The Coffee Grinder: Burr vs. Blade Compared

If you’re at all like me, a cup of coffee has all the power to put you on the path to be happy and successful, or catty and confused all day long.

Let me paint you a picture.

Smell of fresh whole beanYou’ve just awoken from a great night’s rest.

You’re ready to have your first cup of coffee.

You open your bag of beans and savour that aroma, like it’s a promise that you’re going to conquer your day.

It’s your favourite blend, roasted to perfection.

Your whistling tea kettle has just sang its happy tune and is cooling down as you reach for your blender.

Now, this is where it gets crazy.

What you do next is absolutely pivotal to the richness and fullness of your end result.

Grinding your beans.

This process from which the colloquial term, “daily grind” comes from should be done every day, before every brew.

If you’re skipping this part entirely, you are forfeiting a wealth of flavour and complexity.

The pre-ground coffee that is typical of grocery stores, is more convenient.

But, here’s the kicker:

your grounds have a fraction of the flavour they would, if you had bought them whole bean.

The sole reason we break down the coffee bean in the first place is to extract the oils and complex chemical compounds that bind together to create the variety of flavour notes that made us fall in love with the drink in the first place.

The moment they’re chopped, and divided, they begin to go stale.

And that’s not the worst part!

When you purchase pre-ground coffee, you are likely purchasing a grind that is not fit for your brewing method. Companies typically default to grinding for a paper cone filter, since coffee pots were the long-standing household system. Some companies offer different grind sizes, but with the variance in packaging and company standards, it’s a gamble every time.

Here’s why:

The grind dictates extraction.

Extraction dictates taste.

The Starbucks Sirens over at Pike Place Market define “extraction rate” as the time it takes for the, “water to go through the path of the grounds.”

This is why each brewing method needs its equal grind according to its extraction time.

The finer the grind, the less time you need to extract the flavour.

And on the other side of the spectrum, the coarser the grind, the more time you need to extract the flavour.

When you mix grind size with the wrong brewing method, you get:

An under extraction, which leads to that sour, acidic taste.

Or your get

an over extraction, which leads to the bitter taste and grimy mouth feel.

You may be thinking, “this is all too complicated.”

It’s actually quite simple.

Cater to your preferences.

Grind your own beans.

Because we, at Gathering Grounds, want you to have the best cup of coffee in your life every day of your life, I am going to walk you through how to get the right grinder.

There are 3 big decisions you’re going to have to make along this journey.

  1. Convenience or consistency?
  2. Durability or replicability?
  3. Home or retail?

I really can’t stress the importance of a good grinder.

It’s the biggest baddest piece of equipment in a coffee maker’s arsenal.

And there are two types to choose from!

It’s likely that you know the first, even if it’s just a vague memory of your college roommate waking you up with the incessant whirring and clanking of their 7am coffee routine.

The blade grinder is the most common of the home café appliances. They’re easy to find, and typically range in price from 15-40 bucks.

But just like cheap, easy pre-ground coffee, blade grinders are not up to snuff.

Let’s look at the anatomy of this small piece of machinery and find out why.

picture of blade grinderAt first glance it looks like it would work well, right?

You have a spinning propeller, to break up the beans, and a nifty little chamber to catch the grounds.

The issue with this is: science.

The uniform circular motion of the propeller dictates that the full length of blade is technically moving at different speeds, resulting in a wide variety of ground particles sizes.

These different cuts can range from nearly untouched whole beans to Turkish coffee-like powder. This variance results into the particles extracting at different rates, and a weird tasting cup of coffee.

This is where our second option comes to the rescue: the ever-consistent Burr grinder.

You definitely know this one too!

You probably played with one of these in your great aunt Cindy’s kitchen.

With their pretty hoppers, fun drawers and noise that the manual crank makes, it’s irresistible to the eye of children and adults alike.

But with the wonder of electricity, we have been able to replicate its mechanisms to work faster, and with more bean.

You see them every time you walk into a coffee shop. (minus the crank.)

So what exactly is a Burr?

I’m glad you asked.

The dictionary definition: a rough edge or ridge left on an object (especially of metal)

The barista definition: the best grinder available, for as little as $20.

Let’s look at the anatomy, and see how both definitions are true.

When you open the top of a Burr grinder’s hopper, you see the clock like mechanics.

There are two pieces of metal with ridges, yes, burrs.

This is where it gets interesting!

There are two materials that those burrs can be made of:

Ceramic and stainless steel.

There are pros and cons of each.

With ceramic, you have a beautiful, hand made piece. But it’s easily breakable.

During the harvesting process, it is possible that pebbles or twigs can get mixed in with the beans.

You can see how this would be a problem.

But that baby is never going to lose its sharpness of edge. If you are take great care to check the beans before putting them in the mill, you have a grinder that will give you consistent and even grounds that produce delicious cups of coffee for years to come.

Now with the stainless steel, you have equal and opposite problems.

Your burrs are machine cut, and therefore easier to replace if something were to go awry.

But the blades go dull after about a thousand pounds of bean ran through it.

If you’re opening a shop, this could be a problem for you. But if you’re looking to improve your home cafe game, this would work perfectly.

Now for the Burr shapes.

Conical or flat?

The mechanics are essentially the same.

The burrs have teeth-like ridges that break down beans as they are fed through the opening in the top.

With a conical shape, they are cut first by a wider tooth. Then they slide into increasingly smaller burrs ‘til they reach their final size and fall through the bottom.

With a flat, crushed and pushed through two pieces of metal, where they are met by burrs that start off large and get smaller and smaller until they’re pushed off the edge.

The pros at Seattle Coffee Gear say that there isn’t much difference in end result. Both yield even and consistent grinds causing the particles to extract at the same rate, and making a full delicious cup of coffee.

The main difference is that conical grinders work faster because gravity is working in favour of the beans.

So let’s revisit those 3 questions.

  1. Convenience or consistency?
  2. Durability or replicability?
  3. Home or retail?

Do you want the convenience of a blade grinder, and deal with the random brews? Or do you want the consistency of a burr grinder, even though it is slightly more tedious?

Do you want the durability of a ceramic burr, even though there is a possibility of it breaking? Or do you want a stainless steel burr, and have to deal with getting them sharpened or replaced every so often?

And do you need the speediness of a conical shape for your business? Or would a flat surface suffice for your personal coffee routine?

You now have all the information you need to make these big decisions.

And in turn, make great coffee.

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