The grinder is the most important part of your coffee setup.
Ever hear someone say that? If not, now you have.
If you’re looking to take your morning cup of coffee or espresso to the next level, then it’s time to upgrade your grinder.
And there’s no better choice than a burr coffee grinder.
However, the exact grinder for you depends on what you want to brew!
(Didn’t intend that to rhyme, but oh well.)
Do you make a big pot of drip coffee for the whole family? Are you a one-and-done AeroPress drinker like me? Or maybe you crave a shot of espresso dialed into perfection.
Whatever your like, we have a grinder for you. This is The Coffee Maven’s ULTIMATE Guide to the World of Burr Coffee Grinders.
Table of Contents
- 1 Quick Picks: Best Burr Coffee Grinder
- 2 Burr vs Blade: Why Burr Grinders Are Better
- 3 How to Choose the Best Burr Coffee Grinder
Quick Picks: Best Burr Coffee Grinder
Burr vs Blade: Why Burr Grinders Are Better
Chances are you’ve already decided a burr grinder is for you — that’s probably why you’re here! But if not, let me tell you why burr grinders trump anything a blade grinder can produce. Let’s first start with how each operates.
- Burr grinders grind.
- Blade grinders chop.
So, really, blade grinders aren’t even grinders. They have swinging blades that pulverize your coffee beans through repeated chopping as the increasingly more particulate coffee popcorns around the grinding chamber. That’s no way to treat your precious coffee.
Image courtesy BeanFruit.com
As a result of this process, blade grinders produce an inconsistent “grind” that yields an imbalanced cup. We’ll talk more about this below, but when your ground coffee comes in many different particle sizes, they each extract at different rates when combined with hot water. This means you get some parts that are over-extracted (bitter) and some that are underextracted (thin or weak).
If you just want a cup of coffee and don’t care what it tastes like, then a blade grinder may be for you. And that’s totally fine! My dad used this blade grinder for years and never complained. But if you’re interested in making a better cup of coffee, burr grinders are the way to go.
How to Choose the Best Burr Coffee Grinder
A great burr coffee grinder can make a cup of pour-over more vibrant while making an espresso more complex. But the best burr coffee grinder for one isn’t the best burr coffee grinder for the other!
My goal with this article is to help you find the best grinder for your needs, whatever they may be. For starters, let’s look at seven different factors you should consider when choosing the best burr coffee grinder:
- Manual vs electric
- Ceramic vs steel burrs
- Flat vs conical burrs
- Grind uniformity
- High-speed vs low-speed
- Grind size settings
- Bean hopper capacity & construction
Ready? Let’s go.
Manual vs Electric Burr Grinders
You can either use a manual coffee grinder or an electric coffee grinder. Those are your only two options. What are the pros of each?
Pros of manual coffee grinders:
- Less expensive
- No electricity required (completely portable)
Pros of electric coffee grinders:
- Much faster (seriously, like 10 seconds instead of 3 minutes)
- More consistent from grind to grind
- No hand-crank power required
If you’re serious about your first/next burr coffee grinder, you want electric.
Ceramic vs Steel Burrs
For home uses, I don’t really think burr material is that important. However, there are some differences between ceramic and steel.
Ceramic burrs are actually more durable and last longer than steel burrs! There’s only one situation where this isn’t true: If you encounter a rock in your coffee beans.
And another caveat to the durability comment: While ceramic burrs hold their original sharpness longer than steel burrs, steel burrs tend to start out much sharper. For me, this is a huge reason to go with ceramic. Over time, the grind produced with a steel burr grinder will begin to change as the burrs wear. This is less of a concern with ceramic burr grinders.
However, stainless steel burr grinders tend to be less expensive.
Ceramic burrs also conduct heat less than steel burrs. This means steel burrs get hotter during the grinder process.
But wait! This is a good thing and an advantage of having steel burrs. Let me explain.
First, heat poses a problem for coffee brewers because higher temperatures lead to the melting of essential coffee compounds.
As burrs heat up from constant and consecutive grinding, the composition of the resulting ground coffee changes from grind to grind. This means your first and fifth espresso shots will be slightly different.
For single use in your home, this isn’t a huge issue!
But for the sake of thoroughness, let’s finish talking about ceramic vs steel burrs as they relate to heat.
As anyone who’s ever rubbed their hands together will tell you, friction generates heat. And that’s how coffee grinders work — they use friction to break the whole beans into ground beans. Because coffee grinders are unable to violate the Laws of Thermodynamics, this means your coffee beans get hotter as you grind them.
Now, keep in mind that this heat is generated in the bean. Steel burrs, with their ability to absorb heat better than ceramic burrs, are actually pulling the heat away from the beans, reducing the temperature of the beans.
Most Guides to Burr Coffee Grinders you’ll read get this totally wrong, so don’t let them fool you. When it comes to heat, steel burrs are better than ceramic burrs.
Flat vs Conical Burrs
This is the most important decision you make when choosing the best burr grinder for you. What’s the difference? First, let’s see what each looks like.
While you may come across people who argue one is clearly better than the other, I’ll respectfully disagree. Neither is uniformly better than the other, however, each has a preferred application:
- Conical burrs are better for espresso.
- Flat burrs are better for standard coffee brewing.
It all comes down to grind uniformity.
All conical burr grinders produce a bimodal distribution of grinds. All this means is that they always produce two major groups of grind sizes:
- Your target fineness (e.g., medium-coarse)
- Incredibly fine grinds (simply called fines)
This bimodal distribution actually is crucial for espresso. As hot water passes through the puck when pulling your shot, the fines act as a flow rate limiter. This ensures the hot water maintains enough contact time with the puck for the proper amount of extraction to occur. Without them, the water would stream through the puck too quickly, resulting in an under-extracted shot.
For most other types of brewing, the fines aren’t as important — that goes for drip and pour-over. In fact, it could be argued that the fines negatively affect your standard cup of coffee because your ground coffee is less uniform in size. This means uneven extraction. So, for your standard cup of coffee, a flat burr grinder would be preferable.
We just talked about bimodal distribution of ground coffee particles in the Flat vs Conical Burr section, but I want to call it out here specifically. Let’s take a look at a graphical representation of a bimodal distribution.
In the above image, particle size increases as you move right. You can see there are two peaks at around 50 and 500 microns. This is the bimodal distribution.
Take a look at the green line. It shows a higher peak around 500 microns and is “pointier” than the either two lines. This makes it representative of a more uniform bimodal grind. Now look at the blue line. It has a fatter bump around 500 microns and a higher peak at 50 microns. This makes it representative of a less uniform bimodal grind with more fines.
Remember how flat burr grinders don’t produce a bimodal distribution? This means instead of two peaks on the graph above we’d only have one. This is called a unimodal distribution.
In general, more uniform (higher peaks) is better than less uniform because it means a more evenly extracted cup of coffee. It also means a more consistent cup of coffee!
High-Speed vs Low-Speed Grinders (RPM)
Some burr grinders spin faster than others. For the purposes of this comparison, we’ll talk about relative speed — high-speed (HS) and low-speed (LS):
- HS grinders tend to be more expensive.
- HS grinders tend to produce a more consistent grind.
- LS grinders tend to generate less heat but grind more slowly, so more contact time with beans.
- HS grinders often are quieter due to direct drive system (i.e., burrs connected directly to motor).
- LS grinders tend to produce more static due to their step-down drive system (more gears, friction, noise).
- Conical burrs tend to be found on low-speed grinders.
- Flat burrs tend to be found on high-speed grinders.
- Therefore, flat burrs tend to be found on more expensive grinders.
Got it? Good.
Array of Grind Size Settings
At this point we’re moving away from factors that significantly impact your resulting coffee and more into the realm of personal preference. The Capresso Infinity comes with 12 different grind sizes. The Barazta Encore comes with 40. Obviously, more grind size settings means greater ability to make small changes to your grind size.
Now, for the average home brewer there’s little reason to have 40 different grind size settings if you’re content sticking on one size almost every day. I started with the aforementioned Capresso Infinity and stayed on one of the medium size settings for months without changing it.
However, if you sometimes like to brew French press (coarse) but sometimes like to make espresso (fine), then you may want to give the array of grind sizes a long look. And in this case, you’ll want to make sure whatever coffee grinder you get can handle the fineness required for espresso.
Bean Hopper Capacity & Construction
There are elements of both performance and personal preference here.
- Performance: Light transparency and quality of seal
- Preference: Size/capacity
Coffee beans go stale when exposed to light and air. This means you want a bean hopper that’s dark or somewhat opaque and has a good seal around the lid.
As for capacity, it probably depends on your usage. For my 1-2 cups per day, I don’t mind pouring fresh beans into the hopper each day. I’d rather keep them stored away in a cool, dark place. If you’re looking for a burr grinder that will be used much more frequently, perhaps you want one with a larger bean hopper.