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What is a Coffee Grinder?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Great tasting coffee comes from whole coffee beans that have been freshly ground within minutes of brewing. This great taste can be achieved at home by using a coffee grinder.

The coffee drinker today has many choices for coffee. Even grocery stores allocate several shelves for exotic brands and flavors, caffeinated and decaffeinated, whole beans or ground. While many people are content buying ground coffee for its convenience, connoisseurs explain that within 2 minutes of grinding coffee the beans begin to oxidize —- a process referred to as staling -- that changes the flavor. For the best tasting coffee, the sooner you brew your java after grinding, the better.

The way in which beans are ground makes a difference in the flavor of the coffee, because chemical changes take place in the beans depending on the process used to grind them. Flavor is also dependent on the consistency of the grind —- and how coarse or fine —- as different brewing methods have their own requirements. For example, espresso uses very finely ground coffee, virtually powder-like, while drip coffee makers use a medium to coarse particle size.

The blade coffee grinder is the least expensive model. It consists of a simple motorized fan-like blade that spins in a hopper, or enclosed plastic casing into which whole beans have been placed. A disadvantage is that the blade shreds the beans inconsistently and the only control for achieving the right particle size is to allow more time for finer ground coffee, and less time for a coarse grind. Even so the end result is a combination of granulates varying in size, suitable enough for an automatic drip coffee maker, but not recommended for espresso. The advantage to this type of grinder is price at $20 (US dollars) or less.

Most experts agree the best type of coffee grinder is a burr grinder. Burrs are serrated steel parts with conical or flat surfaces that fit together. They crush beans into a uniform consistency that can be further controlled by using one of several settings. Burr grinders, along with fresh coffee beans and cold, spring water ensure the best possible flavor.

Burr mills can be hand-cranked or electric. The hand-cranked grinder is favored by people who like to be a little more involved in the process, but can also be handy when camping or traveling.

A burr coffee grinder can cost anywhere from $70-$400 dollars or more, depending on the manufacturer and features. When selecting a grinder make sure it has the settings you require.

When using a coffee grinder with a drip coffee maker, if the paper filter gets clogged and water backs up, or if sediment is left in the cup, the particle size is too fine. If the coffee isn't flavorful enough (assuming the right amount of coffee was used) the particle size is too coarse. Adjust the settings for a better result, or if using a blade grinder, adjust the length of time the beans are ground.

A coffee grinder is thought to be the missing link in the secret to a great cup of home brewed java. If you enjoy coffee, this little appliance might just become your new best friend.

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Discussion Comments

By turquoise — On Aug 31, 2012

@ankara-- Sure, why not.

But keep in mind that if you've been using your coffee grinder, the scent of coffee has probably lingered in it and might change the scent and flavor of the spices that you grind inside. Of course, it goes the other way around too. If you grind spices and then grind coffee, the flavor of your coffee might be different. That's not exactly desirable.

But I know that there are coffee bean grinders which are marketed as coffee, nut and spice grinders all in one. I actually got one for my friend as a wedding present.

So it's kind of up to you if you want to go ahead with it. It's definitely possible to grind things like spices and nuts with a coffee grinder. But I certainly wouldn't put food in it; it's not a food processor.

By bluedolphin — On Aug 31, 2012

Can I use a coffee grinder to grind things other than coffee?

I need to grind some spices but I don't have a spice grinder at home, only a coffee grinder. Is it okay if I use it?

By candyquilt — On Aug 30, 2012

@rallenwriter-- I agree with you. Not only is the flavor of freshly grounded coffee really good, but the scent too. I absolutely love the scent, it's almost addictive. I think I get more pleasure out of that scent when I have just grounded some coffee beans than the coffee itself.

I have a really old electric coffee grinder machine that I got years ago when I was in Germany. But it works perfectly well, it's small and simple. You just plug it in, put in the coffee beans, place the cover and press on it which gets it going.

The only thing I don't like about it is that it doesn't allow me to select how coarse I want the coffee. So I have to grind a little bit and then stop to check if it's done. That's the only annoying part about my grinder.

By EarlyForest — On Aug 19, 2010

Does anybody have any good tips on how to buy the best burr coffee grinder for a beginner? I really want to get a good starter one, but there are just so many options. Does anybody have any advice?

By StreamFinder — On Aug 19, 2010

There are some types of coffee grinders designed for specific purposes -- for instance, espresso coffee grinders.

They are specially designed to give the extra fine, powdery grain needed for perfect espresso, which might be hard to get with other grinders, especially cheap coffee grinders.

I personally use a Cuisinart coffee grinder, but for me, anything that gets the job done is good enough -- I'm not super picky.

By rallenwriter — On Aug 19, 2010

My friends think I'm a coffee snob, but I can't live without my french press and coffee grinder. Honestly, I really would rather not drink coffee if I don't grind it and brew it myself -- it's something about the freshness of the beans that is just addictive.

I think its one of those things that once you get started doing it, you can't imagine stopping. It kind of becomes a ritual. Although right now I only have an automatic coffee grinder, I'm on the lookout for a manual coffee grinder, to make it even more special.

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