By James Gallagher for Steampunk Coffee
If you want to have the best experience tasting your coffee, investing in a grinder is crucial.
I started brewing coffee at home with pre-ground coffee, which was ground at the roaster from which I ordered the coffee. This approach was advantageous to me at the time because when I got my Aeropress, my first home brewing device, I did not purchase a grinder. Having my coffee ground for me was easier and cut down the time it took me to make a cup of coffee. After deciding to participate in a Steampunk Coffee cupping, I realised that I would need a grinder, which led me to purchase my Hario Mini Mill. I immediately noticed my coffee tasted better and I have not once thought about going back to pre-ground coffee.
Why should I grind coffee myself? Should I choose an electric or hand grinder? What should I look for in a coffee grinder? Those are the questions I am going to answer in this guide. I will stay focused on grinding coffee for beginners because grinders can get quite complicated.
Why You Should Grind Coffee Yourself
Grinding coffee yourself offers two main advantages: added freshness (and thus better flavour), and the ability to mess around with grind settings.
Coffee does not last forever. After coffee has been roasted, the coffee will slowly decline in potential; a few months after buying a bag, you will notice that some of the flavours that were there at the start are no longer there. Coffee degrades quicker once it is ground because ground coffee has a greater surface area than whole beans. Within less than half an hour of grinding coffee, the coffee will start to change. You may not be able to notice the difference but good coffee that was ground days ago definitely does not taste as fresh as coffee ground moments ago. In short, if you want to have the best experience tasting your coffee, investing in a grinder is a good call.
Having a grinder also lets you change your grind setting. This is important because there is no universal "correct" grind setting for any brewer or coffee. To get the most out of your beans, you will need a bit of wiggle room when it comes to the grind. If you buy pre-ground coffee, you have to depend on the roaster grinding the coffee to the right size. Often, you will find the size is not optimal. Even if the size is right -- and I have had many pre-ground coffees which have met my needs, do not get me wrong -- you do not have the opportunity to see how the coffee might brew at a different grind size.
Electric vs. Hand Grinders
When you start researching grinders, you will notice that you can get both electric and hand grinders. Good hand grinders are sold at a lower price point than most good electric grinders, meaning hand grinders can be an excellent entry-point to grinding one's own coffee. I used a Hario Mini Mill, a hand grinder that cost less than 30 pounds, before I decided to upgrade to an electric grinder. Electric grinders may be more expensive but they have their benefits.
Let's talk about the work you need to put in when grinding coffee. With an electric grinder, all you will need to do is turn a switch or press a button to start grinding your coffee. Hand grinders, on the other hand, do require effort. This effort is not a big deal to many: hand grinders are very popular and there is plenty of choice when it comes to buying one. But if you are grinding coffee for multiple cups, or if you are doing a home cupping, having a hand grinder can be less than ideal. You will need to spend quite a bit of time grinding, not to mention the energy you will expend.
My electric grinder has seen me through many cuppings, making coffee for two people, and making many coffees in the space of a day without having to use my having to think about grinding my coffee. Although, I am going back to a hand grinder for espresso: a great hand grinder capable of grinding to an acceptable size for espresso is much cheaper than a lot of the comparable electric grinders.
If you are new to brewing at home, I would recommend trying a hand grinder first so that you can see whether you think the difference in taste between pre-ground and freshly ground coffee matters to you. If you enjoy freshly ground coffee more -- and I am sure you will! -- then you may want to consider upgrading later on. I spent months drinking pre-ground coffee before I got a hand grinder. I upgraded to an electric grinder months later.
What To Look for in a Grinder
Choosing a grinder to use at home can be a simple decision if you are just getting started but there are still a few questions you should ask yourself when picking a grinder. If you are thinking about buying a coffee grinder for your home, ask yourself these questions:
- How much am I willing to pay for a grinder? I'd recommend setting a low budget if you are new to speciality coffee. There are some very expensive grinders on the market and while a lot of expensive grinders are excellent a beginner could easily make do with something a lot cheaper.
- Is the grinder a burr grinder? Burr grinders are vastly superior to blade grinders for coffee brewing. Whereas blade grinders usually result in an inconsistent grind, burr grinders are capable of grinding to specific settings which means your grind can be more uniform. More uniform grinds tend to result in a better cup of coffee.
- Is a grinder suitable for my brewing method? Some grinders are designed specifically for espresso whereas others cover a wide range of brewing methods, such as filter coffee, French press, and Chemex.
- What reputation does a grinder have? There are many coffee grinder reviews online, both for electric and hand grinders. Before I chose my electric grinder, I did some research and found the Encore had an excellent reputation for filter coffee, which at the time was my main need. Before I bought my hand espresso grinder, I watched some reviews and researched the grinder on Google to make sure the grinder met my needs.
For your first coffee grinder, there is no need to overthink the decision. You can always invest in a more expensive or fancier grinder further down the road. It's best to upgrade to a new grinder when you understand your needs a bit more, which may change depending on how serious you get about brewing coffee at home.
One good way to find a coffee grinder is to ask someone you know who brews specialty coffee or even a roaster from whom you buy coffee. In my experience, there are many coffee roasters who are willing to answer questions about coffee and their products. Coffee roasters can give some excellent advice when it comes to brewing coffee at home.
The Bottom Line
Having an electric grinder for filter coffee brewing has massively sped up my workflow. I can now grind my coffee while I do something else, like preheat my mug or set up my brewing apparatus. I also do not need to expend energy grinding manually, which I am not always in the mood to do. With that said, I love hand grinders: they are an excellent entry point for new brewers and there are many more professional models for more seasoned brewers.
If you do not already have a grinder at home and you have been brewing speciality coffee for a while, I'd recommend investing in a grinder, even if you buy an entry-level model like the Mini Mill. Grinding coffee at home was a cheap way to level up my brewing toward the start of my journey making coffee at home.
Contributed by James Gallagher, a home brewer and coffee enthusiast. View his excellent blog at jamesg.blog