But first, coffee. But before that, grinding! Whilst you may still be half-dozing first thing, you could perhaps focus the other half of your attention on dosing. Or non-dosing. On deciding whether to use a burr. Or blades. If this all sounds like gobbledygook to you, then allow us to explain. Whilst we may be easily dazzled by latte art and a shiny state-of-the-art coffee machine, the unsung star of the show is the coffee grinder, and it is high time that you familiarised yourself with the grinding process.
The two main distinctions that we will explore are between burr and blade grinders, and between dosing and non-dosing - or ‘on-demand’ - units. The former relates to the method by which the beans are ground, and the latter relates to how they are dispensed.
What is a Burr Grinder?
With respect to the grinding process, a burr grinder or burr mill grinds the beans between two surfaces, in a method much like a traditional grinding wheel for grains. One of the surfaces, or burrs, is a moving wheel with serrated edges, and this passes over the other non-moving surface, crushing the beans into a fine powder. The shape of the grinding mill can be conical, which is the industry standard, or it can be also designed as two donut-shaped burrs that face one another symmetrically; these are known as flat burr grinders. With respect to the advantages between the two, the conical grinder is the most energy-efficient and heat-resistant, although occasionally the beans can shoot out or be left somewhat intact. Meanwhile, the flat grinders, due to the burrs facing each other, will be more likely to produce a more consistent size of grounds and therefore generate more of a one-note flavour, which can give baristas more room for creativity.
What is a Blade Grinder?
A more approachable and affordable solution is a blade grinder, which works just like a spice grinder, blender or food processor, by the use of a motorised propellor blade that chops and mixes the beans. These units offer a lot of power and fast grinding, plus savings in your back pocket to spend more on other coffee kit - or that irresistible extra pastry every morning! The pitfalls are that the blending process inevitably can lead to an uneven size of coffee grounds, leaving your blend with an unwelcome combination of small pieces that can end up overcooked and bitter, and large pieces that can retain too much sourness and bold flavour. In other words, what is gained in affordability, convenience, and speed, can be to some extent given up in control, durability, consistency and taste.
To Dose or Not to Dose?
Moving on to the question of dispensing the coffee, grinders can either be dosing or non-dosing. Dosing means that the coffee is pre-ground and dropped from the grinding burrs down a chute and into what is called the ground coffee container, which is like a pie cut into six equally shaped sections - a design very familiar to anyone who’s played Trivial Pursuit! With the pull of a handle, or ‘dosing arm’, these sections rotate, and the ground coffee drops through a hole and into your espresso filter basket, ready for the shot to be pulled. A non-dosing machine would simply skip this step and the beans would be directly ground into the portafilter ‘on demand’, rather than sitting in the doser waiting to be dispensed.
Dosing Machine Advantages
The advantages of a choosing a doser are:
· The counter stays clean given that the doser catches excess grind which can then be returned to the machine;
· Savings on time due to the time taken to grind a double shot, which can be anything from 4-18 seconds, and which is especially useful for busy coffee shops;
· Dosers are generally cheaper than an equivalent on-demand grinder. A top of the range on-demand grinder can cost up to £3,000!
Non-Dosing Machine Advantages
The advantages of opting for a non-doser meanwhile are:
· Your coffee will be fresher, seeing as it is ground to order rather than sitting in the chamber;
· You can enjoy the theatre of the sound and smells of the freshly ground coffee
· You minimise wastage if you do not use up any of the pre-ground coffee - it is not recommended that ground coffee sits for longer than 4 hours. Furthermore, if a problem with the grind size is detected, then with a doser it may be that you have a chamber full of coffee at the wrong size which will have to be fully dispensed until there is a chance for adjustment on an empty doser.
The Bottom Line.
The decision between burr and blade, doser and non-doser is one that depends on your budget and requirements. There is no right answer, and it all depends on what you want to spend and want to achieve. Whether you are a professional barista, or simply a home-user starting out, what is important is that you select the equipment that helps you achieve your goals and helps you to create the perfect cup of coffee for you.