(Please note: I have added an additional recommendation for a conical burr grinder in this post: Conical Burr Grinder Recommendation Update Ed.)
A lot of people think they can scrimp a on their coffee grinder, but my opinion is that there is a point at which your coffee grinder is more important to making perfect crema than is your espresso machine. Really!
I mean it. You will never achieve perfect crema with an inferior grinder. So don't go for anything less than what I recommend below when you come to buy your burr coffee grinder.
As you will have come to realize from reading my other articles on how to make perfect espresso coffee, many little things done well add up to making a perfect espresso brew.
Many of you might not even think that how you grind your coffee beans would make any difference, but in fact it does make all the difference in the world.
For a start, you want to buy your coffee beans whole (unground); this way the flavor and freshness of the beans is locked in for a longer period of time and are release right before you extract your espresso. Coffee beans, like all foodstuffs, are perishable, and exposure to heat, air, and light, will cause the beans to deteriorate over time.
For this reason, you need to buy whole beans since once the beans are ground, there is much greater surface exposure to air, which accelerates the deterioration in flavor and freshness of your beans. You should grind
your beans just before brewing your coffee, or grind small batches at a time, just enough for a day's supply max, and keep the ground coffee in an airtight container in the fridge or a cool cupboard or pantry. Don't, however, put them in the freezer like some people recommend.
(Read about storing your coffee beans in a way that will keep them fresh)
We have come a long way in terms of what is available for domestic use in terms of coffee mills these days. When I first started out making espresso coffee drinks at home some 25 years ago, the "hip" thing to use was the blade. The same basic models are still available today, along with some very fancy and stylish models in stainless steel which, while complementing your kitchen decor, still don't "cut it". There are essentially two things that count against the blade grinder: first, heat.
Because of the very high speed with which the blades rotate, a large about of heat is generated and actually burns your beans, affecting their flavor.
Good espresso roast beans are not cheap, so you want to handle them with tender loving care!
Second, to brew perfect espresso coffee, you need coffee that is ground with a high level of consistency in terms of the size of the individual coffee particles. Blade grinders do not control for consistent grind very well. So while they are the cheapest option, throw out your blade grinder, or reserve it for grinding nutmegs and peppercorns!
So if it's not to be a blade grinder, what is it to be? The answer is a conical burr grinder. Note, I said conical" as there are also grinders that are simply "burr grinders". At the center of the conical burr grinder is a hardened cone-shaped grinding wheel referred to as a "conical burr". Conical burr grinders are capable of producing the consistent grinds that are needed for making perfect espresso with rich crema. Your conical burr grinder should also feature a gear mechanism that reduces the speed with which the burr grinds the coffee so that heat production is reduced to a minimum.
Conical Burr Coffee Grinder RecommendationLike my espresso machines and accessories, I have tried a few grinders over the years. As I said at the beginning of this piece, I started out my espresso-making career with a blade grinder at home. Now I know better and so do you! Don't as the outcome will never be perfect espresso coffee. The best entry-level conical burr grinder I have owned to date and still use) is the Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder. It does a perfect job of producing a very consistent grind, has a large range of grind settings, and wonder of wonders for a domestic grinder, it's pretty quiet too. Also, the hopper capacity at half a pound is good for domestic needs. Another great feature of this grinder is the wide selection of grind setting available. Expect to pay something like $150 for one of these precision Swiss-engineered machines at Amazon.com. Personally, I wouldn't settle for anything less than this machine. Believe me, with the money I've spent over the years on cheaper but inferior coffee grinders, I could almost retire now!
So save yourself some time and money; just because I have wasted money in the past, doesn't mean you need to. You can pay more for the same grinder but with some add-ons such as a grind timer and pulse button which makes it easier for grinding directly into the portafilter. This model referred to simply as
So the final choice on model is up to you and your budget. I'm personally very happy with my Baratza Encore burr grinder, and that's just what I intend to continue to use at home until something better comes along for about the same cost, which I don't think will be for a while yet.
(Note: I have added an additional recommendation for a conical burr grinder in this November, 2011 post: Conical Burr Grinder Recommendation Update Ed.)