Manual vs Automatic Coffee Grinders - Which Is Best for Your Restaurant?

Coffee Grinder
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If you serve coffee at your cafe or restaurant, what's the most important piece of equipment for making it? Many people would say it's actually the coffee grinder!

The size and consistency of coffee grounds are one of the biggest determinants of how good the final cup of java is, more than many other factors. Coffee enthusiasts can argue all day about different brewing methods, but if you're starting from substandard grounds, even the best coffee maker won't save the batch.

Typically, you have two options: hand grinding, or electric grinders. There are commercial-grade coffee grinders in both cases, so the question is simply which is right for your restaurant. Let's take a look!

I. The Importance of a Great Grind

Depending on the type of coffee you're making, you might need fine-ground or course-ground coffee - but consistency is key. If you need finely-ground coffee beans, you can't have big chunks. Inconsistency will directly harm the taste, as well as potentially reduce how much caffeine or flavor makes it into the final brew.

Consistency is determined by the grinding method. For example, we do not recommend ever using blade-based grinders in a working kitchen. These aren't even grinders, technically speaking, they're choppers - basically just modified food processors. And the grind they produce will be wildly inconsistent as a result.

Quality coffee grinders rely on burrs, which are the flat or conical elements that do the actual grinding. There's no clear guideline on whether flat or conical burrs are better; in our experience, they're about the same. The important aspect is how well-constructed the burrs are. They should not shift around and be able to provide the exact same quality of grind throughout an entire batch.

Burrs are typically made of either ceramic or sharpened steel. Steel typically provides a bit better grind but is more expensive. Ceramic burrs are more commonly found in hand grinders, while steel is more often in automatics - although either is possible.

So, regardless of which type of grinder you choose, be sure to get one with high-quality burrs and great construction to match.

II. Hand Grinding vs Automatic / Electric Coffee Grinders

Hand grinders are a small, affordable option. They only take up a tiny amount of space and can truly fit in any kitchen. They can even be stored in drawers if space is truly at a premium, while always being ready for use anytime, anywhere. Plus, they don't require electricity, since you provide the energy yourself.

Hand grinding is best for small batches - or when you want to say your coffee is 'hand crafted' - and also better for brews that need coarse grinds. A hand grinder will never be able to grind as finely as an electric grinder.

Also, hand grinders can be absolutely gorgeous - such as this cast iron and beech wood Omcan grinder. For trendy cafes, they can be a showpiece as well as functional equipment.

On the other hand, automatic grinders are much more utilitarian and won't be items you'll show off to guests. They can handle larger batches of grounds at once and, of course, don't require manual labor to operate. They typically have several different pre-set grind options, so creating a batch is just a couple button presses away.

Automatic grinders are capable of grinding much more finely than hand grinders as well, and this is particularly important if you serve espresso. Espresso needs extremely fine grounds, which a hand grinder simply cannot produce.

In addition, automatic grinders are typically faster than hand grinding as well. Most models can turn a batch of beans into grounds in a matter of seconds - and that can matter when you're serving a lot of coffee. 

On the plus side, whichever option you choose, maintenance should be minimal. Hand grinders are purely mechanical, so just clean them out regularly. Electric grinders are also quite hardy, and rarely break down as long as you keep the user-accessible areas clean when it's not in use.

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