Making a move from pre-ground coffee to grinding your own is undoubtedly a huge game-changer. Grinding fresh allows the coffee to really come alive with vibrant acidity and big flavors that simply aren’t there when using pre-ground coffee. But with so many coffee grinders out there— from electric grinders to hand grinders— it can be tricky to figure out which grinder is best for us. Luckily, armed with the right knowledge, we can make the mission of finding the perfect grinder easier!
Let’s dive deep into the world of coffee grinders and figure out which are the best when brewing coffee in a French press!
What Is a Coffee Grinder for a French Press
Before we make any sort of coffee, whether it’s a shot of espresso or a French press, we need to grind the coffee first. We do this (usually) with the use of a coffee grinder. The word ‘usually’ is over there in brackets because technically you could grind the coffee using a hammer, a blender or a mortar and pestle— they will do the trick… just not very well.
The job of a coffee grinder is to smash our precious coffee into smaller pieces, making the coffee beans easier to brew. The more evenly these small pieces of coffee are sized, the better our coffee will taste.
Benefits of Using a Coffee Grinder for French Press
Anyone who already owns a coffee grinder will tell you: ‘Make the investment!’ You’ll never look back! A coffee grinder is something of a key— a key that unlocks freshness, flavor and aromas in coffee that are simply not there when using pre-ground coffee.
The benefits of using a grinder for French press coffee could be a mile long, but here are some of the most important points.
As mentioned above, you technically could grind your coffee beans mechanically without a grinder. A hammer, a blender, a brick, and a variety of other household objects are capable of breaking coffee beans into smaller pieces. The problem here is that there is little to no control over the size of the grind you are producing, nor will there be much consistency in the grind size of the coffee. A coffee grinder will grind the same, day in and day out, always providing a nice, even grind of a size you have chosen.
One Bag, Multiple Brew Methods
Buying a bag of pre-ground coffee, you’re basically stuck with the grind size you have been given. Meaning that if you want to brew a V60 one day and a French press the next, you’ll need two bags of coffee— one ground for the filter (medium-fine) and the other ground for French press (course).
When you have your own coffee grinder, you can choose any grind size you like—ultra-fine for Turkish coffee one day, and course for a French press the next day.
You Get the Most Flavor Out of Your Coffee
Coffee is full of stuff that tastes and smells amazing. These tastes and smells can be prominent, such as the chocolatey notes of a coffee from Brazil, but they can also be very subtle, like the jasmine notes in a coffee from Ethiopia. Coffee beans of different origins will all have their own unique characteristics— and within minutes of grinding a coffee, these characteristics can disappear, vanishing into thin air! When we grind our own coffee— grind and then brew immediately afterward— we get to taste and smell everything the coffee has to offer. Nothing is wasted.
Whole Coffee Beans Last Longer
Once a coffee bean has been ground, you really only have a few hours to use it in order to taste it at its best. But before the coffee has been ground, when it’s in its whole bean form, coffee can stay super tasty for months. Grinding coffee as you need it, rather than grinding it all in one go, will mean your coffee will last much longer. Store your coffee in a reliable canister that is lightproof and airtight for an even longer lifespan.
How Does a Coffee Grinder for French Press Work
While there are a few different types of coffee grinders, they all work in a similar way and have the same objective— to grind coffee. The main types of coffee grinders are manual coffee grinders, electric burr grinders, and electric blade grinders. These grinders are all quite different, but they do all have a few things in common.
Every coffee grinder has somewhere to place the coffee beans that the user wishes to grind. From there, the beans travel through either a set of burrs or through blades. Once the coffee has been cut into small pieces, it ends up in a grinds collection chamber of some sort, toward the bottom of the grinder.
The main differences between these different kinds of grinders are the way they cut the coffee, how the device is powered, and where the coffee ends up after it has finished being ground. We’ll get a little deeper into these three different types of grinders in a moment.
For a grinder to be perfect for making French press coffee, it needs to be able to produce even grinds at a coarse grind setting. This means that we need to have pieces of coffee that look fairly similar, or maybe a little courser than raw sugar. We want to avoid a grinder that will give us some raw sugar sized pieces, some fine beach sand-sized pieces, and some gravel-sized chunks. While having a little variance in the sizes of pieces of ground coffee might not be an issue, having a big jumble of different sizes will result in a cup of coffee that may taste both sour and bitter at the same time.
Pros and Cons of Coffee Grinders for French Press
- Fresher and more delicious tasting coffee
- Keeps the coffee beans whole until they are about to be used, which equals longer lasting coffee beans
- Can use one bag of coffee for multiple different brew methods
- Hand grinders can offer excellent value for the money
- Takes extra time and effort grinding your own coffee
- Need to buy a grinder
Types of Coffee Grinders
There are three main types of grinders that are used these days for grinding coffee— manual hand coffee grinders, electric burr grinders, and electric blade grinders. Let’s take a good look at the three and see how they are similar, how they are different, and the benefits and disadvantages of each.
Manual Hand Grinders
Manual or hand coffee grinders are incredibly popular at the moment. This is thanks, in large part, to a recent boost in the quality of these handy little grinders. But what exactly is a manual hand coffee grinder? It is a grinder that is powered by your hand moving what is known as a crank arm. As you move the crank arm, the inner conical burr within the grinder also moves, which in turn grinds the coffee inside.
Hand coffee grinders are certainly the most affordable type of coffee grinder on the list. The great thing about these guys is that they offer excellent grind quality for the price. They can offer grind quality as good, if not better, than an electric grinder for a fraction of the cost, because they contain no motor and no electronics— the most expensive parts of a grinder. Some hand grinders grind quality is so good, in fact, that winners of the World Barista Championships in the past have used a hand grinder during the competition— preferring the quality and results produced by a hand grinder close to one-tenth of the price of a normal competition standard grinder.
Hand coffee grinders are also extremely portable, taking up about as much space as a mug. Combine a hand grinder with the best French press travel mug and you’ve got yourself an absolute killer camping coffee setup!
Electric Burr Grinders
You know those big, expensive, shiny and fancy looking coffee grinders sitting on the counters at nice coffee shops? These bad boys are electric burr coffee grinders— many of which cost $3000 or more. Luckily though, not all burr coffee grinders are this big and expensive. There are literally hundreds of different options when it comes to electric burr coffee grinders for the household—something to suit pretty much any budget.
An electric burr coffee grinder works in a very similar way as a hand grinder does, except this time, it is the motor within the grinder that is doing the work. Coffee beans are loaded into the grinder, the user chooses a grind setting, and then presses the start button on the grinder. The grinder quickly and precisely (hopefully) cuts the coffee, ready for brewing.
While electric burr grinders are generally more expensive than hand coffee grinders, they are extremely easy to use and require almost no effort on the part of the user. Just load in your coffee and press the start button!
The major downside to electric grinders, as opposed to hand grinders, is that there is more that can go wrong with an electric grinder. Electronics and a motor make the electric grinder a far more complicated device.
Electric Blade Grinders
Electric blade grinders are very similar to a blender or a food processor. They usually contain 2 blades that spin around super fast, cutting the coffee as they spin. As you might imagine, this method of grinding can be quite inconsistent, with no real way of controlling how fine the coffee is being ground.
Blade grinders are becoming less and less common these days due to the rise in availability and decrease in the cost of burr grinders, which offer, by far, superior grind consistency and quality. Though there are many issues with electric blade grinders, they will still produce a cup of coffee that is better than when using pre-ground coffee.
Types of Coffee Grinders for French Press
Coffee grinder burrs come as a set. The two burrs fit together, allowing just enough space for a coffee bean to begin falling into the gap between the two. And as soon as they do… Whack! Bam! Splat! They are cut into little pieces!
When we take a look at the burrs that are housed within a coffee grinder, it quickly becomes obvious that all burrs are not created equal. Some are flat in shape while others are conical, some are made of steel and others are made of ceramic or titanium. But which kind of burrs are the best? Let’s take a look at each burr set, their defining qualities, and the impact they’ll have on the cup.
Conical Burr Grinders
Most home coffee grinders, with the exception of very few, use conical burrs. Conical burrs come in two pieces— one cone-shaped burr that moves, and one ring-shaped burr that stays stationary. As the cone-shaped burr spins, coffee is, with a little help from gravity, pulled into the burrs and cut into pieces.
Conical burrs can be found on both manual hand grinders and electric grinders, and produce excellent grind quality, great for anything from espresso to French press.
Flat Burr Grinders
Flat burrs are far less common than conical burrs. They are usually housed in more expensive grinders that are usually electric. Many people believe flat burrs produce a superior quality of the grind. This claim is hotly debated in the coffee world, with many people disagreeing and claiming there isn’t much different taste-wise between the grinds produced by either burr sets.
Stainless Steel Burrs
While pretty much all flat burrs are stainless steel, conical burrs are usually either made of ceramic or stainless steel. Both materials have their pros and cons, but it is largely agreed upon that stainless steel burrs are preferable. Not only are they more durable, but they also keep their sharp edge for longer than ceramic burrs. Grinders with stainless steel burrs are almost always more expensive and a fair bit heavier.
Ceramic burrs are often found on high quality but low-cost coffee grinders. Many hand grinders contain conical ceramic burrs. A couple of the best things about ceramic burrs is that they come very sharp right out of the box, and they are inexpensive, offering excellent grind quality for the price. The downside is that if you accidentally grind something a little too hard— maybe there was a tiny stone in your bag of coffee that snuck past the coffee roasters eyes or an under-developed coffee bean that is a little too hard— the ceramic burr might crack or chip. This will lead to uneven, poor quality grind.
How to Choose the Best Coffee Grinder for French Press
We want a grinder that can grind the coffee as evenly and consistently as possible. While a little variance is fine (in fact, some people like some variance), we don’t want too much. Grind that is too inconsistent can result in unevenly brewed, under-extracted coffee that isn’t as tasty as it could be.
Type of Grinder
Think about how, when, and where you’ll use your grinder. If you travel a lot and would like to brew some tasty coffee on the road, and also don’t mind putting a bit of time and effort into your daily brewing routine, a manual hand grinder might suit you wonderfully. If you are a zombie early in the morning and hand grinding beans before you’ve had a cup of coffee sounds more like a nightmare than a dream, an electric grinder definitely sounds more like it’s for you!
French press coffee, in general, requires a coarse grind setting. Given that, almost all grinders on the market are capable of providing French press sized ground coffee. But if you are also interested in brewing espresso coffee using the same grinder, you’ll need to make sure the grinder is capable of producing coffee that fine.
It may be a bit of a surprise, but many grinders are designed for a particular kind of coffee. While there are certainly exceptions, many espresso grinders don’t produce great quality grind at a coarse ‘French press’ setting, while many filter coffee grinders, those designed for drip and French press coffee, aren’t capable of producing grinds that are fine enough for espresso. Check the number of settings on the grinder, and how coarse and fine they can go.
Cleaning and Maintenance
When it comes to making delicious, outrageously good coffee, clean equipment is key. This isn’t only the case for our brewers and mugs, but also for coffee grinders. Choosing a grinder that is easy to clean and maintain will mean that you are more likely to clean it often, which will result in tastier coffee. Hand grinders are some of the easiest to clean— and can usually be done without any tools and not much knowledge. The user can take the entire grinder apart, clean it, and put it back together reasonably quickly. Cleaning an electric grinder is trickier and less through.
All coffee grinders have a place to put coffee before it is ground. This part of the grinder is called the hopper, and not all hoppers are the same size. Some grinders have a hopper capacity of 1kg plus, while others have a capacity closer to 30g. Think about how much coffee you want to grind at a time. If you make large batches of French press coffee and know that you need to grind at least 40g at a time, look for one with a larger capacity. Having a hopper that is too small isn’t too much of an issue for an electric grinder— just refill it and you’re good to go. A small hopper on a hand grinder, on the other hand, can be quite frustrating to have to refill it and continue cranking by hand.
Manual or Electric
Possibly the biggest choice to make when choosing a new grinder— electric or manual? This entirely comes down to you, because there are pros and cons of both. While premium manual coffee grinders offer great value for money, are more portable, and can offer exceptional grinds quality, they also take up a lot more time and effort than electric grinders do. A hand grinder will usually take around a minute or two to get through 40g of coffee— whereas an electric grinder would do that in closer to 20-40 seconds with no effort on the user’s part. Tough choice!
If you want a grinder that you can take on camping trips, hiking, or to use both at home and at the office, for sure, go with a manual hand grinder. If you aren’t keen on hand grinding but have limited kitchen counter space, you could go for one of the smaller, more compact electric grinders. Think about where the grinder will live— this will provide insight into what size grinder you might want.
Does it Grind Into a Portafilter or a Container
Most espresso grinders— grinders are specifically designed to brew espresso coffee, dispense the ground coffee into a portafilter. Filter coffee grinders, or multiple-use grinders, often grind into a grinds collection chamber of some sort. Grinders that dispense into a collection chamber are generally more useful for all-around coffee grinding.
How to Use a Coffee Grinder for French Press Coffee
How we know exactly what we’re looking for in a grinder, let’s take a look at how to use it!
- Roasted whole coffee beans
- Scales (optional)
- Brush (optional)
Step 1 — Measure out your coffee
First, measure out how much coffee you want to grind. If you are brewing a French press, a pretty standard ratio is 1:15, meaning one part coffee to 15 parts water. For a 500ml French press, this would be about 33g of coffee.
Step 2 — Set the grind size
If you are brewing a French press, you’ll want a grind that is on the coarser end of the spectrum. It is hard to say exactly what number this would be, as all grinders are different. We’re looking for a texture a little coarser than raw sugar. For example, if our grinder has 10 settings, and Turkish coffee is a 1, and espresso is a 2, a French press would be between a 7, while cold brew would be a 10. This, of course, depends entirely on preference. Experiment and you’ll quickly figure out what you like.
Step 3 — Transfer the coffee to the grinder
Add the coffee to the grinder. Close the lid, and begin grinding. How you do this will entirely depend on your particular grinder.
Step 4 — Dispense grinds into the French Press
Transfer the ground coffee into the French press and you’re ready to brew! The next step is a nice habit to pick up, but it is optional.
Step 5 — Clean
Take a clean paintbrush and brush out any ground coffee left stuck to the collection chamber and parts of the grinder that are easy to get to. Again, this step isn’t essential, but it does make the coffee taste better and will make cleaning a lot easier in the future.
How to Clean a Coffee Grinder
Cleaning is an essential step for every piece of brewing gear. Coffee is full of oils, and these oils love to stick to grinders. Cleaning a grinder is actually super easy— just brush out any excess coffee, wash anything that is plastic and you should be golden! Let’s look a little more closely at what to look for when cleaning a coffee grinder.
Step 1 — Dust excess coffee
First up, use a paintbrush or similar to brush away any excess coffee grinds. Anywhere you can reach with the brush, get to it and give it a good brushing! If you have an electric grinder, turn it upside down after brushing to ensure all leftover coffee grinds fall out.
Step 2 — Clean the plastic parts (if any)
If your coffee grinder contains any plastic parts— a hopper, grinds collection chamber, a lid, anything like that, remove it and wash it in soapy water. Rinse it well and let it dry fully before returning it to the grinder. Note: Please only wash plastic parts. Metal parts, especially the burrs, should not be washed.
Step 3 — Vacuum and use coffee grinder cleaner (optional)
Most people will never do either of these steps and still have delicious coffee. But many people swear by these, so we’ll cover them here.
Some avid home brewers have a small vacuum cleaner that lives next to their brewing setup. They take the vacuum and suck up any leftover coffee in the grinding chamber after each use or two.
Another step we can take is to run a coffee grinder cleaner through the grinder. It usually comes in the form of tables that you grind just as you would coffee. It is designed to remove the oils and residue that coffee leaves behind. There are many different companies that make coffee grinder cleaners, with the most popular ones being Urnex Grindz and Cafetto Grinder Clean.
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
When it comes to coffee grinders, spending more almost always means higher quality. But why is that? A higher price tag is associated with a more consistent and even grind, better quality electronics, and better build materials.
Do’s and Don’ts With Coffee Grinders for French Press
- Do clean your grinder regularly. A grinder isn’t like a coffee maker— it doesn’t need to have a deep clean done. Just a simple clean every day or two is good enough.
- Do choose a grinder with the right capacity for you. A grinder that is too small can be frustrating.
- Do experiment with grind sizes for your French Press coffee. A courser grind will produce different tasting coffee than what a finer grind will.
- Don’t be afraid to go for a hand grinder! They do take more time and effort, but grinding your coffee may become a beautiful part of easing into your morning— slowly grinding coffee by hand.
- Don’t think that you need to buy the most expensive grinder on the market. A simple hand grinder is more than enough to boost your coffee game seven-fold!
FAQ About Coffee Grinders for French Press
Can you use a regular grinder to grind coffee for a French Press?
Most coffee grinders are capable of producing grinds for a French press. The only exception to this may be a grinder designed to grind espresso coffee. Even then, it should still grind course enough, but maybe not very evenly.
Why is my French Press coffee so weak?
There are a couple of things that could be to blame for weak coffee. A simple solution is that not enough coffee was added to the brew. A ratio of 1:15, one part coffee to 15 parts water, should boost the strength of your coffee. If this is still not strong enough, try adding a few extra grams.
Aside from using more coffee, you can also check the following.
- Coffee with low acidity can often feel like it lacks a kick. Try a different coffee, maybe something with nice, round acidity.
- Try brewing with hotter water. Hot water will be more efficient at dissolving the solubles in coffee. Coffee made in a percolator has a rich aroma and it too uses very hot water.
- Pay attention to the coffee expiration date. Coffee doesn’t stay fresh for long. If your unopened bag of coffee is more than two months old, or your opened bag has been open for more than 2 weeks, the coffee may have lost a lot of its original flavor.
- Try organic coffee. Not only is drinking organic coffee beneficial to health, but it can also be incredibly flavourful.
Do you use less coffee in a French Press?
Most pour-over vs French press guides will mention it is a good idea to use a little more coffee in a French press. A ratio of about 1:15 is recommended for a French press, whereas with a pour-over, 1:16 or 1:17 is recommended.
What grind size do I need for the French Press?
When grinding coffee for a French press, aim for a grind size a little courser than raw sugar.
There are a lot of coffee types, and some might taste better ground a little finer, while others may taste better being ground a little coarser.
What’s the minimum number of grind settings I should look for in a coffee grinder?
If you want a do-it-all kind of grinder, you’re going to need the ability to grind very fine, medium, and course. If you want a grinder that is purely to go with a French press, you only really need the coarser end of the spectrum.
Grinding your own coffee will infinitely step up your coffee game. Not only will your coffee last longer and will taste fresher, but you’ll notice flavors you never knew were there!
Photos from: nikkimeel / depositphotos.com, microgen / depositphotos.com, Sandralise / depositphotos.com, sorockina / depositphotos.com and Multiart / depositphotos.com.