Throughout the world, gourmet coffee drinkers go to great lengths to obtain the ‘perfect’ coffee bean grinder to pair to their coffee maker. Whether in a commercial establishment or the home kitchen, the grind of coffee beans is crucial to a flavorful cup of coffee. Of the many features of that perfect grinder, the following five may help the connoisseur determine the best grinder to suit their needs. There are many choices, but finding a quality grinder will provide you many years of satisfaction.
Due to the growing popularity of designer coffee bars, today’s generation is growing up drinking coffee instead of breakfast, with lunch, from vending machines at work, in conference rooms, and getting it free at grocery stores. With so much to compare it to, the home kitchen must now include a state of the art appliance for grinding beans for designer brews and espresso.
Commercial coffee grinders and high-end residential ones offer a feature not found in the smaller grinders, and that is a larger hopper for ground bean storage. A coffee bean grinder with a hopper that can store at least eight ounces of beans for an entire day’s coffee needs is a convenient plus. Another consideration is the static electricity that burrs generate when grinding, causing grounds to cling to the interior of the hopper. Some brands offer glass parts instead, making static electricity less of a nuisance. The brand of coffee however has much to do with static. Using a dry roasted (less oily) brand such as Lavazza or Gaggia will help to reduce static.
Burrs vs. Blades
The efficiency of a coffee maker depends on the design of the grinder and its capabilities. Less expensive blade grinders are often the choice of the average household. They can grind coffee beans adequately and, like little windmills, they keep on spinning and grinding until they get turned off. The always-late-out-the-door types who only get that ‘one big gulp’ before dashing off to work usually see no need for elaborate grinders when they live off the brewed coffee at work.
In both cost and performance, burr grinders would be considered an upgrade from residential blade grinders because of the heavier-duty mechanisms and precision operation. Burr grinders also last longer, often because they only grind the coffee once (and do it right) before dropping it into the storage hopper. Unlike the constant contact a blade grinder experiences with the entire quantity of coffee beans being ground, any wear on a burr grinder happens during the relatively brief grinding session on the small amount of beans allowed between the burrs at one time.
Conical burr grinders provide the highest consistency grind, and one that many dedicated coffee consumers insist on for their ‘perfect cup’. While cost is an issue, few smart consumers would compromise here. The undisputed choice for a durable coffee grinder is a burr grinder.
The cost of a mid-priced blade grinder averages $20-$49, while burr grinder prices start high and end higher. Burr grinders may have flat or conical burrs, with conical burrs mixer grinder being preferred because the RPM speed is variable and can be lowered to retain the bean flavor without burning, making the grinding precise, quieter, and cleaner. The low speed keeps down the heat from grinding friction that can steal the taste and aroma of the coffee.
Heavy duty construction and classic contemporary styling is expected of commercial burr grinders, which may last for 10-15 years with only occasional replacement of the burrs. Manufacturers have extended this to their residential models as well, with housings made of the same cast metal or stainless steel. Many commercial manufacturers such as Rancilio and Mazzer, now compete with Gaggia, having branched out into the residential market as well, with the high quality small-to-medium sized Mazzer Mini, and Rancilio’s slightly smaller version of their commercial burr grinders, the Rancilio ‘Rocky’, for families of consumers with multi-cup latte or cappuccino habits.
A burr grinder needs a stronger motor, and thus also has a larger footprint, than a blade grinder. Manual grinders with smaller footprints are also available, but are less popular than electric versions. Burr grinders require some cleaning and maintenance than the wipe-down blade grinders, usually requiring some a certain amount of disassembly and cleaning with picks and a brush.
For a small price increase, some grinder brands offer dosers for extra convenience for the avid espresso drinker. Good quality espresso burr grinders can be purchased from just under $100 to almost $700 for the most expensive brand with all the bells and whistles. Mid-price residential brands with near-commercial quality would include the Rancilio ‘Rocky’ at about $350, or the Gaggia MDF for a little under $300. Commercial grinders can range from $500 to over $3,000.