A coffee grinder is one of the most important piece of coffee brewing equipment you can buy. Without a grinder, you can still make good coffee, but it won't be as fresh. There are two types of grinders: burr grinders and blade grinders. We'll be talking about the differences between the two and which one you should pick.
Why Coffee Grinders are Important
A coffee grinder breaks coffee into little pieces, which you can use to brew coffee. Inside every little coffee bean are tons of soluble compounds. Soluble compounds = FLAVOR. If the coffee is not broken up correctly, these yummy solubles won’t come out of the beans and end up in our cup. The size and shape of these little pieces of coffee beans have a major impact on what your coffee will taste like.
Here's a beginner's guide to coffee grinders:
What is a Burr Grinder?
Burr grinders work much like pepper mills, in that you have two metal "burrs" or discs that spin when grinding. The beans are crushed between a moving grinder wheel and a static surface, allowing the beans to break up in even pieces as they pass through.
Types of Burr Grinders
Conical Burr Grinders
Conical burr grinders use a cone-shaped center burr with an outer serrated burr that is heat resistant and energy efficient. This is the industry standard, as it is reliable and consistent.
Flat Burr Grinders
Flat burr grinders use two donut shaped burrs with sharp edges that lay on top of one another, similar to how corn or flour is milled. The drawback is that it does heat up and use more energy than the conical burr, but is the preferred grinder for precision and consistency.
Hand Burr Grinders
Hand burr grinders work the same way as flat burr grinders, but instead of automatically grinding the coffee beans, you have to do it manually. This option is great for people who don't want to splurge on a machine but want a quality coffee grind. The downside is that it takes effort. You have to physically grind the coffee you want to brew. So if you make coffee for 3 people everyday, you can expect a morning workout.
What is a Blade Grinder?
Blade grinders have a blade that spins around (similar to a blender) and chops up the beans into little pieces. These pieces end up being all different sizes and shapes.
Burr Grinder vs Blade Grinder
Burr: Generally, burr grinders are more consistent in size compared to blade grinders.
Blade: Blade grinders don't have a mechanism to stop the machine from grinding coffee past a certain point, so you will always end up with some coffee that is either too small or too big.
Burr: Burrs will wear down over time and need to be replaced. We suggest looking at how many pounds of coffee the burrs are graded for, as well as whether the company sells replacement burrs if you need them. Some grinders actually do not have removable burrs, so when they wear out, you would have to buy a whole new grinder, keep that in mind.
Blade: Unfortunately, a lot of blade grinders are built to be sold and not made to last. It's a good tool if you're looking for something temporary but it won't last as long. Blades tend to wear down faster and turn blunt and for most models, the motor overheats easily and breaks down and hence shortening their lifespan. (Source)
Burr: A little more pricey, a hand burr grinder is at leas $20, with the electric machines ranging up to $300.
Blade: You can find a good hand grinder for less than $20.
Burr: The hand grinder is more convenient than the electric version in terms of size and portability. The electric versions are more convenient for grinding more than 3 cups of coffee and is also much faster.
Blade: Both the hand grinder and the electric version is convenient in size; they are both usually compact and don't take up much space. The electric one is more convenient in terms of energy and time but also can be small in portion size.
Burr: Some grinders have different features for adjustability. If you want to really "dial in your brew" you want a good amount of options for grind size, and clear lines marking your adjustments. This will help you move around more easily between particle size.
Blade: Blade grinders generally don't offer the same control a burr grinder might, but you are able to control the size from a manual standpoint. Since hand grinding is slower and manual, you can easily stop and check what size your coffee is and decide whether you want to continue or stop.
Electric grinders will go much faster than a hand grinder.
Electric grinders are typically louder than hand grinders since they grind beans at a much faster rate than hand grinding. Not to say that hand grinders aren't noisy though, any coffee grinder will naturally make noise, just at different levels.
Burr: There are a variety of materials that burrs are made out of. Most commonly steel, but sometimes porcelain. Porcelain burrs are rumored to be better in general, but the material really doesn't make a massive difference.
Blade: The blades are always made of metal, which dulls and blunts after use.
So, Which Grinder is Better?
A burr grinder is the better grinder in terms of consistency and value. Blade grinders are a good temporary tool, but they are not as durable. However, blade grinders are much more affordable than a burr grinder. While one is better in terms of coffee grind consistency and durability, both work well and can be used to make great coffee!
What Kind of Coffee Grinder Should I Get?
If you are a traveler and/or just brew yourself a cup a day, buy a nice little hand grinder. If you are brewing for you and a partner, roommates or family or drink several cups a day, buy an electric grinder.
Here are some recommendations by our resident coffee expert, Zoey:
The best grinder overall: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Coffee Grinder- Baratzas are the most common home specialty coffee grinder, and there is a reason for that - they are wonderful, also their tech support is so helpful if you are having issues. They are reliable, last, and grind coffee well at a pretty reasonable price point for purchasing one grinder that can last you a whole lifetime!
The best splurge grinder: Fellow Ode Brew Grinder
I bought one of these this year and I love it. They are a little costly compared to some others, but they are super consistent, adjust easily and well. They also have close to zero coffee retention and are nice looking and small.
The best budget-friendly grinder: HARIO Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton Plus-This is the classic entry level burr grinder. I used one for years. Works great, grinds a decent amount of coffee with a nice little storage jar for your grinds. Nothing fancy to it but it works.
The best "smart" grinder: Baratza Sette 270 Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
This grinder has a built in scale so you never grind too much or too little coffee. It's features include - options for preset weights (you can set to grind 30g if you press one button, and 80g for the next button) It is set up to hold a portafilter if you use it for espresso, as well as a container if you are using it for other brew methods. It has many grind size options, and also makes it easy to switch back and forth between each grind size.
The best portable/compact grinder: Rhino Coffee Gear Compact Hand Grinder My go to for travel. It fits in an AeroPress and there I have it a whole brew set up that takes up less room than a bottle of shampoo.