Are you a foodie? Someone who loves cooking and serving and tasting new dishes? Are you more at home in your kitchen than in almost any other room in your house? Or do you just plain love eating good food, even if someone else does the cooking? If you answered “yes!” to one or all of these questions, no doubt you care a lot about coffee too – how you make it, how you serve it, and the different brews you enjoy most. You’ve likely got all the essential tools of a well-equipped kitchen, and that includes a high-quality coffee grinder and an excellent spice grinder. Do you ever ask yourself: is there any real difference between these two pieces of kitchen equipment? Do I really need to keep both closes at hand on my pantry shelf?
In a word, the answer is YES!
There are indeed several differences between coffee and spice grinders. They may seem alike on the surface – after all, they are both grinders, right? – but look a little closer and you’ll see these two kitchen tools are quite different. These factors mean that although both are designed to grind something, their purposes are in reality very unique. You shouldn’t grind coffee in a spice grinder, and nor should you grind spice in a coffee grinder. Each one is built with an individual purpose, and asking one to tackle a purpose it wasn’t designed for can lead to problems.
In this article, we explain what those unique purposes are, and why you shouldn’t ask a grinder to handle a task it wasn’t built for.
Coffee grinder vs. spice grinder – What are they and how do they work?
Knowing what tool is good at what task is important when it comes to making great food, and brewing great coffee. Read on, and you’ll soon know why a spice grinder should not be used as a coffee grinder, and vice versa!
What is a coffee grinder?
This device is used for one simple but vital purpose: grinding coffee beans so you can brew an excellent, aromatic, and delicious cup of coffee. You shouldn’t use it for anything else, including grinding spices.
Coffee grinders come in two varieties: burr grinders and blade grinders. Blade grinders work much the same way your blender does – it whirs and whips foods into thin, small bits. Just like that blender, a blade grinder mulches coffee beans, almost – beans are ground into tiny bits. However, blade grinders don’t grind the beans into evenly sized bits, but that’s fine for some coffees. Nonetheless, serious coffee aficionados choose burr grinders, because they grind the coffee to a more consistent size. Also, burr grinders are made using ceramic or stainless steel burrs. There is a tiny space between these burrs, and that’s what determines the size of the ground coffee beans.
Coffee grinders are available in two distinct types – manual and electric. Electric grinders are convenient, of course, but coffee baristas and other professionals believe manual grinder results in a better, more even coffee grind. Furthermore, they make less noise in the morning, and who doesn’t prefer that to the “whirrr!” of an electric tool at five o’clock? Manual grinders don’t make loud sounds, and that’s a big plus. But you may prefer an electrical one if you make a lot of coffee first thing in the morning. Grinding quickly and efficiently, in spite of the noise, mama bee best solution if you begin your day with several pots of coffee.
What is a spice grinder?
Calling this tool, a spice grinder is a little bit misleading. Spice grinders are mostly used to grind spices like coriander, pepper, cloves, and other things. But they can’t grind every single spice on the market, and some of them are only able to grind just one spice. For example, your pepper mill (also called a grinder) is built to grind one spice alone, peppercorns. And you may have a nutmeg grater in your lineup of kitchen tools. It grates nutmeg beautifully, but it isn’t meant for grating any other spices.
Spice grinders use spinning blades, and consequently, they don’t grind spices really – they chop them, then slice them, but don’t pulverize them. You don’t need spices in exactly the same size, so blade grinders do a fantastic job.
Some grinders – like those used to grind peppercorns, for example – come equipped with a variety of grind sizes. That means you can grind pepper quite finely or make it coarse, depending on what your recipe asks for. The larger the pepper flake is after grinding, the longer it lasts on your pantry shelf. This variety of grind sizes is why so many professional chefs prefer to use adjustable pepper grinders. Grinding pepper to use instantly ensures it has the most flavor, the biggest taste punch, so to speak.
One more thing to keep in mind when choosing an electric or manual grinder is cost. Electric grinders are more expensive, but they’re convenient. Manual grinders are perfect for home cooks because you can control the grind size and the number of spices needed for a single meal. Spices are at peak freshness when you grind them each day for whatever recipe you’re whipping up for dinner. Manual grinders demand more effort, but electric grinders offer convenience. Which is best for your circumstances is a decision only you can make.
Coffee grinder vs. spice grinder – What are the differences?
One of the most significant differences between these two essential tools is the mechanics contained within them. Coffee grinders have burrs, as we mentioned, which grind coffee to similarly-sized bits. Spice grinders predominantly use spinning blades that chop and slice whatever spice you’ve put in them.
Are you curious whether the different burr types inside spice grinders, which let you choose the optimum grind setting, can be used for coffee beans? The answer is a definite no! The canals within a spice grinder are too narrow to accommodate coffee beans. Consider the size of a coffee bean versus the size of a peppercorn. The burr grinding mechanism is simply not capable of grinding coffee beans.
Coffee grinder vs. spice grinder – The pros & cons
Each one of these important tools for your kitchen has several pluses and minuses. Let’s take a look at them.
Pros of coffee grinders
This tool is the ideal device for grinding coffee because of the way the burr is designed. The burr is made with the express purpose of grinding coffee – that is its sole function.
Cons of coffee grinders
Perhaps the biggest drawback of coffee grinders is that you should use them daily, every time you make a fresh pot. Rather than grinding a whole container of coffee at once, use your coffee grinder every time you fancy a fresh cup. This guarantees your coffee is at its peak and bursting with flavor, but it can be a nuisance! And your coffee grinder can’t be adapted to grind anything else – it is for coffee, and coffee only! Furthermore, electric grinders are quite noisy, and they are expensive to buy.
Pros of spice grinders
Spice grinders offer versatility because they can be used to grind a diverse number of firm or soft ingredients. Advanced spice grinders can handle something as hard as nuts, or as soft as bay leaves. Spice grinders, versus coffee grinders, are usually quite reasonably priced. And finally, the right spice grinder gives all cooks and chefs, whether you’re a novice or a pro, a variety of design options to choose from. In other words, your spice grinder can cost a lot or a little – the choice is yours!
Cons of spice grinders
The sole drawback of spice grinders is a lack of consistency in the size of the ground spices.
Because of that, using your spice grinder to grind coffee is just not advisable.
Are coffee grinders and spice grinders interchangeable?
The answer is NO, or at least they shouldn’t be! They may look the same, and their functions sound similar, but using one tool as a stand-in for the other is just not wise.
You can use your coffee grinder to grind spices – they can handle that task from a mechanical perspective. You won’t break it if you do. But here’s the problem: never again will you be able to use it for grinding coffee! The coffee grinder takes on the smell of the spice, no matter how thoroughly you clean it. And who wants their cup of morning java smelling like cloves? Nobody!
And spice grinders simply aren’t built for grinding equal-sized bits, and you need that for getting maximum flavor from ground coffee beans. They have to be uniform in size. And the same goes about lingering odors in your spice grinder: do you want it smelling a little like French Roast? Of course not! But it will, no matter how carefully you scrub your spice grinder.
But every rule has an exception, and so does this one. If you’re in a pinch, if for some reason you don’t have access to both your coffee grinder and your spice grinder, certain pepper grinders can grind coffee beans. We don’t recommend this – ever. If your coffee grinder has stopped working for some reason, you should replace it right away. Resist the urge to grind your morning coffee beans in the pepper mill. Ideally, you should never face the question of which is more important, your coffee grinder versus your spice grinder.
In a perfect culinary world, everyone’s kitchen would come equipped with all the right tools for preparing fabulous food and perfect coffee every time. But we know that’s not always possible. And if you’re on a budget, buying both a coffee grinder and a spice grinder simultaneously may not be feasible. In those situations, we recommend that you decide which is more important to you.
If you love cooking fabulous meals for the family, maybe invest in a spice grinder first. Or if you’re a coffee aficionado who can’t start your day without a great cup of Joe, opt for a coffee grinder first. We know that sometimes you have to choose between a coffee grinder and a spice grinder, at least temporarily.
Ultimately, however, your kitchen should have both. That way, you’ll never be tempted to let one grinder stand-in for the other. All your meals and your morning coffee will be prepared as they should be – with spices and coffee beans ground to perfection. You’ll never have to ask yourself, are there any true differences between coffee grinders and spice grinders? Because you’ll have both of these essential kitchen tools close at hand.