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Coffee Grinders: Blade vs. Burr vs. Hand

Read time: 3 mins
Antique coffee grinder with dark roasted beans next to mug filled with fresh coffee
John H. May 16, 2024

Grinding coffee is about achieving the ideal particle size based on the extraction method, and different grinders create different sizes.

For example, because it's extracted quickly under high pressure, espresso requires a fine particle size. On the other hand, drip filter coffee uses a medium grind since it brews for a several minutes. Cold brew requires the longest steep time (up to 24 hours) and the coarsest grind. While large grinders can grind coffee faster and often more accurately, they tend to be expensive, heavy and less portable.

There are three main ways to grind coffee, blade grinders, burr grinders (both flat and conical) and a good old fashioned manual grinder. Read on to find the pros and cons of each coffee grinding method.

What's the Difference Between Blade Grinders and Burr Grinders?

Looking down at a blade coffee grinder with beans inside and white background

Blade Grinder: A blade grinder is a machine that chops up coffee beans and is often used for spices as well. Blade grinders utilize a blade that looks like a propeller, similar to the ones you see in blenders or food processors. This grinder is powerful and grinds quickly, but makes the coffee grounds uneven in size.

How does uneven particle size affect coffee flavor?

When the grounds are uneven, it can affect coffee taste because you'll get different flavors from the same coffee. For example, you might taste bitterness from over-extracted fine ground coffee mixed with the weaker flavor of under-extracted larger pieces. To make the best cup of coffee with a blade grinder, we suggest pulsing the grinder instead of keeping it running continuously. Pulsing means turning the grinder on and off in short bursts. This allows the beans to move around and get chopped more evenly. It also prevents the beans from getting too hot which can affect the flavor of the coffee as it makes the grounds more soluble and can lead to over-extraction.

Closeup of burr from burr coffee grinder
Close up of white burr coffee grinder featuring grind size selection
White Encore burr grinder with a mason jar of beans and a measuring spoon on a white marble counter

Burr Grinder: Flat burr grinders have two circular burrs - flat rings with sharp, angled teeth - that face each other. This grinder has a horizontally-fed setup and typically results in a better, more consistent grind. Conical burr grinders use two cone-shaped burrs, one inside the other. They are fed vertically and are often cooler and quieter than flat burr grinders. Flat burr grinders have a stronger tendency to overheat when used often, such as in a café setting, and use more energy, which can make them less suitable for commercial or home use. However, the burr grinder offers a better grind, which creates a consistent flavor profile, giving baristas more freedom to experiment with different water temperatures and extraction times.

What About Hand Coffee Grinders?

Person using hand coffee grinder to grind coffee beans. Wearing a sweater with print and painted nails

Hand coffee grinders, which are often just small conical burr grinders without an electric motor. They are reliable tools that create evenly sized coffee grounds, which as we've established, is crucial for achieving a well-balanced and tasty cup of coffee. They can maintain this consistency across various grind sizes, from coarse for French press, to fine for espresso. However, they may offer fewer options for adjusting the grind size in very small increments and often have a very small capacity.

One noticeable feature of manual coffee grinders is their compact size. Most of them are small enough to be held in one hand while you use the other hand to turn the crank. If you value portability, especially for brewing coffee while traveling, then manual grinders are a great choice. You may also find that manual coffee grinders feel sturdier compared to electric ones. This is because hand grinders are straightforward machines that typically consist of no more than a small hopper to hold beans, a pair of burrs to grind the beans as they pass through, and a chamber at the bottom to collect the grounds. All these parts are connected by a single rod that rotates the burrs and attaches to a handle.

The downside, however, is the obvious one - they are manual! While grinding shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes and is not overly difficult to do - it's still more of a workout than pushing a button. If you're making your early morning coffee whilst tired and desperate for a caffeine hit, the thought of grinding by hand might be too much for you!

Coffee beans, coffee grounds, and portafilter with coffee grounds on a wooden rustic cutting board on a wooden table

So, What's The Best Way To Grind Coffee?

You guessed it: there is no overall winner! As with a lot of coffee related things, it comes down to what type of coffee you're making, what beans you're using, and of course, personal preference. Hopefully this guide has helped point you in the right direction, and our experts here at Fresh Roasted Coffee are always on hand to help if you have more questions - contact us today!

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