Burr coffee grinders aren’t sexy, but they should be. In fact, your grinder is the most important piece of coffee brewing equipment you own. As a barista, I’m always a little surprised when a customer will brag about their $2,000 home espresso machine, only to ask me to pre-grind their coffee. It’s a provable scientific fact: you can make a better cup of coffee with a good grinder and a $3 Melitta cone than a bad grinder and the fanciest device on the market.
You should spend at least 75% of your coffee gadget budget on a good burr grinder. If you have $150, buy a Baratza Encore and a Clever dripper. If you’re trying to stay under $50, get a Hario Mini-mill (which is actually more consistent than the larger Hario Skerton). If money is no object, get a Baratza Forte or an HG One. Either way, break the bank on the grinder and play it cheap with your brewer. Your taste buds will thank you later.
In case you’re the sort of person who is not so easily convinced, here are four reasons to own a burr coffee grinder:
1. Ground coffee goes stale really quickly.
Oxygen is the enemy of freshness, and ground coffee oxidizes really quickly- within 30 minutes if the bag isn’t hydrogen flushed and resealed. We haven’t price checked hydrogen flushing machines recently, but we’re pretty sure grinding on demand is a better option for most people.
2. Particle size is everything.
Good coffee is the product of even extraction, and even extraction is the result of even particle size. All coffee grinders produces a certain variation in particle size. Small, dust-like particles called “fines” saturate quickly and tend to over-extract, producing bitter flavors. With pour-over devices like the Chemex they have the additional problem of “choking” the flow, causing brew times to be too long. Larger particles, or “boulders”, don’t saturate quickly enough and are under-extracted. Good grinders produce less fines and boulders, with translates to a sweeter, richer cup of coffee.
3. Blade grinders are basically worthless.
At some point of your life you will be forced to make coffee with a blade grinder, and it might be enough to make you a tea drinker. Honestly, you would probably be better off smashing your coffee with a hammer, one bean at a time. The folks at Able Brewing did a study with Entimos Coffee comparing blade grinders to pre-ground coffee. The conclusion? They’re both equally bad.
4. There’s a burr grinder tailor made for your needs.
Do you just want to mindlessly push a button while you brush your teeth in the morning? The Baratza Vario has a built-in scale to grind the exact amount of coffee you need. Do you travel a lot and like expensive, German-engineered hardware? Commandante is launching the second version of their C40 hand mill soon. Are you looking for the cheapest cup of coffee possible? The Hario Mini-mill is cheaper than most blade grinders. Any of these options offer a marked improvement on buying pre-ground coffee.
Photo of burrs and Forte by Baratza.