Buying a coffee grinder is a better choice than using pre-ground coffee. By using your own grinder, your whole-bean coffee will stay fresh longer. And who wants coffee made with stale beans? Now let's explore the fascinating world of coffee grinders that are on the market today.
Types of grinding doohickeys
There are essentially two types of coffee grinders; burr grinders, and blade grinders. Let's consider the differences, shall we?
Blade grinders use a spinning metal blade to grind coffee, as you probably guessed by the name "blade grinders." Not much suspense there. These tend to be cylindrical plastic devices that cost around $15 USD. Cheap-asses take note: these grinders have two major drawbacks. First of all, the coffee is not ground evenly, so you can't get a perfect grind out of them. Secondly the blade tends to heat the coffee, which is detrimental to the flavor. For those reasons, this type of grinder isn't recommended for espresso.
Burr grinders use a spinning metal plate to shred the coffee evenly. Some have a motor, others are hand-cranked. These machines can be automatic — you tell it how much coffee you want and how fine you want the grind (those kind are pretty darn spiffy.) Incidentally, the device that measures out coffee is known as a "doser." Several companies now make low-end (cheap) burr grinders. You should stay away from these, as the low-end models often overheat and do a lousy job of grinding anyhow. In other words, if you don't have much to spend you'd might as well save your hard earned cash and go for a blade grinder. But if the printing press in your basement is churning out crisp counterfeit currency, you're much better off going for a high quality burr grinder. (Just remember to check with your local federal prison to make sure they'll let you keep your grinder when you move in there.)
Coffee mills: Wait, didn't I just say there were two types of coffee grinders? I didn't lie — hand-cranked burr grinders are often refered to as coffee mills, which I basically covered above. I just thought I should mention these here to see how closely you were paying attention.
What should I buy?
Excellent question. Now I have a question for you: how much do you want to spend? As I said above, if you're on a tight budget it's not worth spending more than around $15 USD on a blade grinder. A good burr grinder will set you back $100 or more. But if you're not on a budget, speedy commercial-quality grinders can cost over a thousand bucks.
Features and considerations
Speed: Making espresso can involve a number of time-intensive steps, and it's best if grinding isn't one of them. Most grinders operate at a reasonable pace, but if you have your eye on a certain model you should check out some reviews first and see if anyone complains about the speed (or lack thereof) before you bust out your wallet.
Doser: A doser makes preparing espresso much simpler. Just stick your portafilter with a filter basket in the doser and slide a little lever. There's no measuring the amount of coffee, moving coffee with a spoon, and best of all — no mess. Usually only burr grinders have these, but I've seen blade grinders with dosers before as well.
Grind setting: All burr grinders have some type of grind setting adjustment. Some grinders don't allow much adjustment, however, so you should make sure you get one that fits your needs.
Noise: Unless you're already deaf, it's best to get a grinder that isn't horribly noisy. Quieter machines often pimp this attribute on their packaging.
Places to shop
You could buy a cheap grinder almost anywhere, but you'd might as well shop online because you're already here. If you want to purchase a high-end grinder the best prices are often online. Here's a few online stores I'd check out if I were you:
Cooking.com has a respectable collection of coffee and espresso equipment for sale. They’ve got a great selection of grinders.
The coffee gods at Illy have a pretty decent selection of espresso-quality coffee grinders. It’s worth a look. If you order online they’ll throw in free shipping if you order enough (currently $75 or more.)