There has been a lot of discussion about burr grinder vs blade grinder when it comes to preparing coffee. And in recent years, we’ve seen burr grinders catch up in popularity to blade grinders.
Burr grinders have now become a necessity in coffee preparation and brewing. We see homes that have espresso machines and burr grinders beside them. But do we really know why we need a burr grinder? Before I continue with this subject, allow me to tell you a short story of how I started knowing about the burr grinder. I think we all have some funny, yet common stories to tell.
Before I started learning how to make better coffee, grinders were probably the last thing on my mind. You see, I was using a blade grinder that we’ve used in our house for so many years. When we bought whole beans, we used to stick a chunk of it into the blade grinder and just pressed that grind button until we got sizes that we thought was good enough to brew coffee with. We didn’t even know or care about coffee to water ratios then, and just ground the beans until we thought we had enough coffee grounds.
When I first learned about coffee to water ratios, I thought that my blade grinder was enough. I didn’t know it at that time, so I just ground the beans to the smallest powder size, and put all the grounds into a French press! I’ll never forget the taste of that coffee. It’s probably the most bitter, oiliest and muddiest press coffee that I’ve ever made!
The next batch was equally bad. I made pulse grinds on my blade grinder, and got equally disheartening results. The coffee tasted grassy and bitter! It tasted so grassy that it was enough to make me go “moo”.
So I started researching about grinders and grind sizes. That’s the time I found out that there was actually another kind of grinder that was fit for grinding coffee. And you guessed it! Burr grinders!
Before we talk about how important a burr grinder is, let’s first look at what it is.
What’s A Burr Grinder?
I used to have a hard time understanding this, so here’s a quick explanation to burr grinders.
By its definition in Wikipedia: “A burr mill or burr grinder is a mill (used) to grind hard, small food products between two revolving abrasive surfaces separated by a distance usually set by the user.
Looking at this image, we can see that burrs are actually 2 separate burrs (or mills) that “pulverize” certain objects into smaller pieces. As for burr coffee grinders, these grinders are the ones responsible for converting that coffee bean into different sized coffee grounds, each size fit for a different type of preparation.
Why burr grinders instead of blade grinders?
In the world of brewing coffee, consistency is key. And producing consistent-sized coffee grounds are the characteristics of a good burr grinder. Blade grinders, on the other hand, cut and shop the coffee beans. That whirling motion that you see in a blade grinder passes through coffee beans several times. There is no room for total consistency, leaving you with a mixture of coarse and powder grinds.
So Just How Important Are Burr Grinders?
When learning to brew better coffee at home, we tend to initially buy better and fresher coffee beans. After that, we buy a product with a preferred extraction system, like pour-over brewers, French presses, or espresso machines. But in reading a lot of what the experts had to say, I learned that a good grinder is probably more important for your first investment than a good espresso machine. Now why is that?
Well, we know that the grounds used in espresso are really tiny. In fact, they’re so tiny, at the smallest grinds, we can only tell how small they are by feel, rather than by sight. So if you have a grinder that couldn’t grind fine enough for an espresso machine, then you just wasted money and now have to go buy a better grinder.
What if I’m Not Making Espresso? Do I Still Need a Burr Grinder?
Good question! Like I stated before, consistency is key when preparing a good cup of coffee. Different preparation methods need different grind sizes. Turkish coffee needs an extremely fine grind, espresso grind is also very fine. For the pour-over methods, the Hario V60 uses different grind sizes than the Chemex. Then we have the French presses which use coarser grinds.
Since burr grinders could grind your coffee beans more consistently, you’d have a huge advantage in using one rather than not. If you have many types of brewers, let’s say a French press, an auto drip machine, and a Chemex, you could set different grind sizes and use different methods every time you make your perfect cup of joe.
Burr Grinders Heat the Beans Less than Blade Grinders
I’m going to be a bit geeky here, but I thought it was worth mentioning about heat.
We grind our coffee beans just before we brew it because the flavors are better kept in whole beans. Once we grind the beans, the flavor and aroma of the coffee starts to dissipate from the beans because of oxidation.
We use heat (hot water) to “bloom” and extract the flavor of the beans, so it’s best to find a method of grinding that will not heat up the coffee beans.
When you grind your coffee with a blade grinder, you tend to push down or pulse the grind button. Blade grinders tend to have a high RPM (rounds per minute) since they need to chop and cut the beans. The coffee beans tend to jump around inside the container without having an exit point. This creates friction, and in turn heats up the coffee. Once coffee grounds are heated, they tend to start losing their aroma and flavor.
Burr grinders, on the other hand, run on less RPMs than blade grinders. The burrs don’t touch each other so there is no metallic friction, and once the coffee beans are pulverized, the grounds pass through the burrs and fall down into a container. This process tends to keep the beans cool and will retain their flavors until they are extracted by brewing.
Summing It All Up
So why use burr grinders? The simplest answers are because they give more consistency in making coffee grounds and they don’t heat up the coffee grounds. Both of which are essential in producing one fantastic cup of coffee.
Still not convinced? I recently came across a very interesting experiment. On one side, they had coffee that was pre-ground using a quality burr grinder, and on the other side, they used the roasted beans on a blade grinder. After the test, they concluded that the pre-ground coffee using a burr grinder tasted better than the grounds from a blade grinder. You can read more about the test here.
Now that we know more about burr grinders, the next question would probably be what type of burr grinders should we use and how much do those cost?
Just like coffee makers, the market is teaming with many companies and products that produce burr grinders. There are 2 popular types of burr grinders, the conical burr grinder, which uses a cone-shaped burr where coffee beans pass through and get pulverized. Then we have the flat burr, which has products ranging from cheap home use to those commercially used in coffee shops. The higher end flat burr grinders are said to make more consistent grinds than the conical burr, for a price that’s also higher.
So choosing a burr grinder, as I have seen, boils down to two things – purpose and price. Purpose because you’d want to know if a certain grinder will quench your coffee making needs, and price because there’s a huge difference in price from one grinder to another.
I recently wrote a topic on the best burr coffee grinder for home use. You could check that out to have an idea on what type of grinder would suit you.