Coffee is a complex product. From growing the beans, to harvesting, washing, importing and roasting, there are many steps that are mostly out of your hands. But two important steps are completely under your control: how you grind your coffee and how you brew it. Let’s focus on coffee grinders.
Since grinding comes first, let’s start with how you can maximize the flavor of your beans and get them ready for the perfect cup!
There are five different types of coffee grinders: blade, conical burr, flat wheel burr, roller, and the traditional mortar and pestle. Most of these options are available in manual and electric versions.
Blade style coffee grinders
These types of coffee grinders uses a set of rotating blades, moving like a propeller to chop the beans into pieces. Blade grinders are cheap, widely available and popular because they are easy to use.
However, they have some disadvantages: Firstly, the only way to control how coarse or fine the beans are ground is to grind for a longer or shorter time. The longer the blades are rotating, the more fine the beans will be.
The problem here is that some beans will get chopped much more finely than others, and what comes out is a mix of coffee dust and chunks. To maximize the flavor when brewing your coffee, it’s important that the size of all coffee particles is as even as possible — otherwise smaller chunks will be over-extracted (making the coffee sour), while bigger chunks remain under-extracted (making the coffee watery and bland).
The second issue with blade coffee grinders is heat. Because the propeller gets hot, it triggers a chemical reaction in the beans that can change the flavor before the brewing has even started.
Conical Burr Coffee Grinders
Burr grinders don’t use blades. Instead, a stationary and a moving burr crushes the beans in the space between them. In conical burr grinders, the two burrs have a conical shape that lets gravity pull the beans into the mill.
This mechanism has significant advantages: Unlike with blade coffee grinders, every bean runs through the mill only once and is crushed into evenly sized pieces. Moreover, the burrs stay much cooler than blades, so the flavor of the beans remains unaltered. Conical burr grinders come in electric and manual versions. Manual burr coffee grinders are ideal for office use and travel, because they are compact and fairly light. Electric burr grinders are more convenient, but a bit more expensive and often noisy.
If you like the idea of grinding your beans by hand classic-style on a calm Saturday morning, a manual grinder may be the perfect choice. For those of us who are struggling to keep their eyes open after rolling out of bed, the ease of an electric burr grinder easily justifies the higher price.
Flat wheel burr coffee grinders
Instead of a conical shape, flat burr coffee grinders use two flat burrs to crush the beans.
Advantages are an extremely even grind; however, the flat shape also means that ground beans get stuck more easily and have to be thoroughly cleaned more often.
Again, both manual and electric versions are available, with the same strengths and weaknesses as mentioned above.
Mortar and Pestle
For the ultimate manual-only experience, this method takes you back to the basics. Needless to say, using a mortar and pestle to evenly grind your coffee is a challenge, and it requires considerable skill and patience.
But besides the aesthetic pleasure of preparing your coffee in the most classic way, the extremely fine grind level is this method’s big advantage. If you love a preparation style like Turkish coffee — where the hot water is poured directly on grounds as fine as powder — a mortar and pestle may be the grinding tool of choice for you.
(However, make sure you have a dedicated mortar that’s only used for coffee; using the same mortar and pestle for spices and beans will immediately taint the flavor.)
In a roller grinder, the beans are ground between pairs of corrugated rollers. This mechanism produces a very even grind. Although, you’re not likely to use it at home: Due to their high cost and size, roller grinders are mostly used by commercial and industrial coffee producers.
Which Style of Coffee Grinders is Best for You?
Even though there are plenty of options to grind coffee beans, most people will be served well with one of the two most popular solutions: A blade coffee grinder that is affordable to buy and works well despite some disadvantages, or a conical burr coffee grinder that is more expensive (if electric) but very convenient and consistent.
If price is an issue, a manual conical burr coffee grinder is the better choice over a lessor expensive electric blade coffee grinder. Manually grinding the beans for a couple cups of coffee takes only a few minutes, and a more even grind is well worth the labor. Take a look at the options we have on offer and give it a try!
If you are currently buying pre-ground beans, either option will significantly improve the flavor of your coffee — really, you will be amazed!