| By Rigo Hernandez |
As Savannah wrote in Better Coffee Through Technology Part 1, technology in the world of coffee has significantly strengthened the overall quality and consistency—specifically when it comes to roasting—us coffee fanatics now enjoy in each and every cup. In this second edition of the series, I’ll cover how that also holds true with the current technology of home coffee grinders.
Technology in home grinders has advanced substantially to the point where it’s keeping up at the same pace with commercial grinders. The artisan home brewer has stepped up and demanded to the market the need for commercial-grade burr grinders and are not afraid to pay for them. However, if you’re not quite ready to commit to the somewhat substantial price of electric burr grinder, or if you simply want to get a nice workout and a little time to kill, a good-quality burr hand grinder will cost as little as $35.
Since 1999, Baratza was the first (and still one of the best) to mass produce electric burr grinders for home use and still keep them at a reasonable price An entry-level quality burr grinder from Baratza will cost around $129. Now, blade grinders that chop beans unevenly causing undesirable flavors and inconsistencies in coffee that were once acceptable are now a thing of the past for any true coffee connoisseur.
Burr grinders are really not that new. Technology of course has improved them in amazing ways, but burr hand grinders themselves have actually been around for quite some time: since the 20’s in fact. The Germans have been making those elaborate wooden box burr grinders with hand cranks since around that time. Additionally, old fashioned Turkish spice grinders have been used for decades and are the model for most modern hand grinders, but didn’t really make the way into the average household until the past few years.
Today’s technology has evolved the burr grinder to be outfitted with ceramic burrs for better precision and heat absorbing qualities. Depending on your situation, desire, need or location, either electric or hand grinders are a viable choice and one that you should highly consider to drastically improve your cup of coffee, especially if you’re still using those barbaric blade choppers.
Best Practices for Grinding Coffee at Home
If and when you decide to purchase a burr grinder, be sure you match the grind to your brewing device. Don’t think that finer the grind, the better the coffee as every device extracts coffee differently. For example for a Chemex, you’ll want to use a medium-coarse grind (like kosher salt). If you are a fan of French Press, you’ll want to have a more coarse grind (like breadcrumbs). Also be sure to have your brew ratios correct. 15:1 (15 ounces of water to 1 ounce freshly-ground coffee) is a basic recipe for pretty much all brewing methods.
Also be sure to match your grinder to its purpose. Despite the fact that a home burr grinder will work for most coffees, If you’re making espresso, you’ll need to invest in a more precise grinder to improve flavor and extraction. A good home espresso burr grinder will start at about $350 dollars and go up depending on features it provides. A great home espresso/coffee grinder is a Baratza Vario but expect to pay closer $550-$600 dollars. These are built to light commercial specifications and have replaceable parts for years of good service. With basic maintenance, I’ve seen these grinders last ten years or longer.
Research, practice and play with the settings on your home grinder to finely tune the coffee flavors to your own desire. You will find a sweet spot (favorite setting) in your grinder once it’s dialed in for your chosen brewing device and coffee ratio.
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One of the founding members of Fair Trade San Diego, Rigo has been in the specialty coffee industry for over 20 years, working in all facets from sales, service, and delivery, to education and training. The only other thing that he loves to spend time with as much—other than his family of course —is his fishing pole. When not working, you’ll find him most days out on a boat reeling in his dinner.