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Buy the Best Coffee Grinder

Capresso® Infinity Black Conical Burr Grinder

If you want to make the best coffee at home, there's no getting around it: you need to start with good beans of high quality. Whole-bean coffee -- the freshest you can get, ground right before brewing -- will give you the best results, whether your brewing method of choice is an espresso machine, an Aeropress, or just a good old-fashioned drip coffee maker. That also means that you're going to need the right grind for your brewing method, and to get that, you'll need the right coffee grinder.


Getting Started: A Few Essentials

Let's assume you've already got your coffee. If you haven't, head over to our online shop and get a bag of our Madison Ave Medium Roast whole bean coffee. Go on, we'll wait. Next, consider your brewing method. This is important because the optimal grind is going to be different for each, and using the wrong grinds doesn't just give you a sub-optimal cup of coffee, but also wastes perfectly good beans. The grind types, from finest to most coarse:
  • Extra Fine Grind: Best for Greek and Turkish coffee. The texture of the beans is that of a fine powder.
  • Fine Grind: This is used for espresso machines or for stovetop espresso makers like the Moka Pot. The texture is not unlike corn meal; it's fine, but there's more of a granular texture.
  • Medium-Fine Grind: This is ideal for pourover cones like the Melitta, Kalita, or Clever Coffee Dripper. It also works well in siphon brewers and vacuum pots.
  • Medium Grind: This is close to what you're used to if you currently buy an "all-purpose grind." It's meant for drip pots and coffee makers.
  • Medium-Coarse Grind: Most often used in a Chemex or Cafe Solo, a medium-coarse grind starts to show larger pieces of the roasted bean.
  • Coarse Grind: If you have a French Press, or if you're in the habit of cupping, a coarse grind works best.
  • Extra-Coarse Grind: This is the preferred grind for cold brewing coffee, whether you're putting grinds and coffee in a jar overnight, or using a more sophisticated method like the Toddy Brewer.

You'll notice that there's a wide variation in grind types. If the right grind is going to influence the taste of your coffee (and it does), then the right grinding method makes a substantial difference.

Blade Grinder vs. Burr Grinder

While coffee can be pounded (either in a mortar and pestle or by some other means) or rolled (as tends to be done in commercial grinding), home users are more likely to rely on other methods. There are, broadly speaking, two main types of grinders. The first of these is a blade grinder, which uses one or two high-RPM blades to grind coffee. These are the first grinders that many people buy when they first start buying whole-bean coffee. They're compact, they're quick, they're common, and they're cheap. However, they do come with significant downsides. They're much harder to control for grind size, they don't grind the beans uniformly, and their higher rate of speed typically means that they're heating the beans slightly as they're ground, which alters the taste.

That brings us to the burr grinder. Burr grinders typically use a wheel or conical grinding element that crushes the beans at slow speed. This releases the oils in the beans (leading to better extraction), but also keeps heat to a minimum (which leads to better taste). The advantage is a degree of uniformity and control that literally isn't possible on a blade grinder. The end result is better, more uniform extraction, as well as better taste.

The drawback to burr grinders is generally their price. While some hand grinders, like the Hario Hand Grinder, retail for roughly the same as the better class of blade grinders, you'll need time and elbow grease to grind a batch, especially if you're grinding enough for a larger coffee maker (and if you've got arthritis, your joints will be protesting). Electric grinders range from $200 for a good low-wattage grinder for home use, all the way to $1,500 and up for commercial-grade grinders that offer fine control of grind size, and whose motors are measured in horsepower (!) rather than watts. A good grinder -- the right grinder -- doesn't come cheap. However, if you're serious about your coffee, you know that good beans aren't cheap either. A good grinder is an investment that pays off over time, and also ensures that you're getting good taste on the beans you're spending good money for.

Supplemental Reading:

I Need Coffee has a good visual comparison of coffee grind types: Gear Patrol has a good overview of some of the better grinders currently available: If you prefer video to words, here's an overview of grinders from the Home Goods Diva