Grinders :: Revisited

One of the most common questions that we encounter here at Clive is whether or not investing in a quality grinder will improve your overall coffee experience. A grinder’s benefit is sometimes forgotten in the excitement of a new espresso machine or coffee maker, plus the array of grinder options can make it difficult to make a decision. We feel that it’s worth spending a bit of time understanding the basics before buying a grinder. The grinder you choose, after all, will be a daily companion for many years to come, and you do not want to be burdened by an uneducated buying decision.

In your research, you will find that multi-purpose grinders such as the Breville Smart Grinder, Baratza Virtuoso, or the all-manual Hario Skerton are well suited for a variety of brewing methods, whereas a dedicated espresso grinder such as the MACAP or Mazzer Mini are much more specific in application. With such a large marketplace, understanding your favored brewing process and pairing it with the right product is possibly the most important step in achieving your desired cup.

While we certainly don’t expect you to fully acquaint yourself with all of the technical details of your equipment, we do hope to help guide your understanding of the options available to you so that you can avoid having to reinvest in 5 or 10 years because you chose “too little” or “too much” of a grinder.  Just as a  blade grinder is not a good match for an espresso machine, the Mazzer Mini would not be a good match for a drip brewer.

You will notice that we have decided to offer only burr grinders. Uniformity of the grind is perhaps the most crucial element in achieving a full and sweet cup of coffee, and a blade grinder simply does not offer the finesse needed to bring out the subtle flavors found in coffee. Blade grinders chop beans into unevenly sized particles. Burr grinders both cut and crush uniformly. In the case of espresso extraction, where even the smallest of changes in grind can have drastic affects, a burr grinder is an absolute necessity. For other brewing methods, burr ground coffee provides more body and character to the finished cup. Not every grinder is the same, however, and the nuances of each will lend you a different result.

Conical Vs. Flat

Conical burrs have a greater cutting surface than flat burrs and can therefore rotate at a slower speed. Slower grinding speeds will not only reduce noise, but will also reduce issues with heat and static buildup in the grinding and dosing chamber. Coffee is very sensitive to heat, and it is possible to “bake” your coffee if your burrs are excessively worn or if the cutting surface is too small for the amount you are grinding.  Static also promotes channeling and bitterness in espresso due to grinds clumping. Conical grinders are also thought to produce a tighter and more uniform grind by crushing the bean rather than shearing it, which can cause an unwanted abundance of very fine channeling particles.  This design of conical burrs, however, make them much more expensive and difficult to produce.

The primary difference that you will find is number of adjustments allowed by each grinder, and your need will vary depending on how you wish to use it. For most home users, 10 to 40 adjustment settings will be plenty, especially for a Technivorm brewer or French press. However, if you are considering pulling espresso as well as brewing in, say, a press, it would make sense to think ahead and purchase a grinder that has the capability to do both. Conical, doserless grinders such as Baratza’s Virtuoso Preciso or Vario models allow the user to adjust the grind for all brewing devices with a macro-adjustment lever, and then fine tune for espresso with an extra set of micro-adjustments. These let the user fine-tune shots from day to day as the beans off-gas from roast and as humidity in the kitchen fluctuates. Surprisingly enough, this can have a big impact on your espresso pull. Of course, this adaptability is evident in the price, but the investment will pay off handsomely in both the quality of your coffee and in your peace of mind.

A grinder’s physical make is also an important element to take into consideration. Metal components generally need to be maintained less often and provide a sturdier build than plastic. In addition, ceramic burrs, do not dull, grind cooler than steel and have increasingly becoming a more affordable option for home use. The Baratza Vario, for example, now offers burrs manufactured by Mahlkonig to a high standard of professional quality and durability. Conical ceramic burrs can even be found in the compact and lightweight Hario Skerton Hand Coffee Mill!

One final point: When in doubt, come visit our showroom or give us a call. Our goal at Clive is to match you with the equipment that will best achieve your goals at home. Whether you wish to perfect your espresso or conquer the timeless art of the pour-over, we’re here to help you every step along the way.