Just below you can see my first ever a manual coffee grinder? Most of us are familiar with the manual pepper mill in Italian restaurants, but if you have ever wondered how coffee was ground before there was electricity, the manual grinder was the only real option.
And it’s a wonderfully slow and affordable way to grind coffee beans, especially if you don’t know how to grind coffee properly. I recently acquired one that cost about $12, and it easily grinds better coffee than any blade coffee grinder. It’s great for parties, when people get to grind their own coffee… it’s a great talking point, too!
A Fine Grind Tradition
After all, people have been drinking coffee for centuries and they would certainly need a way to grind it. They did this with manual coffee grinders that were usually either box mills or knee mills. Knee mills were identical to box mills but had indentations on each side so that you could grip the mill between your knees.
So what is a box mill?
Box mills consist of five components:
- the handle which turns the entire grinding mechanism;
- a lid to stop the beans or grinds falling out;
- an upper hopper that holds the beans;
- an adjustable conical burr grinder that does the work; and
- a bottom hopper that holds the ground coffee which pulls out to empty the grounds.
Slow Food: Slow Coffee?
It takes longer to grind coffee in a manual grinder, usually between one and four minutes depending on the grind you want. Some people buy manual grinders and give up after the first few times grinding because of the effort it takes but others enjoy grinding their own coffee without an electric machine.
A manual coffee grinder is a beautiful complement to your kitchen as well as useful. You may be able to find one in an antique shop if you want authentic, old fashioned charm but there are several models available that are manufactured today.
Modern Yet Classic
These grinders come in a variety of different woods such as walnut, beech and mahogany. The upper hoppers are the real eye catcher, though. Some are made of cast iron while others are copper or brass. The handles can have big decorative knobs to grip or smaller ones. There are even some that have iron wheels instead of handles and these models can be quite striking. Bases and lower hoppers can be wood or porcelain.
Couple of Issues
If you are planning to use a traditional manual coffee grinder, you do need to know there are a couple of downsides: low volumes of coffee grounds, and occasionally some beans won’t be properly ground. There is also the issue of grinding speed! If you can’t grind fast enough, you may find that your cup of coffee has to wait! I find grinding in the manual coffee grinder a little slow but pleasurable, if I am not in a hurry!
Small Grind Volumes
The actual drawer that sits below the grinder unit tends to be quite small in most units, meaning that you can only really grind a small amount at once. This makes using t he grinder for all but the smallest parties useless. If you are making coffee for you and one other person, it might be okay, though.
For some kinds of machines or coffee types, an even grind is almost as important as the grind quality. A few grounds that are larger than the rest or a partially ground bean would cause problems with certain espresso makers or the Aeropress. So you have to remember to remove those uneven bits.
Overall, though, you will find that the manual coffee grinder, or box mill, produces a good quality grind for your coffee beans, enhances a slower lifestyle, makes a great accompaniment to your coffee equipment collection, and gives you something to share with your guests. If your guests come and have coffee, you can ask them to help grind the coffee! And even if you don’t use it, a manual coffee bean grinder is still a beautiful accessory!