The coffee grinder is one of the most important pieces of gear you will invest in on your coffee journey. If you're just starting out, it's normal to feel confused over all the different terms. We've put together this short write-up which will hopefully give you some basic ideas to consider when you're shopping for your new coffee grinder.
But first, why do we need a coffee grinder to begin with?
You've probably heard it before, but we'll just say it again anyhow -- you should get a coffee grinder because freshly ground coffee just tastes so much better. Coffee contains many volatile aromatic compounds and you lose them once you grind it. That's why we always recommend that you only grind your coffee right before you're ready to brew it. And that's also why we recommend that you buy whole beans over coffee powder anytime!
So, how do I choose a coffee grinder?
The most important job that your coffee grinder will do is to provide good grind consistency. This means that the particle size of the grinds should be as even as possible. When you get even grounds, it means you are more likely to achieve even extraction when you brew, giving you a better cup of coffee.
So the first thing you should look at is how the grinder grinds i.e. by blade or burr?
Blade grinders "chop" your coffee beans into grounds using blades, as their name suggests. The pro is that they are relatively cheaper, and are therefore more accessible for coffee beginners. But on the other hand, they give a less even grind consistency, and you are likely to find chunks or boulders in your grind. They also generate a lot of heat when they work, which can decrease the quality of your coffee.
Burr grinders consist two rotating burrs, and coffee beans are ground through a crushing motion as they go between them. The main advantage is that burr grinders give more even grind consistency, and are more precise than blade grinders. On the flip side, they are also more expensive.
Well... the decisions do not end here. The next thing to decide if you're buying a burr grinder, is what kind of burr -- flat or conical?
The Perfect Daily Grind has the perfect definition for the two types of burrs:
"Flat burrs are made up of two rings that lie flat on each other. They are often horizontally aligned and have angled teeth. It is the distance between the rings that determines the size."
"With conical burrs, however, the grinding happens vertically. One burr sits inside another. The outer burr is a circular, hollow ring with angled teeth."
What are the implications for your coffee? Well... it seems the verdict is still open on this one. Conical burrs produce less heat during grinding but give bimodal grind distribution, meaning, if you look at the grounds under the microscope, you will see particles of two sizes (large and fine). So this means that if you are extracting the larger particles perfectly, the finer particles are likely to be over-extracted already. This gives you less room to play with in terms of your espresso recipe.
On the other hand, flat burrs produce unimodal grind distribution, meaning you will only see one grind size if you look at the grounds under the microscope. As you can imagine, this will improve extraction and give you more room to play with your espresso recipes. Past World Barista Champion Matt Perger was the first person to expound the possibilities of flat burr grinders.
But on the industry level, we'll say that there's no wide consensus on which burr is better. Both can help you produce amazing coffee, and we think it's more a matter of knowing how each one works, and the limitations that we have to work around. Also, if you're running a cafe, other operational considerations such as the budget, volume of usage. consistency and so on would affect the decision as well.
We'll love to hear about your experience with coffee grinders! Share with us through our FB page or IG @smittencoffeeroasters! In addition, Smitten is also the official Singapore distributor for Etzinger, Bentwood and Comandante grinders. Check them out on our webstore!