A high-quality burr grinder is one of the best tools to add to your home coffee arsenal. It’s nearly impossible to brew a perfect cup without one, and acquiring one will exponentially improve your coffee game.
When you buy a new grinder, or want to replace the burrs on your existing grinder, you may wonder about grinder seasoning. What is it? And is it really necessary?
Grinder seasoning is the act of grinding through a batch (or 10) of low-quality coffee to smooth out the harsh edges on your burrs and encourage grind consistency.
There’s a lot of mixed information out there about grinder seasoning, and unfortunately there’s no simple answer.
Which grinder and burrs you have, how you brew, and whether you want to spend the time and money necessary are all factors to consider when deciding whether to season your grinder.
Let’s break down each area and see what’s right for you.
Should You Season Your Coffee Grinder?
A brand new set of burrs—on a new grinder or as a replacement—will often have extremely sharp edges and harsh angles. These overly sharp edges have a tendency to cut or chop rather than grind, which can lead to an uneven grind size and more fines in your coffee.
A lack of grind consistency is the biggest contributor to uneven extraction. Until those edges are worn down a bit, you may find you have to adjust your grinder more often to maintain consistency.
This is where burr seasoning comes in. You can grind through a bunch of cheap coffee to speed up the dulling process and encourage a more consistent grind.
It’s becoming more common, however, for some companies to mechanically smooth burr edges as part of the manufacturing process, so seasoning may not even be necessary. You can check with the manufacturer, or simply use your grinder and see how it performs. If your new grinder burrs perform well and you’re happy with your grind consistency, you probably don’t need to bother seasoning.
Some experts have found that the difference in grind consistency between a brand new set of burrs and a seasoned or “worn in” set is hardly noticeable and seasoning may not be worth the time, effort and waste of coffee. Asa Baiz of Little Giant Coffee Roasters, ran a side-by-side test and found the difference in taste, extraction, and grind size distribution to be negligible. That was with his own gear and his coffee, so your results might be different.
If you find your new burrs are struggling with grind consistency, you might want to give seasoning a try.
How to Season Your Coffee Grinder
Grinder seasoning is an extremely straightforward process, but it takes some time and does waste quite a bit of coffee.
To season your grinder, simply grind through some cheap, low-quality coffee.
Use a fine grind setting. Grinding the coffee at espresso grind is best, if you have it.
Unless you can find a use for the grinds—perhaps using them in your garden—they’ll essentially be a waste product. This, and its associated cost, is the biggest drawback to seasoning.
How Much Coffee?
There’s also no definitive rule about how much roasted coffee you need to grind. Some sources recommend a pound, others say it will take up to a hundred pounds of coffee. The reality is that it’s likely on the higher end, as it can take years for burr edges to dull. Baiz’s side-by-side test used brand new burrs and two-year-old burrs, and as mentioned he found almost no difference.
What Kind of Coffee?
Bad coffee, of course!
Seriously though, when choosing a coffee to use for seasoning, dark roast is recommended. The oils will help lubricate the burrs and reduce grind retention. Some people see this as the only real benefit to grinder seasoning, and report a small improvement in grinder performance that they found made it worthwhile.
What Not to Use
If you’re researching grinder seasoning online, you’ll hear talk of using rice. Don’t do it.
Rise is much more dense than coffee beans and a lot less brittle, so it doesn’t break apart as easily. If you try to use rice for this, you’ll risk real damage to your burrs and grinder.
Some people think oats can be used for seasoning. While it’s true that they are softer and won’t do the same damage that rice will, it’s also true that they won’t do much to dull the burrs.
Oats are more often used for cleaning grinders, but I wouldn’t recommend this for a good burr grinder either. Perhaps for a blade grinder. Oats are much more likely than coffee to get stuck to your burrs and cause problems.
It might be tempting to find low-cost alternatives to coffee, but really, high-quality coffee grinders are designed to grind coffee. So use that.
Season As Needed
Grinder seasoning is somehow both incredibly simple and also infuriatingly confusing. The long and short of it is, if you have a new grinder or set of burrs and you’re not happy with the initial performance, particularly in respect to grind size and consistency, try seasoning it with a few pounds of cheap dark roast coffee.
If you’re happy with your grinder’s performance, and you don’t find you’re making constant adjustments to maintain consistency, then you probably don’t need to bother.
If you’re a coffee enthusiast with a bit of time and money to spare, try some side-by-side tests and share your results with the community so we can further build our knowledge and expertise around grinder seasoning.
Thumbnail image: Hustvedt, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons