A grinder is a grinder, right? Well, sort of. In reality, not all grinders are created equally and which grinder you need depends on what you’re going to grind with it. Spice grinders and coffee grinders seem similar at a glance, but some important differences make them better at their intended use and not so great for other purposes.
The most important difference is how spice grinders and coffee grinders each handle the grinding process. Spice grinders almost universally use blades, while coffee grinders prefer burrs. It might seem like a small detail, but it makes a surprisingly large difference. In this article, we put spice grinders and coffee grinders head-to-head and tell you everything you need to know before buying a grinder.
Overview of Spice Grinders
The name spice grinder is a bit of a misnomer. Almost universally, spice grinders use spinning blades and therefore don’t grind spices as much as they chop and slice them. The primary drawback of blade grinders is that they don’t create uniformly-sized particles. Since you don’t need uniformly chopped spices, blade grinders do a fine job. For coffee, having unevenly sized grounds is unacceptable and will have a huge impact on how your coffee tastes.
Electric vs. Manual
Spice grinders come in both electric and manual varieties. Whether an electric or hand grinder is right for you is a matter of convenience vs. cost. Electric grinders are more expensive and easier to use, so they’re best for people who frequently make recipes requiring ground spices.
If you only grind spices occasionally, you can save a significant amount of money by purchasing a hand grinder. Be aware that some hand grinders take a lot of effort to use, and you might regret your purchase if you have to grind a large volume of spices at once.
A major benefit of purchasing a spice grinder is the flexibility it gives you. Spice grinders are good at chopping small volumes of soft ingredients, and some can even handle nuts and harder ingredients. At the higher price levels, spice grinders can also grind dry and wet ingredients, which is never acceptable in a coffee grinder.
Overview of Coffee Grinders
Coffee grinders are the opposite of spice grinders in many ways. Unlike spice grinders, coffee grinders fill a single role in your kitchen and shouldn’t be used to grind anything besides coffee. As such, purchasing a coffee grinder is a tougher decision since it won’t be used to perform as many tasks. However, we make coffee every day, but we don’t grind spices or chop nuts every day. Whether or not you should purchase a coffee grinder depends on how much coffee you drink and how satisfied you are with your coffee’s quality.
Burrs vs. Blades
Some blade grinders are advertised as coffee grinders, but we strongly recommend buying a burr grinder instead. We already mentioned that blades are inadequate for producing a consistent enough grind to make high-quality coffee and a burr grinder is the only way to go if you want to make excellent, freshly ground coffee at home.
A burr is basically a tiny mill that grinds coffee between two rotating — usually conically — burrs. The spacing between the burrs determines the grind size and guarantees a much more uniform grind size distribution than you can get from a blade grinder. A uniform grind size distribution will have a tremendously positive impact on your coffee’s clarity and flavor. The difference is like night and day.
Is an electric grinder worth it?
Coffee grinders also have electric and manual options, and it isn’t obvious that one is better than the other. Electric grinders tend to be more expensive than manual ones, but in general, a hand grinder will give you better results than an electric grinder at the same price point.
Another point in favor of hand grinders is noise. If you make coffee in the morning when other people in your household are sleeping, they might not take too kindly to your new coffee grinding habit. Electric coffee grinders are universally loud, and you will wake up anyone nearby who is sleeping.
If you have some extra money to spend and won’t be making coffee while anyone is sleeping, an electric grinder is a good option. They’re more convenient to use and can easily handle larger batches. For everyone else, we recommend buying a manual hand grinder instead.
Coffee Grinder vs Spice Grinder: Which is Right for You?
Compared to other kitchen choices, which grinder you should choose is a relatively easy question to answer. If you are a coffee fanatic like we are, you need to own your own burr grinder. Nothing will increase the quality of your coffee more than using a high-quality burr grinder to grind your coffee right before you make it. If we could only keep one piece of our extensive library of coffee-making paraphernalia, it would be our burr grinder.
On the other hand, if you need an all-purpose grinder to use for chopping nuts, spices, and other small, relatively soft ingredients, a spice grinder is what you need. If you like cooking and chopping spices more often than you brew coffee, a spice grinder is probably a better investment for you.
In an ideal world, all kitchens would have both a multi-purpose spice grinder and a dedicated coffee grinder. Unfortunately, many people don’t have that luxury and need to choose one or the other. Also, unfortunately, a coffee grinder is a single-purpose kitchen tool that can’t be used to grind other ingredients without compromising your coffee’s quality.
If you cook more than you make coffee, you should go ahead and get a spice grinder. It will be more useful to you more often, and you likely won’t get as much out of a coffee grinder. However, if you are a coffee lover and brew one or more cups per day, you will notice a vast improvement to your coffee if you buy a specialized coffee grinder.
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Featured Image Credit: Spice Grinder (Source: APIMGSTUDIO, Shutterstock), Right: Coffee Grinder (Source: Marco Verch Professional Photographer, Flickr)