So, you’ve decided to start buying whole bean coffee instead of pre-ground. Great! You’re one step closer to a much better cup of coffee. Below is a quick and basic breakdown of the two main types of grinders: blade and burr.
If you walk into the coffee brewing isle at your local Super Mega Marty Mart, you’ll probably see 3 or 4 different blade grinders. The major upside of blade grinders is that they’re often very cheap ($10-40) and available everywhere. To tell you the truth, I used a Mr. Coffee blade grinder for years.
The problem is that this type of grinder should really be called a “pulverizer”. It does very little grinding at all. Instead, it spins a small blade fast enough to slash and smash the coffee into little bits. While technically this accomplishes your end goal of “grinding” the coffee, the grounds are normally super inconsistent.
Burr grinders come by their name honestly. This type actually grinds the coffee unlike the blade grinder above. To do so, the beans pass between two rotating burrs (conical or flat) while they are cut and ground into uniformly sized bits. While some blade grinders claim to have a coarseness adjustment, burr grinders truly do. Most have several coarseness settings for getting your grind just right for your brew method.
If you’re looking for uniformity in your coffee grounds, there really is no substitute for a burr grinder. However, while consistency is a step above, the price point is also much higher. You’re looking at $50+. While some high end burr grinders can cost thousands of dollars, you don't need to break the bank. A great example is my current home grinder, the Baratza Encore.
Are burr grinders worth the extra cost?
For a real world example, see the picture below. The coffee on the top was ground with a blade grinder. Notice the huge chunks, but also the super fine powder. No consistency at all. This doesn’t bode well for even extraction of your coffee. While the large chunks will under-extract, the super fine bits are going to over-extract. You'll have no control over your cup.
The coffee on the bottom was ground with a burr grinder. You can clearly see how much better the end product is. While there are still very slight variances, nothing near the level of the blade grinder. With small adjustments, you will really be able to dial in your preferred brewing method.
The choice is yours.
So, there you have the super simplified breakdown of coffee grinders. There are finer points such as grind speed, static buildup, heat buildup, etc...but that’s for another day.
The takeaway from this article is this:
If it comes down to pre-ground or using a blade grinder, opt for the blade grinder. However, if you have room in the budget to buy a burr grinder, by all means, buy the burr grinder.
To many, the grinder is the most important part of your coffee setup. I can’t say I disagree.
UDPATE: Watch me do a blind taste test to see which is better here.