If you’ve been buying preground coffee up to this point, grinding your own coffee every morning seems like an extra hassle for your pre-coffee brain and an extra appliance for your counter. Is it worth the trouble and expense? I say yes. If you want a better cup of coffee, freshly ground beans are a key part of the equation.
The flavor of coffee comes from a giant range of flavor compounds in the roasted coffee bean. We combine the beans with water to extract those flavors into our mugs. Most of these flavor compounds are volatile to varying degrees, and will evaporate over the course of time. A great deal of technology helps keep coffee beans fresh from the roaster to you, but real aficionados look for freshly-roasted beans to maximize freshness. A matter of weeks can make a big difference in the quality of your coffee.
Grinding the beans is essential to the process of making coffee. It exposes the entire bean to the water for extraction by your coffee water, with smaller grinds creating more surface area for greater extraction. The greater surface area also allows more flavors to evaporate into the air. The flavor of ground coffee can degrade substantially in a matter of hours (or less for finer grinds). The bag of preground coffee you open today will be stale by tomorrow morning (assuming modern packaging has kept it good up to that point). For fresh coffee with a full range of flavors, you need to grind the beans yourself immediately before brewing.
The goal of brewing coffee is to extract flavor compounds from the beans, but there’s more to it. You need to extract the right amount of flavor — too little extraction is thin and unpleasantly sour; too much extraction is dull and bitter. You create the right level extraction with a careful combination of water temperature, the time the water is in contact with the grounds, the size of the grind, and more. Grinding your coffee on the spot gives you control of the size of the grind.
Your basic preground coffee is sized for an automatic drip machine. There’s a world of brewing methods out there, and if you want to explore them, you’ll need a different grind of coffee. French Press calls for a coarser grind, while espresso needs a much finer one. A good grinder is a key step to expanding your coffee world.
Blade Grinders vs. Burr Grinders
There are two main styles of coffee grinder on the market. A blade grinder has a roughly cylindrical chamber for beans with a spinning blade mounted at the bottom. You pour the beans in, put the cover on, and press the button to make it go. As it turns, it cuts through the beans and flings them about, which brings new beans in contact with the blade. You should grind in pulses, giving the grinder a good shake between pulses to make sure every bean gets the right amount of attention. You judge grind size by eye.
A burr grinder rotates two rings of small curved blades (called burrs) against each other. Coffee beans enter between the rings, are ground, and fall through to a hopper. Grind size is determined by the exact spacing of the burrs.Burr grinders are better than blade grinders because of the level of consistency and control they allow. A blade grinder needs to strike a given coffee bean many times to get the desired grind, but many beans are worked too much or not enough. A burr grinder (in theory) works each bean just once, giving every one the right grind. In practice, there’s always some slop, but burr grinders do produce more of the desired grind size, with the rest in the ballpark. You can also set the grind size at the start instead of having to eyeball it. My blade grinder, even with a lot of practice, always leaves some big chunks of unground bean at the top of my pourover, plus some very fine grounds that ruin the last few sips of French press. The burr grinder does a better job. Of course, that better grind costs more money.
The Capresso Infinity Plus is an electric burr grinder. There are two models: Model 570 (mine) has a black plastic exterior for about $100, while Model 575 has a stainless steel exterior for about $150. This price is in the mid-range for this type of grinder.
I wasn’t able to find much difference between the Infinity Plus 570 and the perviously reviewed Infinity 560 other than the design of the timer dial. Here are some images from that 560 review:
The Capresso offers sixteen grind settings divided into four groups: coarse, medium, fine, and extra-fine. You set the grind setting by rotating the bean hopper and matching a mark on the hopper to the desired mark on the body. The alignment is not quite perfect, so at some settings it’s hard to tell exactly which setting it’s on. Other grinders offer more choices, but I’ve found these to be plenty for my purposes. I use setting 2 or 3 for French press, 5‒7 for pourover, and 11‒14 for the Aeropress. There are small but noticeable differences from setting to setting, so it’s been interesting playing around with small changes in grind and brewing method.
The operation on the Capresso Infinity Plus is simple enough. Add beans to the bin, select a new grind size if needed, then turn the control wheel to a number to start grinding. It will grind continuously while the control wheel winds down to zero then stops. Once stopped, remove the hopper and take the grounds.
Simple as it is, the whole operation is strange. The control wheel is just a timer — it doesn’t really correspond to any quantity of coffee. Finer grinds take longer, so it’s hard to even get a good feel unless you always run the same way.
I also question the design of the bean container itself. It seems from pictures online that the manufacturer intends you fill the bin with coffee beans then grind a portion at a time, but that goes against best practices for storing coffee beans. Coffee beans should be kept in a tightly-sealed opaque container to reduce contact with air and light, not the clear loose-lidded bin on the Capresso. Even setting that aside, if you fill up the bean container, it’s tough to empty out to try a different type of beans.
Personally, I have my beans in metal swing-top jars. I weigh the quantity of beans I want, put them in the bin, then grind until they’re done. It works just fine, but my needs would be served with a simple On button.
For all the snobbery I’ve shown throughout this review, I’m not religious about cleaning out my grinder. Still, it comes apart easily and I was able to get almost all the coffee off the burrs with the included brush. It’s not beefy enough to get everything, but a cloth got the finer residue.The only place where I’ve had issues is with the grounds hopper. Usually a few motes of coffee dribble down after I’ve taken the hopper out, leaving a little grit in the hopper-spot. Once a week or so I need to pick up the Capresso and tap the side to get those grounds out so the hopper keeps fitting tight.
More coffee than you think builds up in the interior over time, so if you’re looking to do a careful tasting, make sure you clean the Capresso thoroughly so you get exactly the sample you’re expecting.
Overall, I love the Capresso Infinity Plus grinder. It delivers consistently ground coffee in all of the grinds I use, with enough precision to satisfy my coffee enthusiasm. I have some issues with the controls, but they’re just nitpicks that don’t get in the way of the coffee. There are bigger and fancier grinders out there, but the Capresso does its job for a reasonable price. See complete roundup of coffee grinders here.