Coffee aficionados have long debated the best brewing method, but is the secret to great coffee all in the grind?
Last Updated Apr. 25, 2022. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 20: The Very Best Paris-Brest
If you want the freshest, most full-flavored cup of coffee, we always recommend grinding your own coffee beans. It's best to do this right before you brew, as our testing has shown that the beans begin to lose flavor and aroma within an hour of being ground.
Home grinders come in two styles: blade and burr. A blade grinder works like a tiny food processor, with a rapidly spinning blade that chops coffee beans into smaller and smaller fragments. You have to hold the grind button down, time the grind, shake the grinder periodically to distribute the beans, and inspect the ground coffee to see if it's reached the desired consistency.
While a blade grinder has one chamber where you load, grind, and dispense the beans, a burr grinder consists of three components: a hopper where you feed in the beans, the grinding chamber, and a removable container that holds the grounds so you can transfer them to the coffee maker. You simply switch the machine on and whole beans are pulled from the hopper through two gear-like metal rings (called burrs) that spin and crush the coffee, similar to the way a pepper mill grinds peppercorns. The setting you choose on the machine determines the space between the burrs and thus the size of the grind.
Burr grinders are the norm in the coffee industry, and now household brands such as Breville, Hamilton Beach, and KitchenAid are offering them for home users. To find out more about this popular grinding method, we tested a variety of models, all with metal burrs and at least eight grind settings, and compared them to our favorite blade grinder from Krups.
Brew method usually dictates grind setting: Generally, coarse coffee is used for French press, medium for drip machines, and fine for espresso. A good grinder should be able to produce these three consistencies, so we ground coffee on the settings recommended by each manufacturer for coarse, medium, and fine. We repeated the grinding tests with light roasted beans and very dark roasted beans, which have different densities. Finally, we had six testers—from novices to coffee experts—operate each grinder to gauge its user-friendliness.
Almost every model was able to achieve these three consistencies, but many were confusing or a pain to use. Some sprayed grounds everywhere, even with their collection containers properly in place. Others had displays that were befuddling or hard to read, and some had grounds containers that were too small or irregularly shaped, so they overfilled easily or poured imprecisely when we transferred the grounds to the brewer.
Some grinders fell short in other ways. One had a built-in scale t...
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Valerie is an assistant editor for ATK Reviews. In addition to cooking, she loves skiing, traveling, and spending time outdoors.