My mother and I rarely exchange Christmas gifts, but this (past) year I noticed that I had an old Breville BCG800XL (“Smart Grinder”) laying around. Well my dear sweet mother had somehow lit what she called a coffee grinder (basically an old blender) on fire so I figured: why not drop the little Breville off with her for the holidays?
All this got me to thinking about coffee grinders at home. I’ve read an absurd amount of blogs and little articles in various magazines for what the “Best Home Grinder” is and so forth – frankly I’m not all that impressed with the information. Therefore, what I’m going to do in this write-up is twofold: (1) distill some of the more basic info down for you so you don’t have to go through the tedious process of reading all the blogs, watching YouTube videos, etc. and (2) I’ll give you some fine advice on what to get grinder wise since, honestly, it’s pretty damn cut and dry.
Point 1: Distilling Info
Here’s the deal: when you search for a home grinder you tend to type “best” in front of the rest of your search term. People want a fucking rating system but virtually all the coffee folk online who pretend to give advice are too damn soft to actually tell you what they think the “best” is. They’ll add “IMO” to a lot of their posts – which I just learned stands for “In My Opinion”. This is a bit tangential, but in my double life where I masquerade as an academic I have learned that if you’re typing anything other than a quote, it’s by default your opinion… half-brained simians. Long story short: you basically have to run through a bunch of people too afraid to be wrong about something, so they attempt to hedge against their own recommendations.
Now typically aforementioned recommendations take on three operative points: (1) The grinder is the most important part of your espresso (or general coffee) setup. (2) Professionals use Mazzer products which means they’re perfect for you too, and (3) Buy an expensive grinder – again, because grinders are the most important part of coffee… Anything in that pile of crap look wrong to you? It should. It’s basically a giant pretentious marketing ploy. Let me be clear: Unless you’re the owner of a top-tier coffee shop in the Pearl you will never, in your entire time making fucking coffee at home, ever need a Mahlkonig EK43… ever. I don’t care how expensive of a home espresso machine you bought or how much you love your Chemex. You’ll never need it. So this jackass with his purchase ratio: (http://coffeegeek.com/guides/howtobuyanespressomachine/getagrinder) – is mostly an idiot.
That said, most folks online will recommend going with a Mazzer Super Jolly – an absolutely fine product, no questions asked. Now is an SJ necessary for a home barista setup? No. Not at all.
Point 2: Instilling Advice
Coffee: Alrighty, let’s start simple and say you want to make a French Press… Guess what? Doesn’t matter what kind of grinder you use. Seriously (check it out here – it’s legit) I’ve tested this – you can too. I tested my mom’s fucking blender for Christ sake. FP’s can handle course, half-ass grinds. So long as the beans have been decently squished and soak in water with adequate levels of calcium for an appropriate amount of time; odds are you’ll end up with a fine French Press. Note: I am a coffee snob – I’m a Portland coffee hipster. Believe me when I tell you that I have crushed appropriately roasted beans with a slab of obsidian my friend grabbed from a quarry and produced a lovely floral French Press.
Chemex, Drip, V60, Aeropress, etc. is pretty simple too. You don’t need a fancy grinder for this stuff – you just need to go a bit finer than a French Press otherwise the water will pour through the grounds too fast and you’ll end up with hot brownish water. The most cost-effective and entertaining answer for home coffee: Porlex (or any other decent manual grinder).
Ryan has a cute little Porlex and they’re perfect for people at home. It takes a tad more time to grind and a bit of effort on your part, but the grind is consistent, adjustable, and never risks overheating the beans due to rapid friction of the burrs.
And that’s pretty much where the home coffee story ends: with a good quality manual grinder. You don’t need something fancy or aggressively fast because you’re not making coffee for 500-1000 customers over the course of the day. You can do Turkish and espresso grinds on some of the manuals too (which is both more traditional and way cheaper). Now of course if you’re doing shots, and you really want to pull a few in row than obviously a manual isn’t the way to go. Even if you are looking for an electric grinder for home coffee – anything under $200 is probably more than adequate. Breville, a used Mazzer, even a Mr. Coffee grinder – they work for home stuff perfectly. I mean you’re just a pretentious tool if you honestly think you can taste the difference between a Mazzer Robur ground Chemex and Mr. Coffee ground Chemex.
Espresso: Espresso machines are, obviously, vastly different beasts than a Chemex or FP – they handle a lot more pressure and a lot more latent heat. So, yes the grinder is important because the ground particles need to be fine enough to sustain a certain amount of pressure and, at the same time, consistent enough in the size of their fragmentation so as to prevent uneven pulls or channeling (granted, a lot of this process is still contingent upon ambient atmospheric pressure anyway). Manuals still work here! Some people just bitch that the grounds oxidize too much in the amount of time it takes to grind 14-16g of coffee in a Porlex. It’s mostly bullshit – again unless you’re a professional barista or have the pallet of a sommelier (which you probably don’t) than you won’t taste a major difference between grounds sitting out for ten seconds or grounds sitting out for one minute. I had Ryan pull a shot via his Porlex and it was absolutely delicious. Test it out if you’re that concerned – or hell shoot us an email and we’ll post a video and have some of our coffee friends try out the comparison.
But okay – let’s say you want the best electric home barista grinder for all espresso situations you will likely encounter. Simple: Barazta Vario or Ranchilio Rocky – if you’re looking to go even cheaper a Barazta Precisio is a fine option. I’m not paid by Barazta or Ranchilio – I just firmly believe they’ll do exactly what you need them to do.
I say all of that with this in mind: seriously – I mean I’m really serious about this – a grinder is just one piece of equipment in the arsenal. If you can’t tamp, time, smell, change pressure, change heat or get consistent heat from your brew boiler, measure mass, acquire quality water, or get high quality beans – then who gives a shit what grinder you’re working with?
Coffee is complex, yes – but it’s also been around for thousands of years. It’s not complex enough where you need to treat it like rocket science; in most cases it doesn’t require a bunch of high tech crap or money. Don’t get caught up in the upper-middle-class-white-hipster-coffee vibe that suggests you need new grinder X or product Y because pro-baristas use it, etc. Professional coffee equipment totally doesn’t mean better coffee equipment – it means it was designed for the purpose of producing a consistent product for large quantities of people in as efficient a way a possible so as to elicit a profit for the investing party. Small home setups can make way better coffee than a lot of professional places, and tiny non-Mazzer grinders and non-La Marzocco espresso machines can produce WAY better shots than 90-95% of the garbage you’re going to buy out there.
Lesson: Coffee is a luxury beverage. Have fun, don’t get caught up in the bizarre mileau of coffee snobbery – we here try and avoid it (albeit poorly). Ultimately, remember that you’re just drinking a crushed, burnt, seed that was harvested by people who make less money in a year than you do in a four-day work week.
Update (1/05): Just to prove a point to myself, I put my money (or coffee beans) where my mouth was – quite literally. I begrudgingly chewed up about 19 grams of good beans and spit them into a filter just to see if it could make decent tasting pour-over. It was great! I secretly had two other people try it and they enjoyed my cud-coffee as well. Either my digestive enzymes taste delicious or we’re all just pretentious little tarts pretending fancy grinders make coffee better.