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Types of Burr Coffee Grinders

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 25, 2011 at 5:22 PM
Related Categories: Grinder Guides

Much like espresso machines and coffee makers, burr grinders are available with a variety of features and functions. And the key in deciding which of these grinders is right for you and your machine is to have a full grasp of what each feature actually does. In this article, we’ll cover these features and by the end, you’ll emerge and burr grinder expert.

Dosing vs. Non-Dosing Burr Grinders

Dosing Grinders

A dosing grinder has a compartment on the front that catches all the grounds as they are dispensed from the grinder. This compartment contains separators that divide it into even sections, like pie pieces. As these sections are filled with ground coffee, the user pulls a lever on the side of the compartment, which turns the separators and the ground coffee contained within. One or two lever-pulls later, the ground coffee ends up over a hole in the bottom of the compartment, allowing it to be dispensed, or “dosed”.

There are a couple of reasons why this type of grinder is beneficial for use with espresso machines. First off, each section in the doser holds about 7 grams of coffee – enough for a single shot of espresso. Secondly, dosing grinders are usually designed so that you dose your coffee directly into your portafilter. They only provide a couple of inches of clearance between the bottom of the doser and your countertop, and usually have what we call a “portafilter fork”, which holds your portafilter in place. These two features generally make it a little more difficult to fit a drip coffee filter or other container underneath the doser.

Doserless Grinders

Manufacturers are savvy to the fact that people use their grinders for more than just espresso, so they also offer doserless grinders. Instead of a doser, these grinders either have a chute that comes out of the machine and dispenses coffee right after it’s ground, or an internal grinds catcher that is removable after grinding is complete. The chute version allows you to use just about anything to catch the grounds, be it a portafilter, filter basket, or whole French press carafe. With an internal grinds catcher, you can easily dump the grounds into a filter or French press, or scoop out what you need to fill your portafilter. The only drawback we find with doserless models is that they tend to be a little messier because the coffee grounds can sometimes miss their target and land on the counter.

Stepped vs. Stepless Grind Adjustment Mechanisms

All burr grinders have some sort of mechanism for you to adjust the grind setting. This is what allows you to use the same grinder for everything from a Turkish to a French press. (Please note that not all burr grinders have this wide range of grinding capability.) Simply put, stepped grind adjustments have prefabricated settings for you to choose from, whereas stepless grinders have “infinite” grind adjustment capability.

Stepped Settings

There are two types of stepped setting grinders: self-locking and variable locking. Self-locking mechanisms allow you to either turn a knob or the whole bean hopper to make adjustments to the grind setting. As the setting is moved from fine to coarse you will hear a click. Each click represents one level of adjustment. These are the most popular systems because you can simply turn and “click” your way to the desired setting and once you reach that setting the adjustment will stay locked in that position. On the other hand, variable locking adjustments require that you push a release lever or button while you turn the hopper to the desired grind setting. Holding that lever or button “unlocks” the grind adjustment system and allows movement in either direction. The overall advantage to a stepped setting grinder is that you can easily toggle back and forth between settings. If you do happen to forget the particular setting you were on, it’s also pretty simple to narrow it back down to the correct one.

Stepless Settings

This method of adjusting the grind setting is nice because it allows for an infinite number of settings and the fine-tuning of your grind. It allows for the slightest movement between settings if you need that perfect grind for espresso. Stepless grinders are usually adusted through either the use of a lever on the side of the hopper like the (like the Mazzer Mini or by turning the bean hopper (like the Pasquini Moka). Although it’s a little easier to “lose your place” if you change grind settings, the great thing about stepless adjustment is that you have precise control over the grind setting. These grinders do have markings to guide you, but if, for example, you find a particular grind is a little too coarse and the next notch down is a little too fine, you can adjust in between them to get the perfect grind for your machine.

High-Speed vs. Low-Speed Burr Grinders

When we’re talking about high and low speed burr grinders, the difference is actually found in the motor contained in the machine. High-speed grinders have smaller, cheaper motors that need to turn at a higher speed in order to get the grinding done. On the other hand, low-speed grinders contain more expensive motors that run more slowly, but are more powerful.

Obviously, high-speed grinders are very popular because you get the grind consistency and quality of a burr grinder, but at a lower cost. Low-speed grinders do have somewhat of an advantage though. One of the biggest differences is that because the low-speed grinder moves more slowly, the beans and grounds are exposed to less heat than with a high-speed grinder. Heat begins to extract the flavor of the coffee, so for maximum flavor, you want them to be exposed to as little heat as possible. In addition, low-speed grinders avoid producing the small amount of static electricity that high-speed grinders can generate.

Low-speed burr grinders also come in two different types: gear reduction and direct drive. Each is a little step up from a high-speed grinder, simply for the reasons listed in the paragraph above. What sets these two types of low-speed grinders apart is the way that they become low-speed.

Gear Reduction vs. Direct Drive Burr Grinders

In a gear reduction burr grinder a high-speed electric motor is connected to a gear reduction system or transmission. Gear reduction systems are used to harness the power of a small, lower-cost motor and amplify it so it can handle heavier loads. This type of gear reduction is the same principle used for motors that turn a Ferris wheel at the amusement park. Although it spins at a high rate of speed, the motor is attached to a spinning drive shaft, which in turn is attached to a series of gears that gradually slow the rate of the large wheel you are riding on. Without gear reduction, the rotation speed of the motor (and the Ferris wheel) would fling you out of your seat and into the circus tent roof.

Direct drive burr grinders have a powerful electric low-speed motor that is connected directly to the cutting wheel and does not have any gears. The motor and the cutting wheel are turning at the same speed. This system is the best method to use because the motor and grinding system are designed specifically for each other and they work in harmony to produce excellent results.

Now your grinder training is complete. You know all there is to know about grinders, what their available features are, and what the corresponding advantages and disadvantages are. Arm yourself with that knowledge and take the next big step; take a look at our selection of grinders by clicking here.

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