Coffee luminary Peter Giuliano dropped a bombshell on #coffeetwitter last week. According to Giuliano, of the staggering 14 billion dollars worth of coffee Americans brew at home each year, more than 90% is pre-ground.
This, of course, probably comes as no surprise to you, random reader of this coffee website. Why buy a coffee grinder when pre-ground coffee is the same price? If there’s a coffee grinder in your house, statistically it’s a blade grinder, which is perhaps slightly more consistent than repeatedly jumping up and down on your bag of whole bean coffee while wearing combat boots. Otherwise, you likely join the vast majority of people who buy their coffee pre-ground.
In 2018, we at @SpecialtyCoffee reported US at-home coffee sales at $14 billion, of which only $1 billion was whole bean. To me, this presents an opportunity and a challenge to the specialty coffee community:
get coffee grinders into peoples’ kitchens.
— Peter Giuliano (@PeterGiuliano) April 15, 2020
Admittedly, the recession of the century is probably not the best time to be upgrading your kitchen appliances. Regardless, allow us to make a passionate plea to put some of that government stimulus check towards buying a coffee grinder.
Why does it matter?
There are two reasons you need a good grinder: optimal freshness and an even extraction.
Even if that preground coffee you bought is nitrogen-flushed, by the time you break the seal and brew your second pot, it’s going to be oxidized.
Don’t believe it? Find someone with a coffee grinder, and try one of the brewing exercises we do in the SCA’s coffee skills program. Grind some coffee into a cup and set it aside for half an hour. Then, grind some more coffee and compare side by side. The difference is shocking: a mere thirty minutes later the first sample has lost most of its aromatics.
Aromas combine with tastes to create flavor. This is why food tastes so bland when you’re sick, and it’s also why preground coffee tastes dull and lifeless.
But simply brewing fresh ground coffee isn’t enough to guarantee a good cup of coffee. The grind size needs to be consistent enough to get an ideal extraction.
Every grinder creates coffee grounds of varying shapes and sizes. Coffee professionals call this the particle size distribution. Better grinders create more grounds that are the same size, so that they extract at similar rates. They avoid having too many dust-like fines, which might clog your brewer, or big boulders, which will under-extract and make your coffee sour.
What to Look For in a Grinder
Grinders come down to one major feature: the burr set. The bigger the burr, the higher quality the grind. The material of the burr matters as well, with stainless steel or titanium burrs generally being preferred to ceramic. Under no circumstances should you buy a grinder with plastic burrs.
We’re big fans of high end hand grinders from manufacturers like Orphan Espresso, Knock, and Commandante. Rather than paying for a motor (which will likely break down in a few years), these grinders are essentially one big burr set. With proper care, you’ll hand these down to your grandchildren one day.
Can’t bring yourself to manually grind coffee before you’ve had any coffee? There’s never been more good consumer electric grinders. We’ve been loyal Baratza customers for some time, having owned their entry level Encore, the midlevel Virtuoso, and even their flagship Forte. The grinders aren’t bulletproof, and after a couple of years will likely need maintenance. Thankfully, Baratza’s customer support is second to none. Whenever we’ve had a grinder go down, we’ve been able to get replacement parts for very affordable prices and expert advice to get our grinders operational again.
It doesn’t matter if you like your coffee dark roasted or Nordic-light; prefer to brew with a French press or pour-over, investing in a good burr grinder is the easiest way to see the quality of the coffee you enjoy at home improve. Trust us, once you switch to a quality burr grinder, there’s no going back.