In sorting out the best type of coffee grinder, you’ll notice some primary differences. Some are called burr grinders and others have blades for grinding coffee. Which is the best: burr grinder vs blade grinder?
Burr grinders produce better quality coffee grind than blade grinders. Burr coffee grinders produce a consistent grind, with better flavor. Blade grinders chop and shatter the bean. Because the friction of a blade grinder generates heat, it results in flavor and aroma loss.
Here are our picks for the best coffee grinders – both burr grinders and blade grinders.
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Best Kind of Coffee Grinder? Burr vs Blade
While all of the coffee bean grinders we’ve talked about will grind up your beans, the best kind for home use would be a burr grinder.
My choice for the best coffee grinder: If I had to choose one, it would be a conical stainless steel burr grinder.
The “paranoid-lazy” in me says conical stainless steel. With the steel, I don’t have to worry as much about it chipping = paranoid, and with conical burrs, I don’t anticipate it jamming up and having to take it apart for cleaning like I might with flat burrs = lazy.
But it’s a little complicated because quality makes a difference. So a lower-quality stainless steel conical burr grinder wouldn’t necessarily be better than a top-quality flat ceramic burr grinder, the flat ceramic probably would. But in the end either will do a great job.
Burr Coffee Grinder: How it Works
What is a Burr Coffee Grinder?
A burr coffee grinder is made of a hopper that holds coffee beans and feeds them (by gravity) between two burrs (disks or gears usually made of ceramic or stainless steel) where they are ground.
Burr grinders usually have a number of different settings which allow you to get a consistent size grind, fine, medium to coarse.
The larger the space between the burrs the larger your grounds will be (think French press and cold brew), the smaller the distance the finer they’ll be (think Moka pot and espresso machines).
Many feel a conical burr grinder is better than a flat, and others just love the flat. But they will both give a more consistent grind size than a blade grinder (mentioned above).
What is a Conical Burr Grinder?
The conical burr grinder has a circular burr and a conically shaped burr. The circular burr fits around the conical burr.
The conical burr draws the beans down and may feed the beans through the grinding process a little better/faster than a flat burr grinder.
What is a Flat Burr Grinder?
Flat burr grinders have two flat circular burrs between which the beans are ground. Because of the way flat burrs work there are often bean fragments left between them, this is called retention.
Sometimes the retention beans can cause the burrs to jam and stop grinding. When this happens the burrs need to be taken apart and cleaned. You can cut down on retention by leaving the machine running while you change grind size.
Another type of burr grinder you may come across is called block burrs. Block burrs seem to be classed as a type of flat burr but differ in the consistency of the grind.
They put out a higher amount of fine grinds mixed in with the grind. Block burrs would be inferior to the other two burr grinders, but still better than a blade grinder, they’re usually found in lower-cost burr grinders.
The following video will explain a little more about the different kinds of burr grinders.
Blade Coffee Grinder: How it Works
A blade coffee grinder (or coffee mill) consists of a reservoir to hold coffee beans that have a spinning blade (or two) in the center. When you push a button the blades spin and chop up the coffee beans.
It’s the same idea as a food processor or blender with the spinning blade in the center.
The longer the blades spin, the finer the beans are chopped – eventually into dust. This usually results in an inconsistent size grind, some large chunks, some little, and a bit of dust.
While this may be called a grinder, it is actually chopping the beans not really grinding them. The friction of the blade creates heat which causes some flavor and aroma loss.
The following video shows a blade grinder in action.
Helpful tip: Blade grinders give inconsistent grind results so if you’re going to use this type of coffee grinder you’ll probably want to consider using a paper filter when you brew your coffee, otherwise you may get a lot of little grounds in your cup. This can cause jitters and stomach upset for some people (like me).
Burr Grinders are Better than Blade Grinders
Burr grinders do a much better job at grinding a consistent size grind and that’s what great brewing is all about.
When you’re brewing your coffee beans with hot water you’re basically cooking them, and as with cooking anything – when the chunks are the same size you get a much more even, better-tasting result. The same is true with coffee.
In a blade grinder, the beans are just bouncing around haphazardly flying into the blade. This results in an inconsistent-size grind and creates heat. Ideally, when grinding your coffee beans you want as little heat as possible. The heat from friction during grinding can result in a loss of aroma and flavor.
But the kind of coffee grinder you get is up to you. Sometimes people start out with a blade grinder and advance to a burr grinder, that’s what we did.
Others wouldn’t dream of changing up their blade grinder, and that’s alright. I’m not about to tell someone in love with their coffee that they shouldn’t be loving it.
Who Might Want a Blade Grinder?
The truth is that if you always use a drip machine with a paper filter (or don’t mind grounds in your cup) and if you always add milk/sugar to your coffee you’re probably not going to notice the difference a burr grinder makes.
A good blade grinder will get the job done, and your coffee will taste better than if you were to buy ground coffee because you’re grinding your beans fresh.
But if you don’t like paper filters, want to branch out into different brew methods, and start tasting the range of flavor notes in different kinds of coffee beans – you’ll want to consider a burr grinder.
All kinds of people like all kinds of different grinders, so we’re going to look at all the best coffee grinders – electric grinders (burr grinders & blade grinders) and manual grinders.
Some will have stainless steel burs and others ceramic burrs, some flat burrs and others conical.
If you like to keep things simple, you should check out our recommendations for the best coffee makers with built-in grinders.
Are Ceramic Burr Grinders Better than Stainless Steel?
Both stainless steel and ceramic burr grinders do a great job grinding beans to a consistent size but there are some differences.
- A ceramic burr grinder will stay sharper longer but will be more brittle. If there are any hard objects like little stones mixed in with your coffee beans, or you drop the burrs the ceramic could chip or crack. Ceramic burrs may also deal better with heat issues.
- A stainless steel burr grinder won’t chip or crack as easily but will get dull faster.
With that being said if you’re looking for a burr grinder for home use you probably won’t have to worry about a stainless steel burr grinder getting too dull very soon, it would take a long time with a lot of heavy use.
Someone in a high-traffic area like a cafe or large office might want to consider that aspect more than someone buying a burr grinder for home use. In this case, a ceramic burr grinder could stay sharp for twice as long as a stainless steel one.
Also, if you aren’t roasting your own beans it’s not very likely you’re going to run into stones in your coffee beans. It’s more likely that the roasters would have weeded those out before they reached your bag. So for home use, you probably don’t need to be very worried about chipping your ceramic burr grinder.
The same is true with heat creation, this probably isn’t much of a concern with burr grinders when it comes to home use. Burr grinders don’t create much heat when compared to blade grinders, especially if not used for commercial/heavy-use grinding.
But it is true that lower-quality grinders will grind faster than higher-quality ones and therefore create more heat. So if you want to retain as much flavor and aroma as possible go for a higher-quality grinder.
As you can see it really depends on what you think is the best burr grinder for your needs, either will do a great job. And as the quality of burr coffee grinders goes up, the longevity and grind consistency usually go up as well.
Learn more about manual vs automatic coffee grinders.
What types of coffee grinder are you considering? Have a question? Let me know below and I’ll do my best to answer it.
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Dena Haines is a co-founder and blogger on EnjoyJava – and is working to make it the best coffee blog in the world.
She also blogs about travel at Storyteller.Travel and photography at Storyteller Tech. Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a publishing company she started with her husband, Bryan.