How to Get the Most out of a Cheap Grinder
In lieu of new coffee day, today is temporarily new article day! Don't worry, we'll be back to new coffee ASAP! In the meantime, lots of folks ask me, how do I improve my coffee at home? Well, if you're roasting your own (or getting our awesome fresh roasted coffee) and using a SCAA certified brewing method like AeroPress, Pour Over or Chemex (see SCAA certified Auto-Drippers here), then you've got 2/3 of the work taken care of. But so many folks overlook the grinder! Well, we firmly stand by the grinders we offer, but most folks just don't have room in the budget just yet for a really nice burr grinder. So for now, you're stuck with a cheap blade grinder, we understand and we're here to help!
Blade grinders get a bad rap in the world of coffee snobs. They will tell you that you aren't to be taken seriously until you have a conical burr grinder. That simply isn't true. Now, it is true that a good burr grinder is far superior to even the best blade grinders on the market. The problem is that you can pick up a blade grinder for something like $20 at your local big box store whereas a Baratza Encore, the cheapest burr grinder I can recommend, is around $130.
For many people these days, $130 is not a small amount of money to spend on a grinder. My advice to many, many people that want to improve their coffee flavor without much cash is to get a cheap blade grinder while they keep saving their pennies for a Baratza Encore or even a Virtuoso.
In the meantime, there are a couple ways to use a blade grinder that can help compensate for the shortcomings inherent in all blade grinder designs. Let’s break them down into a couple issues and provide a few easy work arounds you can apply immediately to improve your blade grinder’s performance.
Issue – Inconsistent Grind
The problem with blade grinders is that the spinning blade generates centrifugal force that pushes the larger coffee particles outward away from the reach of the blade while at the same time trapping the smaller particles around the center where they are turned to dust. You end up with a pile of "dust and boulders". Remember that a finer grind extracts more quickly while a more course grind extracts more slowly. Over extracted coffee is bitter, under extracted coffee is weak. So with an uneven, "dust and boulders" grind you will get some particles over extracted and some under extracted rendering you a confusing cup. Consistent grinds make for a better cup of coffee!
Solution! – Shake Things Up
While grinding, occasionally pick the little gadget up and give it a gentle shake. Be careful the hold the top down so it doesn’t go flying off! Also, it’s best to turn off the grinder while this is happening to avoid other potential mishaps and disasters. This occasional gentle shaking simply rearranges the coffee in the grinding chamber and helps ensure the blades get a shot at hitting all the beans evenly.
Issue – Too Much Heat Generated
Blade grinders have a bad habit of heating up your vulnerable beans and grounds while chopping them up. This isn’t ideal since this heat will begin chemical reactions that you want saved until water of the correct temperature hits the grounds. Early heat added causes your coffee to get stale way faster than you want and can lead to dull flavors in the cup.
Solution! – Pulse Mode
Manually pulsing the blades on and off for 2 to 3 seconds at a time until the coffee is sufficiently ground helps keep heat at a minimum. If your grinder is a simple button operation that you just hold down, this is really easy to control. Also, you can give the beans a shake as mentioned earlier in between the pulses. If you have a blade grinder that is timed and is set to grind all the way with one push, this may be more difficult to manage, but can be done!
By taking a little more control over the grinding process, it’s pretty easy to get the most of your blade grinder. The grinding process is one of the most important steps in brewing coffee, so even small changes can go a long way to improving the quality of your cup! Just give these two simple steps a shot, you’ll be amazed at the difference a more consistent grind makes.