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What is a burr grinder?

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Anyone who enjoys coffee regularly has likely heard about a coffee grinder, especially if you’ve recently bought a coffee maker. One of the most important things to consider is how to turn coffee beans into grounds, and one of the best ways is with a burr grinder.

When you are looking for a specific coffee experience, one of the first questions to ask is what kind of grinder should I buy? There are many types of coffee grinders out there. Which options provide the best benefits for you? This article will help you answer that question and more.

What is a Burr Coffee Grinder?

Burr coffee grinders are used to mill coffee beans between two revolving abrasive surfaces separated by a specific distance. The further the distance between the two surfaces, the coarser the grind; Alternatively, the closer the surfaces are, the finer the grind becomes.

The alternative is a blade grinder.

What is the difference between a Burr Grinder and a Blade Grinder?

A Blade grinder resembles and functions similar to how your kitchen blender blends food. There are steel blades offset from each other which rotate and chop your beans at a fast speed. The result is a pile of ground beans of indiscriminate size, or if run long enough, a fine powder.

According to the authors of The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, a coffee bean grinder is the most important piece of equipment you will invest in when you’re making coffee. This is because the type of grind you choose will affect the flavor, consistency, and how well it performs once immersed in water.

So which should you choose?

If you want an easy and quick solution, get yourself a blade grinder; it's much less expensive and easier to maintain long-term. A blade grinder is also smaller than other types like those with burrs.

However, if you want more control and a more consistent coffee-drinking experience, ditch the blade grinder for a burr mill. However, before you click any buy button or grab your keys, consider that burrs come with options.

How does a Burr Grinder Work?

The Best burr grinders are designed using two abrasive surfaces that revolve around each other, known as burrs.

It’s the more vintage way of grinding up coffee, but it’s also one of the purest ways because instead of grinding as many beans as possible in a single go, as a blade grinder does, burr grinders work on a couple of beans at a time.

There are two main types of burrs to choose from: conical and flat. However, they are both designed for grinding your beans in the same way. The only difference between the two is the shape of the burrs, as conical versions have a cone-shaped hollow ring and flat burrs are two rings that sit horizontally.

Let's explore the differences a little more.

What is the difference between conical and flat burr grinder?

There are two categories of burr coffee grinders, including conical and flat mill varieties, each with their similarities and differences, pros and cons. At the beginning of the day, both types will provide uniformly ground coffee, so its largely dealer's choice on which is right for you. Let's take a look at your choices anyway.

Conical burr mills - comprise of an augur (a cone-shaped abrasive screw) and an abrasive tunnel which funnels the beans from the top of a canister down to a catch plate. Similar to flat grinders, conical grinders come in manual or electric operation.

Flat burr mills - comprise of 2 abrasive ring-shaped plates which sandwich coffee beans at a distance usually set by the user. You can operate a flat burr manually with a crank or powered by an electrical source.

Ok, so now we have the two categories covered, but now there are manual and electric options? Oh boy...

Fortunately for you, all you need to do is ask yourself which type of coffee suits your moods most often. Are you more interested in an espresso for a potent morning potion or perhaps you are looking for a lighter blended coffee with cream?

Maybe you are like me in that you like some variety. Good Choice!

Note: Coffee Grinders with ceramic parts tend to perform better with heat management and overall longevity.

There are a few crucial things to consider before we nail the right coffee grinder for you. Let's take a look!

Heat Production

No matter how you grind your beans, there is a high probability that you will produce heat along the way. We've already covered how blade grinders hack and slash their coffee prey without precision, so let's focus our attention on burr grinders for this next part.

Static: With less friction comes less static! If you've ever rubbed a balloon on your shirt and then stuck it to your head, you know what I'm talking about when I talk about friction. With more friction comes that infamous static cling!

Static forces your fresh grinds to stick to the sides of the machine, rather than travel through the chute. In many cases, you’ll have to use a fork or spoon to extract the grinds into your french press.

Flavor: Heat may be responsible for your coffee beans losing some of their flavors! Higher end burr grinders help you to limit the amount of heat transferred to the beans, so they maintain their full flavor profile before you brew.

With an insufficient grinder, you’ll be left with a poor representation of a delicious caffeinated beverage, so choose wisely. 

Alright, so heat before water is bad. Got it. What's next? Let's talk about manual versus electric burr grinders.

What are Manual and Automatic Burr Grinders?

You will easily find burrs in both automatic and manual grinders, manual being the least expensive but a lot more time-consuming option.

Manual Burr Grinder

Manual Coffee grinders require a hand crank and elbow grease; are slower, and require physical effort. The most commonly used hand cranks these days are pepper grinders. They are inexpensive and effective.

If you are the type of hipster that enjoys every step of the coffee-brewing process, you'll enjoy a manual coffee grinder. There is nothing like feeling the satisfying crunch as you twirl the beans through a manual grinder. Sure, it takes longer, but there is real love there!

Pros

No issues with burning beans due to excess friction

Perfect for individuals

Price point

Last longer

Quiet


Cons

Slow

Physical effort

Fewer settings for grind size

Many coffee lovers prefer the idea of manual grinders because they have incredible control over their desired grind. However, it’s going to be far more time-consuming than using an electric or automatic grinder.

Electric Automatic Burr Grinder

Electric Coffee Grinders pump in massive horsepower to your coffee-grinding game. A staple at most commercial coffee establishments, electric grinders usually come with speed options, a loading cup, a catch cup, and a hefty price-tag to boot!

If you run a busy coffee shop or you're a busy coffee fiend, there is no alternative to the convenience that comes with an electric coffee grinder. Your beans are sure to reach a uniform size just in time for your kettle to pour into your french press.

Most electric burrs also offer a lot of settings from coarse to fine, depending on your preference.

Pros

Speed Settings on higher end models

Perfect for groups of people

Size settings for a variety of coffee recipes


Cons

Heat

Requires electricity

Higher price

Noise

Automatic burr grinders will have a few additional features, such as timers and the ability to remember your favorite settings, so all you have to do is push a button for perfectly ground beans.

The downside is that their consistency may tend to falter over time, forcing you to either replace the grinder or continually adjust your settings. You will also find that manual grinders are likely to last much longer. Consider ceramic burrs over steel for longevity and to curb heat issues.

Aside from longevity and reliability, manual burr grinders are also far quieter and more compact. This is what makes them ideal for travel, as you can easily pack yours for an overnight trip. When grinding your beans in the morning, you won’t disturb anyone around you with the loudness of an electric grinder.

How to use a Burr Grinder

There’s much more to grinding coffee beans than pouring a bag of beans into your burr grinder and pushing the ON button. Fortunately, it's not hard at all! In fact, for adjustable models, you have complete control over the coarseness of the grounds, which is essential for different types of coffee.

For example, French-pressed brews require coarser grounds whereas Turkish coffee needs finely milled grounds. This means that you will need to learn how to make different grounds to master different brewing categories and styles.

Burr grinders give you an exceptional amount of adjustability and customization, most providing up to 15 different grinds and speeds to choose from. However, if you delve into the more luxurious (and expensive) models, you'll find up to 60 grind settings!

The adjustment process is incredibly simple, as there will be buttons to increase or decrease the size of the ground. Other models may have an adjustable dial that you can turn prior to starting the grinder. Without this feature, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate the flavors and strengths between an espresso and a regular cup of coffee.

So what does this mean for you? If you want more coffee-brewing options, you need more control over your grounds.

Consistency is Key

As long as you take the time to research the best burr grinder given your tastes and preferences, consistency shouldn’t be much of an issue. When compared to inferior blade grinders, however, you'll find no competition because blade grinders work with multiple beans at once, allowing the likely chance that chunks and whole beans will slip through.

Burr grinders are far more precise and focus all of their attention on a few beans at a time. This gives the grinder the opportunity to finely mill or coarsely ground the beans to your desired consistency. Not to say that every burr grinder works perfectly, but they are far more efficient than alternatives.

You’ll also find that their attention to detail limits the amount of clogging. With the right machine, you won’t have to disassemble and clean the parts halfway through grinding. Ideally, the right machine will allow all of the ground coffee to easily travel through the chute.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a beginner in the world of coffee, it’s common to ask about different types of coffee grinders. It’s an important question to consider, as it will surely affect the quality of the coffee you drink. The right grinder makes a world of difference to the cup of coffee you end up with.

Burr grinders are available in a wide array of designs and prices. Most kitchen appliance companies will have a few different models for you to choose from, depending on your budget. Compared to blade grinders, burr units will be slightly more expensive, but it’s well worth the cost.

No matter what your desired price point is, you will find an affordable, user-friendly, and intuitive burr grinder to use daily.


About the author

My name is Brandon and I love cold-brew coffee. If you're a fan of everything homebrew, then we'll get along just fine. I also enjoy riding my Onewheel around town, and going on adventures with my future wife! As an online work-from-home advocate, it's important that I stay connected to the world while being able to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

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