The Different Kinds of Burr Grinders
There are many different kinds of burr grinders on the market and if you are considering investing in one, it is helpful to know what options are available. There are many reasons to consider a burr grinder. Upgrading from a blade grinder to a burr grinder will improve almost any brewing method, and for making espresso, a burr grinder is imperative. To learn more about the benefits of a burr grinder, read this article.
In a burr grinder, beans are ground between two hard, ridged plates (called burrs). Burrs can be be either conical or flat discs and are made of either steel or ceramic. There are many debates over which is better, but for the average user, there is little discernible difference. This does not mean that all burr grinders are created equal. Below, we have divided the different kinds of burr grinders into four categories; hand grinders, consumer grinders, pro-sumer grinders and professional grinders.
If you don’t mind exerting a little elbow grease, hand grinders are not a bad option. The thing about burr grinders is that they can be quite expensive, especially if you want one that is capable of making espresso. The price is such that many consumers would never consider buying one. Manufactures have tried to bring the price down by cutting corners, particularly by using poor quality burrs (more on that below). This, of course, majorly hampers the ability of such machines to produce a high quality grind.
But hand grinders offer a different solution to the high price of burr grinders; they have no electric motor. Thus although they have high quality burrs, the price is considerably lower than their electric counterparts.
Price isn’t the only advantage to a hand grinder though. Hand grinders are usually fairly compact, making them highly portable. This, in conjunction with the fact that they do not need an electric outlet, make them a great choice for travel. The downside is that a hand grinder significantly increases the time and effort it takes to make a cup of coffee.
Hand grinders work well with almost any brew method, including espresso. They are the ideal choice if portability or price are a priority. However, they are time consuming, labour intensive, and only produce a small amount at a time (enough for 1-2 cups).
Multipurpose Burr Grinders
These burr grinders are targeted to the average home user and are designed to be a general purpose coffee grinder. There are many great machines in this category and they usually sell for a couple hundred dollars or less. There is also a wide range in terms of quality. This kind of grinder is good for most brew methods other than espresso.
General use grinders are usually “stepped”, meaning they have a range of preset grind sizes. This is great for consistency; once you have figured out that the “17” setting is the best setting for your V60, you can always return there to get the same size grind.
One major drawback to consumer burr grinders is that many of them, especially ones on the less expensive end of the scale, do not use proper burrs. Quality burrs are razor sharp and shave the coffee beans rather than crush them. However, many consumer level burr grinders use cheap burrs that have smooth, knobby ridges rather than sharp edges. Such burrs are less consistent and they damage the beans.
While many consumer burr grinders are capable of producing a decent quality grind, consumer burr grinders are not generally adequate for making espresso (unless you are using a pressurized portafilter). There are several reasons for this. First, the preset grind settings do not allow for the very fine adjustments to grind size that espresso requires. Second, consumer burr grinders are generally made from lower quality components, which comes at a sacrifice to grind consistency—a major concern with espresso. Finally, consumer burr grinders are designed for all-purpose grinding and are not optimized for espresso.
Multipurpose burr grinders are a great option if you do not want to grind by hand and if you are not planning on getting into espresso. There are countless options available, but make sure to get a grinder with quality burrs. Some good options include the Capresso Infinity, the Baratza Encore, or the Baratza Virtuoso.
Home Espresso Grinders
If you are planning on making espresso, then you need a grinder that is more capable than a multipurpose grinder. Fortunately, with the increasing demand from home baristas, there is an ever growing number of espresso grinders specifically designed for home use. These machines are constantly increasing in quality while decreasing in price. Unlike the monolith grinders used in cafes, home espresso grinders are generally only used to grind a few shots a day, rather than endless back to back shots. Because of this, home machines do not have to be as durable nor have the massive capacity as a commercial grinder.
There are many great grinders in this category. The Rocky Rancilio has been around for a long time, as well as its closest competitor, the Lelit Fred. Recently, two new grinders came to the market that boast innovative new designs. One is the budget friendly Smart Grinder Pro from Breville, and the other is the Sette 270 from Baratza (unlike many espresso grinders, these two grinders are capable of grinding for other brewing methods in addition to espresso, this is due to their innovative methods for adjusting the grind size).
Between full blown commercial grade grinders and home espresso grinders is a category of grinder generally referred to as “prosumer”. These professional grade grinders are intended only for espresso. The line between prosumer and professional machine can get somewhat fuzzy, as many cafes use prosumer machines. They can be quite expensive, but they should last a lifetime. These machines are for the hardcore home barista.
If going overkill is your style, then there are some phenomenal commercial grinders available. When it comes to professional machines, the quality of the machine and the quality of the grinds are unbeatable. While some people do use these machines for home use, these machines quite large, making them less than ideal for many home settings, even if you are willing to pay premium dollar.