There’s something rather satisfying about doing it yourself, isn’t there? Whether it’s hand-cranked or electrically stimulated, this pleasurable process can be done in the privacy of your own home whenever you feel like it. Using coffee grinders to grind beans yourself is one of the best ways to enjoy the full sensory experience of coffee, and we can’t recommend it enough.
But why do it? Is it necessary for good-tasting coffee? Should you avoid pre-ground coffee?
Here’s our guide to answering those pressing questions.
Why do people use coffee grinders to grind coffee?
Let’s go back to basics first. Why do we grind the bean in the first place? Why not just put the beans in hot water and wait for the magic to happen?
Well, it’s to help get what’s inside the bean (the oils and flavour compounds) out of it, by increasing the total surface area that they can be extracted from.
Imagine chopping a coffee bean in half. You’ve now increased the total amount of surface available to extract coffee from. Now chop those halves into halves. And again, and so on, until they’re in tiny pieces. Making loads more surface area for extracting coffee – that’s why we grind.
As well as making the extraction process more efficient (taking less time and energy than it would if you used whole beans), it also means that more flavours are brought out into the drink.
Pros and cons of whole bean and ground coffee
Many roasteries, including ours, sell both whole-bean and pre-ground coffee. This is a matter of convenience and preference, but many people don’t understand why there’s a difference.
So why do people use coffee grinders at home?
The main reason is for enhanced freshness. A roasted coffee bean keeps the oils and flavours safely packed until they’re ready to be extracted. A high quality, freshly-ground coffee bean releases a delicious aroma which will immediately put anyone nearby in the mood for a cup. When the cup is then made, you’re releasing those flavours and getting them directly into the drink. It’s going to taste fantastic.
Like other roasteries, we proudly sell ground coffee for each of our varieties. These are aimed at those who either don’t have a grinder at home, or simply don’t want to deal with the extra effort when they’re making their morning joe. The majority of supermarket coffees are sold pre-ground, so you know it’s a perfectly valid form (although we’d warn that you don’t know how long they’ve been sitting on the shelves, or how long they’ve been travelling through the distribution chain – another advantage of buying straight from the roastery).
You don’t have to worry about freshness when using pre-ground coffee, as long as you keep it in the right environment.
Essentially, when using pre-ground coffee at home, you’ve got to be wary of aroma contamination. Prolonged exposure to air is going to damage the coffee flavour by absorbing moisture and contaminants.
(If you’ve ever lived with someone who just sticks an open bag of ground coffee in the fridge, along with uncovered leftovers and mouldy vegetables – give them a stern talking-to, will you?)
If you’re storing ground coffee at home, you just need to take some simple precautions to avoid quality degradation. Ideally, you’d vacuum-seal it, but otherwise keep it in an air-tight container at room temperature (don’t be tempted to refrigerate, as it’ll cause condensation of moisture in the air which will permeate the coffee).
The different types of coffee grinders
There’s a wide range of grinding equipment you can get for home use, from the simple manual cranks, to motor-powered behemoths that’ll have your neighbours thinking you’re building a kitchen extension.
On the simple end, you’ll find manual coffee grinders, which use the power of leverage (remember physics GCSE?) to crank a knob around an axle attached to some ridged gears, applying force to the beans and grinding them down into coarse coffee powder. This then drops down into a cylinder that can then be emptied into your coffee-maker of choice.
We’re big fans of the Hario Skerton hand grinder (conveniently available at our online shop). You’ll know Hario as the Japanese glassmaker responsible for some of the world’s best coffee filter jugs, cold brew pots, and all sorts of other gizmos. The Skerton is a small but perfectly formed ceramic and glass construction that serves as a great introduction to the joy of the home grind.
If you’re looking to expend less energy for each cup, it might be worth looking at an electric grinder. These can range in price from a tenner in catalogue stores (for a rather plasticky variety, liable to break at any moment) to hundreds and even thousands for complicated stainless steel contraptions.
These will do the work for you at the press of a button, often with options to change between coarse and fine. (Some of these grinders can even be used to grind herbs, but you run the risk of flavouring your next espresso with pepper if you don’t clean them through – not ideal.) One of the advantages of an expensive electric grinder is that they’re likely to have a consistent grind, so you won’t find coarse bits in your fine grind, and vice versa. But they can be rather noisy and take up lots of space on the kitchen counter.
The different types of coffee grind
It’s not just a case of ground or not. There are different levels of grinding, as you’ll see from the drop-down grind options on each of our product pages.
The reason for this variety is that different grinds go with different equipment and brewing methods. For detailed information on what each method entails, hit up our Know Coffee brewing guides, but here’s a few clues.
The scale goes from coarse to fine. Coarse ground coffee has bigger coffee particles, which are better for cafetieres, and fine grounds suit espresso-style methods.
Cafetiere grind is the most commonly found grind type and is coarse enough to get caught by the filter plunger in a French Press.
Filter grind is finer, which can be used in filter gadgets such as Chemex or drip machines.
Aeropress is also a fine filter grind for a specific type of brewing gadget.
Espresso grind (also known as Turkish) is even finer, a powdery variety that’s designed for espresso machines and moka pots.