Choosing a grinder for home use is not easy when you consider the price difference between many household brands and the smaller compact models manufactured by commercial brands for the domestic market. In this month’s article, Ben Bicknell, our Coffee Quality Specialist, provides a bit of insight into the different burr types to help in making an informed decision.
Many of us are distracted by the metallic glitter of an espresso machine — we love the chrome curves, delight in the purr of the pump and cradle the comforting weight of the portafilter. Wiping the drool from our chin, we measure out pre-ground coffee into our basket… and out pours a thin, watery shot from our pride and joy — that’s really not so great!
After a couple of weeks of caffeinated experimentation, most people start to recognise that the quality of the raw products we use and the way we handle them while brewing our coffee, all have an impact on the final quality in the cup.
The coffee grinder is a supremely important link in the chain that extends from the coffee cherry to an exquisite espresso!
Exposure to air (oxidisation) is the single biggest factor in turning roasted coffee stale, so it’s fairly easy to understand the importance of grinding your coffee freshly. Can you picture the surface area of one coffee bean? Now imagine the surface area of that same bean ground up into 100 particles — a huge increase in the area exposed to air, and hence a huge decrease in the lifespan of the coffee. The rule of thumb for producing the best espresso is to use your coffee beans within three to four weeks of roasting. The rule of thumb for ground coffee is to use the coffee three to five minutes after grinding!
The best cafés in the world all ‘grind on demand’ or ‘grind by the cup’. This means that they’re only grinding the small portion of coffee they need to make the drinks that have been ordered. This technique is worth mastering at home, especially as the time between coffees in your kitchen café is likely to be a lot longer than for a commercial operation!
But which grinder is best? There is almost as much marketing haze over the choice of coffee grinders as there is hovering over the subject of home espresso machines, so I’ll break it down a little.
There are three main types of machines which separate your whole coffee beans into smaller, more soluble particles. There’s the generic ‘whirly blade’ grinder (or spice mill), the flat burr grinder and the conical burr grinder.
The ‘whirly blade’ grinders were really popular in the ‘80s when they were considered the epitome of coffee cool. While they certainly do break up the beans, ’randomly smash’ might be a more accurate description; the spinning blades in these grinders produce a variety of particle sizes from large chunks to small bits of dust. I made my fair share of plunger coffee using one of these grinders in my student days, and the sludge that ends up at the bottom of the cup from using these very fine grinds is not an enjoyable way to finish a great coffee. I recommend that these grinders be reserved for spice blitzing only — they barely achieve the desired result for coffee, will degrade the overall quality of your flavour and rarely reach the fine consistency needed for espresso brewing.
The other types of grinders are the flat burr and the conical burr grinders. Flat burr grinders have two parallel discs with sharp ‘teeth’ notched along them — one stays stationary while the other spins, grinding the beans between them. The benefit of using a burr grinder is that you will gain a consistent ground particle size and hence an even saturation of your coffee during brewing.
The conical burr grinder works in a similar manner but, as the name suggests, involves a cone shaped burr on the base rotating against a top burr. As they have a larger surface area, these grinders don’t need to rotate as quickly to produce the same volume of grinds. Fewer rotations means less friction, less friction means less heat transferred to the grinds and less heat on the grinds means that the volatile oils in your coffee don’t start evaporating. The end result? You get more flavour in your cup.
For the past few years, Baratza have dominated the domestic coffee grinder market. With the recent introduction of its Sette range featuring conical burrs and straight-through burr technology, Baratza are now offering amazing grinders with almost zero grind retention. The Baratza Sette range includes:
- The Sette 30AP which is an affordable, entry level grinder for customers wanting to get started on their espresso journey. Incorporating the same shape and design as its big brothers, the Sette 30AP features a 30-step, macro grind adjustment and a manual pre-set for repeatable grinds.
- The Sette 270 is an elegant, well thought through conical burr grinder featuring macro- and micro- grind adjustment, three programmable time settings and a built-in holder for either your portafilter or grounds bin so you can grind hands-free.
- The Sette 270Wi which retains all the features of its younger siblings, but offers up the holy grail of espresso preparation – grinding to weight directly into the portafilter! This slick setup is the result of great collaboration between Baratza and our good friends at Acaia. Now how’s that for the ultimate tech team?!
So, whether you’re just starting out on your espresso journey or a home coffee enthusiast wanting to take home grinding to the next level, Baratza offers something for everyone with the Sette range.
This blog post was first published on 6 October 2008. Last update: 25 September 2018.