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What’s The Difference Between Blade and Burr Coffee Grinders?

Three images displaying coffee grinders from the article below including the cuisinart automatic burr mill, the Hario manual burr grinder and the Baratza Encore Conical burr mill.

If you want the best tasting coffee at home that really captures the coffee house experience, you need to grind your own beans. Here’s what you need to know about coffee grinders and our top picks.

Whether you use a drip coffee maker, a French press, or a more artisan coffee experience like a home pour-over coffee setup, the key to the absolute richest cup of coffee is starting with fresh beans, ground at home.

Grinding coffee beans is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your coffee-sipping experience at home so let’s dig in and learn more about the process and the tools.

Why Should I Grind My Coffee Beans?

A person manually grinding coffee beans for his pour over coffee befor estarting his day of work.

Before we jump into the types of grinders and how they operate, you probably wonder why we’d encourage anyone to grind their coffee beans at home. It sounds like extra work, no?

Yes, grinding beans means adding an extra step to your morning routine. However, grinding coffee is more than worth it—and once you take that first sip you’ll be sold.

Why does it matter if you grind your coffee fresh? The flavor of coffee is influenced by the presence of aromatic compounds in the coffee bean. Aromatic compounds are constantly evaporating away from the roasted beans (in fact, if you can smell coffee beans, or anything else for that matter, little scent molecules are leaving the thing you are smelling and drifting to your nose). Given enough time, all the good stuff just drifts away into the ether leaving little for you to enjoy in your cup.

Grinding the coffee beans down into smaller particles increases the surface area of the coffee exponentially and that means more exposed bean for the aromatic compounds to drift away from. When you purchase pre-ground coffee, the grounds have already had ample time exposed to air, which changes the flavor and freshness.

If you’ve purchased ground coffee your whole life, then you might not notice the difference until you’ve sipped on a fresh cup of coffee with freshly ground beans. Grinding them right before brewing a pot will provide the best chance for the maximum number of aromatic compounds to end up in your cup of coffee, which translates to a richer and more flavorful experience.

We recommend sacrificing the convenience of pre-ground so you can get to that fantastic quality flavor you deserve. Now, let’s learn about the types of coffee grinders!

How Do Blade Coffee Grinders Work?

An electric blade grinder with coffee beans in it, displaying the blade throught the beans.
Julie Style/Shutterstock.com

A blade grinder is a small appliance about the size of a large can of soup that features a simple double-pronged blade within the bottom chamber. The blade spins quickly at one speed like a flat-blade blender and smashes up any beans in the chamber.

These simple grinders typically feature one button that provides the same function; blasting the beans down into smaller-sized particles. While blade grinders have reasonable price tags, they don’t provide a consistent grind. A consistent grind is more important than you might think.

When coffee grounds are too coarse, your coffee might taste under-extracted and sour or weak. If the grinds are too fine, your coffee might become overly extracted or taste too strong or even bitter. Coffee brewed with differently sized grounds will result in unbalanced flavors and inconsistent results between brewing sessions.

Some say that grinding in pulses helps achieve a more uniform grind. While that may be true (that pulsing the grinder is superior to just holding down the button) it’s still not ideal. Using a blade grinder is better than not freshly grinding your coffee, but if you are going to go all-in, we suggest moving on to a better-constructed product like a burr grinder.

How Do Burr Coffee Grinders Work?

A conical burr mill displaying the burrs within the grinder, with leftover coffee grounds left behind.
Tony Ton/Shutterstock.com

Burr grinders (aka burr mills) are constructed very differently than blade grinders and made with efficiency and precision in mind. The small device features two revolving burrs that grind a small number of beans into a uniform size. Whether you adjust the grinder for a coarse French press grind or a finer espresso grind, the burr spacing will stay consistent and the individual coffee particles will be uniform.

Uniformity in particle size is what you need for a well-balanced cup because it ensures, whatever brewing method you use, the coffee grounds are equally extracted thanks to their consistent size.

If all that talk of precision makes you suspect burr grinders are more expensive than blade grinders, you’d be correct. Blade grinders can be had for as little as $20 whereas budget burr grinders start at around $50-75, “prosumer” burr grinders can cost $150-300, and premium commercial espresso burr grinders can easily cost $1500!

However, the cost is all relative. A good burr grinder will last you longer and produce a much better pot of coffee. The burrs within the grinder are usually made from ceramic or stainless steel and tend to last much longer than blade grinders. With proper maintenance, you could easily get a lifetime of service out of a burr grinder.

There are two main types of burr mills:

  • Flat Burr Grinder: This design consists of two discs that lay parallel and flat against each other with angled teeth. The distance between the rings or the gap in which grounds fall through determines the size of the grind. The risk of retention (coffee grounds left behind) is slightly higher with flat burrs because coffee is pushed out sideways without the help of gravity. Flat burrs grind well, but you’ll need to keep up on your cleaning routine to avoid ground compaction around the edges of the discs.
  • Conical Burr Grinder: Grinders with a conical burr system feature two burrs that sit inside each other like nesting dolls. The two pieces work together to grind beans and help the particles funnel through the bottom. Conical burrs have the help of gravity to push coffee grinds down, leaving a lower risk of leftover grinds. Conical grinders tend to be a bit quieter, too. They still need routine cleaning like any grinder, but you’ll find they retain fewer grounds than a flat burr grinder.

Although it would be easy to get hung up on the differences between flat and conical burr grinders, there are plenty of quality grinders at a wide variety of price points on the market with both designs. A $500 flat burr grinder is going to outperform a $50 conical grinder so don’t stress too much about picking one over the other.

How Do Manual Coffee Grinders Work?

Someone using a manual coffee grinder to grind coffee beans before brewing coffee.
Akira Kaelyn/Shutterstock.com

You’ve heard all about these electric gadgets, but we mustn’t go on without telling you about manual coffee grinders! That’s right; you can get a morning workout with your hot cup of coffee, too!

These compact grinders are typically held in one hand and cranked with the other to produce relatively uniform-sized grounds. These are especially popular for people who often travel for business or leisure.

Some manual grinders come with rubber bases so you can place them down on the counter and grind without them sliding around. They usually feature multiple setting options for size, and you’ll appreciate how quiet they can b,e too.

The best part about using a manual burr grinder is the cost. Dollar for dollar you are not going to find a better value in the coffee grinder market in terms of the quality of the grind. Almost the entire production cost of the manual grinder goes into the burrs because beyond that the device is just a container with a handle to crank the burrs. There’s no electronics, wiring, motor, or any frills at all.

The Best Coffee Grinders for Every Budget

Whether you plan to shop for your first-ever coffee grinder for your drip maker, or you need a top-notch grinder that’ll provide a fine-sized grind for espresso, we have excellent options to choose from.

Best Overall Grinder: Baratza Encore Conical Burr Grinder

Two images displaying the Baratza encore conical burr grinder in two different angles. The left image is a side view, with a plant and coffee mug in the background and the right image displays a top view with beans being poured in.

The Baratza Encore conical grinder is an excellent first purchase for anyone new to grinding beans. The user-friendly settings mean you won’t have to fuss around with too many buttons. Grinding coffee is already a learning curve when you are new in the game, so having a machine that gets the job done with minimal bells and whistles is nice.

What we love about the machine are the multiple grind settings that you can experiment with. Whether you need a coarse grind for your French press or looking for a finer-sized particle that’ll work for your pour-over, this grinder will get it done.

This popular machine will provide a consistent and uniform grind thanks to the commercial-grade conical burrs. It’s just what you need for daily use and delicious coffee. For anyone that just wants to buy a good grinder that handle anything short of ultra-fine espresso grinding (and will do so for years and years), it is really tough to beat the value of the various Baratza grinders, including the Encore.

Best Overall

Baratza Encore Conical Burr Grinder

A fantastic grinder for first-time buyers, fit for most applications at an excellent price.

Best Grinder Under $100: The Cuisinart Supreme Grind Burr Mill

Two images displaying the Cuisinart Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill in both black and and creme colors.

If you are looking for a grinder with a friendlier price tag, the Cuisinart Supreme Grind Burr Mill is an excellent option. Again this machine is perfect for first-time buyers, as it provides a uniform grind meant for a well-balanced cup of coffee.

The machine comes with 18 grind settings, which will work for most applications. If you need something simple for a standard drip maker, you’re looking at a machine that’ll get the job done.

Best Under $100

Cuisinart Supreme Grind Burr Mill

Excellent grinder for most applications!

Best Manual Grinder: Hario Skerton Plus Ceramic Manual Grinder

An image of the Hario ceramic mill placed over a plastic try with an iced coffee dirnk on the side.

If you are looking for a quieter method (and economical!), the Hario Skerton Plus is a fantastic option that many coffee enthusiasts recommend. The strong grind shaft and burr stabilization plate create a uniform grind, perfect for a full-bodied cup.

You’ll also appreciate the nonslip rubber base, which helps keep the grinder in place while you are working to crush those beans. You’ll enjoy how quiet this little guy is, and the fine-sized particle precision is great for making espresso. In fact if you want to grind espresso-fine on a budget, you cannot beat the Hario Skerton. To approach the same grind quality in an automatic electric grinder, you’d need to spend at least ten times more.

Best Manual Grinder

Hario Skerton Plus Manual Grinder

A great way to get a quiet morning workout before enjoying a well-balanced cup of coffee.

Best Espresso Grinder: Eureka Mignon Notte Espresso Grinder

Two images displaying the Eureka Mignon espresso coffee burr grinder.

If your goal is to make luxuriously rich espresso, then the Eureka Mignon Notte Espresso Grinder is right for you. This one-of-a-kind machine features high-sensitivity burr adjustments making it the perfect device for getting that exact particle size you need.

You’ll love this expertly crafted and well-designed product, handmade and shipped from Florence, Italy. This is a fantastic grinder for coffee enthusiasts with very high standards. With such precise results, you can’t get a better grinder at an unbeatable price.

We will, however, forewarn you that this little guy is quite a noisy fellow. If you want the same grind quality but with very quiet operation, we recommend upgrading to the Eureka Migno SIlenzio—it’s the same grinder but with extensive sound dampening built into the case.

Best For Espresso

Eureka Mignon Notte Espresso Grinder

Achieve that fine grind needed for espresso every time.

Best Blade Grinder: Hamilton Beach Blade Grinder

Two images displaying the Hamilton beach blade coffee grinder.
Hamilton Beach

If you still aren’t sure about grinding your coffee and want to give it a try before spending a lot, feel free to try this inexpensive blade grinder.

While you won’t get a precise grind needed for a balanced brew, it’s still better than purchasing supermarket brands of pre-ground coffee.

It is said to be quieter than other grinders, that’ll grind enough beans for 12 cups of coffee. The durable stainless steel blades should last you enough time before you decide you want an upgrade.

And really, it’s an all-around great purchase because even if you end up getting a burr grinder you can simply repurpose the blade grinder as a spice grinder for cooking. That’s right, grinding your spices fresh offers much better flavor just like grinding your coffee does!

Best Budget

Hamilton Beach Blade Coffee Grinder

Get into the grinding game with an inexpensive blade grinder.

There’s a lot to learn when you start getting into the hobby of coffee brewing like a barista! Once you’ve mastered grinding, you’ll love learning how to make fancy drinks like lattes! 

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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