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Coffee Grinder Basics

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 28, 2011 at 11:35 AM
Related Categories: Grinder Guides

It’s interesting that while coffee lovers are more than willing to spend a lot of money on expensive coffee machines, they forego the grinder, or plan its purchase at a later date. It's equally intriguing that people will spend a lot of their hard earned money buying some of the most exotic and freshest high-quality coffee beans, fresh roasted the day they bought them, and yet get the beans ground at the micro-roastery because they don't have a quality grinder at home. Don’t get me wrong, a reliable brewer and quality beans are necessary for great espresso, but unless those beans are being ground properly and freshly, you’re really missing out on your coffee’s potential.

“Okay,” you say, “I need a grinder. But that’s easy. A grinder’s a grinder’s a grinder, right?" Well, not exactly. First off, there are two different types of grinders – blade and burr – each of which functions differently and is compatible with different types of brewing methods.

Blade Grinders

A blade grinder consists of a small barrel-shaped grinding chamber with a sharp metal blade that spins at a very high and consistent rate of speed. It pulverizes the coffee bean repeatedly until the desired consistency is reached. The fineness of the grounds is determined by the length of time the cutting blades are spinning. These grinders can be found in virtually every department store and kitchen supply shop, as well as most supermarkets.

One of the prime benefits of blade grinders is the low purchase price, but their disadvantage is the lack of uniformity of the coffee grinds they produce. As a blade grinder continues to grind, more powder and irregular shapes are formed. When the grinder is turned off, dust or powder can be seen around the edges, while chunks of varying sizes will be in the center. This can pose quite a problem if you’re brewing with a French press or espresso machine, because their filters will let very fine grinds through and produce a grainy cup. That’s why blade grinders are more commonly used with drip coffee makers, whose paper filters prevent these tiny particles from passing through.

Even with this negative aspect, freshly ground coffee from a blade grinder will be better than store-bought pre-ground coffee that may have been sitting on the shelf for a long time. If your budget won't allow for a burr grinder, consider a blade grinder as a temporary step in your elevation to quality coffee.

Burr Grinders

The burr grinding design and method is the most recommended way for grinding coffee, ideal for almost any brewing application depending on the individual grinder’s range of grind fineness. When shopping for a burr grinder, it is necessary to make sure that the grinder has the capability to grind as finely as you need – some grinders are more compatible with French press and drip coffee brewing than they are with espresso brewing. On Aabree’s website, the range of capability for each grinder is listed in the product’s description, as well as in the specifications in our Compare Products section, so you’ll easily be able to find out which grinder will work for you.

A burr grinder strips off slivers from the coffee bean, exposing the cellular wall structure and providing a lot of surface area for the water to extract all that coffee goodness from. Burr grinders also produce a lot less heat in the grounds when compared to a blade grinder, which helps to preserve the aromatics and oils that promote great tasting coffee. In the coffee lover's mind, there is little doubt that a burr-based grinder offers a much better grind consistency and quality compared to the results from a blade-based grinder.

Burr grinders come in two basic formats for the consumer and light commercial market - a flat open hole disk known as a "flat burr", and a cone shaped layout known as a "conical burr". Both feature two metal parts - a top and a bottom. Only one of the two parts actually revolves, while the other remains stationary.

With either conical or flat burr grinders, the coffee bean falls from the bean hopper through a chute into the grinding chamber inside the machine (gravity provides the push here). Here they are milled into a uniform size. The distance between the spinning disk or cone and the stationary cutting surface determines the size of the grounds. When you adjust the coffee grinder's fineness setting, you are actually adjusting the height between the two metal parts that make up the cutting surfaces of your grinder. The closer they are, the finer the grind.

Finely, I Understand.

What do I hope you take away from this guide? Keep getting that fresh roasted coffee. Keep researching the market, magazine articles, friends' opinions, and informational websites about what the best espresso machine or coffee-brewing device is for your price budget. But also learn that a grinder must be part of this budget, at least if you’re seeking the best possible cup of coffee or the richest, sweetest shot of espresso. Move the grinder up to the head of the class, and make it the star of your quest for a rich, full, and satisfying beverage experience.

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