To grind or not to grind – that isn’t really the question…
If there is one thing likely to spark a debate amongst coffee aficionados, it’s going to be the subject of grinders. Some grinder are very expensive (over £1,000) but some people just cannot spend enough of their hard-earned cash on one of these machines. Some grinders are more “affordable” (roughly £10 upwards).
This page is not to provide a specific recommendations, as we all have different needs (and budgets).
As always, we advise that you review grinders carefully – your buying decision is yours alone.
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Types of grinder
There are essentially two main types of grinder: blade grinders and burr grinders.
The type of grind (e.g. crushed or cut), its granularity (coarseness), consistency of ground particle throughout the grind, and temperature (generated by the grinder) can affect the taste of the coffee. But, then again, so can bean freshness and water quality – so the resulting flavour is about getting all of the ducks in a row. Nonetheless, you really don’t want your grinder to re-cook the beans!
Blade grinders use a high speed blade, much like a food processor. By design they operate at high speed, and the generated heat can change the coffee’s taste.
Blade grinders can be a little hit and miss in terms of how coarse or fine they grind the beans (as we will see), and how even the resultant grind is. For those who want an electric grinder for an occasional cup of coffee, but perhaps are less fussed about the accuracy and consistency of the coffee taste from cup to cup – or for those on a tight budget – these are fine. Some blade grinders attempt to give some control over grind size, often these just grind for a pre-set time depending upon the granularity selected.
Burr grinders usually use slowly (at least slower than blade grinders) rotating serrated grinding plates or assemblies. They are usually more expensive (and some are way more expensive) than blade grinders. Burr grinders are designed to deliver a more even, predictable and consistent grind and many (if not most) burr grinders feature size control, so you can calibrate the grind to suit your personal taste, and the intended use for the ground bean (fine for Espresso, coarser for French Press, etc).
There are, actually, two main sub-types of burr grinder – flat and conical – each having their supporters. Type, size and speed of the grind blades are important factors, as they determine how much noise the grinder makes, but also (like the blade grinder) the generated heat can transfer to the coffee. Some blades can be wide, so the outside of the blade is travelling faster and therefore hotter. Some blades apply a crush to the bean, whilst some apply more of a cutting action. Some people prefer a cut bean, which some say a crushed bean better preserves the aroma and flavour.
Generally (and I predict I will get heated comments on this!), conical burr grinder are preferred as they are slower, more controllable, stay cooler and also quieter. But they are often more expensive.
Ironically, because blade grinders must run at high speed, it means that the lowest-cost hand-powered grinders are usually burr grinders although they are often more basic, not allowing grind calibration for example.
So, by way of a quick summary – if you occasionally drink regular-style coffee and are not concerned about the accuracy of taste, then a blade grinder will probably be fine. If you want a low-cost burr grinder, then you can beef up your arm muscles with a hand powered grinder. You can find conical burr grinders for under £70 (at time of writing).
For connoisseur coffee drinkers, then burr grinder are preferred. For those that are less concerned about cost (given many of these folk are likely to have an expensive Espresso machine and buy specialist beans), the conical burr grinders are best, in my humble opinion! (let the comments begin…).
What grinders are available out there?
Of course, there are many companies eager to sell you a grinder. We are deliberately looking at more affordable grinders here.
There are a number of manual grinder to choose from, and cookshops and the like will have their versions – and some will be artisan brands but many unknown. For hand grinders, you might like to look at this Hario Coffee Mill, which features an internal grind adjuster mechanism.
For an electric blade coffee grinder then we spotted a De’Longhi unit -model KG40 which has a capacity of 90g, a powerful motor (170W), and it includes a cleaning brush, which addresses an important issue of cleaning old grind from the machine.
Their next model up (also a blade grinder) is the De’longhi KG49 which adds some grind granularity control (i.e. coarse, medium, fine). This works by illuminating a light when the selected grind size has been reached for the volume of beans selected. This is only about £5 more expensive than the KG40.
Factors that we consider
If you don’t have a generous budget, and like a cathartic experience, then take a look at hand powered grinders. If you just want get the job done quickly for an occasional coffee – or you have a tight budget – then opt for a blade grinder. If you need more control over the grind and have a bigger budget, then a conical burr grinder would be a good choice.
The factors we have looked at here are the volume of beans processed, motor power, type (blade or burr), cut type (cut or crush), and selectable granularity are important factors that we looked for. Note that lower cost grinders may get hot and require cooling-off time.
Again, you can spend a fortune on a consumer grinder (over £1,000). We are listing below some of the more affordable grinders targeted more at the volume market. Of those, the De’longhi KG40 (blade grinder) or the Bodum 10903 (conical burr) would be top of our list in this category.