I hear it all the time - “I don’t want to spend time grinding coffee at home. I want to scoop, pour, push a button, and be done with it,” and I get it. Morning can be hectic, and adding one more step to the routine can sometimes feel impossible. Buuuuuttttt, I believe if you are going to spend your hard-earned dollars treating yourself to the highest quality, sustainably-sourced, locally-roasted small batch coffee, then it makes sense to take care of those beans and get every bit of your money’s worth in delicious home brewed goodness!
Second only to the quality and freshness of the beans, I believe that grinding at home before you brew is the next best way to ensure you get the quality cup you are looking for. Sure, the brewing device you’ve chosen has a big effect on how your coffee will taste, but there are so many options there - pour-over, French press, drip, espresso, etc. All of these options are great and everyone has their favorite, some of us have multiple (pour-over for when I’m feeling thoughtful, drip for when I don’t want to think). The one constant that favors all of these methods is a good grinder. The right grind for the right brew method will make your morning coffee sing!
Why does it matter? Oxygen. All of the things that make coffee delicious, and good for you, are stored inside the bean’s beautiful shell. Once the beans are roasted, the magic inside of them slowly seeps out little by little, which is why we put them in bags and seal them tight! This allows the coffee beans to keep hold of their very best flavors for many weeks after roasting. Once you open the bag, though, the dissipation happens a little more quickly. Once you grind the beans, pulverizing the natural protective layer, the flavor of that coffee is best that same day. I’m not against grinding the night before, I think the taste difference is negligible for most beans, and can even be beneficial for others, but if you buy a whole bag of ground coffee that doesn’t get finished until a week or two later, I think you could be missing out on some delightful flavor notes...and, of course, you’re depriving yourself of the life-affirming smell of freshly ground coffee each morning!
Okay, so maybe at this point you’re convinced that a daily grind is a good idea, but there are still two big problems–getting the right grind for the right brew method feels complicated and expensive.
In my opinion, the first point is easy to address. You probably have one, maybe two, brewing methods that you use most consistently. Let’s say it’s an automatic drip machine. Awesome. You open your bag of coffee, pour some beans in the hopper, press the grind button, wait 30 seconds, and pour the coffee grounds into the brew basket. With your pre-ground coffee you open your bag of coffee, scoop some coffee, pour coffee grounds into the brew basket, scoop some more coffee, pour into the brew basket...maybe you’ve saved 30 seconds not having to wait for the grinder to do its magic? And to me all of the scooping from the bag sounds like more manual labor. There are grinders out there that practically do all of the work for you. If you have one main machine that you brew on, you can set up your grinder once and never have to address it again except to say “Go!” If you have two different brew methods that require two different grinds (more on that another day!), you can even make markings on your grinder, one for each setting, so all you have to do when you’re ready to grind is twist the dial to one mark or the other, and you’re ready to go! You can even pre-load or pre-grind the beans the night before. Seems like a fair trade! (Except that you should clean your grinder now and then. But you can do that while you clean your coffee maker! You ARE cleaning your coffee maker, right?)
The second point–the one about the expense–is absolutely a good one. The cost of having someone else grind your coffee is probably zero. The grinder we sell on our website is $140. There are definitely cheap grinders out there, but, in the spirit of responsible grinding, the cheapest one I can recommend goes for about $45. Am I a grinder snob? Well, yes, to be sure, but there is a good reason for it. The cheaper grinders that you will find are known as “blade grinders,” and the more expensive are usually the “burr grinders.” I won’t get into the physics of it, but basically blade grinders produce grounds that are all over the place in terms of size, leaving you with a frustratingly inconsistent and poorly extracted brew, whereas burr grinders give you a very uniform grind size and have features that allow you to customize the grind size between fine and coarse to fit your brewing machine. The magic word here is "extraction." When the hot water flows through your coffee grounds, you want the water to have access to the same amount of surface area for each ground. That way, each individual tiny speck of coffee is giving up the same flavor and intensity as every other speck of coffee in the brew. If your grinds are different sizes, then some specks are giving a dark, roasty flavor note and a lot of bitterness, and some are giving fruitier flavor notes and a lot more acidity, and what you end up with is sort of a hodge-podge cup of coffee, even though it came from the same bag.
We’ll share a blog post soon about why different brew methods are best used with different grind sizes, but for now, just know that oxygen and extraction are two of the big keys to coffee nirvana.
As far as the price tag goes, I don’t know if this type of mental spin works on you like it does on me, but think of it this way: You can buy a 12oz bag of Reconstruction Coffee for $20 or less and get at least 30 cups of coffee from it. If instead of making coffee at home like a responsible adult you bought 30 cups of coffee at a coffee shop you would have spent at least $60! Go buy a grinder!
If at this point you are at all convinced that you want and need a burr grinder for your home: HOORAY, you’ve made it to the recommendations! Of course the grinder I recommend most highly to the enthusiastic home roasters out there is the Baratza Encore (which you can buy on our website for $140!). I like it not only because it has received tons of great reviews from coffee experts, but also because it is designed by a small company in Seattle that only makes coffee grinders. They are truly experts, and their entire focus is on coffee grinder innovation. Plus, as far as I know Baratza grinders are not found in any stores near our Villa Ridge, MO roastery, and I like being able to give our local customers a unique option. One more big plus that I definitely appreciate is that, for a grinder, it’s pretty quiet (please don’t wake the baby!). Unfortunately, since it is quieter than most electric grinders, it is also a bit slower. So you lose a few seconds, but also THE BABY STAYS ASLEEP. (Maybe this is a personal issue.)
Another grinder that we have especially enjoyed using at home and at the roastery is the Breville Smart Grinder Pro ($200 at Bed, Bath and Beyond). This one is more sturdy and tech-forward than the Baratza Encore, which makes it incredibly easy to use and maintain right out of the box. It’s tall and stately, and it seems to say, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”
Finally, yes, I did promise a recommendation for a $45 grinder. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet, but several experts recommend the KRUPS Precision Grinder ($45 on Amazon.com). It only has 12 grind size settings (the Baratza Encore has 40 and the Breville Smart Grinder has 60), but for the price, it sounds like a great alternative for those who want to keep it simple while still enjoying the benefits of burr-ground coffee.
In conclusion, I hope this post has convinced you to buy a grinder for your home. I swear I don’t care if you buy it from us (I would love it if you would) and I promise I’m not pushing grinders to save me time when I’m packing your coffee order (I’m happy to grind for you on our fancy Bunn Commercial Grinder). Mostly, I’m excited for you to get to know how good it feels to have more control of how your coffee tastes. And I’m pretty sure that once you have the power, you’ll never want to give it back.