Grinders: You can’t brew coffee, in one way or another, without them. A coffee grinder breaks down whole bean coffee into smaller particles, which have more exposed surface area, allowing water to quickly extract coffee solids. In simpler terms? The finer the grind, the quicker flavors dissolve.
Now, there are two main types of coffee grinders: burr grinders and blade grinders. Below, we’ll break down the differences between the two, how they handle precision grinding, and why we ultimately recommend burr grinders for coffee.
Our Favorite Coffee Grinders, at a Glance
First Off: How Coffee Grinders Work
Blade grinders, also known as spice grinders, are fairly simple: They’re usually small, motorized devices with a two-sided, blade-shaped piece of metal. Dump your coffee in, put the lid on, and press go and the blade begins to spin, breaking down anything in its path. Burr grinders, on the other hand, are bigger, have a more powerful motor and, notably, feature two grinding burrs with teeth that can move closer together or further apart depending on how coarse or fine you want your coffee. When you turn it on, one of the burrs starts spinning, drawing whole beans into the burrs and spitting out ground coffee below.
Blade Grinders Are for Pulverizing
Despite its dangerous-sounding name, the blade part of a blade grinder is actually quite dull, pulverizing nuts, seeds, and spices instead of cutting them neatly. The longer you run a blade grinder, the more it keeps chopping and crushing, and everything becomes a powdery dust. While this is great for spices, pulverized coffee particles lead to bitter coffee. Stop grinding before the dust stage, and you’re left with different-sized coffee particles—ultra-fine dust, salt-sized pieces, sand-sized pieces, and big chunks. Dump that into your coffee brewer, and it’ll be hard for any sweeter, balanced flavors to shine through the ultra-bitter and sour flavors coming from the ultra-fine and ultra-big coffee grinds. While there are techniques you can try to get more uniform results from a blade grinder, we highly recommend going for a burr grinder, both for ease of use and better coffee quality.
Burr Grinders Are for Cutting
Adjustable burr grinders allow for more precision than blade grinders. As the burrs move together and apart, they create a small gap, and the particles can only leave the grinding chamber once they’re small enough to fit through that space. High-quality burr grinders, like most of the ones we tested, also have precision cutting teeth etched into each burr. These teeth catch and cut the whole bean coffee, which creates far fewer ultra-fine particles than blade grinders. This allows you to fine-tune the flavor of the coffee you’re brewing: if it’s tasting strong, has a heavy body, and is overly bitter, the grind is too fine. If it’s weak, watery, and sour-tasting, the grind is too coarse. That level of control is key to making great tasting coffee at home, since different brew methods (like French press or pourover) brew better with different grind sizes. Even more specifically, different coffees might brew better with slightly different grind sizes even using the same same brew method.
There Are Many Types of Burr Grinders
There is only one style of blade grinder out there, but there are many different burr grinders. While general burr grinders are great for drip, pourover, French press, and cold brew, they’re usually not calibrated fine enough for espresso. There are also handheld coffee grinders, too, which require a bit more labor but are cheaper and more portable than a regular burr grinder. And then there are different burr styles, as well. Most of our top picks (including the Baratza Virtuoso+, Baratza Sette 270, and 1Zpresso JX Pro S) use a conical burr set. Conical burrs use a flat ring burr that moves up and down over a cone-shaped burr that spins in the middle. This style of burr is easier to calibrate and is a less expensive way to get high-precision grinds. The Fellow Ode Gen 2, another of our favorite burr grinders, uses flat burrs—two discs with cutting teeth facing each other. Flat burrs can be tricky to align just right and tend to be more expensive. However, if you’re truly after the best quality coffee possible, high-end, flat-burr grinders tend to have better flavor clarity and a slightly more consistent particle size.