A common mistake that we find in planning for the opening of a coffee program is the misconception that one coffee grinder is all you need. Coffee for espresso needs to be ground into a fine and consistent powder. This type of grinding is only possible by grinders designed to do so. Most coffee grinders on the market are not capable of grinding fine enough to suit espresso’s needs. The grinders we need are simply called espresso grinders in the coffee industry.
In the days before espresso and still today with pour over coffees it can take 3 or more minutes to brew a cup of coffee that is strong enough to taste good. Espresso was invented so that caffeinated beverages containing coffee could be made more quickly. Coffee business owners of the time wanted to make coffee faster so that they could serve more customers thus making more money per day in their crowded cafes. This is just one of the reasons espresso is still used today by coffee shops all over the world. In order to make great tasting coffee in about 30 seconds there are two elements that need to change from conventional brewing; pressure from an espresso machine and a fine grind size. We will talk about pressure in part 3 of 4 but for now let’s talk about grind size.
Coffee for espresso needs to be ground into a very fine powder. The finer the particles of coffee are the faster coffee will brew and the stronger the finished cup will taste. Contrary to popular belief, the espresso that people think of as bitter, strong, and astringent is actually too weak. Making espresso to an appropriate strength will actually make the espresso balance out in flavor and become sweet. We know that this sounds crazy but trust us, when we first tasted espresso this way we couldn’t believe it either! It is not uncommon for us to meet people that have never had a good tasting espresso. The reason for such poor espresso is often that the coffee isn’t ground fine enough.
While grinding fine enough is very important it isn’t the only factor in purchasing a grinder. Another important factor in grinding is how evenly the coffee is ground. If the espresso grinder is of poor quality, often the coffee, even ground to a very fine powder, will still taste weak. This is because some of the coffee is ground more coarsely while some other coffee is ground very finely; we call this an inconsistent grind. It is hard to tell that this is happening by looking at the ground coffee with the naked eye but the taste is very obvious to your customers. There are three ways to ensure you are buying a grinder that will grind evenly:
1. The Burr Size (cutting blades of a coffee grinder)
The larger the burrs the more evenly the coffee will be ground.
2. The rotation speed of the grinding burrs
The slower the burrs spin; the more even the coffee will be ground.
3. Talk to someone that uses a lot of different grinders
There are so many grinders on the market that it is very difficult to keep up with which manufacturers are maintaining quality and which are not. Talk to a professional before investing in a grinder. Often your coffee roaster will tell the truth more than an equipment salesman.
Lastly, the build quality of your grinder is important. Grinding coffee is a very violent job. Coffee grinders, especially espresso grinders take a beating in daily use. Any grinder made with plastic parts will ultimately fail. Even grinders made out of metal parts will wear and need attention quarterly. Buying a grinder that is designed to stand up to daily use is mandatory for long term profitability. If there is any one piece of equipment that you should spend a little more on, it’s the grinder. In part 3 we will talk about the espresso machine and why it’s ok to spend a little less on it in favor of purchasing a better espresso grinder.