Grinder Primer - Grinders 101

Buying fresh roasted coffee is a good start but if you want the best out of your high-quality beans, you need to invest in a good grinder.  Not only is it a pleasure to smell the aroma of freshly ground beans, your beans will stay as fresh as possible if you grind right before brewing.  Grinding your own coffee also allows for control over the grind size.  The particle size of the grinds can affect the flavor of your brew massively.  By adjusting the grind size, you can fine tune the taste of your coffee.  This can be a complex subject but let's talk about one simple example.   If you’re brewing in a drip coffee maker or pour over, you can change the amount of time it takes the water to get through the grinds by changing the grind size.   The finer the grind the longer the brew time.   Longer brew times will give the coffee a darker/earthy flavor with lower acidity.   If you grind more coarsely, then the brew time will be less.   This will provide a lighter flavor with more acidity which will make the coffee livelier.  The best cup is normally somewhere in the middle, but this can change from one coffee to another.  Having a grinder that you can adjust allows you to dial in the grind for the best flavor or your personal preference.   

There are many types of grinders out there.   Some are good and some are bad.   So let's get the bad ones out of the way.   

Just Say No to Blade Grinders!  A blade grinder, sometimes called a bullet grinder, is good enough for spices but should be avoided for making good coffee.  The biggest issue with a blade grinder is consistency.  The contact between the beans and blade is random.  Grinding the beans to a consistent particle size is not possible or repeatable.  You'll will never be able to dial in the right grind size this way so it’s best to just avoid these grinders.   

Burr Grinders are what you want.   A burr grinder has 2 burrs (serrated conical or flat plates made from hardened steel or ceramic) that have an adjustable distance between the burrs.  When the beans pass between these burrs, the distance will determine how fine or coarse the grinds are.  This allows you to set the grind level and get a consistent result.  Fine tuning the grind will allow you to get the best flavor from your beans.   

There are many types of burr grinders and they can range in price from $20 to many thousands.  Since this is a Grinder Primer, let’s go over the main types.  I will suggest a few to consider that I have tested on Amazon.  If you buy one from Amazon, please use my links here as it will benefit my store a little.   

Manual Burr Grinders - As the name states, these are burr grinders you have to operate by hand.  Manual Burr Grinders are normally less expensive although there are some high-end ones that cost more than electric grinders.  They are also portable and easy to store.  We use one in our Airstream when camping.  The drawback is that it will require some elbow grease. I know that can be a lot to ask first thing in the morning.  If you’re doing 1 or 2 cups of coffee, it's not too bad.  But if you’re looking to make a pot, it's going to be a lot of work.  Other than being small, easy to store, and portable for travel, another reason for investing in a manual grinder is as a backup to your primary electric burr grinder.   It’s good if you have a decent electric burr grinder.  However most have hoppers.  If you want to say, have a little decaf, or a different coffee other than what's already in the hopper of your main grinder, then having a manual grinder can provide a convenient way of grinding the other coffee without having to empty your main grinder's hopper.    

Manual Burr Grinder - Hario Plus Mini-Slim Ceramic Burr Coffee Mill 


The Hario is small and light and is great as a travel grinder.  This is a new version with many refinements.  They have been making this grinder for a long time.  It has a ceramic burr set and will provide many years of service.  However it does take some elbow grease.  There are cheaper hand grinders on Amazon but this is the one I have owned and can vouch for.  



Electric Burr Grinders - Most electric burr grinders have a hopper above the burrs for the whole beans, and a collection jar below for the ground coffee to be captured in.  Often, higher end grinders will be specialized for either Espresso or everything else like drip, pour over, and French press.  This is because good espresso requires a a very fine and very consistent grind.  Also, it takes effort to dial in the grind for espresso.  Once done, it's not a setting you want to change until dialing in is needed again.  There are grinders built for dual purpose that can do both, but they will not be as good as a dedicated grinder.  For this primer, we will deal with your general-purpose grinder for drip, pour over, French press, etc…  While it's always best to weigh your beans (another primer to come on that), most electric grinders will have a timer.  Some even have built-in scales that will grind the amount of coffee needed for your brew routine.  Here are a few electric burr grinders to consider. 

Best Value Electric Burr Grinder - Mr. Coffee Automatic Burr Mill Coffee Grinder


Premium Electric Burr Grinder -  Baratza Forte AP (All-Purpose) Ceramic Flat Burr Commercial Coffee Grinder


The Baratza Forte AP (All-Purpose) Ceramic Flat Burr Commercial Coffee Grinder

is a workhouse grinder that could be at home in a café, or a coffee connoisseur’s kitchen.  Its price is high and I am a little embarrassed to say I own one of these.  But you get what you pay for and I expect to get many, many years of service out of it.  It's fast, relatively quiet, and very consistent.  One of the coolest features is a built-in scale so you can pre-program 3 different weights.  When you hit the button, you get exactly the right amount of coffee ground fast.  It also comes with a portafilter holder and does a good job with espresso.  However, I use mine for pour over.  I have a dedicated grinder for espresso.   

There are many other options out there but any of these listed here will get you well on your way to becoming a fellow coffee snob.  If you’re not grinding your own coffee, or only have a bullet grinder, they will definitely improve your brew.   

Thanks for reading!  If you have further questions, you can respond below or send me an email. 

Chris - Master Roaster - Rivet Coffee 

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