How a shot of espresso tastes involves a lot of factors. Some of them are obvious, such as water temperature, quality of the ingredients being used and quality of the espresso machine. However, one aspect that is often overlooked is the grinder. Grinding beans is the first step towards making the perfect cup of espresso and if the grinder is no good, then the chance of the shot tasting good goes down considerably. Use this guide to help you make the right decisions when purchasing a grinder for your home or business.
Budgeting for a Grinder
Oftentimes, a novice business owner will choose to get the top of the line espresso machine and skimp on the grinder. This is one of the biggest mistakes he or she can make. It is important to invest heavily in your grinder as well.
It is recommended to spend the same amount on your grinder as your espresso up to $250. If the amount is greater, the grinder should be no less than one-third of your budgeted money. For example, if your budget for a new machine is $500, spend $250 on your espresso machine and $250 on your grinder. If your budget is $1,000, then you should budget $700 for the espresso machine and no less than $300 for your grinder.
For different types of coffee drinks, there are different types of coarseness. For example, the grounds used for French press coffee are much coarser than the grounds used to make a shot of espresso. The coarseness level can be set on most commercial grinders, but how it is done is what makes the difference.
The way the grind thickness is adjusted is typically referred to as the “step.” There are stepped grinders and stepless grinders. Stepped grinders have preset thicknesses that are set on the grinder. It is usually represented by a dial and labels letting you set the grind coarseness from “French Press” or “Espresso.” This does not mean that the user is left with fewer choices for the coarseness of his or her grounds. There are some grinders that have over 40 dial settings, giving the operator more options to choose the grind setting that is nearly perfect.
The other type of grinder is the stepless grinder. This type has a knob which is fluid. There are no set grind coarsenesses and the thickness of the grounds is solely dependant on the user’s precision. The benefit of the stepless grinder is that a user is not limited by the preset coarseness decided by the factory. He or she can set the grind to an appropriate level based on each unique batch of coffee beans. Thus the barista becomes master of his or her grinder domain with a stepless grinder.
Coarseness Ranking-The best grinders will give the user the ability to select the precise setting for the type of grounds they are looking for:
- Moderate: A grinder with no distinction in coarseness levels.
- Good: A stepped dial that has a few different coarseness levels to choose from.
- Better: A stepped dial that has numerous (30-40) selections to choose from.
- Best: A stepless, fluid dial that will let the user choose the perfect setting.
Doser Vs. Doserless
A dosing compartment can save your coffee shop quite a bit of time, and it might seem like the quick and easy choice. Before you jump to conclusions, it is best to weigh both your options before you invest in a grinder that might not be perfect for your business.
A doser or dosing compartment will catch the coffee grounds before they make their way onto the counter. These grinders, also called automatic grinders, are a great way to keep your shop clean and get the exact measurements for each shot of espresso you make. The technology of the dosing compartment came about in the 1920s and has been used consistently since then.
However, since then, there has been a return to more pure, well-made coffee, and there has been much discovered about how the coffee bean works and what is the best method for extracting the best flavor. Unfortunately, when a doser is used, there is a tendency for too much coffee to be ground at once to save time in the future. Baristas will grind more beans than necessary for use in the future. Thus, the ground coffee sits in the dosing compartment and by the time it is used, the grounds are no longer fresh.
A doserless, or semi-automatic grinder does not have a compartment and the grounds are simply deposited straight into a waiting portafilter. This makes it so that every single shot that is made uses only freshly ground coffee beans and not something that has been sitting in a compartment for a while. The one downside to using a doserless grinder is that it will make a much larger mess than a grinder with a dosing compartment since coffee grinds will fall directly on to the countertop if a portafilter is not placed directly under the grinder. Even when the portafilter is placed directly under the grinder, the grounds do not all make it into the portafilter. Instead, they cover the countertop.
There are a few grinders that have large compartments for holding the ground coffee beans. You should never use this type of grinder to holder beans being made for espresso. The grounds will quickly become stale and unsuitable for a good shot of espresso.
Compartment Ranking-While no dosing compartment is best for freshness, if you have a busy enough coffee shop, you can purchase a dosing compartment to help keep the counter clean:
- Moderate: Large, attached canister
- Better: Dosing compartment
- Best: Doserless grinder
Blade Vs. Burr
There are two types of blades when it comes to grinding coffee beans: blade grinders and burr grinders. Blade grinders are more commonly found in home grinders and have a spinning blade located at the bottom of the grinder. Burr grinders rotate as well, but they have teeth that chew up the beans throughout the grinding cavity.
There are no mincing words when it comes to choosing between blade and burr grinders. If you own a coffee shop and desire consistent, well-ground coffee beans, always choose a burr grinder.
Blade grinders produce unevenly ground beans, which results in inconsistent tasting espresso drinks since the coffee grounds will not pack properly into the portafilter. Some areas will pack down firmly, and other areas will have grounds too thick to pack tightly. The only time one should consider using a blade grinder is for home use for a drip brewer, when the only person who has to taste the coffee is you. Professionally brewed coffee requires more consistency than a blade grinder can provide.
Burr grinders are the perfect choice for a commercial coffee shop. The burrs crunch up the beans in a consistent manner, while releasing the natural flavors of the coffee beans. The one problem that burr grinders run into on occasion is being used constantly for more than a minute. Due to their efficiency, burr grinders only need to run for 20-30 seconds. The burr tends to heat up quickly, causing the blades to actually burn the coffee beans, resulting in a bitter-tasting shot of espresso.
Conical Vs. Flat Burrs
When it comes to burr blades, there are two types to choose from: flat burrs or conical burrs. The jury is still out on which is better than the other as both have pros and cons.
Conical burrs spin more slowly due to their slightly larger size. This results in lower heat transfer to the coffee beans, lowering the likelihood of the grinder burning the beans. However, it is believed that flat burrs are tops when it comes to a consistent grind.
Choosing between conical and flat burrs is probably the least important decision when choosing a grinder, but it is important to note the distinction between the two types.
Blade Ranking-When using a grinder for espresso drinks, you should always use a burr grinder. Blade grinders do not adequately grind beans consistently:
- Good: Rotating flat blade
- Better: Conical burr blade
- Best: Flat burr blade
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