Grinding out the details.

Nikki Milligan

If you’re starting your specialty coffee journey or just have a taste for the finer things in coffee, you need to grind your own beans. Surprisingly, freshly ground coffee plays a big role in the flavour of your cup. 

After the beans themselves, the single most important piece of gear in the coffee-making process is your grinder.

As it turns out, all coffee grinders are not created equal. 

Two kinds of grinders.

To start off, there are two kinds: blades and burrs.

A blade grinder has a blade in the centre of the grinder that looks like a propeller. You pop in the beans, put on the cap, and push down to get the blade spinning.

Tip: To get the most uniform ground out of a blade grinder, try grinding your coffee in spurts. Pulse your coffee as opposed to just grinding in one go.

A burr grinder, however, is a step up. It’s made up of two revolving abrasive surfaces (called burrs), in between which the coffee is ground, a few beans at a time. The distance between the surfaces are changeable, which in turn changes the size of your grind. 

Conical burr grinders & flat burr grinders.

Burr grinders are further divided into two kinds.

Flat burrs.

In flat burr grinders, coffee beans drop between the burrs, are ground through the burrs and then drop again, making two 90-degree turns. 

One of the drawbacks is that the grinder can get clogged up, especially if you are grinding up large quantities of whole beans. Clogs that become trapped in the grinder go stale, contaminating other batches, depending on how regularly you clean your grinder.

Conical burrs.

In conical burrs, beans are directed down through the burrs at a slight angle, but the path is essentially vertical.

The burrs themselves typically rotate at a lower rate, so they tend to produce less noise. They also create less friction. Friction results in heat and any excess heat at this stage is something you want to avoid, if you can. In fact, enough heat can vaporize the essential oils in the beans.

The downside to conical burr grinders is that they’re very often priced higher than flat burr alternatives.

So which kind should you get?

It’s really up to you. 

Blade grinders are more inexpensive compared to their burr cousins, and they get the job done…. Sort of.

If  you see yourself as a “home barista” or just actually love coffee, invest a little more in a burr grinder so you can grind your beans for your specific brewing device. 

A burr grinder is a step up; it’ll give you a consistent, uniform grind. You can’t really can’t go wrong with either one. But, of course us coffee nerds have our preferences.

However, rather than agonizing over the differences between owning a flat versus a conical burr grinder, it’s really a discussion of theories that’s best enjoyed over a fine beverage.

Tip:  With the burr grinders, you need to clean them per the instructions that come with your grinder. It will last a lot longer and you’ll keep drinking amazing specialty coffee.

Want a recco? Personally, I used the Breville Smart Grinder pro (retail$249) for a few years at home and I loved it, it’s a conical burr grinder. But recently at home, I upgraded to the Baratza Virtuoso (Retail $359). If these are still out of your budget, I suggest the Baratza Encore as a sleek entry-level grinder retailing at $199, it’s worth it and will for sure up your home coffee game. 

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Coffee: grounds for good gardening.

Nikki Milligan

Spring is here and the gardening season is starting, so what can you do with all those coffee grinds you’ve been saving up…. Well we have some options!

There are often a lot of questions about using fresh coffee grinds or used grounds in the garden. If you ask us, fresh coffee grounds are best used for making coffee. The garden will be quite happy to get what’s left over. And, for the most part, used coffee grounds are a great additive and have many benefits. 

There’s a general perception that coffee grounds are acidic, but this is not always the case. In fact, coffee grounds can vary from very acidic to slightly alkaline. So if you sprinkle used coffee grounds around, don’t expect them to acidify higher pH soils for those acid-loving flowering plants like azaleas, hydrangeas, and lilies. Blueberries like slightly acidic soil acidic soil, as do some vegetables, especially root crops, like radishes and carrots. They’ll respond particularly favourably if you add your grounds in with the soil at planting time. Tomatoes, on the other hand, typically don’t respond as well.

Composting

Used coffee grounds make great compost, and can be highly beneficial for your plants. The grounds enrich your compost pile, releasing the essential nutrient nitrogen, as well as some potassium and phosphorus, plus other micronutrients. Just throw any used grounds onto your compost pile and mix them in. And while you’re at it, you can throw your paper filter on there as well.

Remember, though, that despite their colour, coffee grounds are a ‘green’, nutrient-rich organic material. So make sure to mix them in with enough ‘browns’ – carbon-rich materials such as dried leaves or woody cuttings. Your compost heap’s tiny munchers will process them happily, breaking them down and helping to release the nutrients. 

Fertilizer

Some choose to put coffee grounds directly into the garden, using it as a fertilizer to enrich the soil. But that’s not exactly how they work. While coffee grounds will add nitrogen to a compost heap, they don’t contribute nitrogen to your soil immediately. Instead, they act more like a slow-release fertilizer--delivering small quantities of nitrogen, as well as potassium, phosphorus and other micronutrients over time. 

The real benefit of adding coffee grounds to your garden lies in their addition as an organic material, improving soil drainage, water retention and aeration. They encourage micro-organisms that are beneficial to plant growth. And they also attract earthworms, which further aerate the soil.

Mulch

You can also use coffee grounds in your garden as a mulch. Some gardeners are hesitant to do so because they worry coffee beans contain caffeine, which they fear suppresses the growth of some plants. However, the amount of caffeine actually remaining in used coffee grounds is minimal, and there is no verifiable proof that plants suffer from exposure to caffeine. That said, it’s probably better not to spread coffee grounds around seeds or immature seedlings, as they could be more sensitive than adult plants, and even trace amounts of caffeine could have a detrimental effect on germination and growth. 

One thing to watch for, when you mulch, is clumping. Since coffee grounds consist of fine particles, they are prone to locking together, and can turn into a barrier that resists water penetration. In the soil, this can block plant root systems and cause them to dry out, and in extreme cases, causing them to die of thirst. The solution is easy. Mix coffee grounds with other organic matter (like much of what’s already in your compost) before using it as a mulch. Alternatively, you can rake coffee grounds into the topsoil, being sure to scatter them well enough that they don’t clump together

Pesticide

Coffee grounds can act as a natural pesticide. Many gardeners like to spread used coffee grounds around plants that are vulnerable to slug damage. No one is sure why the sprinklings work. One theory is that the texture of the grounds is abrasive, and soft-bodied slugs don’t like to go through them. Another idea suggests the minimal amount of caffeine left in the used grounds is something slugs don’t like. Ants are another potential pest, and though they don’t particularly like coffee grounds, they won’t run out of your garden to get away from them.

Some people also claim that coffee grounds on the soil work as a kind of cat repellent, keeping felines from using your flower and veggie beds as a litter box. 

On the other hand, you can use coffee grounds as worm food if you do vermicomposting with a worm bin. Worms are very fond of coffee grounds. 

Happy spring everyone!

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Flavour Wheel

Nikki Milligan

What’s in Your Cup?

Most of the time, our love of coffee’s purpose is simply to  raise our blood-caffeine level, something to get us going in the morning. But let’s take a moment to really discover the flavours in our coffee. 

Like wine, every good cup of coffee has unique flavor characteristics. So let’s use our most precious sensory receptors, taste and smell to discover what we can. We can use them to sense the subtleties that define how they were processed and how they were roasted, and even the environment where the beans were grown.

You don’t need to be a professional “coffee cupper” to do this, you just have to taste your coffee mindfully.

The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel is a great tool to describe coffee flavor and help guide you in the experience to savour your cup of coffee.  It was originally developed in 1995, and updated again in 2016 by the SCA in collaboration with World Coffee Research. We can use it to discover subtle complexities in both aroma and taste.

Many roasters actively use this wheel  as they cup new roasts to help guide them.

How can you use it?

Begin from the center by identifying broader flavour notes, and work your way out to more specific flavours. Try to identify some of the more subtle tastes aromas, as you  home in on what you're tasting. 

The SCA has a great step-by-step guide on how to use it as well.

The labels in our Coffee Locale subscription provide you with tasting notes. And we encourage you to pour yourself one of the specialty roasts we provide. Then set this wheel up in front of you and see what flavours you can find! Enjoy the experience. 

There are no wrong answers. Each of our palates is unique and has experienced different flavours in our past so, you may even find yourself experiencing flavour notes beyond what is listed on the label. 

Become the coffee artisan of your morning, and have some fun with it!

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