A good coffee grinder is the answer to excellent-tasting coffee. There are two types of coffee grinders: blade grinders and burr grinders. But which one makes the best coffee?
Burr grinders are infinitely superior to blade grinders as they have the ability to grind coffee beans to a uniform particle size. Burr grinders are also better because you can adjust the grind size from fine to coarse, tailoring it to your coffee maker. These factors produce a better cup of coffee.
But does it really matter that the coffee grinds are all the same size?
Why are burr grinders better?
The most important thing to look for when grinding coffee is that the grounds are as uniform as possible.
What you don’t want to see is huge variances in grind sizes: lots of small grounds combined with lots of very large grounds.
In the industry, very small fragments are known as fines, and very large pieces are known as boulders.
A perfect analogy of coffee brewing and grind uniformity is with cooking. If you were wanting to boil some carrots, for example, how would you chop them up?
You would cut them the best you can so that they’re all of a similar size to ensure they cook at the same rate.
The same is true of coffee. When you brew with grounds that aren’t of the same size, the fines extract (brew) almost instantly, and the boulders barely extract at all.
The result is that your cup of coffee is a mix of under-extracted and over-extracted, or in cooking terms, under-cooked and over-cooked. When coffee is under-extracted, it tastes sour, and when it’s over-extracted, it tastes bitter.
Blade grinders are bad because of how they function. Most have just one speed setting, and the grind size is determined only by the amount of time that you hold down the power button.
Burr grinders work in a very different way. They’re better because you can select a grind size setting, and the burrs do not continually grind the beans over and over like that of blade grinders, which leads to unwanted fines.
The grind size is determined by changing the distance between the two burrs. Burr grinders grind your coffee beans between its two burrs. One burr remains still while the other one spins at a certain RPM.
There are two types of burr grinders known as flat burr and conical burr. Electric versions come in both types, but manual versions only use conical burrs.
Being able to adjust your grind size is vitally important in coffee brewing as each apparatus needs a certain grind size in order to operate efficiently.
And as coffee comes in many varieties, each one with its own characteristics, this means that they grind in slightly different ways, which can all be controlled simply by distancing the burrs.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of burrs; however, most in the industry prefer to use flat burr grinders. Generally, the larger the burr, the more uniform the grind.
Why are burr grinders so expensive?
The thing that puts people off most is the price difference between blade and burr grinders. Blade grinders can cost as little as Â£15 ($20) whereas an entry-level electric burr grinder costs around Â£110 ($140).
Some are even prepared to pay more than $3000 for commercial level grinders, such is the importance of grind size.
But why is there such a difference in price?
There are many factors that determine a burr grinder’s price. Depending on its price-point, grinders may include one or more of these features:
- Premium burr build quality, material, size, precision
- Premium motor and gear quality
- Motor cooling feature
- PID-control for motor speed
- Premium quality internal and external materials
- Auto shut-off
- Dose by weight
- Low grinds retention
- Digital screens
But the great news is that good-quality grinders can be found fairly inexpensively.
And if you’re going to invest in good-quality coffee beans, then you really should do them the justice that they deserve by buying a burr grinder.
Brewing with freshly ground coffee beans from a blade grinder results in a nasty mix of under-extraction and over-extraction with absolutely no clarity of flavour.
Saying this, there is one particular brewing device where you can sort of get away with using a blade grinder, and that’s with a Turkish coffee pot.
To prepare Turkish coffee, you need an extremely fine grind size â€“ finer than that of espresso â€“ and this can be achieved fairly well in a blade grinder simply by grinding for an extended period of time.
But what if you find yourself with no option but to use a blade grinder? There is a hack you can use to achieve an acceptable grind quality.
Blade grinder hack
If you really can’t afford a burr grinder or you don’t believe that it really does make a difference, then there is a hack that can be used with a blade grinder to achieve a more uniform grind. The only problem is that it’s quite a bit of fuss.
This works excellently for use in a French press, which is the most forgiving of brewers when it comes to grind size uniformity.
James Hoffmann of Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London made a video showing how this is done. Basically, it’s a three-step process.
The first step is to add the coffee beans to the grinder and pulse for one to two seconds at a time. Make sure to add about 10 percent more than you need, which will become clear why later on.
Between each pulse, you need to give the grinder a shake. Keep repeating the process until you have your desired grind size.
What you now have is a mix of small and large grounds. The problem isn’t the small grounds but the large grounds. These need to be ground again, which leads us to the second stage.
The second stage to now sift the grinds so that we are only left with the large pieces (boulders). Once you have sifted the coffee sufficiently, repeat step one. Sift the coffee again, repeating these two steps once or twice more.
You’ll eventually be left with some boulders that refuse to grind any smaller.
What you have in your bowl is now pretty uniform, but there is an extra stage to make it even better. Trust me.
Grab a sheet or two of paper towel (kitchen roll) and empty the grounds onto the paper. Spread them around as much as possible without making a mess and then pour back into the bowl.
The paper will hold onto the fines, leaving you with pretty uniformly ground coffee. Yes, this is obsessive, but give it a go, especially if you’re sceptical about how good burr grinders are.
Quite frankly, that is a lot of faff, and you also have to use more coffee than is necessary, so wastage is an added issue. The answer is to invest in a good burr grinder, and I have four for you to choose from that I highly recommend.
The best entry-level burr grinders for home use
Electric burr grinders are better than manual hand grinders, but they’re around three times the price. Here are four entry-level burr grinders that I would recommend if you’re on a budget.
If you’re interested in buying these grinders, make sure to check them out in our list of recommended grinders for more information.
1. Hario Mini Slim
First up is the Hario Mini Slim hand grinder at around Â£35 ($45) on Amazon. It’s made of plastic and has ceramic conical burrs that go in steps (clicks) from fine to coarse. When full, the Hario holds a whopping 40g (1.4oz) of coffee.
- Solid plastic construction.
- Sturdy crank handle that feels good and solid when grinding.
- Base screws on, so no worries about coming apart.
- Good grind quality for the price.
- Plastic (not environmentally friendly).
- Larger than most other hand grinders.
- No neat storage for crank handle.
- Grinding by hand is tiring.
2. Porlex Mini
The second choice is the Porlex Mini hand grinder at around Â£60 ($60) on Amazon. The Porlex is made of stainless steel and also comes with ceramic conical burrs that are adjustable in steps from fine to coarse. When full, the Porlex has a capacity of about 25g (0.9oz) of coffee beans.
- Good grind quality for the price.
- Highly portable.
- Very solid stainless steel.
- Excellently sturdy crank handle.
- Rubber grip that also stores the crank handle neatly.
- Small capacity may frustrate.
- Grinding by hand is tiring.
James Hoffmann did an excellent video comparing budget hand grinders, which is well worth a watch. Of the five hand grinders compared, the Porlex came out first, and the Hario came in second.
3. Baratza Encore
Third choice is the Baratza Encore electric burr grinder at around Â£160 ($140) on Amazon. The grinder has conical burrs that feature 40 stepped grind settings from fine to coarse.
- Good value.
- Very good grind quality.
- Good construction.
- Excellent grinds bin.
- Good range of grind settings.
- Slow grind speed (~0.5s per gram).
4. Wilfa Svart
Fourth choice is the Wilfa Svart electric burr grinder at around Â£130 on Amazon. The grinder is not on US Amazon at the moment but can be found elsewhere for around $110.
The grinder also has conical burrs which feature 18 stepped grind settings from fine to coarse.
- Excellent value.
- Very good grind quality.
- Solid construction.
- Quick grinding (~0.25s per gram).
- Fewer grind settings.
- Poorly designed grind setting markers.
- Small and poorly designed grinds bin.
James Hoffmann also did an excellent video comparing these two grinders, which you should definitely check out.
The two electric grinders produce a very similar grind quality, and they are overall both very good choices.
Electric grinders are far superior to hand grinders in terms of grind quality, and grinding is as simple as pressing the power button. If your budget stretches to it, I recommend the Baratza Encore or Wilfa Svart out of the four choices.
Don’t forget to check out all our recommended products that are available to buy at the best prices.
For other tips on how to improve your coffee making, don’t miss 50 Tips for Making Better Coffee.