It’s interesting that while coffee lovers are more than willing to spend a lot of money on expensive coffee machines, they forego the grinder, or plan its purchase at a later date. It's equally intriguing that people will spend a lot of their hard earned money buying some of the most exotic and freshest high-quality coffee beans, fresh roasted the day they bought them, and yet get the beans ground at the micro-roastery because they don't have a quality grinder at home. Don’t get me wrong, a reliable brewer and quality beans are necessary for great espresso, but unless those beans are being ground properly and freshly, you’re really missing out on your coffee’s potential.
“Okay,” you say, “I need a grinder. But that’s easy. A grinder’s a grinder’s a grinder, right?" Well, not exactly. First off, there are two different types of grinders – blade and burr – each of which functions differently and is compatible with different types of brewing methods.
A blade grinder consists of a small barrel-shaped grinding chamber with a sharp metal blade that spins at a very high and consistent rate of speed. It pulverizes the coffee bean repeatedly until the desired consistency is reached. The fineness of the grounds is determined by the length of time the cutting blades are spinning. These grinders can be found in virtually every department store and kitchen supply shop, as well as most supermarkets.
One of the prime benefits of blade grinders is the low purchase price, but their disadvantage is the lack of uniformity of the coffee grinds they produce. As a blade grinder continues to grind, more powder and irregular shapes are formed. When the grinder is turned off, dust or powder can be seen around the edges, while chunks of varying sizes will be in the center. This can pose quite a problem if you’re brewing with a French press or espresso machine, because their filters will let very fine grinds through and produce a grainy cup. That’s why blade grinders are more commonly used with drip coffee makers, whose paper filters prevent these tiny particles from passing through.
Even with this negative aspect, freshly ground coffee from a blade grinder will be better than store-bought pre-ground coffee that may have been sitting on the shelf for a long time. If your budget won't allow for a burr grinder, consider a blade grinder as a temporary step in your elevation to quality coffee.
The burr grinding design and method is the most recommended way for grinding coffee, ideal for almost any brewing application depending on the individual grinder’s range of grind fineness. When shopping for a burr grinder, it is necessary to make sure that the grinder has the capability to grind as finely as you need – some grinders are more compatible with French press and drip coffee brewing than they are with espresso brewing. On Aabree’s website, the range of capability for each grinder is listed in the product’s description, as well as in the specifications in our Compare Products section, so you’ll easily be able to find out which grinder will work for you.
A burr grinder strips off slivers from the coffee bean, exposing the cellular wall structure and providing a lot of surface area for the water to extract all that coffee goodness from. Burr grinders also produce a lot less heat in the grounds when compared to a blade grinder, which helps to preserve the aromatics and oils that promote great tasting coffee. In the coffee lover's mind, there is little doubt that a burr-based grinder offers a much better grind consistency and quality compared to the results from a blade-based grinder.
Burr grinders come in two basic formats for the consumer and light commercial market - a flat open hole disk known as a "flat burr", and a cone shaped layout known as a "conical burr". Both feature two metal parts - a top and a bottom. Only one of the two parts actually revolves, while the other remains stationary.
With either conical or flat burr grinders, the coffee bean falls from the bean hopper through a chute into the grinding chamber inside the machine (gravity provides the push here). Here they are milled into a uniform size. The distance between the spinning disk or cone and the stationary cutting surface determines the size of the grounds. When you adjust the coffee grinder's fineness setting, you are actually adjusting the height between the two metal parts that make up the cutting surfaces of your grinder. The closer they are, the finer the grind.
Finely, I Understand.
What do I hope you take away from this guide? Keep getting that fresh roasted coffee. Keep researching the market, magazine articles, friends' opinions, and informational websites about what the best espresso machine or coffee-brewing device is for your price budget. But also learn that a grinder must be part of this budget, at least if you’re seeking the best possible cup of coffee or the richest, sweetest shot of espresso. Move the grinder up to the head of the class, and make it the star of your quest for a rich, full, and satisfying beverage experience.
Dosing vs. Non-Dosing Burr 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.
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.
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.
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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