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I’ve made my rounds in the coffee industry both behind the scenes and behind the bar for the better part of a decade, and along the way, I’ve learned how to make an excellent cup at home.
Brewing coffee at home can look a bit like a chemistry experiment, and there’s a lot to consider. You’ll often hear advice on water temperature, grind coarseness, and coffee-to-water ratios, but there’s a major variable in brewing that people tend to overlook — when and how you grind your coffee.
Grinding your own coffee is important because it preserves the integrity of your coffee beans until the very last minute
It’s easy to find pre-ground coffee or have your favorite cafe or roaster grind your beans for you, but you end up losing some vital flavor when you have your beans pre-ground. Even if it’s not immediately apparent, once the coffee is roasted, the organic compounds present in the beans begin to deteriorate and grinding only amplifies that process.
Just think about how great freshly ground coffee smells. It’s because of all of those delicious oils and caramelized sugars being exposed to the air at that moment. The longer you wait before brewing, the more the coffee degrades and the more flavor is lost.
For the hardcore caffeine fiend or casual coffee drinker alike, a coffee grinder is an indispensable piece of kitchenware. There are many options on the market, but some can actually do more harm than good. Blade grinders are the most common and the cheapest, but I don’t recommend them for coffee use. The blades don’t provide the level of accuracy required to consistently grind to the desired coarseness. They can also spin so fast that the coffee beans are scorched as they’re being pulverized.
Instead, coffee experts, myself included, unanimously recommend manual burr grinders. There are electric versions, but they’re often expensive and not necessary for a casual coffee drinker or someone who’s just beginning their journey into the world of fine coffee.
That’s why grinding your coffee is such a crucial step and that’s where the Hario Skerton grinder comes in. Ranging between $45 and $60, this manual hand grinder is the perfect entry point without breaking the bank.
The Hario Skerton is easy to use and clean, and doesn’t take up much more space than a coffee mug
The Hario Skerton is simple at first glance, but it provides just enough customization to meet most people’s needs. I have an older version of the grinder, but the newer Plus ($44) and Pro ($58) models are basically the same and are even easier to use than the one I have.
The grinder is composed of two main components — the hopper at the top where you grind the beans and the jar at the bottom to collect; the two are attached like a jar and lid.
The hopper and its lid are made of hard plastic, while the hand crank and grind gears are stainless steel and the jar is glass. Even though the hopper is plastic, it feels sturdy in your hands. In fact, I’ve owned one for ages and it still looks good even after withstand years of use. The bottom of the glass jar also includes rubber non-slip grips so you can keep everything steady while grinding.
It’s not much bigger than a coffee mug, though slightly taller, so it’s a perfectly compact grinder for travel or for keeping on your kitchen counter.
You can easily customize the gears based on how coarse or fine you prefer your beans
This grinder is extremely simple to use.
Simply put coffee into the hopper and turn the handle to grind. When you begin to turn the crank, the grounds are caught cleanly in the attached jar. It couldn’t be more straight-forward. The amount of coffee you grind always depends on how much you want to make. The recommended ratio is one or two tablespoons of coffee for every six ounces of water, though you can definitely play around here.
Now, its simplicity also leads to this grinder’s major drawback. It can take a while to manually grind the coffee. If you’re grinding a larger portion of beans or grinding at a finer coarseness, the process can take a few minutes. This is when you may start to see the appeal of one of the more expensive electric burr grinders.
In order to manually adjust the coarseness, you have to unscrew the cap at the top of the crank, then remove the handle. From there, you’ll see a metal piece that fits into a nut right above where the shaft sits at the bottom of the hopper. Once this metal stopper is removed, all you have to do is adjust the tightness of the nut to change the distance between the ceramic burrs and adjust the grind size. The smaller the space between the burrs, the finer the coffee will be ground.
The easiest way I gauge coarseness while adjusting is to turn the hopper on its side and look at how the burrs react when you tighten or loosen this nut. When you have it set where you want, just put the stopper and handle back in place, secure the nuts and bolts, add the coffee, and start grinding.
I can’t find the original Skerton online at many reputable retailers, but if you happen to buy it, know that it might lose a bit of stability when set to grind at a rougher coarseness. The shaft and handle can wobble a bit, which makes it a bit harder to crank and can create a more uneven grind.
The bottom line
That being said, this grinder produces very consistent results. An even grind leads to an even extraction while brewing which leads to a balanced cup. When appraising the quality of a grinder, uniformity is probably the most important factor to consider. When adjusted for a fine to a medium grind, the ground coffee is uniform in the size of the grains. The consistency tapers off as the grind becomes coarser, but that is a common feature of all grinders. Thankfully, the brewing techniques that utilize coarse ground coffee already tend to be more forgiving of inconsistencies.
The Hario Skerton is a very reliable and versatile piece of gear for its price point. For a novice, it’s an excellent way to improve your home coffee setup without spending too much. For my coffee comrades who share my need for a freshly ground and brewed cup every morning, I recommend the Skerton as a perfect addition to your setup.