True coffee afficionados know this: the key to a good shot is the grinder. Poorly ground beans will make bad coffee. There’s no going around this.
You can choose between two kinds of grinders: burr and blade. Here at Craft Coffee Spot, we always recommend burr grinders. Blade grinders are a poor choice because they are too inconsistent and generate too much heat.
In this article, I’ll give a complete rundown on both types of grinders and why we prefer burr grinders. I’ll compare their consistency, control, ease of use and give you some proven tips and tricks on using a blade grinder to get a nice cup of coffee.
Why Your Grinder Is So Important For Good Coffee
The grinder is the most important piece of equipment in the coffee-making chain. You can get all the other steps right (distribution, dialing in, coffee beans, extraction time…), but it’ll be for nothing if your beans aren’t properly ground. Poorly ground beans will affect the taste of your coffee.
Coffee beans have over 1,000 soluble compounds that give flavor to your cup. Hot water extracts the lighter compounds first, including the most aromatic and flavorful notes. Then, the more bitter flavors come out (why you shouldn’t burn your coffee!).
What’s important is evenly extracting the right balance of soluble compounds, which requires a proper grind. If the beans aren’t well ground, the solubles won’t come out of the coffee grounds and in your cup.
Think of it like cooking. If you sliced meat in all different sizes and cooked them at one temperature, some would be overly done, and others rare. It’d be hard to cook them properly, even with a lot of effort. This is similar to coffee, and why the size and shape of coffee grounds majorly impact your coffee taste.
Also, we are all committed to buying quality coffee. So, if we’re already getting quality beans, let’s give them the respect they deserve.
Now we’ll give a little overview of the two types of grinders.
Blade grinders are more affordable and easier to use than burr grinders, but it’s more difficult to achieve consistent grind size. A blade grinder has a double-pronged blade in the center that looks like a propeller, which makes the grinder similar to a blender or a food processor. It usually has a single button that you press, and the grinder works by chopping the coffee beans.
The blade grinder is faster than a burr grinder but creates uneven coffee grounds. Here’s what usually happens: fine coffee grounds fall to the bottom of the chamber, where the blade chops them again and again. The bigger pieces stay on the top and only occasionally get hit by the blade.
Uneven grounds lead to a bad-tasting coffee because you’ll taste different coffee flavors. For example, you’ll notice bitterness from the finely ground coffee paired with the strong and bold flavor of the bigger pieces.
Also, the blade grinder creates a lot of heat during the blade spinning, which burns the coffee grounds. You lose some fresh flavors that make the best coffee.
Easy to use
Commonly found in grocery and kitchen stores
Inconsistent grind size
Creates heat which eliminates flavor from the coffee grounds
No option to control the grind size
Burr grinders provide better consistency, quality, and uniformity of coffee grounds compared to blade grinders.
A burr grinder is made up of two revolving burrs set at a distance from each other. The burrs are usually made of stainless steel or ceramic. They funnel a few beans at a time through the grinding area. The coffee beans are crushed between a grinder wheel from both sides, which results in a more consistent grind.
A burr grinder is adjustable. You can move the burrs closer or further apart to adjust the grind size. They usually last for years, so you don’t have to worry if they’ll stay sharp, as is the case with metal blades. Finally, they need more time to grind the beans compared to a blade grinder, so they create less heat, which means there’s no burnt taste in your coffee.
Grind beans consistently
Doesn’t create heat
More difficult to find compared to blade grinders
There are three types of burr grinders: flat, conical, and manual.
Conical Burr Grinders
Conical burr grinders have a cone-shaped center burr and an outer serrated burr. This consistently produces well-ground coffee. The design is heat-resistant.
However, one issue is that the beans aren’t very evenly ground. The issue isn’t nearly as bad as with blade coffee grinders, and it won’t impact the overall taste of your coffee.
The conical burr grinder is the industry standard and is usually used by baristas.
Flat Burr Grinders
The flat burr grinder has two circular-shaped burrs with sharp edges. The burrs are on top of each other. The beans are ground between the burrs.
The downside of the flat burr grinders is that they can heat up more than the conical burr, and there are bean fragments left between the burrs. This grind retention can make the burrs jam and stop grinding. If this happens, you need to take apart the coffee grinder and clean it.
However, a flat burr grinder gives better precision and consistency compared to a conical coffee grinder. The design makes the beans stay between the burrs until perfectly ground, while the beans can shoot out and stay intact in the conical grinder.
Manual Burr Grinder
Manual burr grinder is what it sounds like – manual. You’re turning a handle to spin the conical burrs (manuals are always conical) and grind the coffee.
They are a more affordable option than other burr binders, but they need effort on your part. You have to grind the coffee physically, so if you make coffee for several people at one time, you’ll get a workout.
Comparison of Burr Grinders and Blade Grinders
Burr grinders provide better consistency. There are two sets of burs that work with each and make consistent size grinds, which is crucial for coffee brewing.
When you brew coffee beans with hot water, you’re, in a way, cooking them. As with cooking anything, if the chunks are the same, you get a more even result.
In a blade grinder, the beans bounce around and haphazardly fly into the blade, which results in inconsistent-sized coffee grounds. Also, the blade coffee grinder creates a lot of heat from friction during grinding, which makes the coffee lose aroma and flavor.
Burr coffee grinders provide better control of the size of the grind compared to the blade grinder. You change the distance between the burrs. For example, move the burrs closer for finer ground or farther apart for coarser ground. Burr grinders have an adjustment collar on top or a knob on the face of a grinder where you can control the grinder.
A blade grinder doesn’t let you have much control. The only thing you can do is stop grinding and check the size of the coffee grounds, and then grind for longer if necessary and hope to get even grounds.
Ease of Use
The blade grinder is easier to use. You press a button, and the grinder does the work. It has a more powerful motor compared to burr grinders and grinds faster. Both hand and electric blade grinders are usually compact and don’t take up much space.
The hand burr grinder is more convenient than an electric burr grinder because it comes in a smaller size and it’s portable. But, the electric is easier to use if you grind for several people.
Also, burr grinders need more work from you. You need to adjust the burrs to get the correct grind size.
The blade coffee grinder wins the price category. It’s much more affordable than burr grinders because of its small size and simple blade design. You can find a blade grinder for around $20.
On the other hand, burr grinders are more expensive because of the motor and the burrs. You can find a manual burr grinder for $50 to $100, while electric burr grinders cost several hundred dollars.
Use Cases And Tips For A Blade Grinder
I talked about how blade coffee grinders give inconsistent grind results. However, there are a few things you can do to improve the brewing and grinding process.
- Tip 1: Try pulsing instead of holding down the grinder until it’s done grinding. Pulsing lets the beans readjust and fall back towards the blade, so you get a better consistency. This also helps avoid heating the beans.
- Tip 2: Shake the grinder while it’s operating. This prevents the coffee grounds from sticking to the sides or the bottom, while other beans get ground again and again until they become powder.
- Tip 3: Use a paper filter to absorb lots of the little fines in coffee (a James Hoffman trick).
- Tip 4: You can use a blade grinder for French press, cold brew, and Turkish coffee. These are all immersion brewing devices, which are more forgiving, although a burr grinder is still better.
What’s the Best Coffee Grinder for You?
My advice is to go for a burr grinder. They create more consistent coffee grounds, which results in better-tasting coffee. However, if you’re on a tight budget or are just entering the world of coffee, you can try a blade grinder. Keep in mind you’ll eventually end up trading it for a burr one.
If you need a reliable espresso machine to go with your new grinder, check out our selection of the best manual espresso machines.