Buying Guide: The Best Coffee Grinders For You

The authors of The New Cooks' Catalogue certainly know what to look for when choosing cooking equipment. These leading culinary experts have been evaluating cooking equipment for over 25 years. The following information is what they consider important when selecting a coffee grinder.

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What to Look For

  • The ideal coffee grinder should produce an evenly textured grind and very little coffee "dust"--burr mills accomplish this better than blade grinders.
  • A grinder with a wide range of adjustments, from ultrafine to coarse is useful in a household that uses more than one type of coffee maker----both a French press and an electric drip machine for example.
  • The flavorful oils of coffee evaporate when the beans are heated so the grinding process should not heat the beans. Burr mills keep beans cooler than blade grinders.
  • A large hopper that can hold enough beans for a full pot in your coffee maker is practical and the grinder's design should allow for easy removal of the grounds.
  • The oils left in the grinder can turn rancid if they accumulate over time, so the machine must be easy to clean.

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Why You Should Grind Your Own

If you care about good coffee, you must care about grinding. Matching the right grind of coffee beans to your particular brewing method achieves the correct "extraction of soluble solids" which makes one cup of coffee full-bodied and flavorful and another weak as dishwater, or muddy and bitter. Delicious results depend on an ideal ratio of time to grind--that is, the shorter the brewing time, the finer the grind must be for a flavorful, balanced extraction.

Espresso, for example, requires a very fine, almost powdery grind because it has a brewing time of 30 seconds or less. Conversely, plunger-pot coffee, in which the grounds steep in water for a full 4 to 6 minutes, demands a very coarse grind. Medium grinds work best for various kinds of drip or percolated coffee.

To ensure the best brew, buy freshly roasted beans and grind them just before you need them. Grinding at home also gives you the freedom to experiment with different blends and to make coffee by various methods. You can custom-grind for each one so that what ends up in your cup will please your taste buds. After all, there are few good things in life you can count on--a fine cup of coffee should be one of them.

Burr Mills

Burr mills (also called burr grinders) use metal plates or stones to grind a few coffee beans at a time, working on the same principle used to grind grain. Hand-cranked burr mills are still produced, but unless you have plenty of time or don't use electricity, today’s wide range of press-a-button machines are much more practical.

Simply put beans into a hopper, set a knob for the desired consistency, and turn on the machine. The hopper sends a controlled amount of beans onto two metal plates, one of which is stationary. When the other turns, a series of grooves snag and grind the beans into evenly sized granules, which are then sent into a removable container.

Burr mills can produce a consistent, uniform grind of beans regardless of how many or few beans you feed it, or which of the different grind settings you choose. This means that you end up with an even bed of ground coffee for hot water to pass through; there’s no coffee dust to trap the liquid, or coarse particles to form channels that make the water drip too fast.

Another benefit of burr mills is that they generate little heat during the grinding process, so the beans stay cool, preventing the loss of flavorful aromatics that otherwise evaporate when exposed to heat. Burr mills can be costly, especially the top-rated models, but they’re well worth the investment.

Blade Grinders

These small, canister-shaped gizmos are essentially bean choppers. Comprised of a motorized base and a metal container on top, you place the beans inside the container, cover it with the fitted lid, and press down on the top or on a button to activate the propeller-like blades; the beans are chopped by the blades until you stop pressing.

Chopping beans, rather than milling them, results in granules that vary in size, from coarse and rocky at the top of the container to fine and dusty beneath the blades. When brewing, the dust can dam up the works, slowing the passage of water so that it extracts too many bitter compounds. The oversize granules do the opposite, creating sluices for water to pass through too quickly, preventing it from picking up the soluble solids that constitute a good cup of coffee.

Blade grinders produce between 12 and 21 tablespoons of ground coffee depending on their bean capacity. If you use a full 2 tablespoons of coffee per cup as recommended, this may not be enough for an entire pot. Other drawbacks of the blade grinders include the heat which is often created by chopping, hastening the escape of flavorful aromatics, plus the guesswork involved in knowing the quantity of beans to use and when to stop pressing. However, they are fast, easy and can be had for a fraction of the price of burr mills.

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