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Some grinders are advertised as coffee grinders while others are advertised as espresso grinders. What’s the difference? Is there any difference between the two and does it matter?
An espresso grinder is a coffee grinder but set up to grind a lot finer. Espresso grinders should have much finer adjustment steps to really be able to dial in the grind size that’s right for your espresso. Some normal grinders can do this but those are usually very expensive.
Let’s see what the exact differences are and what you can do if you want to make espresso but don’t have the right grinder.
Are Espresso And Coffee Grinders Different?
Are there any differences between a coffee and an espresso grinder?
Espresso grounds are made from coffee beans just like any other type of coffee grounds. The main difference between espresso grounds and grounds for most other brewing method is that espresso grounds are finer. Every type of coffee starts out as a coffee bean. What happens after that is what makes it suitable for different brewing methods.
Ok, so espresso grounds are much finer than pour over and especially French press grounds. What does that matter for the grinder? Aren’t they adjustable?
Yes, most coffee grinders are adjustable but not all are adjustable finely enough for espresso. For pour over coffee, French press and other brewing methods like that, the differences in grind size are relatively larger than you would want to make for espresso.
So the grinders that are meant to make ‘normal’ coffee grounds are just the same as the grinders that are good for espresso grounds. They work in largely the same way and their goal is largely the same. The biggest difference is that grinders which are good for espresso are capable of very fine adjustments and are often a little limited in size range.
While all coffee and espresso grinders turn coffee beans into ground coffee, they are optimized for different grind sizes. Most brewing methods require a coarser grind than espresso so there are different types of grinders that are optimized for the different sizes.
Some grinders can do all the different grind sizes well but usually those are quite expensive. In general it’s best to buy a grinder that’s suited for the brew method you want to use.
What Makes a Grinder Good For Espresso?
So what are some things too keep an eye out to make sure your grinder can grind well for espresso?
Here is what espresso grinders have to do well:
- Very consistent
- Can grind finely
- Capable of making very fine adjustments
There are a few hand grinders that can do this but most of the grinders will be electric. As long as you can grind finely and make small adjustments, it doesn’t really matter if you’re going hand or electric. Electric is just a lot easier but you’ll have to pay extra for the comfort.
It can be a bit difficult to figure out which grinders are good for espresso. Many listings will say their grinder is suitable for espresso but not all of them are. Figuring out which ones are good will require some reading and seeking out reviews. Or pick one of the popular ones from the list below.
Can You Use a Normal Coffee Grinder To Make Espresso?
What if you have a coffee grinder that’s not really suited to grind for espresso? Maybe it can’t go fine enough or maybe it’s not adjustable finely enough. Is there anything you can do in this case?
First, I would just try what you can accomplish with the grinder you already have. Just try and see what happens if you put the grounds in your espresso machine. It might just turn out fine. Sure with espresso tiny adjustments are sometimes necessary which are usually not possible on cheaper coffee grinders but it might just work out.
It might not be optimal but if you can get 90% of the way there, you can upgrade your grinder a little later. An espresso machine is already a big investment, a good grinder is definitely worth it but if your old grinder works OK, you have some time to save money.
If your current grinder really doesn’t work to make espresso, there are two things you can do:
- Upgrade your grinder
- Use a pressurized filter basket
- Use different coffee
Upgrading your grinder is pretty obvious. Buy a grinder that is better suited for espresso and you’ll be good.
A pressurized filter basket is another hack that can help you get better espresso if your grinder is not up to the task. Be aware, it’s aware that a good grinder plus normal filter basket will produce better espresso than a pressurized basket but it’s better than using a normal basket with wrong grind.
The problem with the wrong grind size is that it either is too fine which causes channeling or too coarse which means the water flows through too fast. Either way you end up with espresso that’s not strong enough because the water didn’t extract all the grounds properly. Both ways it’s caused by not having enough resistance.
The pressurized filter basket has a double bottom with a little valve. The valve only opens at a certain pressure so the water hangs out with the grounds longer giving them more time to extract and brew proper espresso.
You can also try a dark roasted coffee if you’re not using that now. Dark roasted coffee is much easier to extract. So if you have a grinder that can only do a bit too coarse a dark roast compensates for that. This is a workaround you really shouldn’t have to take because it will also change the taste of your coffee quite a lot.
Recommended Espresso Equipment
Besides an espresso machine, there are a few other tools that can make your espresso better. Here are my favorites:
- Espresso Machine: The Breville Barista Express (Amazon) is the sweet spot in price and quality for most casual home baristas. It comes with a built in grinder and most tools you need to brew espresso.
- Tamper: A nice tamper helps you tamp your grounds in the filter for the best result. Any correctly sized tamper can do the job but a nice heavy one just feels so much better in your hand than a plastic model. This Luxhaus one (Amazon) has a nice trick up it’s sleeve to make tamping very consistent.
- Beans: Good espresso starts with good beans. Using fresh beans is a big improvement over pre-ground coffee.
- Scales: Getting consistently good espresso means you have to know how much grounds is going into the machine and how much is coming out and how long this takes. A coffee scale is going to make your espresso much more consistent and also makes adjustments a lot easier. The Apexstone coffee scale (Amazon) is cheap and doesn’t look too sleek but is just as accurate as more expensive scales. The TimeMore scales (Amazon) look and feel a lot nicer but cost a bit more.
- Grinder: To make the best of your fresh beans, a good grinder is necessary. Espresso requires a good grinder to get the best results. The Baratza Sette 30 (Amazon) is a good espresso grinder that can also be used for other brewing methods and while not cheap, is good value for money. If you prefer hand grinders, the 1ZPresso JX-PRO is one of the best options (Amazon)
- Distribution tool: After grinding you can get some clumps in the coffee grounds. Those clumps should be broken up so the water can extract all the coffee grounds equally. Distribution tools are very simple things but this one (Amazon) is beautifully made and will look good in your kitchen.