vs doser coffee grinders.
Matching grinder with espresso machine - Most customers ask how much should be spent on an espresso coffee grinder. Our general rule of thumb is that 30-50% of the espresso machine's price is a good amount to match the grinder with the espresso machine. Just some examples...