How to Choose the Grinder that’s Best for You
Burr grinders are reputed to make better quality coffee than blade grinders, but burr grinders do have disadvantages. Here’s how to choose.
There are two main types of coffee grinders.
- Blade grinders are like food processors, using a spinning “propeller” to chop the beans.
- Burr grinders use specially shaped grinders.
Popular brands include KitchenAid, Cuisinart, Krups, Braun and Capresso.
Blade Coffee Grinders
Like food processors, grinding longer (using a pulse switch) will create finer coffee grinds.
Some people can tell when the correct size has been reached from the sound of the grinder. Others need to stop grinding and look at the coffee beans through the grinder’s cover. A clear cover is best for this.
- Cheap and small. The simple design and construction means that blade grinders are cheaper than burr grinders, and take up less kitchen counter space.
- Versatile. Some blade grinders are sold as dual coffee / spice grinders. However, some spices may discolor the transparent plastic cover. It is a good idea to have separate grinders for coffee and spices, to avoid flavoring the coffee with spice.
- Relatively easy to clean. There is only one compartment to clean. Some blade grinders have detachable bowls that can placed in a dishwasher. Others need to be carefully wiped clean, but the blades can get in the way and scratch fingers. A nylon brush works well.
- Less even grind size. The chopping action of the blades can result in uneven sized coffee grinds. A coarse grind can have fine coffee powder mixed in, requiring a paper filter to remove. Coffee connoisseurs claim that an uneven grind size can affect the taste of the coffee.
- Narrower range of grind sizes. Very coarse grinds (French Press, Percolator) and very fine grinds (Espresso, Turkish) are beyond the range of some blade grinders.
- Not “set and forget”, need to manually monitor grind time.
Burr Coffee Grinders
Premium coffee grinders use burr grinding elements, with conical burrs having the best reputation. Flat or wheel burrs are considered to produce less even grinds.
Unlike blade grinders, the grind size is dialed in by the user, resulting in consistent grind size every day. Grinding longer means more ground coffee, not finer grinds. A hopper bin is normally used to feed beans into the grinder.
- Even grind size. This is supposed to result in better-tasting coffee.
- Wide grind size, from coarse to fine powder.
- No need to monitor grinding process. Most come with timers to control the amount of coffee ground.
- Expensive and large.
- Single purpose. Cannot be used to grind spices. Some oily roasts may also be difficult to grind.
- Hard to clean. The long and complex grind path may require partial disassembly or the use of compressed air to clean. Not cleaning the grinder means rancid grounds will be mixed in with the next batch of coffee.
Static electrical charge can build up in the grinder, blowing out coffee powder when the ground coffee is removed from the machine. This will be more of a problem in dry climates and in winter.
- Glass covers on grinders are said to reduce static problems, compared to plastic covers.
- Moisturizing the beans with a few drops of water before grinding, may also help.
- Touching the grinder cover with the hand during the grinding process might help conduct away some of the static.
- Some burr grinders have reduction gearing which is supposed to reduce static. Due to the way blade grinders work, reduction gearing is not available.
Blade versus Burr Coffee Grinders
Serious coffee drinkers will want to pay more for a burr grinder. Unfortunately, this means more work cleaning the grinder; and there is no guarantee that they will be able to taste the difference between blade and burr ground coffee. Tasting coffee from a friend’s blade and burr grinders can help in making a decision.