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Blade grinders – the little $30 devices found in every department store like Macy’s, Sears, and Target. Unless you are a little familiar with the world of premium coffee brewing, you may think these are a good deal and will add to your enjoyment you get each morning started with that first cup.
However, blade grinders are actually the mortal enemies of the coffee bean.
Would you hook a pair of $5000 B&M speakers up to a cassette tape deck? Put a set of “general” tires from Walmart on your BMW M6? Use a silver setting for a 2-carat, colorless, VVS1 diamond?
You may think I’m being overly dramatic, but I’m really not. Coffee is a little luxury in your life, and it needs to be properly prepared to give you the most pleasure in each cup, for a lot less of a financial outlay than those examples listed above.
Trust me – with just a little bit of an investment you can significantly improve the taste of your coffee extractions. You definitely don’t have to have a $2500 commercial Mazzer commercial espresso grinder to enjoy a simple brew in your own home.
Let me put it to you this way: A premium coffee bean is cultivated by hand on specialty farms spread throughout the world – sometimes with assistance and support from premium roasting companies.
Many of these beans are grown with organic methods and in a sustainable manner alongside other crops (that don’t pay the farmers nearly as well) in order to promote diversity in the ecosystem and to limit monoculture.
The roasting companies pay a premium for these beans as outlined under fair trade regulations. The beans are then processed using some of the better finishing methods, sorted, graded, and finally imported into your country.
The roaster then samples each batch from various origins and (sometimes) blends these beans into a harmonious mixture, and they are perfectly roasted to bring out the subtle nuances of flavor.
Special packaging is used to keep the coffee beans fresh for as long as possible, and they are mailed directly to you or sent to your neighborhood café – PRIOR to them going stale (within two to three weeks after being roasted).
After all of this work, why would you use a device such as blade grinder that crushes, pulverizes, and smashes the hard work put into getting you a premium product?
So, what’s so bad about a blade coffee grinder?
Using a blade grinder on coffee beans is akin to using a pressure sprayer to water your tomato plants.
Would you rather have a light sprinkle or dipper feeding your nice fluffy soil that you’ve amended with tons of worm castings and mulch, or a jet of water that compacts the earth and kills all of the beneficial microorganisms?
A blade grinder is simply the wrong tool for the job. It uses a metal blade, similar to the propeller on an airplane, that spins at a high rate of speed and pulverizes your coffee beans into a mixture of odd-sized chunks and fine powder.
This mixture of different sizes of coffee grounds leads to highly irregular brews, due to the different amounts of surface area exposed on each bit, and makes the outcome of your brew highly unpredictable.
The small-sized coffee ground particles – called “fines” – will over extract some of the chemical compounds that cause bitterness, while the larger sized particles may remain under extracted. This is due to the differing surface areas of each particle.
What do you want in a coffee grinder?
No matter what, if you are just looking to buy the best grinder for your home, you should look for a model that features burrs. Burrs are conical or flat shaped disks with cutting teeth milled into them that allow the device to shave the beans into more of a consistently sized batch of grounds.
You will want to produce as many of the same size of grounds as possible, and the only way to get this exactness is through the use of models equipped with burrs.
The coffee grounds will still have a few “fines” or smaller pieces, but the incidence of this is greatly reduced from that produced by blade grinders.
Controlling the number of fines and shapes of fines is the key to making a great coffee extraction, as it removes one more variable from the equation.
Moreover, many burr equipped units are adjustable in that they can easily change the size of the grounds being produced. Those folks that aren’t coffee aficionados may not be aware of this, but each coffee brewing method requires a different grind size.
French press requires a coarser ground, coffee from a drip pot a medium, and Turkish requires an ultra fine powder. Little changes in the particle size can have a big influence on taste, and you want to be able to easily adjust this.
There are many models available for you to choose from no matter your price range, and the cheapest burr equipped unit will significantly outperform any blade equipped grinder.
I’d be hard pressed to recommend a specific model without knowing your intended coffee brewing methods, but for a beginner you may want to have a look at the Bartaza Encore.
This one of the cheapest ways to get a nice unit that will handle all of your coffee making needs, short of making espresso (and will work for this in a pinch).
In fact, I’d recommend comparing all of the Baratza models as they offer a fair price with some of the best deals in the market, and they have phenomenal customer service – the reason we stock them in the first place.
We’ve also developed a buying guide to assist you in choosing the best coffee grinder for your needs.
Good luck in your coffee brewing endeavors, and if you should have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below.
About Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn spent 20 years in the US Army and traveled extensively all over the world. As part of his military service, Mike sampled coffee and tea from all virtually every geographic region, from the beans from the plantation of an El Salvadorian Army Colonel to "Chi" in Iraq to Turkish Coffee in the Turkish Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent nearly a decade in the Republic of Korea where he was exposed to all forms of traditional teas. Mike formerly owned and operated Cup And Brew, an online espresso and coffee equipment retail operation.