One of those $9.99 to $19.99 upright coffee grinders with the spinning chopper blade on the inside. You know, the kind you start up by pressing down on the plastic top. I have probably bought, broken, lost, or given away almost a dozen of them.
While the top-actuating chopper is OK for beginning brew-at-home coffee drinkers, they have one fundamental problem that will flaw any pot of coffee you throw. The chopper blade, well, chops your coffee bean into oddly sized, asymmetrical bits. These asymmetrical bits result in uneven brewing. Your coffee will not only brew unevenly (with the smaller, finer chunks brewing better than the larger, coarser chunks), but your pots will never taste the same way twice because one batch might be coarser than the last.
A grinder, on the other hand, "grinds" the bean between its metal teeth. The grind is much more uniform, and in general the higher quality burr grinders will allow for more precise coarseness variation. For example, my Solis Maestro Pro has forty different grind settings.
Here's my lovely Maestro (or at least, the product shot):
The Maestro has a 1/2 pound plastic hopper that holds the beans. I wouldn't want a larger hopper for pro-sumer use; Lady Jaye and I drink about two pots of coffee a day and we don't want our beans going even a touch stale inside the hopper. We keep the rest of our beans in an airtight container at room temperature.
The Maestro has a timer dial on the side that will run the grinder for a set amount of time. One of the drawbacks to this unit is that it will continue to grind even when empty. On the finer settings this is particularly disastrous. There is a also button on the front of the unit that allows you to run the grinder manually -- but you have to keep the button depressed.
One of the drawbacks to the Maestro, and I'm guessing this applies to most grinders with a front-loading bin, is that it gets coffee grounds everywhere. I thought my old Braun chopper was bad. Holy shit. When you take the bin out little particles of coffee fly all over the counter. It's a constant mess, but the worst part is that the grounds get on your hand, and for some reason that creeps me out.
Cleaning the unit is recommended weekly, but that's just damn silly. I clean the grinder out once a month, or when I feel guilty about it. There aren't a lot of moving parts, the objective is to get the bean fragments and coffee grounds out of the grinder. Don't submerge the unit in water, I normally turn it upside down and shake it like a toddler to get all the crap to fall out. I disassemble the burr grinder itself and blow the excess chaff out. Probably takes five minutes.
The big drawback to some of you will be the cost. My Maestro was given to my as a gift, but they run you about $150US plus shipping from places like Sweet Maria's. That's where Lady Jaye and my mother got mine last year. You can buy less expensive grinders, even as low as $40 from Target (my friend Stilts has one). My Black and Decker mill that I bought from Costco burned up immediately -- the customer service lady said they had an entire bad batch of them. I'm sure that's a fluke, and a less expensive grinder is a good way to introduce yourself to the difference between choppers and grinders. You may also not need 40 points of granularity -- if you only make drip coffee you're probably better off saving your money on the Maestro and putting it towards Kona. Mmm, Kona.
So, to recap:
- Extremely even grind results in less bitter, more consistent coffee.
- Grind settings from Turkish to Espresso and 38 settings in between.
- Built like a brick shithouse. For real, you could jack a zombie pretty good with this thing in the noggin' if you're in a pinch.
- Timer knob gives you enough time to pour the water into your coffee maker and get the filter ready if you're fast enough.
Old and Busted:
- Expensive for some. Not so expensive compared to other pro-sumer grade grinders, but still more than a $10 chopper.
- Way loud.
- Coffee grounds will get EVERYWHERE. If you're cleanliness OCD you will definitely need some couch time after using this bad boy.
- Heavy -- which is good for build quality but a pain if you're holding it upside down over the sink during cleaning.
Solis Maestro Plus coffee mill, I gloriously award you:
Four out of five STFU coffee mugs (which you will later assist in filling with the blood of life)!