Buying whole beans and grinding it fresh before each brew is one the best steps in brewing better coffee. Hence, a quality grinder is a super important piece of equipment to own.
Whilst shopping around for grinders, you might have come across the terms “blade grinder” and “burr grinder” before. Or worse still, the all-generic “coffee grinder”. Which one should you get, and why? Why do coffee pros always tell you to get a burr grinder, despite being so much more expensive? Is it just some snobbish coffee tradition? If you only have a blade grinder, is all hope lost? Let’s get to the burr vs blade grinder smackdown – introducing our contestants!
- The Contestants
- The Smackdown
- The Winner
- The Loser
- Tips on Using a Blade Grinder for Coffee
- The Wrap Up
There are two main types of coffee grinders out there. Burr vs blade grinders. Let’s have a quick overview of the blade grinder first.
What is a Blade Grinder?
A blade grinder is the most commonly seen in households – after all, it is very cheap and you can find it at any supermarket or departmental store. How does it work?
It’s just like your blender. Two or four sharp blades spin ridiculously fast. Anything that comes in contact with it (keep your fingers away, people!) is sliced, diced and smashed up. This is great for your salad bowls and smoothies, but you do not want this for your precious coffee beans.
To brew good coffee, you need water to flow through the grinds evenly. A blade grinder will shred your beans into uneven chunks of various sizes. When you pour water into an unevenly shredded pile of coffee, it will gush out from the loose grounds and get stuck in the compact parts. The result is an uneven extraction, and you’ll be drinking rather bitter, watery or sour coffee.
They’re not the end of the world, though, so stay tuned as I’ll give you a couple of tips to make the most out of your blade grinder if that’s all you have access to.
- Easy to buy
- Cheap and affordable
- Convenient and easy to use
- Uneven grounds
- Poor tasting coffee
What is a Burr Grinder?
Burr grinders are the industry standard used in cafes worldwide. They are also starting to make their way into many home brewers’ kitchens, thanks to the affordable prices being introduced.
A burr grinder uses cylindrical burrs to grind beans. Imagine two cylinders with rough, serrated edges. One cylinder rotates against another with a steady pressure. Beans that fall in between get squeezed and slowly crushed into grounds. Because the pressure is slow and controlled, the beans are ground up evenly into the same sizes. This is super important to brewing quality coffee, as it means water now has to flow evenly through the bed of coffee grounds. The result? A well-balanced extraction, where water has a chance to absorb the beautiful flavours of coffee.
Burr grinders are either electric or manual. Electric grinders are a lot easier to use. Just load up the hopper with beans, set your grind size and dose, push start, and you’re good to go! The downside is that these are usually more expensive. Manual hand-crank grinders are cheaper, but they take forever to grind your beans because you have to do the labour yourself. Yet, they are super reliable for crunching out nice and even coffee grounds.
Burrs are typically made of either stainless steel or ceramic. You’ll find stainless steel burrs in most professional-grade grinders. Ceramic ones are just as good, but they are more fragile and chip easily if you drop it.
You can also choose the shape of the burrs. You can opt for a conical vs flat burr. Experts argue as to where the position of the serrated surface is most effective: along the edges (conical) or on the surface (flat). To be honest, both do a great job, and unless you want to get really in-depth into the technicalities, we won’t have to worry about it here. Perhaps in a future article.
- Nice even coffee grounds
- Great tasting coffee
- Full control over grind size
- Electric grinders are more expensive
- Manual grinders are slower
What About “Coffee” Grinders?
When shopping, you might be tempted to pick one that simply says “coffee grinder”. After all, it says coffee. How bad can it be?
Many companies masquerade their blade grinders as “coffee grinders”. It’s not wrong, as they technically can still grind coffee. But it’s best to always look for grinders with “burr” clearly labelled on them. Don’t get distracted by advertising lingo, folks!
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the showdown! The grinders will be pitted against each other to their limits. Best of luck to our contestants!
How Even Are The Coffee Grounds?
Burr grinders win here, as the steady pressure of the burrs crush whole beans into a consistent, uniform grind.
Blade grinders spin and hack at beans, ferociously ripping it into randomly sized chunks. If you take a handful of the grounds from the cheapest burr grinder and compare it against a blade grinder, you can visually see, very obviously, just how poorly a blade grinder performs.
WINNER: Burr Grinder
How Much Control Do You Get?
Burr grinders have a knob or a dial to change your grind size. By adjusting how far apart these burrs are, you control how finely or coarsely your beans are ground. An excellent and essential feature to brew different types of coffee.
Blade grinders have two settings: “on” and “off”. Hardly sufficient for coffee. You can adjust the time, but that gives you minimal control over the resulting grind size.
WINNER: Burr Grinder
How Flexible Is It For Different Types of Coffee?
Burr grinders allow you adjust your grind size from super-coarse up to extra-fine. Whether you’re in the mood for a pourover, an AeroPress, a Moka Pot or even an espresso, well-built burr grinders can handle it no problem. For cheaper, entry-level burr grinders, you might find inconsistencies at the extreme ends, but that’s the trade off for price.
Blade grinders, as we now know, grind beans to a very inconsistent size. You get a mixture of big and small particles, which does not work well for most pourover coffees. Espresso is out of the question entirely. The one brew method that still works fairly decent is the French Press. Because a French Press uses really coarse grinds, you could get away with it,
WINNER: Burr Grinder
How Hot Does It Get?
Burr grinders do generate a small amount of heat from friction, and this is especially prominent in lower-end models. Coffee beans are extremely sensitive to heat, and if there is too much of it, your coffee will lose flavour and go stale.
Blade grinders spin at around 20,000 times a minute – this can really heat up your beans. So not only do blades destroy good beans by chopping them up, it also overheats the sensitive, flavourful compounds in the beans. Not good.
WINNER: Burr Grinder, BUT be careful of cheap models that can overheat too
How Fast Does It Go?
Electric burr grinders work relatively fast. In higher-end models (such as the Mazzer models typically found in cafes), you can get a full dose in under 6 seconds. For cheaper home models, it does take longer. Some lower-end models can take half a minute to almost a full minute.
Manual, hand-crank burr grinders on the other hand, are slooooow. They can take anywhere from 3-10 minutes, depending on how many beans you’re grinding at once, and how much strength you have left in your arm.
Blade grinders are fast. Especially if you just hit “start” and leave it to do its thing.
WINNER: Blade grinder, but this really depends on the burr grinder you’re comparing it against
How Cheap Is It?
Okay, the blade grinder wins hands down here. It is almost always cheaper than a burr grinder, so if price is your only concern, go for a blade grinder.
Manual burr grinders are cheaper than electric burr grinders, but in most cases they still lose out to the affordability of blade grinders.
WINNER: Blade grinder
Results are out! It’s a 4-2 win for the BURR GRINDER!
Let’s give a round of applause for this under-appreciated equipment. For all you home baristas and brewers out there, don’t underestimate the impact a quality burr grinder can have on your everyday coffee. An even grind means an even extraction, which translates to yummier coffee: a more well-balanced flavour and a cleaner taste.
Who’s lost? Guess what – it is not the blade grinder. Surprise, surprise.
The loser is pre-ground coffee. Read about it here: Why Should I Buy Whole Beans? What’s Wrong With Pre-Ground Coffee?
Pre-ground coffee, even if it has been ground by a burr grinder, is almost guaranteed to have gone stale. You won’t get any of the promised flavours. No chocolate, no strawberries, no toffee. Why? There are no flavours left in the coffee grounds to extract. Once beans are ground, they start going stale almost immediately. That’s the prime reason you should only grind your beans before you’re going to brew it. I’d rather you make use of the tools you have and at least have a shot at getting flavourful coffee, as opposed to drinking bland, flat and watery coffee.
Then again, if you just want caffeine, sure, go for pre-ground.
Here are a few tips to make the most out of your blade grinder:
Tips on Using a Blade Grinder for Coffee
- Grind small amounts. The more beans you chuck in, the more uneven grounds you’re going to end up with. Weigh out the amount you need for your dose, and grind only that.
- Pulse it. Most blade grinders have a “pulse” option. Instead of pressing “on” and leaving it to chop your beans over and over chaotically, you pulse the blades, which allows the grounds to settle before being chopped again. This way, you’re more likely to catch the big chunks that were initially sliced up too.
- Time your grind. Pulse it several times for a coarse grind which you can use for a French Press. The longer you pulse it for, the finer the grind will get. You could get to a medium-coarse grind at best, which theoretically works for pourover coffee. It wouldn’t taste very good due to the unevenness, but hey, better than nothing.
- Save up for a burr grinder! You don’t have to break the bank and buy a high-end Mazzer or Victoria Arduino grinder. There are plenty of satisfactory coffee grinders under $100, to take your coffee game to the next level.
The Wrap Up
In a nutshell, blade or burr, it’s really down to your priority and what you want. If you’re not fussed about the taste of coffee and are just looking to get that quick caffeine hit, whatever type of grinder you get doesn’t matter so much. But if you want to learn how to brew better coffee, (and I assume you are since you are reading this) burr grinders always come out on top in nearly every aspect.
Just don’t try to grind your beans with your everyday kitchen blender, and you’ll be all good, okay? See ya soon!