What Sets Burr Grinders Apart?
We talk a lot about needing different grinders for different things, but why is that? Why is it that certain grinders are only for espresso, and others do best with brew? Why do espresso grinders tend to cost so much? What makes a burr grinders so important in the first place? We’re going to answer some of those questions today to help you understand grinders a little bit better!
Why Burr Grinders?
You may be used to using blade grinders for grinding your coffee. Blade grinders use a spinning blade to chop up coffee beans into chunks, and eventually into grounds. The problem here is consistency. Coffee is brewed with hot water passing through the grounds, causing elements of the coffee grounds to bond with the water as it moves through. This means that proper “extraction” of the coffee requires several key things. One of those things is proper consistency of your ground coffee. Having roughly equivalent chunks at the proper degree of fineness is really important to proper brewing, regardless of method used.
Burr grinders swap the imprecise, inconsistent blades of a blade grinder for carefully engineered plates (or cones) that produce a consistent motion for grinding the coffee. These grinders have controls that allow you to set how far apart the burrs sit, which allows you to control the fineness of the grounds that come out. Finally, burr grinders typically use simple gravity to control the flow of beans. The beans feed from a hopper at the top into the grinding chamber, then the grounds pass through a chute into some form of catch (or portafilter for espresso). The result is perfectly ground, consistent coffee, when using a quality grinder.
Drip Vs. Espresso
As you may already know, espresso requires a finer grind than drip. This is because the grounds themselves help provide the pressure against the water passing through them. The finer the grind, the greater pressure against the water. While it’s entirely possible to go too fine, you need a finer grind than what many burr grinders designed for drip coffee can produce. To achieve this degree of fineness, espresso grinders often have specialized burrs that are more expensive to produce than drip grinders. They may also have more expensive internal elements like motors and bean paths as well.
There’s also the control factor. Stepped grinders have set “steps” that they click between for different degrees of fineness. Stepless grinders have dials that work more like a free turning screw, allowing you to even lock the burrs together at their tightest setting. Control type doesn’t factor into cost too much, but it is important to know that there are advantages to each type of control. Stepped grinders are easier to use and have very clear reference points, perfect for brewing drip coffee. Stepless grinders allow for more precise control and can work well across a range of brew types, but are harder to use.
All of this is on a scale, as well. The Breville Smart Grinder, for example, is capable of grinding coarse enough for drip coffee and fine enough for espresso. However, the consistency and quality of grounds at both ends of the spectrum won’t necessarily match a Eureka Mignon Specialita for espresso and a Baratza Encore for drip. The Smart Grinder is affordable and versatile though, so it may be the preferred option for some users.
What’s with the cost?
If a Smart Grinder is under $300, and a Eureka Mignon is under $1,000, why do some grinders cost so very much? There are a lot of factors. One of the main ones is burr size. Larger burrs tend to produce more consistency in grinding. To support larger burrs the entire grinder has to be engineered for them. This increases the cost of the whole grinder. Some high end grinders also use things like gear reduction to carefully control the speed of the grind and balance power and speed to grind fast but consistently. All of this carries a premium price tag.
Then there’s the extras. Things like weight based dosing, timers, screens, digital buttons, touch controls, etc. can all increase the cost of a grinder. In some cases most of the cost differences between grinders boil down to these extras.
Hopefully this clears up some of your questions about grinders, and makes picking out your first or next one easier!