I’m someone who loves a good cup of coffee. And, as any coffee connoisseur will tell you, nothing beats a cup brewed with freshly ground, good-quality beans. The same goes for spices too. Compared to freshly ground pepper, the pre-ground stuff is hardly more than a cheap imitation.
In terms of value and flavor, nothing beats grinding your pepper at home. But, if you, like me, already have a coffee grinder, is it really necessary to buy a separate grinder for peppercorns? The last thing anyone wants is a bunch of single-purpose gadgets cluttering up their kitchen. The coffee grinder already does a perfect job of pulverizing those coffee beans into a fine powder; why couldn’t it do the same for peppercorns?
Well, the good news is, it can! But, unless you like your coffee spicy, it’s going to take a little work to keep your grinder clean and free of unwanted flavors between uses.
Is This a Good Idea?
I was doubtful at first myself. That is, before I discovered that professional chef Robert Irvine does it! That’s right, according to an article by Delia Mooney over at Lasting Table, Irvine not only uses a coffee grinder to grind his peppercorns, he actually prefers it to an electric pepper grinder.
His reason? Not only does the coffee grinder pulverize the peppercorns just as effectively as an electric pepper grinder, but it also improves the flavor by heating up the peppercorns during the process. According to Irvine, this brings out the aromatics of the peppercorns, giving them a richer, more pronounced flavor when added to a dish.
So, if it’s good enough for a professional chef, why not give it a shot?
How Do You Do It?
This part’s easy! If you’re like me, you’ve probably used your coffee grinder countless times to grind coffee beans already. The process for grinding peppercorns isn’t much different than that. The important thing is to make sure the inside area of your coffee grinder is clean. And when I say clean, I mean spotless.
You to be certain that all of that finely-ground coffee is cleaned from every nook and cranny of the grinder. The last thing you want is your food tasting faintly of coffee. A good way to clean out your coffee grinder is by using a damp paper towel, making sure to clean around the rim and underneath the blade (just don’t forget to unplug the grinder first).
And that’s really all there is to it! Once the inside of the grinder is clean, simply fill it with the peppercorns and grind. Treat the peppercorns the same way you would treat your beans, grinding them for as long as you need in order to achieve your desired coarseness.
Will it Affect the Taste of Your Coffee?
It’s a legitimate concern. Ground peppercorns have a powerful and distinct flavor. Even if a little bit found its way into your coffee grounds, it would certainly have a negative impact on the taste. But, the good news is, there is a proven method for preventing this from happening.
First, you need to keep your coffee grinder clean between uses. Just like when cleaning the coffee grounds out of the grinder before grinding the peppercorns, you should do the same with the peppercorns before grinding your coffee.
Using the same method as previously mentioned will work, and it’s possible that this will be enough to keep the flavors from mixing. However, there’s still a chance that you won’t be able to clean every little speck of peppercorn from the grinder. Also, the scent of the peppercorns could linger, tainting your coffee. The next step ensures that this won’t happen.
According to L.V. Anderson over at Slate, a sure-fire way to clean and eliminate odors from your coffee grinder is by simply grinding up rice. The rice absorbs any lingering odor and scours those impossible to reach places inside of your coffee grinder to ensure that there isn’t a trace of peppercorn left that could potentially ruin your next cup. It sounds a little strange, I know, but it really works!
As an added precaution, I also remove the lid from my coffee grinder between uses to let it air out and avoid trapping in unwanted flavors. This is completely optional, and probably a little over the top, but if you take coffee as seriously as I do, (a little too seriously), you might want to try it.
So, is it Worth it?
I think so! For me, it beats having to purchase yet another clunky kitchen gadget while getting some extra use from what was previously a single-purpose appliance. Also, it doesn’t ruin the taste of my coffee, which is essential. But, if you’re still on the fence, let’s weigh the pros and cons.
Pro: Great tasting, freshly ground pepper, without having to pay any extra.
Need I say more? Who doesn’t love not paying extra money? If you already own a coffee grinder, and you’re on a tight budget, you already have your solution!
Pro: Better flavor than traditionally ground pepper
The fact that grinding your peppercorns in a coffee grinder not only works, but actually improves the flavor of your pepper when compared to grinding it in an electric pepper grinder, will be a big plus for any serious home chef.
Pro: It doesn’t ruin your coffee
Nothing is more important than maintaining your coffee’s integrity. And if you take care to clean your grinder correctly between uses, this won’t be a problem.
Con: It’s time-consuming
It can get a little annoying having to thoroughly clean your coffee grinder after every use. For those of you who don’t mind purchasing extra appliances, having a separate grinder for your peppercorns will save you time and a little headache.
Con: Spicy coffee
If you do happen to forget to clean your grinder, the results could be… less than ideal. After all, no one wants pepper-flavored coffee or coffee-flavored pepper!
Coffee grinders are versatile enough to grind nuts or maybe even grind spices like peppercorns. In the end it’s your choice whether you want to use your coffee grinder, not just for coffee beans, but to grind other stuff.