When it comes to brewing the best cup of coffee, the first thing you need to know is that buying pre-ground coffee just isn’t going to work anymore. For ultimate freshness (and ultimate flavours), you need to be buying whole beans and using a burr grinder to grind them at home.
And that means investing in a high-quality burr grinder so you can grind-on-demand.
But, given that half of the American population consume coffee, it’s no surprise that the market is flooded with choice.
Whether you’re after a small handheld burr grinder or a fully-serviced machine that does more than just grind, here’s everything you need to know.
The difference between burr and blade coffee grinders
Yes, there’s more than one way to grind up coffee beans. A burr grinder uses two oscillating, serrated plates (known as burrs) that come together to crush and grind coffee beans, rather than cut them.
Burr grinders produce uniformly-sized grinds, which are essential for a balanced flavour to exist at the other end of brewing. Because you aren’t cutting beans (like a blade grinder), you also get a lot more control and precision with your grind and can adjust grind size to suit any type of coffee brew.
The burr grinder disclaimer
There’s a disclaimer that comes with buying a burr grinder, and you ought to be made aware of it from the get-go. They cost more money than a traditional blade grinder. Like buying a bag of fresh specialty coffee, you’re investing quality and consistency, and you’ll pay more for that quality.
But that doesn’t mean you need to spend thousands of dollars on a good burr grinder. There are cost-effective alternatives on the market.
Okay, with that out of the way, here’s what to look for.
Burr grinder criteria: What are you looking for?
There are lots of factors to consider when investing in a burr grinder. For example:
Burr size and RPMs
First up is the technical check. Burr grinders require a motor to operate efficiently, and motors often cause heat. Heat, consequently, will affect the flavour of your coffee (and will likely ruin it).
This is a real conundrum for coffee connoisseurs. Higher RPMs means a more consistent grind, but it also means more heat.
The rule of thumb, then, is this: Invest in a powerful motor and larger, flatter burrs. A more powerful motor will run more efficiently and create less heat. Larger burrs mean your coffee will grind in a shorter time (with less RPMs), and flatter burrs will cause less friction, meaning your motor doesn’t have to work so hard.
Does your burr grinder grind into a portafilter or bucket?
Some grinders (like this Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder) grind coffee into a bucket, and others grind into a portafilter for espresso machines.
If you have an espresso machine, and you’re only looking to brew up espresso-based coffees, we recommend investing in a burr grinder without a bucket. This way, you can accurately tune your grinder and optimise your grind-to-portafilter ratio, consequently reducing wastage.
The other thing to consider is whether or not your burr grinder has a holder for your portafilter. Some grinders have a nifty little bracket that rests your portafilter, so you don’t have to hold it as you grind. That means you can pour your milk while grinding your beans, without needing one hand holding the handle.
Number of grind settings
If you’re reading this, you’re likely into making high-quality coffee (duh), and you’ll likely know that different coffee brewing methods requires different grind sizes.
A French press, for example, will have a coarser grind than espresso.
Check your burr grinder has multiple grind settings that suit your coffee brewing needs. If you love coffee experimentation, perhaps choose a burr grinder with more than 40 grind sizes. That way, you can test, iterate and optimise your grind for your different coffee brews.
If you’re after something a little less complex, something like this Capresso Infinity Stainless Steel Conical burr grinder will do the trick. It has 16 settings that cover the span of grind sizes. No more, no less.
Time settings, auto-grind or pulse burr grinders
Many budget burr grinders are pulse grinders. You push a button and the coffee grinds. You remove your finger and the grinding stops. Simple.
Technical grinders will auto grind, which means you turn a dial (usually to a specific time setting) and it’ll grind while it counts down to zero. Meanwhile, you can prep your milk steamer.
Even more technical grinders will have a timed setting. Like a microwave, you enter a time parameter and hit start, and your grinder does the rest.
If you’re a remote worker like me and you brew more than one cup of coffee at home per day, invest in a burr grinder with a timed setting. Quite simply, it’ll make your life easier and it’ll make the process of brewing coffee more enjoyable. Get the little things right, and the big things will take care of themselves.
Burr grinders are meant to make your life easier, not harder
Okay, so the above criteria might sound complex, but if you can source a burr grinder that’ll deliver you consistent consistency, the effort in the short term is quickly outweighed by the reward in the long.
Burr grinders are, besides the coffee beans themselves, one of the most important pieces of coffee equipment to get your hands on. Get it right, and you’ll achieve a balanced cup of coffee, time and time again. Get it wrong, however, and you’ll be left adjusting your grind, time and time again.