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What is a Coffee Grinder & What is It used for?

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A Coffee grinder is a tool that grinds your coffee beans at home, helping to extract the maximum taste and fragrance for your morning cup of joe.

These are super popular pieces of equipment, so as you might expect, there’s a lot of choice out there.

My experience with coffee has led me to learn a lot about the different types of coffee, so in today’s article, I’m passing that information onto you.

We’re going to be learning about the following subjects today:

So let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Conical burr coffee grinders are the most popular type 
  • Coffee grinders aren’t essential, but highly recommended
  • Different coffee grinders are recommended for different types of coffee 
  • You can spend between $10 and $10,000 on a coffee grinder
  • The main benefit of a coffee grinder is fresher tasting and smelling coffee

What is a coffee grinder used for?

As the name suggests, a coffee grinder is a device used for grinding your coffee beans. 

The main benefit of this is that your coffee will be as fresh as it can possibly be. The beans lock in aroma and taste and this will be released the moment you grind them. 

Pre-ground coffee will generally not offer as strong a flavor as freshly ground coffee beans at home. 

It’s actually a little more complicated than just choosing whether to buy coffee beans or freshly ground coffee though. There are many different types of coffee grinders, so let’s find out about a few of them. 

Coffee grinderPriceLongevityGrind finesseBest for
Flat burr$$$Very goodFine (more control)Pros
Conical burr$$Good/very goodFineAny
Blade$Not so goodNot so fineBeginners
Smart$$$$$VariesAnyAny
Single dose $$VariesN/APros

What’s the difference between a flat burr and a conical burr coffee grinder?

To understand what flat burr and conical burr coffee grinders do, we first need to understand what a ‘burr’ actually is’.

The burr is the main mechanism that cuts up or grinds the beans. In the case of both of these grinders, the beans will be crushed into a fine powder, just like the powder you get in pre-ground coffee from the supermarket.

The key difference between a flat burr and a conical burr is the shape. Conical burr coffee grinders have two burrs: an inside burr in the shape of a cone that spins and a stationery outside burr. 

On the flip side, a flat burr is… well, flat, as the name suggests. A coffee grinder with this type of burr will have teeth that grind up the beans themselves.

Which is better? Conical or flat burr coffee grinders?

Well, that’s down to personal opinion. But really, neither is strictly ‘better’ than the other. They’re both as easy as one another to use and they both output a similar refinement of beans.

Many coffee geeks prefer a flat burr though, as it often grinds coffee to a finer degree. They argue that this makes the coffee more suitable for espresso. You could, in theory, get more aroma and taste out of a finer powder.

Take this with a pinch of salt though. How fine you want your coffee to be depends on which kind of coffee it is. You can learn more about how much to grind up each type of coffee in this article

Plus, the conical burr coffee grinder is probably the most popular type of coffee grinder in the world today. And that’s generally because it’s cheaper than a flat burr coffee grinder. 

Conical burr coffee grinders are great for more experienced users and beginners alike, so they’re pretty much the industry standard.

How about a blade coffee grinder?

The blade grinder is one type of coffee grinder that doesn’t use burrs. Instead, this coffee grinder uses a blade in the middle that spins round and slices up the beans.

It’s a little like a home blender in that sense, except on a much smaller scale. However, some might say that the scale is not small enough. The key criticism of this type of grinder is that it leaves uneven coffee grounds, and that might not be ideal.

The problem with uneven coffee grounds is that the coffee doesn’t brew to the same level of quality as a very fine ground. Smaller grounds tend to taste more bitter than larger ones so a mix of both could result in a confusing tasting cup of coffee!

What’s the benefit of this type of coffee grinder then? Well, speed is one of them. It’ll be a lot quicker to grind up a bag of coffee beans with a blade coffee grinder than either of the burr ones we just looked at. 

As well as this, blade grinders can work out to be a fair bit cheaper. So if you’re not too worried about the impact on taste, this could still be a good option for you.

What do smart coffee grinders do differently?

These days, we’re living in a world of smart technology that has broken into the coffee grinder world in recent years. Now, more and more people are buying smart coffee grinders.

First, I need to stress something: a smart coffee grinder isn’t another type of grinder in the way of how it grinds the beans. It simply helps automate the process of grinding your beans.

Smart coffee grinders can grind with a blade or a burr. But they go one step further than traditional coffee grinders by using sensors, scales and other technology to make sure you get the perfect grind.

You can set up your smart coffee grinder to make the perfect espresso, French press or filter at the touch of a button. 

Some functions that can be controlled are the grind level, grind time, number of coffee shots to produce, and more. 

Of course, the actual controllable parameters of a coffee grinder depends on which one you get, and they vary drastically in terms of features and price. 

But if you want to get things absolutely perfect on your next coffee grind, a smart coffee grinder could be a good option for you. Just be aware that it’s going to cost quite a bit more than a traditional coffee grinder.

How does a single dose coffee grinder work?

Instead of grinding up a whole bunch of beans in one go, you can grind just one dose for your morning brew with a single dose coffee grinder.

A single dose coffee grinder will help you weigh out the right amount of beans for a single cup of coffee and then only grind that. This way, you can have the freshest cup of coffee every time you want one. You won’t ever have to worry about your coffee becoming stale this way. 

Single dose coffee grinding is a very popular technique. You’re likely to see it in most coffee shops in the US right now. If you like, you can do it at home as well. 

It hasn’t always been like this though. Single dose coffee grinding has only become very popular in the past few years, but I can totally see why. It could be a good time to get in on the hype…

What’s the difference between a coffee grinder and a French press?

Coffee grinders are used for grinding the coffee then a French press is one way of converting the ground coffee into a nice hot cup.

I can understand why the terms might be a little confusing but they’re used to describe completely different parts of the coffee brewing process.

To use a French press, pour your ground coffee into a pot with a perfectly fitting sliding filter. After stirring it, you’d place the lid on, wait a few minutes before pressing the filter down to remove the grounds, and then pour a delicious cup of coffee.

This is a really affordable and easy way to make your coffee at home. It’s a lot more popular in Europe than a standard coffee machine like we tend to have here in the US. 

If you want to do things the European way (and save some money on your next purchase), I recommend picking up a French press to work alongside your coffee grinder. 

My coffee grinder buying guide

Ready to buy your new coffee grinder and elevate your home brewing experience? Here are a few things to think about before you do so.

Once you’ve read through this, make sure to check out my guide to the best coffee grinders. Here, I’ve recommended some of my favorites, covering different preferences.

Whether you actually need a coffee grinder in the first place 

Generally, I’d recommend a coffee grinder for all coffee fans, whether you’re a cafe owner or just a big fan of drinking good coffee at home.

Grinding your beans fresh really does enhance the flavor as long as you do it in the right way and with the right equipment.

This all being said, buying delicious, fresh ground coffee at the supermarket is still possible. This can actually be a better option if you don’t want to dedicate yourself to learning how to grind coffee in the right way.

Your budget

Be sure to consider how much you actually want to spend. You could get a cheap coffee grinder for as little as $10-$15 but they can go up to thousands of dollars for the most professional devices. 

If your budget is particularly high, you could also consider the smart coffee grinder we discussed just now. This is a pretty cool way to make sure you get the perfect grind each time. 

I’d generally recommend avoiding spending too little as cheap coffee grinders can be awkward and easily damaged.

As a general rule of thumb, $50 or so is a good starting point, but you’ll need to spend at least a couple of hundred to get a professional-level grinder.

The type of coffee you drink

Each type of coffee is suited to a particular level of grind. So, make sure to get the right coffee grinder for the type of coffee beans you generally like to buy.

For coffee that requires a finer blend, it’s better to get a burr grinder. For other coffee, it could be better to get a blade grinder.

Espresso requires a particularly fine blend, so you’re going to want to avoid a blade coffee grinder if this is what you’re looking to make

On the other hand, you can still brew French press coffee with a less fine grind, so a blade coffee grinder could still work for this.

How much coffee you drink

If you’re a real coffee addict, you may wish to think about opting for a grinder that lasts longer. The lifespan of a coffee grinder varies dramatically, so make sure to look this up while you go to buy a grinder.

For example, a flat or conical burr coffee grinder will grind 500 lbs of coffee in its life on average. That works out to around 20,000 cups of coffee. So, you could make around 5 cups of coffee per day for 10 years this way.

When you look at it like that, you’re set for a very long time with a burr coffee grinder if you’re just looking to make coffee at home.

Consider the brand

If you buy a coffee grinder from a more established brand, you’ll be able to guarantee a certain level of quality, warranty and customer support:

Here are a few examples to look out for:

  • Krups
  • Smeg
  • KitchenAid
  • Sage
  • Barista & Co.

How to clean your coffee grinder at home

Cleaning your coffee grinder can be a real headache, especially if you use it a lot. But don’t worry, I have a few tips that will help you out. 

Here are the steps to clean my conical burr coffee grinder at home. It should work for a flat burr one as well

  1. Wipe down the hopper: Empty any leftover beans out after you’ve unplugged the grinder then wipe out the inside.
  2. Dismantle the grinder and soak each piece: Remove each part of the grinder then leave it to soak in hot, soapy water for a while before cleaning then drying.
  3. Wipe down the burrs and leave to dry: Give those burrs a good clean then leave them to dry before putting your coffee machine back together.

Of course, the steps might vary if you have a blade coffee grinder. With one of these, try these steps instead:

  1. Put rice in your grinder and run it: It might sound silly, but filling your grinder with uncooked rice will help to soak up the coffee oils and keep it clean. 
  2. Try it one more time: Repeating the process with clean rice will help you to make sure you get every bit of stubborn oil out of there.
  3. Empty it and wipe down the blades: Clean your whole grinder with hot, soapy water and then rinse it. Make sure to pay particular attention to the blades for this part. 

With either type of coffee grinder, you should only have to clean it every couple of weeks. This depends on how much you use it though. 

You can find out more about cleaning a coffee maker in this article.

Is it possible to grind coffee without using a grinder?

Technically, it is possible to grind your coffee with a food blender or even by hand if you use a pestle and mortar, for example.

However, I really do recommend going for a coffee grinder if you want to grind your coffee beans at home. 

Any alternative that’s not suited to the task is likely to result in a pretty bad cup of coffee. Or, it could be a long and tedious process that just isn’t worth it. Because at that point, you might as well have just bought some ground coffee at the store. 

FAQ: Coffee grinders at home

There’s a surprising amount to learn in the world of coffee grinders! Here are a few more pieces of useful information about them.

What’s the difference between a coffee grinder and a coffee mill?

A coffee mill prepares the beans slightly differently from a grinder, slicing them into tiny pieces instead of grinding them. Technically, the blade coffee grinder we looked at earlier on is a type of coffee mill more so than a grinder. 

Do coffee machines come with a built-in coffee grinder?

There are a lot of different types of coffee machines out there, and most of them don’t actually come with a built-in coffee grinder.

But, combo devices out there if you do want one. They can be a little expensive though, so it might be better to keep things separate. 

How often will I need to replace my coffee grinder?

The answer to this question really depends on the type of coffee grinder you’ve selected and the quality of it.

For example, a burr coffee grinder should be able to grind 500 lbs of coffee or more in its lifespan, but you’ll find some that last a lot longer or shorter than this. 

500 lbs works out to around 20,000 cups of coffee on average. This could make you roughly 5 cups of coffee per day for 10 years!

Last thoughts on coffee grinders 

Getting a coffee grinder is a fundamental tool if you’re looking for the best coffee flavor in your home or coffee shop. It’s really going to unlock the next level of your coffee making experience.

My favorite type of coffee grinder is the conical burr grinder. But that’s just my opinion, and I believe it’s worth taking the time to work out which one is going to be best for you. 

With all the information in this article (especially the coffee grinder buying guide!), you’ll be in a prime position to find the right coffee grinder for you. 

Enjoy your upgraded coffee experience!

Now that you’ve learned about coffee grinders, why not find out more about grinding coffee in general in this article?

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Author

Tim Lee is, as you might have guessed the founder of TimsCoffee.com. He is a former barista and a professional web publisher. He has now combined his knowledge and expertise in both subjects to create TimsCoffee.com.
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