EATING MY EMPIRE
For a long time, I did not understand why the coffee I made at home was so, so much worse than the cups I was getting at my local third-wave coffee shop. I bought the expensive fair-trade coffee beans, which I ground myself. I tried the barista-approved brewing methods, like a pour-over or French press. And yet my at-home brews never tasted as good as the drip coffee I paid $3 for someone else to make. Exasperated, I asked my biggest coffee snob friend where I’d gone wrong. You need to change your damn grinder, he said.
Fellow food lovers with rudimentary coffee knowledge, I beg of you: Stop spending all your cash on precious coffee beans unless you’re also investing in a high-quality burr grinder like the Baratza Encore. Yes, the best coffee grinders are much pricier than the type of grinder I was using in the past—a $30 blade grinder—but my Baratza has transformed my daily coffee from tolerable to luxuriant and has dramatically cut down on my impromptu café spending.
There are two different types of coffee grinders: burr grinders (the kind you’ll find in coffee shops) and blade grinders (the dinky plastic gadget that doubles as a spice grinder). Both grinders will break down whole beans, but the results are vastly different.
Burr grinders crush the coffee beans between two revolving, serrated surfaces called burrs (hence, the name). This technique is more likely to yield an even grind, which means the beans’ flavors will be released evenly in your brew. The price point for a good burr grinder starts around $100—but if you want to take your coffee routine to the next level, it’s worth the investment.
Blade grinders, which you can buy for as little as $20, use a more, ahem, violent approach. A conical blade whirrs around the chamber like a propeller, chopping those pricey beans into sad bruised bits. In addition to damaging the beans, this technique is less likely to give you an even grind: Some beans could end up in bigger chunks, while others may be powdery. As a result, a blade grinder is more likely to produce slightly bitter coffee or a brew that isn’t quite as flavorful as the ones you get at a coffee shop.
Burr grinders start around $100, and at different price points, you’ll find a variety of features. Here are a few key distinctions to look out for, based on your choice brewing method: