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The coffee snobs would have you think that you can’t grind coffee well in a blade grinder. They say it creates uneven chunks, they say it can overheat the coffee. But then there’s the geeks at Cooks Illustrated. They say the heat generated by blade grinders is not so far off from a burr grinder. Being geeks (in the nicest way) they measured it and found the temperature difference to be negligible. And, they found that with a few shakes and pulses of the blade grinder you can get fairly evenly ground coffee.
So, who is right? The snobs or the geeks?
Neither really. The most important thing is to grind your beans immediately before use. For the average consumer, that will deliver the most wow for your dollar. Taste difference between grinder types is minimal to all but the most trained palate.
What to look for in a grinder
Easy to clean: This is actually one of the most important features because nothing will ruin your coffee more than bits of last Tuesdays grind showing up in today’s coffee.
Noise: Rattling beans around in the chamber is pretty loud, especially if you are an early morning riser and the rest of your family is not.
Consistently sized particles: This is what we are after—we want to choose the best particle size (fine, medium, coarse, etc) for the type of brewing method we are using (see infographic here).
Blade grinders are the least expensive and generally the most popular. If the choice is between a blade grinder or buying your coffee pre-ground, get the grinder. Their shortcoming for cold brew coffee is it is difficult to get evenly coarse grounds without pulverizing some of the coffee too finely. Conversely, if you don’t grind it long enough you get big chunks of beans in your brewer. Blade grinders are easy to clean. You can wipe it out, or grind a few chunks of bread to clean it.
For price and consistently solid reviews by consumers and experts alike, you can’t beat the KRUPS F203 Electric Coffee Grinder . It is easy to use, easy to clean and does a decent job getting even grinds. You may as well buy two because it works great as a spice grinder too.
Manual Burr Grinders:
If you want a conical burr grinder without breaking the bank, then consider our top choice for manual burr grinders, the Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill (Skerton). It is easy to clean, and definitely will be the quietest way to grind your coffee. The mill delivers a consistent grind and is a solid device. The two downsides are that 1) you need to spend a minute or two cranking the handle to grind the beans and 2) adjusting coarseness of grind requires unscrewing and removing the handle and turning a little nut. This nut adjusts the distance of the burs to each other. So, if you have two coffee drinkers in the house (like in mine where I drink cold brew and my husband drinks espresso) then you will have to unscrew it every time you change the coarseness of the grind. Overall though, the burs are made of ceramic and this is the best compromise between price and function—as long as you don’t mind putting a little elbow grease into your grind.
Electric Burr Grinders:
Electric burr grinders are a leap up in price as you can quickly get into the hundreds of dollars in this category. For the budget minded, consider the Bodum Bistro Electric Grinder. It is not overly loud, it holds nearly a pound of beans in the hopper, and does a good job with consistent grinds. There are 14 grind levels to choose from so you should be able to satisfy whatever brewing method you choose. The burs are made of stainless steel. Another plus is that it doesn’t take up a ton of counter space. It comes in several colors allowing you to match your kitchen décor. There is a setting in seconds that controls how long the grinder runs for, which translates into how much coffee you grind at once. You should be able to get enough coffee for a few cups in a matter of seconds. That said, it takes a bit of fiddling at first to find the perfect length of time to grind for.
If you really want to splurge, Baratza makes top of the line coffee grinders. The Virtuoso has a whopping 40 settings for grind type and its sharp burs make a consistent grind. Meanwhile, the motor is designed to run slower to prevent heat generation. If you want to impress your friends or play barista, this is the one to have proudly displayed on your counter.
Of course, there are plenty of other good grinders out there—this post really is just highlighting some to the best of class. If you have thoughts on these or any other grinders, feel free to leave a comment.