There are two pieces of equipment to make good coffee at home. A brewer of any kind. And a coffee grinder.
I've had a few chats over the last few weeks with people who have started their home brewing journey. Often the conversation started on which brewer they just purchased. Sometimes it was about which brewer they have in their amazon cart and were about to purchase. And one was about their new espresso machine. All of these conversations had one thing in common. That they decided to "hold off" on a burr grinder.
Now I know what you may be thinking. Kyle! A burr grinder is essential to brew great coffee!
The reality is that the majority of people just getting into home brewing haven't been informed on the importance of grinding fresh coffee.
To offer an analogy, let's say you go to the local butcher and purchase the most expensive pot roast available. You marinate it and season it and prep it. But then you decide you're going to cook that roast in the microwave. All those amazing materials with untapped potential! It may be great roast, but unless you're using the proper equipment your roast is not going to taste it's best!
It's the same with coffee! You're burr grinder is your most important piece of equipment for great coffee.
Many people will opt for the cheap blade grinder from their local store. Why not right? It's cheap, and it grinds the coffee! What's the difference?
Burr Vs. Blade
Most are familiar with blade grinders, which operate rather like a blender. A spinning blade slices the coffee beans into pieces unevenly, resulting in an inconsistent grind. That inconsistency is a problem when brewing coffee, because the big pieces and tiny fines don’t extract the same way during brewing.
Like a teaspoon of sugar to a sugar cube, a smaller grind will extract much faster when interacting with coffee than a larger. The smaller the grinds are, the easier it will be for them to dissolve in water. The smaller the grinds, the more easily they will give up their flavours to the hot water you’re brewing with!
So why is an inconsistent grind bad? If you have a mixture of large and small particles of coffee they will all extract at different rates. Small particles will extract quickly and the large slowly.
Why does this matter?
It is very easy to over-extract those small particles and under-extract those larger grinds. This will create an uneven and unbalanced cup of coffee.
That's where the Burr grinder comes in. The Burr Grinder grinds the coffee using sharp surfaces and incredibly precise adjustments to create a uniform grind. There are two burrs in the set that oppose each other so the beans will get stuck in between and cut from both sides. This is not the same as the blade, as it is precise, controlled and adjustable.
Burrs can come in different shapes, sizes and materials. Some are flat, some are conical. Some are made of stainless steel, some ceramic. Regardless they are sharp, and are far better performers than blades, and will offer a marked improvement in your coffee’s flavour.
What about my wallet?
The reality is that Burr Grinders are more expensive than Blades. Some as expensive as $4500 CAD. Regardless, there are affordable options that can grind well and create an incredible cup of coffee.
When it comes to great grinders on a friendly budget, there is no other name to turn too but Baratza. Baratza creates grinders from entry level to professional and anything in between. Their entry level grinder, the Encore, features conical steel burrs and 40 steps of adjustment, with a grind quality suitable for anyone brewing drip to french press. At the time of writing this, I own an Encore and believe it may be the best bang for buck grinder for coffee. More about this great grinder below.
Other models on the market in this range include the Capresso Infinity and Bodum Bistro, both conical steel burr grinders. They can be found for about 20-30% less than the Encore and will give similar grind quality, maybe slightly less consistency, but they do have their faults and neither has the stand-out service and support that Baratza offers.
What about Espresso?
If you're interested in brewing espresso at home, a burr grinder is a non-negotiable. But in order to grind for espresso you're going to have to spend slightly more than for a entry level grinder.
Espresso requires an incredibly accurate grind as water is pushed through a compacted puck of coffee with high pressure in a short amount of time. This takes a grinder that is powerful, accurate, and if you want the best cup possible, infinitely adjustable.
If you are just starting to look into brewing espresso there are a few options like the Breville Barista Express that has a built in espresso grinder. This saves time and money in the short term as you won't be required to purchase a separate grinder. This grinder is great for getting you started but if you want shots that are more balanced with great mouthfeel and are perfectly dialled in you will need to spend more down the road.
Buy Once, Cry Once.
This is a saying I use for anything I purchase of quality. Do yourself a favour, buy a good grinder. You'll thank me later.
It really does make that much of a difference. Coffee at home will never be the same again.
What You Should Buy!
Here are a few grinders I would love to use and you should consider buying.
Top Pick: Baratza Encore
As mentioned above, this is a great grinder for brewing at home. It boasts a good burr set, has 40 grind settings and is incredibly affordable. Is it the best coffee grinder out there? No. But it will do a stellar job for the dollar spent. And with the customer support of Baratza, you can be ensured to have a working grinder for years to come.
Find it and purchase it HERE
Low Budget Option: Cuisinart Automatic Burr Mill
If you want a cheeper option than the Encore, this would be your best bet. It will not grind at the same level of the Encore, nor have the same longevity but it will do the job well and enable you to grind much better than a blade grinder.
Find it HERE
Recommended Hand Grinder: Hario Ceramic Mini-Slim
This little hand grinder is a great option if you'd like to save even more money. It doesn't boast an electronic motor or the convienence of other grinders. But it will get the job done with great portability.
Find it HERE
Best Bang for Buck for Espresso: Baratza Sette 270
This grinder may not seem like a good value. But for espresso grinders, it's as cheep as you're going to get for the quality of grinds it produces. This grinder will produce grind results of products 2-3 times its price. It does this by using plastics and cheeper materials for its outer shell, but it's burr set and design are of much higher quality.
Find it HERE
Breville Smart Grinder Pro - The SGP from Breville is one of the more popular grinders for the home. Breville makes a good home appliance product in everything they do. The SGP is no different. This grinder is a great entry point to espresso. It will not have the adjustments that the Baratza Sette 270 will, or the grind quality of some of the higher options. But it will enable you to create good espresso at home for a much cheeper price tag. It is also one of the few options to be able to do both espresso and filter with 60 grind settings and a good burr set to match. If you're wanting to create espresso and drip at home but don't want to break the bank, this may be your best option.
Eureka Specialta - The Specialtia is an incredible espresso grinder for the home. It uses 55mm flat burrs and a commercial motor for incredible results similar to what you'd see at your local cafe. It is much pricier, but you're paying for hand build quality from Italy. If you ask me, that's worth the price tag alone.
Niche Zero - I mean, James Hoffman owns one. Need I say more? This little grinder has been taking the home barista community by storm. It boasts a 63mm Conical burr set in a stylish package with wood accents. It promises low grind retention which is key to always have the freshest coffee in your cup. Again, this grinder is on the high end of the price range.