I have a shameful secret to reveal. I don’t grind my own coffee.

Being a barista (well, not right now), this has sometimes led to a questioning of my coffee expertise, something along the lines of ‘Well, if you can’t taste the difference, I guess it’s no big deal.’ Oh, clever, I see what you did there. A little passive-aggressive jibe not at only my expertise, but at my actual sense of taste! Nice one. Then there’s the more overt ‘how can anyone who doesn’t grind their own beans know anything about coffee?’

coffee

Actually, I know great deal about coffee, definitely more than nothing. And it is this knowledge, along with my own personal circumstances, that has led me to drink it the way I do. First world problems, eh? Here are the 4 steps of reasoning that lead me to believe a grinder is not for me.

1. The ‘scale of flavour’ is a myth
Firstly, I call into question that there is one perfect coffee bean out there that, when perfectly ground and extracted, will yield perfect results for everyone. It has been proven that the majority of people like a light, caramel roast and there’s also a chunk that prefers a dark roast, so that in itself blows that idea out of the water. But let’s take a look at this imaginary scale anyway:

The perfectionist’s scale:

perfect coffee scale

Now I have a billion issues with this graph. First, if this were the scale, how would the coffee machine factor in? What if you used French press, a $100 espresso machine, a $1000 espresso machine, stovetop, hot water, cold water extraction, syphon… the list goes on. What about skill? What about mistakes? What about how much coffee you have to throw out whenever you grind it wrong? There are too many variables, so let’s just look at two – flavour and mess/hassle.

2. Flavour vs. Effort. That’s my scale.

flavour vs effort

In this diagram, the blue line represents flavour and the red line represents mess/hassle.

Notice I’ve given pre-ground supermarket coffee a 2 for flavour, store-ground boutique coffee an 8 for flavour, and boutique beans a 9. So you’d think the beans are the natural choice. But not so, because grinding beans has a mess/hassle score of 8 which is quite high, where getting a store to grind it with a commercial grinder is a 2. What I’m looking for is a large gap between mess/hassle and flavour, with flavour at the top. Thus, store ground boutique coffee has a score of 4 (8/2) and boutique beans get 1.125 (9/8). That’s my reasoning.

3. I have skills, I don’t need gadgets.
The truth is I don’t need a graph, but I drew it to make a point- there is not an absolute value for flavour. There are standards. There are better methods and worse methods. But there is also what works for you. At the end of the day, I don’t own a grinder because it just isn’t that important to me, and I’m drinking much nicer coffee than a lot of people who do. It’s my theory that just as a poor tradesman blames her tools, a poorly skilled one buys fancy tools to make up for that lack of skill. And it doesn’t work.

4. Other factors
Of course there are other factors. The fact that I live in inner-city Sydney, surrounded by coffee roasters and great cafés is one of them. The fact that I am a trained barista is another. A kitchen the size of a built-in wardrobe is another – there’s no space for a grinder. And there’s a whole other issue as well, which is that the more complex the method, the more crap you are talked into buying, and buying stuff is not one of my favourite activities.  But either way, my graph still stands. Because science.

What about you? Have you come up against any first-world-type judgements lately? Maybe you didn’t deglaze a pan properly? Maybe you don’t eat organic, or don’t breast-feed your child? Tell me about an occasion your common-sense reasoning was undermined by hipsters. Sock it to me, chums.

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16 Responses to 4 reasons I don’t own a coffee grinder

  1. Gaby says:

    Hello, I’m a trained cook and I don’t always make my own pasta. :) Very convincing arguments, and I agree, skill is much more important than other factors.
    Gaby recently posted…Australia &amp NZ 2011 1 April

  2. Senhor R says:

    My argument is simple.

    The coffees I get with pre-ground good local beans with a frequent turnaround from my machine are better than 98% of coffee I had in Spain and all of the coffees I had in Argentina. It’s 90% better than the coffees I’ve had in my local area within a stones-throw of my house, and is on average better than 85% of the coffee I’ve tried near my Work.

    Why would I quadruple the efforts involved and add a whole new variable that will only make my results more inconsistent in grinding my own to get maybe a 5-10% uplift in flavour, yet at the same time decrease my ability to maintain consistency by having to adjust the grinder for conditions etc. when I’m only making one cup per day on it?

    Sure freshly ground coffee is the absolute bomb when done right but even more hideously disappointing when done wrong due to the disparity in expectations and results. Getting it right takes practice, getting to know you grinder, conditions and having time to understand it thoroughly. In my rush to get to work this is not going to enhance any of those skills.

    Consistency is key and if there is less consistency the flavour plummets.

    I’d rather just get good consistently ground beans with a 1.5 week turnaround time so that when I make my 5-6 cups of week at home I know what to expect and how to get the most out of it.

    Listening to people bang on and repeat the phrase they picked up off a DVD about how the home grinder is the only way to go is like listening to apple fanboys bleating about something they don’t even understand at the most basic level yet feel repeating the mantra gives them some sort of credibility.

    If I start having more coffees at home then I would consider getting one but until then I’m happy to bask in a pragmatic reality when I’m getting the maximum flavour for minimum effort and having a coffee that fits my requirements for deliciousness.

  3. Ben Dover says:

    Here’s my take on it, I hear you and understand the tradeoff; hassle and mess associated with enjoying great coffee. I have been roasting my own beans for about 10 years now.
    My preference is grinding right before brewing. I own a brewer with a built in grinder. This actually makes the grinding much more convenient and less of a mess. Obviously, there was a cost associated with the equipment.
    In order to justify the cost, I committed to only drinking my coffee at home (no cafes) for two years. Typically, I drink 4 – 6 cups a day.
    My big delimna is the roasting. (Talk about hassle and mess). Every couple of months, I get lazy and run out of roasted beans. Then I either suffer withdrawal for a day, or rush a batch and grind immediately after roasting so it will degas in a couple of hours.
    About 5 times over the past 10 years have I felt so lazy, that I bought commercial beans, or a bag from a local roaster.
    Fresh coffee in the morning makes my top 10 list of favorite things in life.
    Cheers,
    Ben

  4. Lau says:

    @Gaby – Although I’m betting when you DO make your own pasta, it’s delicious…

    @Senhor – That is a rant and a half.

    @Kat – I agree, with comments that long, he should start a blog. In fact, that’s how many blogs start.

    @Ben – I think you’ve touched on another very important factor there, and that’s how much coffee you drink. I will have 1-2 coffees a day and so the mess and hassle of grinding becomes even more of an issue.

  5. Dani says:

    Who would have thought that so many people could get so fired up about something that is so completely about personal taste and preference? Seriously, there have got to be more important things to argue about… oh well, I guess that’s why they call them first world problems… :)

  6. Manu says:

    To me it comes down to “convenience” (my own ;-)). I usually buy supermarket coffee beans because there are no coffee roasters near where I live… I have grown up using a mocha and ground coffee… now I have “evolved” into having a coffee machine with a grinder and I must admit I love being able to press a button and have a good espresso. I drink quite a bit of coffee (3+ a day… I know I know… too much!), so it makes sense for me. I try and buy the best supermarket beans I find (Illy or Lavazza), but if I had a choice I would love freshly roasted beans! :-)

  7. Lau says:

    @Dani – I think people get very fired up about the personal decisions they make every day. It’s easy to have strong opinions about the tiny issues that make up our (and other people’s) daily lives- how to get to work, what to have for dinner, whether to give your kids lollies, manners, what to wear… These are also the things we feel we have control over, and all of this is fodder for a myriad of successful blogging genres – fashion, tech, mommy blogging, etc. Maybe we should take a look at the bigger picture, but at the same time, this is the daily ‘stuff’ of our lives, it’s what we connect with.

    @Manu – I agree its all about the best you can get out of what you have, and where you live plays a HUGE part in that. And I think you’ve touched on an important issue which is that its not a great idea to judge people’s choices. You don’t have access to freshly roasted beans and that’s a minor thing, but on a larger scale, judging someone for not taking advantage of something they CAN’T access seems ridiculous. In my case, I don’t have $200 to blow on a grinder and probably won’t for quite some time. And yet I was told there was no excuse for not owning one. Yeah, there is. I don’t want one, but even if I did, I haven’t the space nor the cash.

  8. Lau, people really get passionate about their coffee don’t they! Sorry to hear that you were hassled by hipsters! :(
    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella recently posted…Raw Chocolate Brownies with Chocolate Avocado Frosting

    • Lau says:

      Don’t worry Lorraine, being hassled by hipsters is kinda inevitable when you claim to know anything about anything that that is even mildly cool. :)

  9. Great post! I’m like Gaby. I don’t always make my own pasta either. I often buy freshly made pasta from my local deli due to time constraints and it’s good to support local businesses that do the hard work for you!
    Food Endeavours Blue Apocalypse recently posted…Baklava with Pistachios, Walnuts and Honey Syrup

  10. I am loving your blog and the way you write Lau. I was considering buying a grinder because I thought that I would get a fresher cup of coffee, now I am going to take your advice and just stick with my freshly ground beans from my local and my stove top for the weekends and the 50,000 awesome coffee joints in Sydney. I don’t have the skills and I certainly don’t eed another bloody gadget!
    Anna@ The Littlest Anchovy recently posted…Are You Achin’ For Some Bacon?

  11. Jon says:

    You’ve convinced me. Just need to find a good supplier of freshly ground beans in Canberra. Any ideas?

  12. […] flavour, more so than I remembered. In fact, we liked it so much that Senhor R got them to grind us a 250g bag of whatever we were drinking to take away. I know, I know. I should’ve been taking […]

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