Buying a Grinder - Top Tips

If you have been buying your coffee pre-ground and noticing that the coffee tends to loose its flavour after a few days, you may have considered buying a coffee grinder, so you can buy beans which will keep fresher for longer.

Often when buying coffee online, you will notice that there can be discounts for buying more than, say 500g. But buying 500g of ground coffee is not going to stay fresh for the amount of time it will take you to drink it, unless you happen to have a very big coffee drinking family! So, buying a grinder can actually pay for itself over time in savings.

But there are tons of grinders on the market, so what should you buy? And how do you choose?


1. Whats the difference between grinders on the market?

If you have even surfed the internet for a few minutes looking for a grinder, you will have noticed that prices vary massively, from a £20 blade grinder to a £400 dose on command burr grinder.

So whats the difference?

Blade Grinders

The cheapest of the cheap, the blade grinder works by smashing and cutting the beans up. As you can imagine, this does not result in very even grinds, nor very tasty coffee, as the grinds will end up being heated and scorched by the intensity of the blades. I do not recommend them at all, so I will dedicate no more time on this blog to them.

Burr Grinders

Burr grinders work by crushing the beans, rather than cutting them. This crushing action doesn't heat up the coffee beans as it grinds, which results in better flavours and a more uniform grind. However, just buying a "burr grinder" doesn't guarantee that it will be a good quality grinder. The burrs must be ceramic or stainless steel, at the very least, and must have appropriate power from the accompanying motor to ensure they can grind competently.

There are two different types of burr grinder too - conical burrs, and wheel (often called flat) burrs. In the budget market (under £100) plump for conical burrs, which work by gently crushing the beans evenly and slowly, ensuring the maximum flavour is trapped in the grinds. Wheel burrs, as they are the cheaper of the two, are often slightly noisier and faster, meaning they are not quite as gently on the bean.

However, spending more money on a flat burr grinder can mean you get a better quality grinder than a cheaper conical burr grinder. If you are looking at spending over £100, the dosing flat burr grinders tend to be just as good as the conical burrs, especially if the burrs are ceramic.

Burr grinders start at about £40.00 and go up to around £400 for a semi commercial dose on demand model.

Hand Grinders / Mills

Hand grinders are a non electric form of grinder, requiring the user to manually turn a handle to grind the coffee beans. They are time consuming, hard work and slow, but a good quality one can produce excellent results, as very little heat is generated from the manual mechanisms.

Many coffee fanatics also like the control manual grinding gives them over their grind, not to mention the theatre and ritual that is involved. However, they are no good for the hurried coffee drinker!

Prices vary hugely for hand grinders, but if you remember the adage "You get what you pay for" you will not be far wrong. Ideally choose a cam driven mechanism, and again, ensure the burrs are always ceramic or stainless steel.

Hand grinders start at around £15, and go up to around £100.

2. Do certain grinders do for different brew methods?

Some grinders do different jobs to others, and are better at grinding for different purposes. Identify what you want your grinder to do. Hand grinders for example, when good quality enough, can produce a reliable, even grind, but are so time consuming you are unlikely to want to use one to grind for a 8-10 cup filter machine, for example. Whereas if you are only going to use your grinder once or twice a week, you may not want to invest in an expensive burr grinder, and may find a cheaper option will suffice for your needs.

Most grinders will produce a grind coarse enough for filter or cafetiere, but it is when trying to get finer grinds that you can often struggle with cheaper grinders. Generally, to grind for espresso (which needs to be quite fine and uniform), your grinder must be fairly powerful, with good quality burrs and a good sized motor which allows the burrs to grind more thoroughly.

If you want to grind even finer, say for Turkish or Greek coffee, you will require a specific Turkish hand mill, which is specially designed to produce a powder.

3. Do they need much cleaning or maintenance?

Grinders don't need lots of cleaning like your espresso machine, but it is important to take them apart and brush out the stale coffee every now and then. This is especially important if you favour very dark roasts, as the oils will stick to the burrs and have a tendency to make the coffee taste a little off. Taking your grinder apart is relatively simple and keeping them free of oils will ensure its lifespan is extended.

If you use a lot of dark roasted coffee, it may be good to run grinder cleaner tablets through your grinder periodically. You will need to buy these from specialist coffee maintenance websites, though they are widely available. Look for Pulycaf or Cafiza, two good brands. Alternatively, throw a handful of uncooked rice through the grinder, which the oils will stick to, and grind. Keep putting rice through until the resulting "rice grinds" are white. Then take the top burr off, clean with a brush and replace. Run some coffee through to remove all the rice residue and your burrs will be good as new!

My Recommendations:
Burr Grinder (Under £100)
Dualit Burr Grinder 700052 - RRP £79.99
Suitable for grinding for espresso right up to cafetiere, this is a well built, reliable machine which gives a good result for a good price. On the slight downside, it can produce a bit of static and will need regular cleaning to keep in tip top condition.

Burr Grinder (Over £100)

Mahlkoenig Vario Doser - RRP £315.00
This grinder is often used as a second grinder in commercial environments due to its speed, reliability and small footprint. It produces a good grind range, plus you can choose to either dose each shot directly into portafilter or grind into the removable container. Make sure you get a new one, however, the containers of the older versions are made of a slightly inferior plastic and produce a lot of static and wasted coffee.

Hand Grinders

Zassenhaus Knee Mill - RRP £99.99
The most highly recommended hand grinder on the market, the Zessenhaus Knee Mill enables the user to place the grinder between ones legs when seated, in order to hold the mill steady when grinding finely for prolonged periods of time. A mixture of style and substance, this hand grinder has conical burrs and is adjusted via an variable nut which holds the burrs in position, creating even results. However, think about how often you will be grinding – due to the work involved, it may only be useful to the casual coffee drinker.

Turkish Hand Mills

Zassenhaus Turkish Mill RRP £75.99
For the Turkish coffee drinker, producing a powder find grind is crucial. Don’t be fooled that your regular grinder can produce such a result – few electric grinders can even grind fine enough for a Turkish coffee. You will need a specific coffee mill, like this one, which is tall and thin, and although time consuming, produces the authentic product!

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