Our beloved Krups coffee grinder had died, and the sound of the beans smashing at light speed against the plastic prep bowl in our mini food processor would wake the dead, or at least our house guests on a different floor. Thus we found ourselves in the market for a new coffee grinder. Here’s the summary of my digging into what Cooks Illustrated, Consumer Reports product reviews, the Amazon reviewer community, and a handful of other online gurus had to say about the blessed bean and how best to grind ‘er.
(Generally Agreed Upon) Key Factors In Grinding Coffee Beans
- The time between grinding and consumption:
Less exposure to oxygen = less degradation of flavor = good coffee
- The uniformity of the grind:
Even grind = better extraction = “Ahh… that’s lovely!” coffee.
- The heat created during grinding:
Slower grinding = lower temperature increase =
“Don’t speak. Just… don’t speak…” coffee
- A clean grinding mechanism:
Leftover grinds in the machine =
oxygenated, degrading coffee grounds in your next pot =
“Fuggedaboudit. I’m going to Starbucks.”
Ergo, (Generally Agreed Upon) Key Factors in Evaluating Coffee Grinders
- Using even a cheap half-decent grinder at home just before you make your coffee trumps using the big ol’ supermarket monster grinder at the Piggly Wiggly the day before.
- The three different grinder mechanisms commonly available affect the uniformity of the grind. Burr grinders generally work better than blade grinders at creating an even grind and minimizing coffee “dust” that can clog a filter and create sludge in the bottom of your cup. Additionally, conical burr grinders do a better job than flat burr grinders as they usually operate at a lower speed, meaning they’re quiet and create less static (static = mess). Finally, no matter what kind of grinder you use, you should match the coarseness of the grind to the brewing method. (Note: as we depend on our grinder for everything from our French press (very coarse grind) to our espresso machine (very fine grind), we were looking for a well-rounded grinder that could handle both ends of the spectrum.)
- Heat creation: good quality burr grinders are reputed to create less heat during the grinding process than the blade jobbers.
- Ease of cleaning counts as the race against the clock is already lost if you wake up to yesterday’s leftovers in your grinder. And in my world, the easier something is to clean, the more likely it is that it will become the habit it should be.
Three Additional (Universally Agreed Upon) Key Factors in Evaluating Coffee Grinders
- Cost: Spending less money to achieve similar results is better.
- Reliability: A grinder that’s in a shipping container on its way back to the manufacturer for repair won’t make very good coffee, no matter how much you paid for it in the first place.
- Noise: It should be the aroma of the elixir, not the supersonic squeal of the grinder, that coaxes your beloved from their slumber.
With that background in mind, we visited our usual suspects–Cook’s and Consumer Reports–for their recommendations, only to learn that they were surprisingly tough to come by.
An online search of Cook’s Illustrated produced only one disappointing review on coffee grinders dating back to 2001 (the date is obviously problematic) and even that only reviewed grinders under $50.
Their highest recommendation back then is still available, the Capresso 501 Cool Grind blade grinder, above. A newer model is now available, except that now it’s called Capresso 501 Cool Grind Coffee/Spice Grinder.
Given the conventional wisdom that uniformity is a top consideration, why would their top recommendation be a blade grinder? In their article, Cook’s claims that their tests didn’t reveal a huge difference in temperature between the blade models and the few low-end burr grinders they tested, and that by giving a blade grinder a good shake as it’s grinding, the uniformity issue of the grind can be resolved, so maybe an inexpensive blade grinder is indeed an okay option for an average coffee drinker.
Ironically, it was Cook’s next highest recommendation from 2001 that has emerged as the WILDLY popular #1 Best Seller in “coffee grinders,” on Amazon, the Krups F20342 blade grinder (above). Also available at around $20, the Krups has (at the time of writing) a whopping 4.4 star rating with 2836 reviews! (I also accidentally found myself looking at the #1 Best Seller cheap meat grinder that’s also a pasta maker, but that’s a different story for another day.)
So if you just want a decent, reasonably reliable home grinder, according to a 13-year old review by Cooks Illustrated and around 3000 informed consumers, you get a lot of bang for your buzz with the Krups. Just be sure to pick it up and make like a martini master to even out the grind, and you’ll be 4.4 / 5.0 the way to a great cup of coffee.
Incidentally, Consumer Reports’ more recent review talks about exactly one model that grinds coffee, and it isn’t even an actual stand-alone coffee grinder. What part of the brave new world vision of “a Starbucks on every corner” have these people missed?
It’s a kinda pretty coffee machine that both grinds and brews with a conical burr grinder, and while you’d expect a decent machine based on both the brand name and type of grinder, it scores somewhere in the “blech” range by both Consumer Reports and the reviewers at Amazon. (No mention of this particular machine anywhere I could find by Cooks Illustrated.)
The biggest beef at Amazon about the Krups was, hands down, around reliability, and at roughly $150, I’d keep shopping, which we did.
Given the disappointing results of our Cooks and Consumer Reports recommendations and the wee epiphany that perhaps current users of coffee grinders might have insight into something Cook’s Illustrated and Consumer Report’s have lost interest in, we decided to try a new approach to find the best conical burr grinder out there: the Amazon reviewer community.
Yup. We crowd-reviewed our way into our new grinder.
And that’s how we landed on the the Capresso 560 conical burr grinder (above). At the time of this writing, at 2,114 customer reviews and a 4.1 star rating on Amazon.com, the Capresso had–by far–the strongest track record of any product that was returned with the search term “conical burr grinder.”
So far, we’re 98% loving it.
At about $100, it’s less expensive than the Baratza Encore, although the Barazta is also a well recommended unit that’s mentioned in several online guru discussions and was a strong runner-up consideration for us.
It’s compact, solid with no flimsy-feeling parts, and runs virtually static free. I just tap it lightly after grinding (an old habit that was reinforced in my research), and the grinds transfer smoothly from the grinds holder to the French press with zero airborne grindlets cluttering the counter.
… and it’s easy to take out the upper burr to clean. You just whip the little brush around the upper burr to loosen any clinging remnants, hold the base upside down over the sink and tap gently to dump any grounds around the bottom burr, and you’re done.
The unit has a wide range of grinding options, although so far, we’ve only tried the coarse grind for use with our French press, which incidentally is the top methodology recommendation by Cooks Illustrated on how to make good coffee.
Once we’ve fired up the espresso machine, I’ll weigh in on the remaining 2% of “loving it,” and I’ll be sure to check in in about 6 months to let you know if we 4.1 / 5.0 agree with the other 2,114.