What Really Grinds My Gears: Burr Coffee Grinders

Coffee grinding results can vary widely from device to device; a fact that most coffee drinking consumers disregard daily. Caffeinated coding sessions in college were frequently fueled by my trusty Mr. Coffee maker & accompanying Mr. Coffee grinder. Most people are familiar with these affordable Mr. Coffee grinders; I know I accumulated roughly three of them moving from apartment to apartment:

The Mr. Coffee grinders provide basic bean grinding functionality in the form of a chopping blade similar to that of a traditional blender,  with about 4 blades at the bottom of a cup/chamber. Designed with the blades on the bottom, you needed to move the beans around to get a somewhat consistent grind, I always felt the need to shake the Mr. Coffee grinder up and down as if I were Tom Cruise in Cocktail. The shaking technique probably does not help preserve the longevity of the grinder, but as I mentioned I always seemed to have a spare one on hand should one malfunction. These blades ‘chop’ in a way that creates heat and simply does not do justice to the bean, burr grinders on the other hand are more similar to crushing or cracking the beans. Using a burr grinder will actually result in a much better tasting coffee! I know, it’s hard to believe.

Counter top coffee grinders are capable of delivering a much better grind if you have enough room to spare. After a long time with my trusty Mr. Coffee grinders, I caved about five years ago and picked up a proper countertop burr coffee grinder that isn’t all that expensive ($47 at time of posting):

The Cuisinart DBM-8 works as expected, it is easy to adjust and can store an average bag of craft coffee beans (10-12 ounces) in the top load hopper. There are many coarseness levels to choose from to match your preference and brew vessel (coarse/french press, medium coarse/chemex, fine/turkish, etc). The only negative that comes to mind is that the plastic container that stores the ground coffee is a bit pron to electrostatic cling, so you may need to knock out the coffee build up from time to time.

Portability matters most when you are interested in bringing a craft coffee kit with you outside of the home. I will often bring a french press with me camping, and typically have an Aero-press for mid-afternoon coffee fix at work. Whether you are at the camp site or the office, an electric powered grinder is probably too loud and awkward to function. Rather, hand powered burr coffee grinders are a great choice for quiet grind on the go. Hario is a great Japanese company that makes various coffee brewing devices, grinders, and accessories. If you have not heard of Hario in the past, I highly recommend you check their products out.

The Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton was my first portable hand powered coffee grinder:

Ceramic makes for a great grinder material as it guarantees an efficient transfer of power and also stands up to the test of time more so than metal based counterparts. The Hario Skerton is visually pleasing with a glass dom, rubber bottom and large powerful crank arm, however it is not the most portable device and could be awkward to fit in travel bags due to the bulbous shape.

California Home Goods, a company that I have not heard of before, makes a portable ceramic coffee grinder product that appears to be well received with 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 120 reviews on Amazon ($17.95):

The design is by no means unique, as a search of the Amazon store for ceramic burr coffee grinders produces many similar looking products. In my opinion the design appears to be knocking off the Porlex Mini Hand Grinder ($43.92), however the California Home Goods model costs about 60% less!

The California Home Goods ceramic burr grinder performs very well and is capable of grinding roughly the same amount of beans as the Hario in roughly the same time. Where the Hario and C.H.G grinders differ is largely in:

  1. Price- The California Home Goods Ceramic Burr Gridner is substantially cheaper ( $17.95 versus $25.49)
  2. Size – The Hario burr grinder is much larger and less portable, whereas the CHG grinder fits perfectly in the center of an Aeropress coffee maker. Fitting inside of the Aeropress means you can save some room in any travel bag you may have for your gear, such as a Poler camera cooler

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