Why I use a manual coffee grinder - Christopher S. Penn Blog

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Justin Levy asked asked me 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? Why would I choose the least efficient way to grind coffee? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use an electric grinder?

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 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 brewing it. It’s not any better. I suppose if you were marketing it, you could claim it’s hand-crafted artisanal coffee.

Why choose inefficiency? 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. You can’t take calls – it’s too noisy.

It’s required boredom. That’s a healthy thing, because in those 10 minutes, you can give your mind time to process problems and step back from work.

We face a real, serious problem 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 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 long – and sleeps the rest of the day.

How can you introduce more mandatory breaks in your day?

The other thing that using a manual grinder does 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 a 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. Farmers harvest the cherries by hand, then dry or pulp them 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 burned, they’re sealed up and sold, either as is or processed further. Those insta-cup coffee machines are at the tail end of a long chain.

By hand-grinding your coffee, you’re participating in a 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 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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