An essential part of a coffee brewing ensemble is a good grinder. But coffee grinders can sometimes be expensive, so can you use a spice grinder instead?
In this post, we’ll compare spice grinders vs coffee grinders and see how they stack up against one another.
Spice grinder vs Coffee grinder: the difference
Spice grinders usually use blades to grind spices and herbs into small pieces, whereas coffee grinders usually use conical burrs to grind coffee beans into grounds.
A dedicated coffee grinder(burr grinder) is better
Generally speaking, it’s much better to use a dedicated coffee grinder for grinding coffee beans. Burr grinders grind much more evenly and you end up with a much more consistent grind.
That’s because this coffee grinder works by forcing coffee beans through two ceramic(or sometimes stainless steel) burrs. There is a slight gap between the two burrs, which determines how big the ground size will be.
An electric coffee grinder will have a little dial that you can use to adjust the gap and consequently the grind size. A manual coffee grinder will have a set screw that you can use to adjust the gap size.
The gap size does not change, so the size of the grounds that come through also remains uniform.
Getting the grind right is an essential part of brewing good coffee, so if you can, you should definitely invest in a good coffee grinder(read:burr grinder) for grinding your coffee beans.
Manual or electric?
Burr grinders can be a little expensive, but that’s not always the case. Electric burr grinders with automatic settings are a little bit pricey, but good manual grinders can be found for less than $20 online.
My first burr grinder was a manual coffee grinder because I did not want to drop a chunk of money, and I am really happy with it. It’s been a long time since I bought it and it is still going strong.
Really, the only disadvantage of manual grinders is the time it takes to grind. It takes me about 2 to 3 minutes to grind coffee for one shot of espresso(around 12-15 grams of coffee beans).
Granted, it’s good forearm exercise!
One disadvantage with manual grinders is that you have to calibrate them a little to get the grind consistency correct. You can do that by tightening or loosening the set screw on the bottom of the grinder.
The tighter the screw is, the closer the the bottom burr is to the top burr, and the finer the grind.
This is because there is less room for the coffee to come out, so the only way grounds can make it through is if they’re fine enough.
On cheaper manual coffee grinders, there are rarely any notches that indicate how far the screw has to be for a particular grind, so you’ll have to play around with it until you get the desired consistency.
This is fine if you just brew one kind of coffee, but if you like to switch it up, you may find that recalibrating every single time is a pain.
If you’re willing to shell out for an electric coffee grinder, you won’t have this issue. Automatic burr grinders, as you saw above, have a little dial with varying degrees of fineness or coarseness that you can simply turn and the machine will make the adjustments by itself.
Alright, so what if you already have a blade grinder? What then? Is there any way you can get away with using a blade grinder?
While a coffee connoisseur may wince at the idea of using a blade or spice grinder, you can certainly use one, though the results will not be as consistent as with a burr grinder.
Whether you want that degree of consistency is totally up to you. You need to develop your palate to be able to pick up on the subtle flavor changes in coffee, and if you feel that one kind of coffee is pretty much the same as another, use a spice grinder.
This is a matter of personal preference and learning to pick up different tastes. Once you begin to develop a taste, you’ll start shying away from spice grinders.
Additionally, to use a blade grinder, you’ll need to rely on time. The longer you grind, the finer the grounds will be. Another issue is that the beans closer to the blades will be ground finer than the ones on top.
One way to get around this is to shake the spice grinder as it’s running to try to get all the coffee beans to the spinning blades.
As you saw with manual burr grinders above, it’ll take a bit of trial and error to get the grind right, and if you’re brewing cold brew or french press, it is always safer to err on the side of bigger grounds.
Extra fine grounds can ruin cold brew or french press.
Drip is more forgiving, so you have a bit of leeway there.
Grinding herbs with coffee grinders
Finally, one point I feel that blade grinders win at against burr grinders is that you can grind nuts and spices with blade grinders much better than you can with burr grinders.
Place a few tablespoons of the herbs into the grinder and grind them in short, 15 second intervals.
Taking a break is super important because it allows the herbs to cool down a bit. Otherwise, the fast moving blades generate a lot of friction and heat, and that can cause undesirable changes in the herbs’ aroma and flavor.
Normally I wouldn’t recommend using the same grinder for your herbs and coffee, though, as the aromas can mix very easily and you’ll have coffee that smells like herbs and herbs that smell like coffee!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are coffee grinders expensive?
Burr coffee grinders range in price from as little as $15 or so for a cheap manual grinder all the way up to $200+ for an expensive automatic grinder. While grinders with better features will make grinding more convenient, even cheap grinders will do the job well.
Can you grind wet ingredients in a coffee grinder?
Burr grinders are meant to grind dry ingredients. Wet ingredients will cause things to stick and mess up your grinder.
Can I use a coffee grinder to grind nuts?
Only if it is a blade grinder. Blade grinders are easy to clean and stainless steel blades don’t absorb any aromas. Burr grinders should be kept dedicated for coffee.
Last update on 2021-09-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API