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The Grinder

The first coffee grinder was a mortar and pestle. Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. The grinder, next to the brewer, is clearly the second most important piece of equipment involved in making coffee; some would argue that it is the most important piece of equipment. What type of grinder you use should be determined by what type of coffee you are making. Drip brewing methods are a bit more forgiving than those that require a fine, even grind, like Espresso, or a very coarse grind, like French Press.

There are two main types of coffee grinder for household use, the blade grinder and the burr grinder. The grinder most commonly found in homes is the blade style grinder. These grinders use small, high-speed, spinning metal blades to spin and chop the coffee beans into small pieces. This is a relatively convenient and inexpensive method of grinding coffee. Most blade grinders are easy to use and can usually be purchased for under $20. Blade grinders have a down side, however. The first issue with these grinders is that they do not grind uniformly. This results in both small, powdery particles and large chunks of coffee, which leads to an uneven extraction and may cause unpleasant flavors in the cup. Another down side is that they produce a lot of heat which can rob your coffee of its flavor and even cause a burnt taste. A blade grinder can be considered sufficient for basic home use. However, if you are committed to making the most excellent coffee possible, a burr grinder is the preferred grinder for a more even, consistent grind. This is the style of grinder used in commercial coffee establishments.

There are two basic types of burr grinder; disk, or plate, and conical. Both grinders crush the bean between two surfaces and are adjustable for a variety of brewing methods. Disk grinders are the less expensive of the two burr grinders. They use two parallel plates, or disks, to smash the beans. These grinders are the most economical choice for getting a consistent grind for a wide range of brewing methods. The home versions can achieve a suitable grind for most home espresso machines and some can also achieve the extra fine grind required for Turkish coffee. The down side to these grinders is that they run at higher speeds than a conical grinder and thus create more heat, an enemy of coffee. Although they will tend to be more expensive than a blade grinder, the home versions are available within a reasonable price range and are essential for achieving a decent espresso shot. All in all, you will get the most flexibility and consistency for your money with this type of grinder.

It is widely argued that the best grinder you can buy is a conical burr grinder. Because of the superior design of the cone shaped burr, the motor is able to spin more slowly than the disk style, which enables them to grind high volumes while creating less heat. This also makes conical burr grinders quieter than disc grinders. Conical grinders can grind very finely and very consistently and some can achieve a decent Turkish grind. The down side is that they are just plain expensive for most home use.

Another form of conical burr grinder is the old fashioned hand mill. The first coffee mill was the Turkish hand mill, called kahve degirmeni. Constructed of copper or brass, Turkish mills have a long, tubular design, with burrs that grind the coffee to a fine powder. These mills are extremely functional and beautiful by design as well as portable. There is no substitute for a traditional Turkish hand mill when making Turkish coffee. Still, the most recognizable hand mill is the box-shaped hand grinder. Some of these grinders can produce a surprisingly even grind from “fine” to “coarse” and there is a variety available today for a fairly inexpensive price. The quality of these mills can vary greatly and cannot usually produce a grind fine enough for espresso. While they can perform well, for most people the amount of energy and effort required to produce enough coffee for a brew make them less useful than ornamental. However, if the idea of hand ground coffee is an appealing one, the shining star of hand mills, in terms of quality and performance, is clearly the Zassenhaus.


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