I was a reluctant coffee snob. Married to my French press for as long as I can remember, I recently made the switch to a pour-over coffeemaker. Instantly my morning coffee, once sharp and chewy, became clean and aromatic. Coffee snobbery, it turns out, can be a slippery slope.
There was a time I didn’t even grind my own beans. Gasp! In my early twenties, I discovered a roastery in my neighborhood and proudly became a customer. My usual: dark roast, ground for a $20 drip machine. Once I became a regular, one of the staffers decided we were close enough to chastise me on my use of a plug-in machine. I was taken aback, but it opened the door to a whole new path to cafffeination. So I went out and bought a French press.
Years later, it was a barista who warned me against the evils of pre-grinding. I asked for a grinder for Christmas that year. After converting to pour-over, like so many coffee-snob aspirants nowadays, I realized it was time to put away the last of my childish things, including my old blade grinder. It was time to go burr.
“In the past 20 years, while overall coffee consumption has increased and, generally, people have drastically improved their coffee brewing at home, there still persists some questionable practices,” says Peter Giuliano, director of coffee and co-owner of Counter Culture, a Durham, North Carolina coffee company specializing in single-origin beans and home brewing education. (Next week, they are running a “cash for clunkers” event in Chicago, where you can trade in your old plug-in machine for a pour-over carafe).
“I have complicated feelings about blade grinders because those things became popular when it was either that or nothing,” Giuliano continues. “It was either: buy a blade grinder or buy ground coffee. If those are the only options, there’s no question that the right decision is to grind your coffee in a blade grinder.”
Of course, there are other options. Namely, the burr grinder. While a blade grinder functions like a mini blender, the burr features two metal discs – or burrs – set at a fixed distance away from each other. Beans that go through them come out totally uniform.
“Grinding at home is a huge step,” says Giuliano. “But with a blade grinder, you wind up with very fine coffee and very coarse coffee at the same time. It’s very difficult to achieve any evenness.”
I never thought that going burr would make such a difference in my morning joe. I really only finally decided to make the switch when the motor on my old blade grinder crapped out. My first cup made from burr-ground beans was so clean and complex—as if impurities and defects from my usual coffee had been removed.
And, in fact, they were. I may have been buying designer beans, grinding them myself and brewing them with the coffee geek’s preferred tool, but with an uneven grind, some grounds were getting over-brewed and others under-brewed. Now, each little coffee ground gets extracted just right.
The best reason to switch to burr? You can afford to! There was a time when a professional-grade burr grinder would set you back hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. I ordered mine, a Cuisinart model, from Macy’s for $75. Counter Culture sells an excellent Baratza burr grinder for $130.
“Instead of spending your money on a fancy drip-coffee machine, with all the gadgets and timers, buy a good burr grinder and a $10 pour-over brewing cone,” advises Giuliano. “That will make a better cup of coffee.”
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