Last Updated on February 18, 2022 by John Moretti
Possibly the most controversial aspect of coffee hardware and a massive bone of contention to millions of coffee aficionados globally is the issue of burr vs. blade when talking grinders and the discussions can get very heated indeed. The dictionary definition of ‘grind’ is to reduce (something) to small particles or powder by crushing it between two surfaces.
Simply put, a blade grinder cannot grind. Instead, it spins at high speed like a fan or propellor, smashing the coffee beans into uneven pieces, resulting in zero consistency in the brew. A burr grinder is the only choice if you intend to use an espresso machine or Pour-Over effectively.
Consistency might just be the essential aspect of your coffee walk, which applies to the beans, milk (if required), temperatures, brew times, and more. Indeed, the time when so much can go wrong is when you have placed the freshly ground beans into the portafilter, and the hot water is filtering through the ground beans into the cup.
If there is inconsistency in the grind, the puck will not be evenly compressed. There is no chance of the water filtering through evenly, resulting in a poorly pulled shot that will probably be under-extracted. This is because the water will not spend enough time in contact with the grinds to absorb enough flavor and flow through far too quickly.
Attempts to lengthen the time of the shot will be doomed to failure in most cases, as more water does not mean more flavor, and for a great shot of coffee, the water must spend the correct time in contact with the grinds. Too quick, and there is minimal flavor, but too slow, and it is over-extracted and tastes like a dirty ashtray.
As alluded to, it’s not the size of the particles from the blade grinder that create the biggest problem, but the inconsistency. Some particles may be powder-like in size, whereas others are ten times (or more) that size. An espresso machine might become blocked if too fine a size is used, and the effort expended to sift the sizes apart is not viable.
Unfortunately, most of our older generation was brought up to trust packaging, and if a box stated that the contents were ‘X’ or ‘Y,’ we would believe it, hence our acceptance of the word ‘grinder’ attached to these units. Younger folk are thankfully not as gullible, largely thanks to the various search engine options, and are a lot more discerning.
A blade grinder is usually a small unit with two blades that extend from the center outward in a bowl roughly the size of a man’s fist. There is one switch for off and on, and nothing that allows variable speed control, and nothing that can adjust the size of the particles.
High-speed spinning blades tend to heat the beans and cause static problems as the grinds build up a static charge. They attach themselves to anything they can, creating more mess than necessary.
This unit is unsuitable for any coffee preparation where the water drops through the grounds, either by gravity or under pressure. It can be used for a French Press or Drip (Filter) Coffee pot if nothing else is available, but there will be a noticeable drop-off in taste from all other methods.
I have heard the argument that it is better to use a blade grinder than to buy pre-ground coffee and use that, but as your coffee tastes and knowledge expand, you will see that neither is a good option for a beautiful shot of ‘Joe.’
Even when ground with a top-drawer burr grinder and stored in an airtight bag, the grounds from a store were not ground for your specific espresso machine, and yes, that can make a huge difference. However, I would prefer to take my chances with pre-ground coffee from a trusted vendor than use a blade grinder, but that’s my standpoint.
No coffee lover would disagree that, cost aside, a burr grinder is the only way to go if you get involved in the finer points of coffee production, either at home or in an industrial setting. They certainly cost more – often far more – than the bladed version, but the difference in performance and resultant grind is staggering.
Any decent burr grinder will have several options regarding the grind size, from small particles to larger ones. Many will offer three to five or even seven options, with just a click of a wheel or lever changing the grind particle size. Once set, the grind will remain consistent for the life of the burrs.
This is vital in coffee brewing as it gives you an incredible amount of control of the result. Hot days will require a different particle size, perhaps, to a cold, wet night, and the size can be easily adjusted.
A burr wheel usually turns around a second burr wheel in a grinder, and this happens far more slowly than one might expect. The reasons for this are twofold – control over the grind and avoidance of heat entering the grinding chamber, which may change the characteristics of the bean. Sounds nuts?
Like wine, coffee is a highly complex drink that entices your taste buds and olfactory senses with gentle notes of fruits, chocolate, herbs, flowers, and much more. Some believe it is even more complex than wine, creating new and exciting challenges for you, and bodes well for your palate. (OK, we coffee folk are a little nuts!)
As with most things, the more you pay, the longer it will last, and for most folk, this holds true. A busy coffee outlet will change grinders several times in a lifetime, but for home use, one good quality grinder should last you many, many years.
A blade grinder is better than nothing – provided it is used for herbs, chili, chocolate, etc. Coffee beans should only be prepared in a burr grinder, or, if the price is an obstacle, do some research and source a good roaster somewhere in the country. We have many hundreds available to us and have them ship to you weekly or whenever you require an outstanding coffee experience.