coffee beans, coffee cup, coffee grinder with a burlap background

Rise, Grind, and Shine: Coffee Mills and Fueling America

Author: Brittany B. Joachim

Grinding by Hand

Today, grinding your coffee beans seems quaint in some ways. Many of us are used to going to our favorite grocery store or café and buying pre-grind beans. However, for centuries, unless you went to a coffee house or another establishment that served coffee, you ground and sometimes toasted the beans yourself. Hand grinders, like this one, tell the story of coffee in the United States, and its rise in popularity.

wall mounted, hand cranked coffee grinder
wall mounted, hand crank coffee grinder from the museum's artifact collection
view of coffee grinder from the top
view of coffee grinder from the top








patent image for Bruff's coffee mill
patent image for Thomas Bruff's coffee mill

Even 18th Century Dentists Needs Caffeine

One of the earliest coffee patents issued in the United States went to a coffee mill. Thomas Jefferson’s dentist, Thomas Bruff, Sr., patented a wall-mounted coffee mill in 1789. Before that, many people used their spice grinders or a mortar and pestle to grind the roasted beans into a powder. Before the American Revolution, coffee consumption was common, but tea still reigned supreme. Various “tea parties” across the continent, with the most well-known being the Boston Tea Party, pushed coffee into favor with Americans. After the war, coffee remained the caffeine of choice and only grew in popularity. Throughout the rest of the 18th and 19th centuries, coffee’s popularity only grew, partially with soldiers as it gave them an extra boost of energy. Technology changes also allowed coffee to be more accessible.






The Grinder Evolves

Coffee mills or grinders continued to improve. When compared to European grinders, American ones were often larger, allowing for more coffee consumption. During the 1860s, a new method for roasting the coffee beans occurred when Jabez Burns invented the self-emptying coffee bean roaster. This allowed coffee companies to sell pre-roasted beans easily and one less task for the home cook to do. The invention proved especially profitable to sell pounds of pre-roasted beans to Americans expanding westward. By the dawn of the 20th century, a coffee grinder was a kitchen necessity. While not considered a kitchen essential anymore, many people still like to grind their coffee at home but now with electricity instead of by hand.



Avey, Tori. “The Caffeinated History of Coffee”. The History Kitchen. PBS. 8 April 2013. Accessed on : 1 August 2020.

Rotondi, Jessica Pearce. “How Coffee Fueled Revolutions – And Revolutionary Ideas”. History Channel. 11 February 2020. Accessed on: 1 August 2020.

Stephenson, Tristan. The Curious Barista’s Guide to Coffee.  Ryland Peters & Small. 2015.


types of coffee grinds


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