This article was written in collaboration with Team Handground. Join the community here.
Would you rather drink coffee that was pre-ground with a burr grinder a week ago, or coffee that was ground fresh with a blade grinder?
The team at Able Brewing recently conducted a blind tasting to answer this question. Was freshness or grind consistency more important when brewing coffee?
The team of testers took a freshly roasted batch of coffee and ground half with a high performance burr grinder. They left the other half as whole bean and sealed both samples in air-tight coffee bags for one week.
On the day of the tasting, they ground the whole bean coffee with a blade grinder and then brewed the two samples side-by-side. Not knowing which coffee was which, a group of coffee professionals and consumers tasted both coffees and gave their opinions on each.
Unsurprisingly, neither cup of coffee came out great. However, when the tasters gave their recommendations, they couldn’t decide which cup was better. The fresh, inconsistently ground coffee from the blade grinder was just as bad as the week old pre-ground from the burr grinder.
This test is a little jarring given the importance we place on fresh coffee. It proves that it’s not only important to grind your beans fresh, but you need the right type of coffee grinder to do it.
Better Grind, More Flavor
There are three main styles of grinder to choose from: the blade grinder, the electric burr grinder, and the manual burr grinder, often called a hand coffee grinder.
Blade grinders are the most common type of coffee grinder because of their low price point and compact size. But as the blind tasting concluded, their inconsistent grind can have a huge negative impact on the taste of the coffee.
On the other hand, electric burr grinders are known for providing consistent grind sizes. Yet these also have their downsides; they come with a hefty price tag and their bulkiness and noise levels can be buzzkills.
Hand coffee grinders give you the best of both styles by offering a consistent grind for a fraction of the cost. They have become the preferred choice of a growing community in the specialty coffee world due to their versatility, reliability, and “hands-on” appeal.
We tapped into the passion of the coffee community when we set out to build a new manual coffee grinder. From home brewers to national barista champions, people from all corners of the world joined us to create a new style of hand grinder that’s precise, easy to use, and cheaper than electric models.
Hand coffee grinders are a serious option for anyone who wants to brew great coffee at home. Here are five reasons why a hand grinder might be right for you.
A consistent grind is just as important as buying fresh coffee. Coffee grounds should be the same size so they dissolve at the same rate.
Imagine you’re baking cookies with grandma’s favorite recipe. You begin dosing out the cookie dough onto a baking sheet, but instead of making the cookie dough piles the same size, you make them several different sizes.
What will happen when you bake the cookies? The small pieces will begin to burn while the large pieces remain uncooked. This is what happens to uneven coffee grounds as you brew.
Different sized coffee grounds will dissolve at different rates, leaving some grounds under-extracted and others over-extracted. These under- and over-extracted grounds will add sour and bitter flavors to your coffee.
A burr grinder will help you get the most out of fresh coffee. Unlike a blade grinder, a burr grinder breaks coffee down into evenly-sized particles to ensure an even extraction.
Burr grinders utilize a pair of sharp, precisely shaped cutting stones called “burrs” that do a way better job at grinding coffee to a consistent size.
Blade grinders, on the other hand, don’t really “grind” your coffee at all. Instead, they chop your beans into uneven sized bits, turning some coffee beans to dust and leaving others as large chunks.
However, electric burr grinders are expensive. The best home models cost over $200, and almost all acceptable models cost more than $100. The quality of grind drops significantly when you begin looking at electric burr grinders cheaper than this.
The problem with cheap electric burr grinders is the set of burrs they use. Most do not use burrs made of ceramic or metal, but instead use “false burrs” with sharp cutting blades that chop up the beans into uneven sized grounds, just like a blade grinder.
On the other end of the price spectrum are blade grinders, which can be as cheap as $15 but maintain their consistency issues no matter the price.
A hand coffee grinder provides a consistent grind while selling for less than the cheapest acceptable electric model. Without the cost of a motor, hand coffee grinders put more focus on the pieces that truly matter: the burrs.
And you’re not just paying less, you’re gaining other valuable features with a manual coffee grinder that electric grinders cannot provide.
Hand coffee grinders save you money and give you more. Making your own coffee while you travel is much cheaper than buying expensive cups of coffee at the cafe. It can also save you from the even more horrible fate of drinking hotel coffee.
Your Baratza Preciso might be good for home, but if you’re on the road, an 8lb electric burr grinder is not going to work.
Many coffee companies are catering to the galavanting coffee lover by creating travel kits to bring your brew wherever you go. What do all these travel kits have in common? A hand coffee grinder.
Hand coffee grinders are mobile by nature and have inspired some travelers to combine their love for both coffee and adventure. Jeremy Parnell, co-founder of Hatchet Coffee in Boone, North Carolina, recently took his travel coffee gear on a week long climbing trip in the Ozark Mountains.
“Brewing outside is such a different experience than brewing indoors," said Parnell, "I feel more aware of my surroundings and tend to enjoy the coffee more. I savor and think about each sip.”
Whether you’re backpacking, vacationing, or taking a business trip, a hand coffee grinder lets you take your coffee with you wherever you go.
Hand coffee grinders are also useful at home. If you’re an early riser in a house of light sleepers, you want to think about the amount of noise your coffee grinder is making.
Are hand coffee grinders quieter than electric grinders? We decided to test the difference by measuring the noise levels of each. In a quiet kitchen, we ground coffee with Handground and measured the noise output with a decibel reader. Handground clocked in at about 73 decibels, or the noise level of classroom chatter.
Next we ran the Baratza Encore, which registered more than 80 decibels, 10 times louder than Handground (Every increase of 10dB on the scale is equivalent to a 10-fold increase in sound intensity. Here’s a good article about how decibels work). That’s the difference between people talking and city traffic driving through your kitchen.
If noise is an issue for you or your household, then a hand coffee grinder will be a very welcomed addition to your morning routine.
Some activities like woodworking, gardening, and manual coffee brewing have more convenient alternatives, yet people choose to invest time in these activities because they love the process. Convenience is irrelevant; the sense of pride that comes with creating something is worth far more than the time it takes to do it.
Using a hand coffee grinder can also be good for you. Our digital world delivers anything we want in an instant, and this state of being constantly connected can lead to burnout.
Grinding coffee by hand can give you a much needed mental break throughout your day. Christopher J. Penn calls the time he spends hand grinding his coffee, “required boredom”.
“It’s a healthy thing, because in those 10 minutes, you can give your mind time to process problems and step back from work."
Using a hand coffee grinder is a chance to go analog for part of your day, to unplug and simply focus on the task at hand. Sure, it takes a little extra time in the morning, but the tactile experience of creating your coffee is a reward in itself.
Your coffee grinder has a huge impact on the taste of your coffee. Just like you wouldn’t skimp on the quality of your beans, you do not want to cut corners with the quality of your grind.
You don’t need to buy an expensive electric burr grinder to achieve a consistent grind. Hand coffee grinders offer the consistency you need at a price point you can achieve. Their mobility lets you take your coffee everywhere you go, and they don’t wake up the entire house when you’re home.
Most of all, manually grinding your beans brings you closer to the drink you love.
Don’t compromise. You can have great coffee at a good cost, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. A hand coffee grinder is your ticket on this train of coffee brewing freedom. All aboard!