Life is too short to drink bad coffee.
You can drink better coffee at home. You should drink better coffee at home. And frankly, you owe it to yourself to drink better coffee at home.
There are a number of things you can do to improve your at home coffee experience. Your trusty companion on this journey should be a coffee grinder. Yes, before you start buying different coffee or spending a lot of money on a new coffee maker you should get yourself a coffee grinder. Why?
Over time coffee degrades and becomes dull, losing its delicious flavors. This mostly happens from oxidization, a process caused by exposure to oxygen in the air. The rate that this process occurs depends a lot on the surface area of the coffee exposed to air. Ground coffee is totally exposed! Ground coffee starts to degrade and lose flavor within 20 minutes after being ground. 20 minutes! Twenty! This process can occur as early as 90 seconds for more finely ground coffee, like that used in espresso.
Step #1 to better coffee at home is to buy whole coffee beans and grind them immediately before brewing.
Buying pre-ground coffee is one sure way to make sure you are drinking suboptimal, degraded, dull coffee. Please don’t do this. Same goes for pod coffee like K cups! If you want to improve your home coffee experience your first move should be to buy whole coffee beans and grind them yourself at home. More than anything else, a coffee grinder will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Coffee Grinder Types
There are two basic types of coffee grinders: blade grinders and burr grinders. Lets examine the specifics of both.
Blade grinders look like a spice mill. They have a blade or multiple blades that spin, essentially chopping the coffee beans to death. These grinders tend to be inexpensive and readily available. However, there is a downside. Blade grinders leave you with a dramatically inconsistent size of ground coffee ranging from powder to large chunks. This creates an issue when brewing your coffee. The large particles will not have enough surface area to interact with the water and will underextract. Conversely, the smaller powder particles will overextract during brewing. Both of these issues can result in “off” flavors in your cup of coffee–think sour or bitter flavors. Yuck! Take home point: these grinders should really be used for spices, not coffee. Coffee really doesn’t appreciate being treated this way!
The other option is a burr grinder. These grinders work by crushing the coffee beans between two spinning disks, called burrs. The distance between the burrs correlates with the size of coffee grounds, resulting in a much more consistent particle size. The size is also adjustable, allowing you to select a course grind for French Press or a fine grind for espresso and everything in between. Consistent, homogeneous grind size is the key benefit to burr grinders.
Burr grinders can be manual or electric. Manual burr grinders make a great travel companion and are relatively inexpensive. However, unless you are excited to start every morning with a legit arm workout you might want to think twice about making a manual burr grinder your daily coffee grinder. Some require 200-300 turns to have enough ground coffee for one serving. I prefer electric burr grinders for my day-to-day use. These can be on the expensive side with a quality electric grinder typically ranging from $100-350.
If you don’t already have a home coffee grinder I would highly recommend that you purchase one. It’s an investment that is well worth it if you are serious about drinking great coffee. I recommend an electric burr grinder, preferably one with a large number of grind settings so you have more flexibility. This is the grinder that I use every morning.
If the price of electric burr grinders is prohibitive, my second recommendation would be a manual burr grinder. Think of the possibilities, not only will you be drinking better coffee but you will also be developing those biceps!
An electric blade grinder will be cheaper than a comparable burr grinder so if cost is an issue this is another alternative. Admittedly, I used a blade grinder for years but now that I’ve made the switch to a burr grinder I would never go back. It is still by far better than buying pre-ground coffee. But if you can afford to go with a burr grinder I highly recommend doing so.
So without further ado, here are my recommendations: