Getting a good grinder is equally important as, if not more important than your brewer. Using the wrong grinder can set you up for failure the moment your beans fall into the grinder. It can be daunting when first buying a grinder – with so many marketing gimmicks and generic “coffee grinder” labels out there, how do you know which one to buy?
Today, we’re going to look at the two categories that grinders fall into. Blade and burr grinders. Let’s get into it.
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 burr 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!
From this, it should be very clear that burr grinders win hands down. I would never, ever recommend any type of blade grinder to anyone who wants to brew a decent cup of coffee, regardless of brand or price. Yes, blade grinders are cheaper, but it utterly destroys any chance you have of getting a good-tasting coffee.
If money is your primary concern, start with a manual, hand-crank burr grinder. They’re much more affordably priced, and do take some effort, but it will be well worth it.
Alternatively, if you buy your coffee beans from a specialty coffee roastery or cafe, chances are, they’ll be able to grind it for you, according to what you use (e.g. Mokapot, espresso, filter, etc.). Rest assured they will most certainly use a proper burr grinder like the Mahlkonig EK43. Pre-ground coffee isn’t the most ideal of options, as it rapidly goes stale, but it’ll do while you save up for a burr grinder of your own.
Barista Top Tip: If you do see a Mahlkonig EK43 grinder at a coffee shop, I’m 99% certain that they can help you grind your coffee beans. Just tell the barista what you’d like it ground for, and they should be able to help you out.
The Wrap Up
If you’re serious about good coffee, and you want to learn how to brew better coffee (and I assume you are since you are reading this), burr grinders are worth their weight in gold, and will be a absolute game-changer for your morning brew. You’ll get fresher, better-tasting coffee that can be consistently replicated, day after day. Life’s too short for bad coffee, after all!
Please don’t try to grind your beans with your everyday kitchen blender, okay? See ya soon!