Understanding Coffee Grinders

Understanding Grinders

The first step towards choosing the right grinder is to understand the different types of coffee grinders available to you. There are two basic methods for grinding coffee beans, the burr and the blade. Beyond that basic description, there are still a lot of differences in the grinders available to the consumer. This guide will help to explain some of the different coffee grinder parts and functions so that you can choose the best grinder for your needs. Understanding coffee grinders vs. espresso coffee grinders is also important. For us to call a coffee grinder an espresso grinder, the grinder needs to do more than just grind fine. An espresso grinder must: grind coffee consistently at the selected fineness, it must allow for small adjustment in coffee particle size to allow the ideal extraction time to be "dialed in, and finally an espresso grinder should facilitate the proper amount of ground coffee.

The Coffee

In the end it all comes down to the coffee. The coffee or espresso you make will be affected by the grinding. Grinding can cause the coffee to pick up heat or static. Heat can affect the oils in the coffee beans thus affecting the final flavor of your beverage. And a static charge can cause the ground coffee to fly out of the grinder the moment you open it or to stick to everything inconvenient. The grinding burrs on your grinder can build up heat as they work. The faster they work and the longer the work will influence the amount of heat build-up. The static charge can be created by the speed of the burrs when coupled with the wrong humidity and temperature. These are factors to consider when choosing the grinder to best suit your needs. Generally speaking, high speed grinders will create more heat and more static charge than most grinders. Low speed grinders will usually produce less static and heat.

The Grind

Depending on how you intend to use the coffee and what equipment you will be using, the size of the grind will differ. You will want to consider your grinding requirements while choosing the perfect grinder for your needs. Are you primarily looking for a very fine, nearly powdery grind to make Turkish style coffee? Will you be making espresso with a commercial style machine using very finely ground coffee or an espresso machine with a crema enhancing device which requires a medium fine grind? Will the coarse grind of drip coffee be your mainstay? Perhaps you only need a very coarse grind for French press style coffee? Once you have an idea of your primary requirements for the size of the grind, you can look at the grinders best suited to that grind.

Burr or Blade

A burr grinder has two cylinders that crush the coffee beans into a consistent size. The size of the grind is controlled by the distance between the cylinders. The flat plate burr grinders have two identical serrated cylinders parallel to one another for crushing the beans. Flat plate burrs are used on a wide variety of grinders. The conical burr grinders have two ridged, cone-shaped burrs for crushing the coffee beans. These are usually found on low-speed gear reduction grinders. With both burr types, one cylinder usually remains stationary during the grinding process. The other cylinder is turned by the motor. The beans are crushed by the burrs into a consistent size. The flexibility and consistent quality of the grind from both types of burr grinders make this type of grinder highly desirable.

The blade grinder works much like a propeller to chop the coffee beans. The longer the grinder operates, the finer the resulting grind will be. Unfortunately, blade grinders are not usually able to grind consistently. Longer grind times for finer ground coffee can cause a build-up of heat. They also tend to impart a static charge, making them very messy.

Grinder Speed

Do you have a need for speed?

The high-speed burr grinder offers speed with control of the grind size and a consist grind. These direct drive grinders have a motor attached directly to the burrs causing the burrs to work at the same rate. This type of grinder only uses flat plate burrs due to the speeds involved. There is still some build-up of heat and static with this grinder type, and the grinder is quite noisy. However, high-speed burr grinders offer good quality with an economical price range.

The low-speed burr grinders

The low-speed burr grinders are the best quality grinders. With these types of grinders, you do not have to worry about static charges or a build-up of heat. They are also generally very quiet to operate. The motor will not clog up with a very fine grind. These low-speed grinders are available in the gear reduction style or the direct drive style.

Gear reduction grinders

Gear reduction grinders work with a set of gears that turn the speed of a high-speed motor into slow-speed burrs with the power to grind without getting bogged down, even on a very fine grind. These machines tend to be a little noisier than the low-speed direct drive style of grinder.

Low-speed direct drive grinders

Low-speed direct drive grinders utilize a low-speed motor attached directly to the burrs, much like the high-speed model. But the low-speed motor gives you the consistent grind with a minimum of static charge and heat. This quality motor will not bog down under a heavy load and is whisper quiet. These grinders are considered the top of the line for home or light commercial use.

To Dose or Not To Dose

One of the many choices you will have to make regarding grinders will be whether you want a dosing or non-dosing grinder. Dosing grinders have a sectioned container that the ground coffee is directed into when you grind the beans. This holds the ground coffee until you pull the lever, dispensing the dose of coffee into your portafilter or other container. Non-dosing grinders simply release the ground coffee directly into your portafilter or other container.

The sectioned container for dosing grinders is divided into six sections of equal size. Most of these containers are designed to hold 6 to 7 grams of ground coffee, which is roughly the amount used for a single shot of espresso. Some models allow you to adjust the amount per section. Although the sections are measured, there is some variation in each grinder, espresso machine, and filter basket. Some adjustments will need to be made by the operator to insure the best possible results. Once you are familiar with your equipment, you should have no problem getting consistent results.

Non-dosing grinders are available in several styles. Some dispense the grounds directly into a portafilter for making espresso. Some have their own coffee grounds container. And others can dispense into either receptacle. Although most of the containers for non-dosing grinders must be removed to reach the ground coffee, some have a door through which you can scoop the coffee.

New to the espresso scene are electronic dosing espresso grinders. These types of coffee grinders grind a pre-set volume, on demand, providing the elegant solution for espresso.

The Adjustment

There are two basic styles for adjusting the grind on these types of coffee grinders. The stepped adjustment style tends to be the easiest to learn and manipulate. The stepless adjustment style is usually better for the espresso connoisseur looking for the ability to make minute adjustments.

The Stepped Adjustment Style

Grinders using the stepped adjustment style will fall into two basic categories, the self-holding type and the lever release type. With the self-holding type, you will notice a "click" as you turn the hopper or adjustment knob that locks the setting into place. Each click equals a level of fineness of the grind. Gaggia, Saeco, and Capresso usually use this type of stepped adjustment.

The lever release type of stepped adjustment has a release lever that you press down while turning the hopper. When the lever is released, it will lock the setting into place. The Rancilio and Pasquini grinders often feature this lever release stepped adjustment.

The Stepless Adjustment Style

Because there are no locked settings on a stepless type of grinder, the number of settings can be infinite. This makes fine tuning the grind more easily controlled with the minute adjustments obtainable. One potential difficulty with the stepless adjustment grinder is the difficulty of adjusting from a very fine to a very coarse setting. Broad adjustments are complicated by the lack of reference points on most of the grinders with this type of adjustment. But the fine control is unmatched.


Grinders are built to perform one task, grind coffee beans. The trick is to find the grinder best suited to the coffee you want to brew. Once you have the right grinder, you will find that the results are well worth the effort.

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