How to Buy an Espresso Grinder for Your At-Home Brew BarPublished on 07/14/2022 · 8 min readA grinder is necessary if you want to start your mornings right with a fresh shot of espresso! But how do you pick the right one? We break it down here.
Photo by Becca Tapert
The smell of freshly ground coffee is one of the biggest pleasures in my morning wake up routine, so having the right equipment to make it happen is a priority for me. If you feel the same way about your morning espresso, read on!
With so many options for grinding coffee beans, wading through to the right choice may feel a bit daunting. Still, as long as you are able to narrow down your needs and remember a few key components, finding the perfect espresso grinder can be made easy.
The main idea is to find the right product to fill your needs. That high-quality espresso machine on your brew bar promised to make the best espresso; however, if you are just using any old grinder to pack the portafilter, even the best machine and most exquisite coffee beans will fail to produce for you the delicious flavor of a perfect shot of espresso.
Espresso vs. Drip Coffee
Every brew method has a desired grind size in its recipe—from a coarse grind for cold brew to a fine powder used for a Turkish coffee. A big question to consider is the difference between regular coffee and espresso, as well as why you might need a different grinder.
Whether made by hand in a pour over or made by an automatic coffee brewer, the coffee grounds will be a medium coarseness, similar to grains of sand. Espresso machines use between 7 and 9 bars of pressure, or over 100 psi, that forces water through grounds to extract either a one or two-ounce shot of espresso. Putting regular coffee grounds into that equation would be a lot like shooting a fire hose into gravel and expecting to get mud. To be able to properly expose all of the beautiful taste, nuanced aroma, and smooth crema that you want out of espresso, it is necessary to use a very fine grind that will resemble table salt. That is, fine enough to stick to your finger, but not too fine that the grinds stick to themselves.
The grounds are packed and tamped into a portafilter, placed into a grouphead, and brewed either manually by the barista or automatically by the machine. Then comes the task to “dial-in”, which means you will change different aspects of the grinds and brew cycle to get the best flavor out of the espresso shots. Changing the grind size and the “dose”, or amount of coffee portioned out, can be so minute that you have barely noticed a difference until a shot has been pulled. Making those fine adjustments to your coffee are the tasks handled by an espresso grinder. There are many different components that create the whole of the machine, and to keep in mind while making a choice on what is right for you.
Consistency Is Key
Have you ever gone to toss the spent grinds after making a coffee and noticed that there are larger chunks of beans sitting on top of the pile and small sediments in the bottom? This will happen every time if you use a blade grinder to chop your beans. The uneven grounds happen because the grinder blades tend to behave like the blades of a lawn mower. As they whir around, the beans hop around inside the grinder and the blades struggle to chop them into even pieces. This causes the over-extraction of small particles and under extraction of larger ones.
A burr grinder, on the other hand, uses two fixed metal plates that have teeth on either side. When set to the desired gap (the distance between the blades), the only way the coffee can escape is when it has reached the appropriate size, which allows it to make it through the gap into the dosing chamber or into your portafilter.
The size of the top loader to your grinder or hopper may not seem to have a huge impact when initially looking at details. However, being able to keep a full hopper helps with the distribution of beans in the grinder. An even distribution of beans allows the grinder to work faster and grind more coffee per second. This is especially important when using an automatic timer grinder rather than manual grinders, but either way, it is recommended to have a scale on hand to weigh for accuracy.
Also, consider how much coffee your household drinks daily; a family with multiple consumers may desire a larger 16-ounce hopper, whereas a single person or a couple may aim for a smaller eight-ounce capacity. Evaluate your choice of whatever will keep the coffee the freshest. Some connoisseurs also choose to use a single dose method when grinding, so they are able to cycle through multiple different blends or origins on a more frequent basis.
The diameter of the burr is important to take into consideration. The larger the burr, the bigger the surface area for grinding and the faster it will finish. In this instance, faster is better. With a slower grind time, burrs tend to heat up and you can end up baking the coffee beans, as well as increasing static electricity. This will cause espresso grounds to clump together and lead to an uneven extraction through channeling. Channeling is what happens when the water pressurized from the grouphead finds the path of least resistance through the coffee grounds in the portafilter basket, which causes partial saturation of some parts of the grounds meaning some of the coffee was over-extracted and other parts were under-extracted.
As with the size, the shape of your burr will affect the grounds in two distinct ways. Flat burrs are two identical round plates that use centrifugal force. The burrs have a dome in the middle that allows beans to enter and then taper down as they are crushed. As the beans are broken into small enough particles, they filter out through the side, pushed by larger particles taking their place, and the grounds go into a receptacle.
Conical burrs, on the other hand, resemble a cone drill or an auger, which uses gravity. The beans fall or are fed into it and pass through the bottom; one set particle size is small enough to fall through the gap in the burrs.
A flat burr grinder is known for keeping a more consistent grind size and having a wider range of grind-size settings. The flat burr grinders are more commonly found in a variety of grinders, which can be used for a range of brew options, from espresso to french press.
Ceramic or Steel
The third thing to note when looking at burr specifics is the materials they are made of. Ceramic burrs can be found in more professional equipment and some manual coffee grinders; they will stay cooler through continued use, and retain their sharpness longer, requiring changing less often. Steel burrs are more commonly found in home grinders; they are known for a more consistent uniform grind on different grind settings and sharper blades that lend to a faster grind.
Mornings can already be rough pre-caffeine, and the kitchen walls can reverb and carry sound to others who may be still sleeping under the same roof. Fortunately, some grinders have insulated motors that reduce the volume and help maintain the peace of the morning. A very safe option for noise reduction is a hand grinder, or a manual burr grinder, that allows you to grind anywhere, even in a peaceful landscape, and not scare away the birds or bunnies!
Motor Speed / RPM
Another great noise reducer can be the speed, or rotations per minute, of the burrs in the grinder. A lower-speed grinder will be on the lower end of the price scale because they are more compact, with a smaller motor, burrs, and hopper. Slower speed conical burr grinders can help reduce overheating in the motor but tend to build up static in the grinds. However, if you are using an espresso machine with a pressurized basket, channeling and the precision in grind size is not a huge concern, these are great for beginner at-home baristas.
A high-speed grinder typically uses flat burrs, increasing the diameter or surface area, motor size, and hopper size. Motors with a greater rpm are direct drive, which means the motor is directly attached to the load, requiring fewer parts to maintain and therefore a longer life for your equipment. These grinders are quieter and allow a barista to have more control over the grounds when dialing in.
There are many different sizes and looks to grinders, and you may think you have found the one that you want operationally, but size may determine what you are able to purchase. In addition to considering what the size and shape of your brew bar are, consider potential travel plans that mean you will be picking up and living on the road for some amount of time, thus needing something portable. Are you planning to fit everything on the counter space under a cabinet or in a separate bar area? As the saying goes “measure twice, cut once.”
Developing your home brew bar can be a confusing process, especially if you aren’t sure of where to begin. Curated has a selection of home grinders that can fit any need, from just getting you started on your coffee journey, to becoming a more advanced prosumer that needs to upgrade your brew bar. Let a Coffee & Espresso Expert know what your goals are, and we can get you started with some amazing recommendations tailored for your specific needs!