Why I use a manual coffee grinder

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Justin Levy asked me a while back why I use a manual coffee grinder when there are far better options available. The answer is: because it takes a long time to grind coffee this way.

That seems like a strange answer, doesn’t it? After all, why would you willingly choose the least efficient way to grind coffee? Believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

If you’ve never used a manual coffee grinder, it’s nothing more than a set of grindstones with a hand-turned crank. Making enough coffee for a pot typically requires about 10 minutes of steady turning. When you’re done, you have coffee that looks like every other coffee you’ve ever prepared in advance of sticking it in the pot.

Here’s why this is important, at least to me. It’s an enforced creative break. It’s 10 minutes of mandatory downtime where there’s no convenient way to check messages (your hands are busy holding and turning the grinder) or take calls (too noisy). It’s required boredom, and that’s a healthy thing, because in those 10 minutes, you can give your mind time to process problems and step back from work.

The very real problem we face today – part of the reason we feel stressed and burned out so often – is that everything is too convenient and too fast. When you can plop a plastic cup in your insta-brew coffee machine and have coffee 15 seconds later, you don’t get a real mental break from work. When everything is available right now, right now gets really crowded and overwhelming. One look around at the rest of the animal kingdom indicates that “right now all the time” isn’t a sustainable way to live. The lion that requires incredible speed to catch its dinner doesn’t sustain that speed for very long.

Power question: how can you introduce more mandatory breaks in your day?

The other thing that using a manual grinder does very well is it gives you time to consider what it is you’re about to consume. If you’re not a coffee fanatic, coffee is actually an exceptionally storied, labor intensive process. Farmers in distant lands, from Hawaii to Ethiopia to Indonesia, manage farms made of coffee trees. These trees grow coffee cherries (yes, the coffee bean is the pit of a cherry-like fruit) which are then harvested by hand, then dried or pulped to extract the pits. The pits are bagged up and sold on various commodity exchanges or to stores that either sell them raw or roast them, which is a polite way of saying burn them. Once they’re lightly burned, they’re sealed up and sold, either as is or processed further. Those insta-cup coffee machines are at the very tail end of a very long chain.

By hand-grinding your coffee, you’re participating in a very small way in the tremendous chain of human effort to create a cup of coffee. It gives you time to mentally honor the many people who have put effort into creating your morning coffee. All of that tends to fall by the wayside when coffee is no less or more effort than clicking a mouse or starting a smartphone app.

Enjoy the coffee.


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  • http://frankdickinson.me/ Frank Dickinson

    What a great day-before-vacation read Christopher!

  • http://my168project.com/ Matches Malone

    I see you’ve changed your theme again. I have an electric grinder that has outlasted 3 coffeemakers, so, I don’t think I’ll be going to the hand crank version anytime soon. However, I do take breaks from being constantly online as this is a shared household computer….

  • http://twitter.com/DonnaPapacosta Donna Papacosta

    Love this post, Chris. Now I realize why I enjoy hanging my laundry outside (in summer only). It’s a quiet break from everything else.

  • http://twitter.com/timlinden Tim Linden

    I use K-cups so that wouldn’t work for me LOL but I have started to water the garden for a break

  • Fred Greenhalgh

    Hear, hear. We hand-grind all of our flour for breadmaking, pancakes,
    tortillas… Sometimes it’s nice to take a ‘grind’ away from the…
    grind.

  • Ed Healy

    I walk my dog – sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for an hour, depending on the time of day.

  • http://twitter.com/TopherJRyan Christopher Ryan

    I dig the creative breaks, to digest. It’s important to be aloof or “away” (in the AIM days) to find your chi. In a world becoming more asynchronous, this is becoming increasingly difficult to do. I like being analog sometimes too. Thanks!

  • http://www.jasonkonopinski.com/ Jason Konopinski

    Hell yeah, Hario Skerton.

  • Jeebus

    I have *two* Zassenhaus mills. Wouldn’t dream of using one of those nasty, noisy electric thingies.

  • Travis Sturzl

    I guess I’m in the same boat as you. I work at home as a programmer and I need a break now and again. I make excuses to why I use a manual grinder like “it heats up less and preserves aroma”, truthfully I originally bought a hario exactly like yours to replace my blade grinder which has an uneven grind. All in all using the hand grinder has become a “ritual” to me, I find joy in grinding my coffee by hand and French pressing or aeropressing. Its a creative act and a break from daily life. Its an act of craftsmanship, I can smell the aroma as I grind the bean, I can feel it crack and grind. The mellow crunching noise has become a warming sound to me.