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Do you have a father or husband who’s a coffee fanatic? If so, a home coffee grinder may be the perfect gift for Father’s Day. However, in an ocean of choices, finding the perfect model can be a confusing process.
What’s the difference between the $30 version sold in the big box stores and one that costs $200 or more?
Do the more expensive versions grind any better? Can you brew different kinds of drinks with a more costly model?
The answer to the final two questions posed here is an unequivocal yes, but you must know what to look for in order to avoid overspending, or buying a model that won’t work for your desired application.
Be prepared – you should expect to spend a decent amount to guarantee that you are getting a product that your significant other will be able to use for many years, and that will offer the ability to brew all of the forms of coffee that he may want to try.
How Does a Coffee Grinder Make Your Drinks Better?
Once it has been roasted, a batch of coffee beans undergoes a period of off-gassing, and they start to shed the volatile compounds that make up a most of their taste. Once the beans are ground, this off-gassing rapidly escalates due to the increased surface area.
This means that coffee grounds will be stale within fifteen minutes after being ground. Although many premium brands package their pre-ground products immediately after grinding, once opened, the coffee rapidly goes stale.
If left in whole bean form, beans will last two to three weeks after roasting before the flavor is lost. The best practice is to grind right before brewing – keeping those volatile compounds intact until you are ready to extract that wonderful taste.
Fresh roasted beans are critical to getting the most from a home grinder.
Blades and Burrs, Flats and Cones
Grinders can be split into two basic choices: blade and burr types.
The blade type is the basic low-cost product that usually sells between $30 and $90.
Generally not advisable for coffee (though they work well for spices), these versions spin a blade that chops the beans up into irregular chunks – meaning some of the grounds will be dust, some medium sized, and there will be few big “boulders” floating in the grounds.
These irregular shapes and sizes can impart off flavors, such as sourness or bitterness, because the coffee is extracted at different rates once the hot water is introduced. This can make it very difficult to adjust the brew to your taste.
A much better choice for the home java devotee is the burr grinder. These use a ceramic or metal plate with ground-in teeth to shave the beans into fluffy and consistent grounds. The ceramic versions generally last a little longer than steel versions, but either will suit home users.
Most models priced over $100 feature a set of burrs. Burrs are also available in flat or conical (i.e. cone-shaped) variations. This makes little difference in the taste of the brew for the typical home user – unless he is getting into espresso. In that case, there has been much debate and discussion as to which is better.
Dosers vs. Doserless vs. Bins
Traditionally, coffee grinders deposit their grounds into a doser. These are small containers located on the front of the brewing machine that store the grounds until they are ready to use, and then they are “dosed” out with a lever.
These are not really suitable for most home users, as extra grounds will probably go stale prior to use and impart less than desirable flavors into the coffee. They are also hard to keep clean.
A second option that has been widely adopted by many commercial cafes and espresso enthusiasts is the doserless grinder. This type deposits the grounds directly into an espresso machine’s portafilter (the small filter/basket and handle that juts out of the front of an espresso maker).
Again, these are not really suited for the average home user unless they get into espresso, which requires a significant financial outlay for any decent machine that would produce a true espresso extraction.
A better choice for most home brewers would be a grinder equipped with a bin. This variation deposits its grounds into a removable container that can easily be dumped into a French press, coffee maker, or even into a portafilter.
These are generally easy to keep clean and can be adapted to work with any brewing method.
Stepped and Stepless – What’s the Difference?
Two different styles of grind size adjustments are available on the market for home users, and you need to know the difference in order to make an informed buying decision. The first of these is the stepped system, and this is more than likely the kind you want to search for.
What are steps? This means the ground settings can be set only to preconfigured sizes. A stepless version, on the other hand, allows for infinite settings within its range.
At first glance, the stepless variety sounds like it is the better system. However, there is a catch.
Stepless grinders are exclusively designed for espresso brewing, as the range of available adjustment of the grind is very narrow. Espresso requires a very fine grind, with much more fine-tuning of the coffee particle size in order to “dial in” the espresso shots than any other brewing method.
Automatic drip and French press coffee extraction are much more forgiving methods.
Many stepped grinders, on the other hand, are designed for easy adjustment from the coarse grind required for French press, to a medium grind that is necessary for use in a conventional coffeemaker, to a fine grind for espresso.
I’m a huge fan of the Baratza line for home use and would recommend any of their models to anyone as their first grinder. This company seeks to match an outstanding product with a good price point, making these devices affordable for those on a budget.
Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder available on Amazon
The Encore is the most affordable. All of these models are suitable for French press, automatic drip, and pour over brewing methods. And each features a bin engineered with special coatings to reduce static electricity (a real issue with some grinders). Alternatively, these can be fitted with a holder for a portafilter.
However, I’d recommend stepping up to the Preciso or the Vario if you feel your father or husband may want to get into espresso at any point in the future, as these two models have many more grind settings available. I’m sure you’d rather buy the right grinder the first time instead of needing to buy another in the future.
Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder available on Amazon
You may be leery of introducing yet another hobby to the man in your life, but think about this way – a coffee hobby has the potential to increase the enjoyment of the entire family in the hot beverage realm, and to assist in serving your guests exceptional non-alcoholic beverages. This would make the perfect Father’s Day gift.
Read more about choosing the best coffee grinder now. And get even more ideas for celebrating holidays and birthdays by reading our other top gifts for the coffee lover in your life!
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Baratza. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!