Wisdom for home enthusiasts: Grinder first.

When budgeting for an espresso kit for home use, keep one thing, and one thing only on your list.

The grinder.

Nothing can have as great an impact on your entire coffee experience at home than this often overlooked piece of equipment other than the coffee itself, with water as the next in line.

Too often, I hear and read people who are just starting out asking which machine they should buy, and neglecting to even consider purchasing a grinder, let alone wondering if the quality of the grinder is of much concern.

Here’s an easy rule of thumb to consider when it comes to the importance of variables (it’s not absolute, and it’s not 100% accurate, but it works on a broad spectrum for this purpose).

Consider the order of events and what tools are used along the way in preparing a cup of coffee.

The first thing you grab (1) is the coffee.  Then the coffee is ground (2) in a grinder.  Then the water (3) is heated.  Then the two are combined for a certain amount of (4) time. Then the saturated liquid is separated from the grounds (5).

(1) coffee
(2) grinder
(3) water
(4) coffee/water dwell (contact) time
(5) brew method/filtration

Following this logic, step one would be to buy fresh coffee.  Do not pre-grind it.  Honestly, it would be better to dose the whole beans into a zip-lock and stomp on it with the heal of your shoe than to start with pre-ground coffee. (this includes buying whole beans and having your neighborhood coffee retailer grind them for you.  Don’t do it!)  If you honestly cannot afford a decent grinder, go to your local discount store and buy a $10 whirly-blade “coffee grinder” that looks something like this:

No, the grind quality will not be as good, but if you have it ground at the store, your wonderfully fresh coffee will be fresh no more by the time you get it home. (not to mention, by the time you brew a cup the following morning)

If you are allocating a certain amount of dollars for a brewing setup, please consider this:  You can brew a wonderful cup from a $4 Melitta pourover that, while less convenient, will trump any cup made by an average automatic drip coffee maker off of your favorite department store’s shelf.  Consider also that the grind quality will be the most important factor following the coffee quality (coffee quality includes freshness, or days since roasting).

If money is tight, and you don’t mind things lacking in convenience, you can always look for a used Zassenhaus hand grinder on e-bay, get ahold of Brown for their Hario hand grinder, or try getting a grinder made from Texas Coffee Grinder Co. (in order of least to most expensive).

Of course, if you choose to go the electric burr grinder route, do NOT buy the grinder without first taking a good look at the burrs.  They should be sharp.  Rub the back of your fingernail against a sharp burr edge.  If you don’t end up with a thin shaving of fingernail (ignore the gross factor), it’s not sharp enough.  And if the grinder isn’t conical, and the flat burrs don’t come close to resembling this: 

…then don’t buy it.  You would be better off saving your money and getting similar grind quality from the $10 blade “grinder” we mentioned earlier.

Regardless of which grinder you choose, please… buy your beans whole from your favorite Texas coffee roasting company.  They’ll be glad you did, and your cup of coffee will see a considerable improvement.

The Third Grinder (or The Case for Single Origin and Guest Espresso)

June 29, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

My SO (not Single Origin) and I dropped into our local gem of a shop: Sugar Brown’s Coffee to grab a cup, play some cards, enjoy the live music and atmosphere, and to just have a good time.

Being past students of mine, they are always excited to tell me of news going on. There is much to tell about their journey, but this is not about their shop, so much as of their latest step forward.

They acquired a third espresso grinder.

Most shops are content with a Decaf grinder and a Non-Decaf grinder for their espresso bar. That’s all you really need, they say, and they are right. You don’t need more than that to run a successful retail store.

Let’s back up a bit, and remember why we got into this whole coffee business to begin with.

It’s About The Coffee

I can’t speak for everyone, but there are many people who started into the coffee business because they love coffee. Sure, there is profit to be made, and yes, we love our customers. But before those factors were a reality, the coffee was there, and we learned to love it.

If, as retailers, our roll is to represent the coffee in such a way as to “let it speak for itself”, and if our love for coffee included the excitement of the exploration of flavors and new taste experiences, shouldn’t we offer these experiences to our customers?

Enter the case for the Third Grinder.

Having a third espresso grinder opens up possibilities for short-run single origin espresso offerings, and room for a limited time guest espresso from one of your favorite roasters.

Keeping things like these on a regular schedule can give your regular customers something to look forward to. Just like in the blog world, regular scheduled updates does more for harboring visits than anything else. (that, and high quality content.. or high quality products, in this case)

Is it expensive? It can be. But so is your espresso machine, and so are your other two grinders. Would you say you get your money’s worth out of your decaf grinder? I bet most would answer “no” or “barely” if they were to crunch the numbers of average decaf sales matched to the purchase price of their decaf grinder when it was new. So why do it? It’s a service to your customers.

The third grinder is a service to not only your customers, but to the coffee itself, and those who grow it. It increases awareness of the diversity and journey of coffee into your customers’ cups. This increased awareness focuses demand, which, in turn, helps to promote the quality driven people in this fine industry, from baristas, to roasters, to green coffee buyers, to processing mill workers, to those who grow and harvest the coffee. The end result is a higher standard across the board.

All this from buying a third grinder? Not exactly, but it is another way to help work towards these goals.

I understand that there are folks out there who consider single origin espresso to be a non-worthwhile endeavor. While I disagree, this is a discussion for another post.

Kudos to Sugar Brown’s Coffee for another step in the right direction. Kudos to others who have done the same. And Kudos to those of you who now have plans to implement such a program into your retail plan.

Heart Beans (It’s Freakin’ me out, man!)

June 4, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

A critical design piece, aimed to criticize society’s consumerism and our consumption culture

Okay, let me start by saying I love good design and innovation. Upon first glance, this nifty little object looks pretty cool.

And then you read the description about what it is, and what its intentions are. This is when I started feeling a little… weird.

It would seem that with time, we develop a certain numbness for the true needs of every person, and get carried away by the material world. Heart-Beans encompasses this formula, incorporating elements that its developers deem as basic needs – touch, and communication between a person and himself. To use this object, you must caress it and hug it, much like as a baby is held, the user inevitably bonds with it, emotionally.

Ultimately, Heat-Beans is a coffee-grinder, set to operate according to the user’s heart-beats.


Interesting indeed. I guess this is for those folks who don’t love coffee as much as we do. (lol)

This grinder really gets to the heart of the matter. (bwap)

Okay, but really, what do you think? Is this totally pointless? Is this just the result of a really slow day at the design studio? Who knows.


Texas Coffee Grinders Deal for TX-Coffee.com readers

March 30, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

I received an email from Tom Kurys, owner of www.texascoffeegrinders.com. He makes hand-crank coffee grinders by hand.

He writes,

Hey guys,
Just a note to let you know that I am offering your customers a great deal on grinders right now! As you know, I get $149.95 during the buying season before Christmas…right now your customers can get one for $109.95! Please pass this info along.


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