Coffee enthusiasts have differing opinions on many aspects of their beverage of choice, but one thing they’re almost entirely in agreement on is that fresh ground coffee has a better flavor than pre-ground coffee.
Grinding beans into grounds is the first stage of coffee brewing. So, to get things off to the best possible start, a high-quality grinder is a must.
When on the lookout for a coffee grinder, you’ll probably hear that burr grinders are superior to blade grinders, a sentiment we completely agree with.
No model of coffee grinder is the same as another. However, you are usually safe in the knowledge that burr grinders produce more consistent grinds than blade grinders, which results in a more flavorful drink. Meanwhile, blade grinders are often cheaper but not as consistent.
But why are burr coffee grinders so superior? This article will examine that question, so you’ll know exactly why a decent burr grinder is a better investment than a blade grinder.
What Is A Burr Grinder?
Burr grinders, sometimes called burr mills, are available in many designs. So, depending on requirements and preferences, you have a choice between a manual and an electric burr grinder. All manual grinders have conical burrs of either steel or ceramic. However, as well as conical burrs, you can also get electric grinders with flat burrs. You can read our detailed comparison of the two here.
How Does A Burr Coffee Grinder Work?
Usually, burr coffee grinders grind beans into grounds using two revolving abrasive surfaces. Meanwhile, a flat burr grinder works differently from a conical burr grinder. Conical burr grinders have a static outer burr and a rotary cone-shaped inner burr. In contrast, flat burr grinders use two facing burrs to grind the whole beans.
Regardless of which you choose, each type of burr grinder produces uniform grounds. Meanwhile, you can change the grind size by changing the size of the gap between the two burrs.
What Is A Blade Grinder?
Blade coffee grinders are significantly cheaper than burr grinders. They’re also far more simple machines that simply chop coffee beans – and other types of beans or spices – using a rapidly spinning blade. Blade grinders are usually electric, too.
How Does A Blade Coffee Grinder Work?
Blade grinders are straightforward machines. There is a propeller-like blade in the center of the grinder, similar to what you’d find in a blender or food processor. When you turn the grinder on, the blade begins spinning rapidly to chop the coffee beans indiscriminately into smaller particles. It also tends to generate extra heat during the grinding process.
The main problem with this grinding method is that you’ll struggle to achieve a uniform grind size, and often you’ll get poorly ground beans.
Differences Between Burr Grinders And Blade Grinders
Understanding how blade grinders and burr grinders work makes it clear why burr grinders produce more uniform grounds.
For example, the distance between the two burrs is fixed, which means only the selected size coffee grounds will get past them. There may be a few finer grounds, but you won’t have the big chunks produced by blade grinders.
Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to achieve the same result each time using a blade grinder because some beans come into contact with the blade more times than others. Also, blade grinders don’t have size settings, so the chopping process is random. The result is that you won’t get a consistent grind, meaning the flavor won’t be as good as it could be.
This is the primary reason why burr grinders are far superior to blade grinders. After all, if you’re brewing coffee, you want to give yourself the best chance of achieving the best possible flavor.
Coffee Flavor And Extraction
Hopefully, you now have a solid idea why burr grinders offer more consistency than blade grinders. But is it really that important? The short answer is “yes.” Your coffee will taste far better with consistent grounds.
To help clarify why consider what happens when you cook potatoes in different sizes. The smaller pieces become overcooked, while the larger pieces will need longer.
Now imagine you’re brewing your coffee using a French press. The coffee grounds steep in your water for the same length of time. However, smaller particles extract more easily because they have more contact surfaces. Unfortunately, this means they are liable to over-extraction, which causes bitterness in your cup. However, larger particles mean fewer contact surfaces for the water to interact with, leading to under-extraction.
This means you’ll have an unbalanced cup of coffee. Even worse, every time you use a blade grinder to grind your beans, you’ll get a different flavor because its random chopping nature means you’ll have different proportions of large and small grinds each time.
Different brewing methods require different grind sizes. So, if you’re brewing with a drip coffee maker, medium grind size is ideal. However, espresso machines require a fine grind, while a French press needs a coarse grind size.
Most burr grinds have many grind settings. As we mentioned earlier, changing the setting tweaks the size of the gap between the burrs. Some stepped grinders have a set number of sizes, while more expensive stepless grinders let you tweak the size to the degree that allows for unlimited scope. This is particularly significant when making espresso because you can dial it in for the best possible shot.
In short, certain burr grinders let you change the grind size precisely to your specifications.
In contrast, blade coffee grinders offer no such control. Indeed, the only control you will have is over the grinding time. The longer you leave your machine to grind, the finer the grounds will be. However, you need to be careful even then because if you leave it to grind for too long, you’ll have coffee dust instead of particles. In other words, achieving the correct grind size for your brewing method is virtually impossible.
Blades lose their sharpness if you regularly grind harder light roast beans as they chop the beans at high speed every time. Generally, therefore, burr grinders are more durable. For example, our first manual grinder, Hario Skerton, has a ceramic burr that still works beautifully after many years of use. Meanwhile, mid-priced or high-end steel burr grinders last even longer.
Blade grinders are considerably cheaper than burr grinders. This is because they work in a far more primitive way than burr grinders, and the blade isn’t as expensive as a good burr set. Because of this, even some entry-level hand grinders with small ceramic conical burrs cost more than some electric blade grinders.
However, the price range of burr grinders is extensive. You can get them as cheaply as $20 or spend over $1000. There are many manual and electric burr grinders on the market, from the most basic entry-level machines to professional grinders, with large steel burrs and impressive functionality.
We recommend reading our comprehensive burr coffee grinder buying guide to gain a thorough idea of the best burr grinder for your needs and budget.
Why Do You Need A Coffee Grinder?
If you want the best possible coffee, grinding fresh whole beans is imperative. So, even though we’ve explained why blade grinders are so inferior to burr grinders, they are still a better option than settling for pre-ground coffee. However, a good coffee grinder will help elevate your coffee flavors.
Once you grind coffee beans, they begin to go stale. This is because grinding them exposes the surfaces to the air, leading to more evaporation of the all-important volatile compounds, which are pivotal to the overall flavor. So basically, it’s always a case of the fresher, the better.
Final Thoughts – Burr Grinders Are Superior To Blade Grinders
If you don’t have a coffee grinder, we highly recommend buying one, even if you opt for a blade grinder, because any means of grinding fresh beans is a better option than using pre-ground beans.
However, if you can afford it, consider investing in a burr grinder. As this article has explained, they offer far more uniform grinds than blade grinders, and this can only mean one thing: you’ll ultimately end up with a far more flavorful coffee.
If you can’t afford a burr grinder, blade grinders are still an option worth considering. Also, blade grinders are a good option if you’re new to domestic brewing. After all, blade grinders still produce freshly ground coffee, albeit inconsistently. Still, inconsistent grounds are better than using pre-ground beans and you should still notice the difference in flavor. Meanwhile, they are generally easier to use and cheaper than burr grinders. However, if you can afford a burr grinder, we recommend buying one as they offer far more consistent grinds.
There are several ways to improve the grind consistency using a blade grinder. Firstly, pulsing and shaking while grinding will offer better results than settling for one long grind. Secondly, you can use a sieve to remove the larger chunks after grinding. Finally, try spreading the grounds over a paper towel, then pour the coffee into a grounds container. The coffee dust sticks to the paper towel, allowing you to discard these very fine particles. Doing this should leave relatively uniform grounds for brewing.