Ground Coffee

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Without ground coffee, we'd be left with only chocolate-covered espresso beans for our morning kick. Not that that would be a bad thing--at least from my perspective--altogether, but most of us aren't that hard core. We like to drink our coffee, with good reason. And drinking good coffee means that someone has ground it appropriately beforehand.

At one end of the range is a very coarse grind, which is appropriate for French press machines. Closest to it is a medium coarse grind, appropriate for drip coffee makers, especially the flat-bottomed filter variety. Espresso machines, and coffee machines with what are called crema enhancers, use a medium to fine grind--something like granulated sugar perhaps. Commercial espresso machines use a fine grind--a powder almost, to continue the sugar analogy, like confectioners. Turkish grind is very fine indeed, truly a powder, to make the thick extremely strong espresso that Turkey is famous for.

Setting mortar and pestle aside, knowing that there are purists out there, and more power to them, there are two types of coffee grinders. Blade grinders are by far the most common and the least expensive. They're available everywhere, from anywhere between $12 and $50. Burr grinders are the epicure's delight, and are certainly used by coffee producers and resellers as well. They cost more, from anywhere between $25 and $200, which is only to be expected, given their specialized and industrial uses.

What's the difference? For precision and consistency of grind, the burr wins hands down. This is critical when it comes to espresso, of course. It's also important when you're dealing with large quantities of coffee. For the home brewer making regular coffee rather than cappuccino or espresso, getting by with a blade grinder is perfectly doable, however. The price difference is often a deciding factor if you want to grind the coffee yourself. However, getting the coffee ground where you buy it is another option.

How Coffee Grinders Work

How does each grinder work? The burr grinder forces the coffee beans between two burrs, one stationary and the other moveable, hence the infinite control over the fineness of the grind and the consistency of the batch. The burr itself will be one of two types, conical or flat. (Imagine, for example, a dense metal pine cone and a fingernail file.) The blade grinder can be likened to a boat or single-engine airplane propeller. Eyeballing the coffee rather than adjusting the physical settings is the name of the game.


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