In Depth: Burr Coffee Grinders
You do not just drink coffee, you live it, you breath it (seriously, you have coffee breath, go get a mint) and you experience it. If you are in search of ways to enhance your coffee or espresso brewing experience, the quickest and most profound step you can take is purchasing a burr coffee grinder. While blade grinders get the job done, burr grinders will take your coffee to the next level. In my coffee obsessed mind, I like to think about coffee grinders in three levels of enlightenment. Level 1: the discovery that fresh ground coffee (usually with a supermarket bought blade grinder) is so much better than the pre-ground stuff. Level 2: wait a minute; there are two different types of coffee grinders? Level 3: Whoa, burr coffee grinders are like their own little coffee universe, I never knew there are so many features and options amongst them!
The purpose of this article is to explore the 3rd Level of Coffee Grinder Enlightenment. Where blade coffee grinders are instruments of blunt force, burr coffee grinders are sharp and efficiently engineered machines. Yes, there blades cut and grind the coffee fast and violently, however their touch is masterful. With a burr grinder you are guaranteed to a get a uniform and even grind. There are basically 4 varieties or feature categories of burr grinders to choose from. Deciding which burr coffee grinder features are right for you is a matter of deciding which brewing methods are part of your lifestyle and your coffee grinder can best enhance your brewing style.
Category 1: Motor Speeds of Burr Coffee Grinders
Burr coffee grinders are available with either a high speed or low speed motor. With low speed motors, you have two options in motor function to choose from:
- High Speed: Burr grinders with a high speed motor are great option for those who want the consistency and quality of a burr grind but are also on a budget. Priced similar to high-end blade grinders, high speed burr grinders use a small motor working at a high rate of speed. Because the beans are ground at such a high rate of speed, there is some heat transfer which potentially will affect the flavor of your coffee. The less heat the bean is exposed to, the better.
- Low Speed: Burr grinders with a low speed motor that grinds as effectively thanks to its powerfully motor are preferred to high speed motor burr grinders if your budget allows. They transfer less heat to the bean, are quiet, and because they move at a slower rate you do not run the risk of static build up which causes your coffee grounds to jump out of their holder when you finish grinding.
- Gear Reduction: An option in the low speed motor category, gear reduction motors on burr coffee grinders posses a small, low cost motor that would normally run and be similar to those found in the high speed burr coffee grinds except for the fact that it is attached to gears which harness the power generated by the speed while slowing it down at the same time. This method allows for a strong motor that will not get clogged.
- Direct Drive: The most expensive and of course the best of all burr coffee grinders, direct drive motors are low speed and extremely powerful. The motor and the wheel that cuts the coffee beans turn at simultaneous speeds. Extremely quiet and incapable of producing static electricity, direct drive burr grinders produce a truly exceptional grind.
Category # 2: Dosing Burr Grinders and Non-Dosing Burr Grinders
Besides being equipped with varying types of motors, burr coffee grinders are available in either a dosing or non-dosing format. Dosing basically means the measurement of ground coffee.
If you purchase a burr grinder with a doser, your coffee will grind in units of 7 grams which is the recommended amount for a single shot of espresso. Dosing burr grinders achieve this feat because of their unique design which is made up of a round compartment towards the front of the grinder and is divided into equal pie shaped pieces. This compartment catches the coffee grinds as they fall from the grinder. The ground coffee reaches your chosen filter such as a portafilter, through a hole at the bottom of the compartment. The coffee falls through this hole only when you pull a lever. It usually takes about three pulls to get two shots worth of coffee grinds into your chosen receptacle. Dosing grinders are designed to dispense the right amount of coffee straight into a portafilter so they work well for people who are brewing with an espresso maker.
Non-dosing grinders or doserless grinders are great for people who plan on brewing with multiple methods other than espresso makers. This is due to the fact that after grinding, the coffee grounds are not dumped into individual sections but rather into a catcher which is removable. From here, you can dispense your perfectly ground beans into anything such as a French press carafe, paper filter, or a portafilter. While slightly more messy than a doser, they definitely offer more brewing flexibility.
Category #3: Stepped or Non-Stepped Adjustment Option
Additional options available on your burr coffee grinder include stepped or non-stepped. Basically, stepped burr coffee grinders come with manufacturer designed settings for different grind coarseness where non-stepped burr coffee grinders come with no pre-set grinding options and leave the coarseness of the grind completely in your hands.
Stepped Burr Coffee Grinders
Stepped adjustments on burr coffee grinder's lock-in manufacturer determined grind settings so they do not reset themselves after use. There are two different types of stepped burr coffee grinders: self-holding and lever release. With self-holding stepped burr grinders, you turn a knob to adjust the grind setting to the coarseness you want. As you turn the knob, you will hear clicks which represent one pre-set coarseness level to the next.
Lever Release stepped burr grinders require you to push down and turn (almost like a child proof medicine bottle) to adjust grind fineness. You will not hear a click like you do with the self-holding mechanism. Instead, when you let go of the release lever you are turning it will lock into the setting you most recently passed as you turned.
Non-Stepped Burr Coffee Grinders
Non-stepped burr coffee grinders have no pre-set manufacturer grinding settings and allow you complete control when determining the size of your grind. With the use of a lever or a hopper, you simply turn the bean hopper to find the setting that is right for your brew. While the non-stepped burr grinder may make it easy to forget where exactly you set the grinder a week ago when you had a perfectly brewed espresso, the machine gives you total control and has a few markings or clicks to guide you along the way.
Category #4: Flat Plate and Conical Burr Grinders
Burr coffee grinders possess a grinding head that is either flat or cone shaped. Flat burr grinders known as flat plate burrs, are found on all types of grinder no matter motor speed or step. Cone shaped or conical burrs are usually found on low speed and gear reduction grinders. Both flat plate and conical burrs work equally well and it is just a matter of your grinder's design.