One thing I find myself telling customers over and over again is that the best investment for their home brewing is their own grinder. I quickly add to avoid the “whirly-gig” blade grinders and spend the same on a hand powered burr grinder. Unfortunately this is usually met with little enthusiasm. And I can understand why, grinders are relatively unimpressive to a non-coffee geek. In the coffee circles the ownership of the first burr grinder is somewhat of a right of passage. It symbolises an investment in every subsequent cup of coffee, but to a non geek it symbolises a portion of the much coveted espresso machine. (Another issue I’m sure to cover in a fun little rant)
I do try to convey that grinding on demand is important because various flavour compounds evaporate from ground beans much faster than they do whole bean and try to explain the difference in grind quality that is available from a burr grinder in opposition to a blade grinder. These are the most tangible reasons to always grind on demand, but other, less visceral virtues are also borne from this small act.
Grinding at home you can realise the huge amount the tiniest grind adjustment can make, and also see how brewing a cup in a non-standard fashion can change the cup you experience. You gain a fuller understanding of the processes that happen and can find a personal preference for extraction. It also opens up the ability to try the same coffee in a variety of different brewers. Most homes have a cafetiere and a good portion have espresso machines. These are two brewers that cannot use the same coffee grind, but given the flexibility of a grinder you can see how a coffee can go from butter popcorn in a cafetiere to cola bottles and lemon drops in espresso (Square Mile’s Sweet Shop blend from this year did this exact transformation).
Anyone that knows me, knows I appreciate a beautifully pulled espresso as much as the next person, and though I have an espresso machine at home, I very rarely use it. This is for a multitude of reasons, the largest, simply being the labour in comparison to the end result. For my to pull an espresso, I have to turn the machine on, let it get hot, pull a shot or two to dial in my grinder, get the temperature down (EuroPiccolas have a habit to overheat after a couple of shots are pulled) then pull a shot for myself to drink. Then I have a shot for about 2 minutes. Then I have to clean the portafilter out empty the drip tray and knock box. In that amount of time I could have made and drank a much longer drip or aeropress cup.
There needs to be a level where we say that’s enough. I certainly wouldn’t expect every home to invest in a Refractometer, but I think a grinder is the biggest investment that should be made by anyone who classes themselves as a coffee lover. But for the general public I would say that even if not ideal, a good coffee that is bought from a good roaster then preground could be acceptable, owing to that simple matter that the grinder a supplier has available to them will almost certainly be superior in the consistency of the grind than most consumer grinders, additionally the person would have a knowledge of how to grind for different brew methods.
We also have to accept that while the consumer may appreciate these great coffees for what they are they may not have the palettes to notice the nuanced difference between a coffee ground immediately prior to brewing and one ground a few days prior, and that’s ok. I’m not making excuses or saying we should stop trying, but as I keep seeming to say, it’s very easy to alienate the consumer to our cause if we get too dogmatic and too pushy. Having most people brewing their own coffee everyday with good results is still a way off, lets get them driving before we ask them to race.