You call yourself a coffee connoisseur yet you're still slashing away at your gourmet beans with a blade grinder? Time to abandon the coffee philistines and step up to a burr grinder.
It's not coffee hubris or snobbery that demands the change, but a couple of very compelling reasons that dictate the quality of your brew. Firstly, coffee from a burr grinder tastes better because it's actually ground, not hacked. A blade grinder doesn't really grind so much as it slices and chops each roasted bean over and over again. This creates lots of heat and alters the taste of your coffee considerably. Burr grinders, by comparison, operate on steel burrs, bladed rings that rotate in opposite directions to quickly crush and grind each coffee bean with minimal friction. This milling method will release complex flavors that you've been missing all these years—everything from caramel and fruit to cocoa and fudge.
The other issue is granular consistency. On its best day, a blade grinder will still give you a mixed range of grounds—some fine, some coarse, some medium, all in the same tablespoon. You don't want that. The crude lack of consistency can seriously affect water flow during extraction, especially in espresso machines. Burr grinders produce grounds of uniform size, making espresso extraction the smooth, rich process it's supposed to be, whether you're using a high-pressure machine or a stove-top mocha pot.
It's common knowledge among coffee aficionados that the Italian company Mazzer manufactures the Rolls Royce of burr grinders. They've been doing it for almost 70 years, but most of their units can be intimidating, as they're intended for industrial use. To satisfy the needs of the haute home brewer, Mazzer created the Mazzer Mini (pictured, $695). The unit fits onto any kitchen counter, yet still delivers all the professional-grade precision required to make a respectable cup of coffee. Its 250-watt motor can spin its burrs at up to 1,600 rpm for quick, uniform grinds of any size. Stepless adjustment means a near infinite amount of settings.
If the Mini is still more performance than you think you'll need, consider the Capresso Infinity conical burr grinder ($150). Distributed by Jura Inc., this ultracompact machine is powered by a 100-watt motor and calibrated with 16 factory settings ranging from coarse grinds for French press to ultrafine for Turkish coffee, with everything in between.