Grinding Coffee at Home vs. Buying Pre-Ground Coffee
There are many advantages to purchasing whole bean coffee and grinding it at home. The smell of fresh ground coffee is an aromatic experience all on its own. This alone nearly justifies the expense of a grinder. If you are looking for a little more incentive however, purchasing a grinder can greatly extend the shelf life of your coffee.
Grinding coffee exposes the volatile oils in the beans (where all the delicious flavor comes from) to the elements, causing them to degrade at a much faster rate than if the coffee remains in whole bean form. Grinding your coffee as needed ensures that the last cup from your bag will be just as delicious as the first, within reason of course. It is important to remember that all coffee will turn stale after a period of time, with its flavors being the most vibrant during the first month after roasting.
The Importance of Grind Size
The size of your coffee grounds plays a large role in the resulting flavor of your coffee. If you brewed whole coffee beans you would end up with a very weak cup of joe. Grinding the beans exposes a larger surface area, which allows the water to extract the entire delicious flavor locked inside the beans. The finer the beans are ground; the more surface area that is exposed thus resulting in a faster brew. This is because the water has more access to it. So if you want a stronger cup of coffee, consider grinding your coffee beans a litter finer.
Blade Grinders vs. Burr Grinders
There are two main types of coffee grinders available for domestic use: blade grinders and burr grinders. Blade grinders are common, inexpensive grinders that have a metal blade attached to a motor. This metal blade spins and smashes the coffee beans to pieces.
One of the main issues with blade grinders is that this smashing action produces some very fine powder-like pieces as well as some very large pieces. These size inconsistencies can result in a coffee brew that has some unpleasant bitter or sour tastes. Uneven piece sizes can also make it difficult to brew in a French press, as the smaller pieces are not caught by the mesh screen and end up at the bottom of your coffee cup. Blade grinders are a decent option if you plan on grinding smaller amounts of coffee to a finer grind size. Grinding the coffee finer usually results in a more consist grind size.
Blade grinders have one other design flaw. The metal blades generate heat as they cut the coffee beans, an effect that begins to degrade the volatile oils in the beans which diminishes the delicious flavors locked away in the coffee. Blade grinders are also smaller in size and can usually only grind small amounts of coffee at a time.
The positives to blade grinders are that they are an inexpensive option and can be a good introduction to grinding your coffee at home. They are also a convenient size that works well for traveling, camping, or for office use. However, if you are intrigued by the idea of grinding your coffee at home and are ready to take the next step, we highly recommend investing in a burr grinder.
Burr grinders are available in either electric or manual models. They have two cutting discs, or burrs, facing each other that grind the coffee beans into a selected size. The distance between these burrs can be adjusted to change the grind size. Because the coffee grounds cannot escape until they have been cut down to the size of the gap between the burrs, the resulting grounds are very even in size. Burr grinders are ideal for brewing great coffee because they yield a consistent grind throughout, from espresso to coarse. Burr grinders also produce less heat than blade grinders, ensuring more of the volatile oils in the coffee beans remain intact.
Burrs are usually made of steel or ceramic; we discourage purchasing a burr grinder with plastic burrs, as these will degrade rather quickly. Over time even a steel or ceramic burr will begin to dull and the grinder will start to mill the coffee rather than cut it cleanly, producing a lot of tiny pieces. When this happens it is time to change your burrs. New burrs are a small but important investment in continuing to create delicious coffee.
In conclusion, if you are looking to elevate your coffee drinking experience and extend the shelf life of your coffee, we highly recommend investing in a grinder. The best way to enjoy a high quality coffee is to grind the beans at home to your specific needs. Purchasing a grinder gives you the opportunity to experience a new range of coffee flavors because they provide the capability to customize the grind size of your beans. This gives you the ability to control the strength of your coffee. A coffee grinder is an investment that pays off in many, many great cups of coffee!