Grinders 101 - A Beginners Guide!
The purpose of this section is to let you in on all the little things that you don’t normally hear about coffee grinders. I may be a little long winded in some of my explanations but I am trying, in the only way I know how, to cover a lot of content in a way that it is thorough and accurate.
How Grinders Affect the Coffee:
Grinding coffee is a violent thing. The coffee is taken from its nice friendly home in its bag or can and put into a bean hopper, which by itself is not a bad place. But then the grinder is turned on and you immediately hear the sound of the motor and the burrs spinning wildly as the coffee starts to be ground into small particles. This is where the action takes place and is the start of your coffee experience. The final result of your espresso/coffee will depend upon how evenly your coffee is ground and it’s final temperature after grinding. Yes that’s right, as the coffee is ground it will pick up heat and the more heat your coffee picks up the more adversely it will affect your final product. If you are only grinding enough for a double shot the coffee will not pick up much heat from any grinder. The more coffee you grind the hotter the coffee gets due to the grinding burrs and surrounding parts getting hotter. Another possible byproduct of grinding coffee may be the dreaded static charge that can cause the ground coffee to literally jump out of the ground coffee container. You would have to see it to believe it. Have you ever noticed your hair standing on end after donning your wool sweater? No it’s not a ghost, it’s a static charge. The static charge forms when the coffee is ground and then forced through a chute and into a receptacle. Factors that effect this ghost like phenomenon are the speed of the grinding burrs, the way in which the coffee exits through the chute, humidity, temperature and the coffee itself. It is pretty hard to control most of these factors but it is easy to control which grinder you purchase.
The Inside Scoop
As a rule, the grinders that produce the most static charge and add the most heat to your fresh ground coffee are the high-speed grinders. These grinders include the Saeco MC2002, the Gaggia MM and the Capresso Burr Grinder Select. The rest of our grinders are low speed grinders and produce little static and heat.
The Size of the Grind
What we are talking about now is how fine or how coarse your coffee is ground. The size of the grind you will need is directly related to the type of equipment used in brewing your coffee, how fresh the coffee is, and how it is roasted. Different types of espresso/coffee machines are designed to extract flavor and aroma from the coffee in a different way. Therefore they require a different size grind. The following will provide guidelines to help you understand what you will need to get the best out of your espresso/coffee machine.
French Press: Very Coarse Drip Coffee: Coarse Espresso machine w/ crema enhancing device: Medium to Medium Fine. If you were to rub the coffee between your fingers it would feel like sugar, maybe a little finer. Note: Many home espresso machines are designed with crema enhancing devices to make getting a thick crema on your coffee very easy. It does not necessarily make a better espresso and as with everything there are pros and cons to this that we will not get into here. The machines that have the crema enhancing devices are the Solis, Krups, Saeco and Capresso. Commercial Style Espresso Machines:Very fine, almost like powder. You will find that old dry coffee must be ground finer than fresh roasted coffee.
Note: The commercial style espresso machines need a fine grind tamped firmly into place to produce an excellent espresso. These machines include the Gaggia, Rancilio, Francis Francis, WEGA, ECM and Pasquini. Turkish Coffee: Very Fine. It must be ground to a powder.
Burr Vs. Blade
What is a Burr Grinder?
The burrs are the part of the grinder that crushes the coffee beans into a uniform size which is essential for creating an awesome espresso/coffee. There are two different burr grinders, flat plate or conical. The Conical burr grinders have two cone shaped burrs with ridges that grind/crush the coffee. The flat plate burr grinders have two identical and parallel rings that are serrated on the side that faces the other. Both burr grinders have one stationary burr while the motor turns the other. The beans are drawn in between the two burrs and crushed into a uniform size. Both types of grinders are known for their flexibility and quality. You really can’t go wrong with either one, but please read on about the high and low speed burr grinders for the other part of the equation.
What is a Blade Grinder?
Blade grinders don’t grind consistently for making quality coffee drinks. They have a blade similar to that of a propeller that chops the coffee beans. The fineness of the grind is determined by how long you let the grinder operate via a built in timer. The longer it grinds the finer the coffee becomes. The negatives of a blade grinder are that the grind can vary from powder to chunks and the coffee picks up a static charge, which will make it stick to just about everything and is therefore is very messy. For these reasons, we do not recommend blade grinders.
High Speed vs. Low Speed Grinders
High-speed burr grinders may still heat the coffee like a blade grinder, but offer the user more control in deciding on the grind size. They also produce a pretty consistent grind. These grinders are generally referred to as "direct drive" grinders because the motor is attached directly to the burrs causing them to turn at the same speed. Although a high-speed burr grinder may be fairly noisy and cause some static they are still the best choice in the $69.00 to $107.00 range. Due to the high speed that these grinders operate at, they use flat plate burrs.
At the top of the list are the low-speed burr grinders. Since this type is the "Cadillac" of grinders, once you get one you’ll never go back. Low-speed grinders offer the advantages of little or no static charge, very little heat, quiet operation and the motor does not bog down or clog up when grinding very fine. Low-speed grinders also come with either flat burrs or conical burrs and can be broken down into two categories, "direct drive" or "gear reduction" grinders.
The gear reduction grinders have a high-speed motor that is hooked into a set of gears that reduce the speed of the burrs. Much like the gears of a bicycle which, when going up hill are shifted down to cause the rider’s legs to move quickly while the bicycle moves up hill slowly. Although these tend to be noisier than the direct drive style, they get the job done without the motor bogging down.
The high-end direct drive grinders are the most expensive but are also the best grinders available for home or light commercial use. The low-speed motor is connected directly to the burrs so that they spin at the same speed. A lesser quality motor would bog down under the load but these high quality motors are designed to handle the load with ease. Because they spin at a low RPM, minimal heat or static is created. The final bonus is that they are whisper quiet.
Dosing & Non-Dosing grinders
One of the important choices you will have to make when purchasing a grinder is the style that you will want. Some grinders are what we call dosing grinders that will dispense the coffee with the pull of a handle. Non-Dosing grinders will grind directly into a ground coffee container or your coffee receptacle such as a portafilter for an espresso machine.
Ok, with that said, you should first know that with all grinders you put the beans in the bean hopper. You then turn on the grinder and the beans are ground up and then directed through a chute into something. That something is what we are discussing here.
Rancilio Rocky, Gaggia MDF, and Pasquini Moka
I hope you have the patience to read this whole section. I know it’s long but there is some very important information to be gathered about the true use of a dosing grinder.
Dosing grinders are designed to collect the ground coffee into what we call the ground coffee container and then, with the pull of a handle, dispense it directly into your receptacle, such as a portafilter.
The ground coffee container looks like a pie that is cut into six equally shaped pieces called sections. The ground coffee exits the grinding burrs through the chute and drops into these sections. These sections rotate around and when they reach the front of the grinder the coffee drops through a hole and into your receptacle. The rotation is controlled by means of a handle (one pull turns it one sixth of a rotation). The amount of coffee that the sections can hold is usually about 6 to 7 grams (one shot). With the Mazzer Mini and Pasquini Moka you can adjust the dose per pull to around 5.5 to 9 grams. Let’s say that you want to grind just enough coffee for a double shot. You turn the grinder on and let it fill up one section and then pull the handle and let it fill up another section. You then turn off the grinder and pull on the handle three times. It will take three pulls to get the section under the chute all the way around to the front where it drops out of the bottom. You would think that you would have dispensed the perfect amount of coffee. It may, but don’t count on it. You may have to pull a few more times to get the loose coffee that spilled over the edge of the sections. And if you are only grinding enough for the morning brew you don’t want to grind too much extra. Every espresso machine and every filter basket that receives this ground coffee is a little different. It is best to get to know your machine and how much coffee works best in the filter basket that you are using. Fill the filter basket to the proper level and then tamp it. If you go over the level that you want you can run your finger over the top and take out as much coffee as needed to achieve the proper amount. Once you learn how your dosing grinder works, and as long as you can adapt to it, you will have a long healthy relationship. If you can use your eye to judge what the proper level is when filled loosely it will be pretty easy to use any dosing grinder. Another thing to keep in mind is that coffee just wants to make a mess. No matter how hard you try to keep if off the counter it has a mind of its own and will find a way around even the most anal person’s defenses. The action of pulling the handle and the sections rotating will probably cause a little coffee to miss your portafilter. Please don’t despair just have sponge handy. So now that you know what a dosing grinder is, do you think it is for you?
Solis Maestro, Solis Mulino, Gaggia MM, Pasquini, Saeco MC2002
There are a few different styles of non-dosing grinders. Some as the non-dosing Pasquini are designed to grind directly into a portafilter from an espresso machine. The Solis grinders can grind either in to its own removable ground coffee container or directly into your portafilter. The Saeco MC2002 grinds into its ground coffee container that is removable and also has a trap door that you can open to scoop out the coffee. The Capresso Burr Grinder Select and Gaggia MM grind into their own ground coffee containers, which much be removed to access the coffee. For details on all of these grinders see the grinders summary page.
Flat Plate Burrs & Conical Burrs
Both style of burrs are used in home and commercial grinders. They produce a consistent grind worthy of any high end or home espresso machine. The conical burrs are usually used on the very low-speed gear reduction grinders. The flat plate burrs are used on all qualities of grinders, from the low priced high-speed grinders all the way up to the low-speed direct drive commercial grade grinders.
Stepped vs. Stepless Adjustment
There are two different styles of grind adjustments on our grinders. We have the most popular which is called the "stepped" adjustment and the not so popular and more advanced "stepless adjustment".
There are two styles of stepped adjustment grinders. They are the "Self Holding" and "Lever Release." The reason that manufactures make "stepped" adjustments is because they need a way to lock the setting into place after the adjustment is made. Otherwise, as the grinder operates the grind setting could change.
On the "Self Holding" grinders you will either turn the bean hopper or an adjustment knob to adjust your grind setting. As you turn it you will hear and feel a "click" as the setting is locked into place. With each click you are changing the fineness setting one level. These include grinders from Gaggia, Saeco and Capresso.
On "Lever Release" grinders, such as the Rancilio Rocky and the Pasquini Moka, you have to push down a release lever and then turn the bean hopper to adjust the fineness setting. You will not hear any clicks as it turns. When you let go of the release lever it will snap into place and lock the bean hopper/setting into place.
With stepless adjustment grinders you have an infinite number of setting you can adjust your grind to. You can adjust the setting as little or as much as you like. There are no preset spots that the grind setting will stop at like the on grinders with stepped adjustment. We have one stepless adjustment grinder: the Mazzer Mini.
The Mazzer can easily be changed from fine to coarse by turning a post that sticks out from the adjustment ring. There are numbers on the adjustment ring for reference so that it is easy to change from coarse to fine and repeat the settings. This works very well for fine tuning but it is difficult to change from fine to coarse as there are no reference points that show you how fine or coarse you are currently grinding. This is good if you are trying to fine-tune your grind for espresso and need to make minute adjustments.
When you adjust your grind setting finer or towards the coarse setting you may feel and/or hear a click. That click is usually associated with a number of a grind setting or some kind of visual clue that tells you what setting it is on.