We at The Teak Rail are in a relentless pursuit of the absolutely best cup of coffee while out on our boat. We have already found the best coffee beans and storage, and now it’s time to move on to the grinding of those aromatic Tonx beans. From storage to grinding to brewing, space and energy are at a premium when either packing to travel or stocking your galley.
That is why the Porlex JP-30coffee grinder is the absolute best grinder for sailors: it requires no electricity, has a consistent, easy to adjust grind, and its durable aluminum design is compact enough to fit inside of the Aeropress coffee maker. We chose a manual grinder because of any number of unexpected things can leave you without power while at sea (even if you have a AC/DC inverter), and that is no excuse for missing your morning cup (or two) of joe.
The highest quality coffee is best brewed within three weeks of roasting, and immediately after being ground. The JP 30 is precision machined out of aluminum in Japan, and feels sturdy enough to survive a tumble off the shelf during an unexpected squall. It has a one ounce (30 gram) capacity: enough for around two or three cups of coffee.
The JP 30 has ceramic burrs- the grinding pieces- that can’t rust like older steel designs. Using ceramic instead of steel allows for less static build up when grinding, and a much smoother action even after prolonged use. The stainless steel handle is removable from the grind shaft allowing for more convenient transport and storage. The burrs are easily rinsed off and cleaned of any left over coffee residue. The coarseness can be adjusted simply, and described below is a foolproof system for always getting the size grind you want, whether you like espresso (finer) or French press (more coarse). A matching aluminum basin catches the beans at the bottom of the mill. Another thing that cannot be understated is the sleekness of the design of the JP 30. Although it might not match your boat’s teak accents, it looks modern and attractive enough to leave out on the counter if you so choose.
Setting the grind level is pretty simple — turn the dial inside and listen for the clicks:
Extra Fine (Turkish) = 1 – 2 clicks
Fine (Espresso, Moka Pot) = 3 – 4 clicks
Medium-Fine (Aeropress) = 5 – 6 clicks
Medium (Filter) = 7 – 8 clicks
Medium-Coarse (Percolator) = 9 -10 clicks
Coarse (French Press) = 11 – 12 clicks
Here is the part that really counts: the taste of the coffee it produces. I can confidently say I did not know what a difference the grind level made before I tried the Porlex JP-30. To begin, the aroma of the coffee fresh from the grinder is absolutely heavenly. The taste of the coffee is outstanding. I tried it with some Hawaiian beans: The breadth of flavors was notably wider than with my cheap electric grinder, and I could taste hints of cocoa that I never knew I was missing before.
Let’s stack the JP 30 up against some of its closest competitors. Another Japanese brand, Hario, makes a comparable hand grinder to the JP 30, with ceramic burrs and a similar sleek design. The price point is cheaper than the JP 30 ($40), at $25, but you get what you pay for. If you want the least-expensive, quality hand grinder, this is a good option, but if you want the best cup of coffee, the JP 30 is the clear way to go. Don’t be alarmed if your JP 30 arrives in exclusively Japanese packaging. Instructions for the mill are easily found online with a quick Google search.
Performance is what distinguishes the Porlex grinder. The Hario grinds adequately at coarse and fine blends, but for a medium grind, reviewers on Amazon and other sites have found that it is inconsistent and constantly needs adjusting if it isn’t at either extreme. In addition, the Hario grinder has a glass basin for the grinds to land in. It looks nice, but the last thing that any sailor needs is broken glass in his or her galley because the coffee grinder fell onto the cabin sole. Finally, the JP 30 grinder fits directly inside of the best coffee maker we tested: the Aerobie AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker (look out for a review coming soon). This allows for an airtight container of beans, the grinder and the coffee maker to fit in the cabinet space of two lowball glasses: a huge plus for space-challenged sailors.
The manual grinders have one fatal flaw for those among us who are not the most able-bodied: grinding the beans manually can be a rigorous forearm workout, and could prove too difficult for some. That’s not to say the action of the grinder isn’t unlike that of grinding a winch, but some people prefer electric grinders.
To take the next and best step up from the Porlex, be prepared to fork over much more for a quality electric grinder. At $230, the Baratza Virtuoso is the best electric grinder for the price for mariners. It is technically at the lower end of the coffee grinder spectrum, but we think money is better spent elsewhere, such as with these cool sailing gifts of 2013. The Virtuoso also has a ceramic mill, and it spins at a low RPM to keep static low and the beans cool.
You can grind a lot more beans in the Virtuoso than you can in either of the hand grinders, but it has what coffee nuts call a “dead-man switch,” meaning that the machine doesn’t grind unless you are constantly pressing the “grind” button. Electric grinders are also more impractical for sailors because of their larger counter footprint, and their lack of durability in adverse conditions. We wouldn’t test this, but I’d imagine the Virtuoso would not fare so well falling off of the galley counter, unlike the JP 30. It is meant to be kept on a counter, rather than being stowed when not in use, making it further inconvenient for those who need to optimize their galley space.
There are other electric alternatives that are in the price range of the Porlex, made by big brands such as Krupp and Cuisinart, which haven’t changed design since the 80s. They are meant to grind spices, and they suffice in doing that. However, there are countless downsides to cheap electric grinders if you are trying to make the best cup of coffee. The grind consistency is never the same, they are loud as all hell (I love peace and quiet when I’m at sea), and they don’t work when your power goes out. The Porlex grinders are only slightly louder than the average pepper grinder, so whoever just got off watch duty will appreciate it when starting the next shift.
The JP 30 has 4.5 stars out of 5 on over 120 reviews on Amazon, showing that numerous people have tested it and loved it. Of the 37 questions asked about the product on Amazon, only one of them was about a broken or dysfunctional grinder, a common theme among the questions asked of competing grinders.
Buzz Killer Espresso, an artisan coffee blog, recommends the Porlex grinder as their preferred method of manual coffee grinding. The author stated that, “there isn’t a grinder of any type that I have used that I prefer to the Porlex.”
One thing that the JP 30 enhances is the morning routine of making coffee. When it is added to a manual coffee press, the ritual of the morning cup of joe becomes both a primal experience and an adequate forearm warm up for all-day winch grinding. It will turn your sluggish morning routine into a ritual that brings you closer to the earth that grew the beans you grind.
In conclusion, the Porlex JP 30 comes out on top of all other coffee grinders for sailors. The sleek, compact and durable design, coupled with ceramic internals make this mill rugged, easy to clean, and a great value for the money. Other hand crank designs are too fragile for marine use, and electric coffee mills ruin everything holy quiet about sailing the ocean blue. Pick up a JP 30 and experience the best grinder a mariner could buy.