how does a burr coffee grinder work

Burr Coffee Grinder (How They Work Explained)

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Have you ever wondered how burr coffee grinder work and why you should have one?

Well, coffee is what we thrive on; having it fresh-ground is a game changer. Pre-ground coffee becomes stale rather quickly. 

To preserve the delicious flavors, best is to grind it prior to brewing whenever possible, and here is where burr grinders come into play.

The primary culprit to ground coffee going stale is oxidation. 

After time and oxygen take their toll, you may end up with a lackluster taste experience. 

Now that is very clear that fresh ground coffee is the way to go, let's move on and find out how a burr coffee grinder work and what exactly it is.

Breville Smart Grinder Pro Coffee Bean Grinder, Brushed Stainless Steel, BCG820BSS, 2.3
Breville Smart Grinder Pro Coffee Bean Grinder, Brushed Stainless Steel, BCG820BSS, 2.3
Grind directly into portafilter, grinds container, gold tone filter basket or paper filter

Last update on 2023-11-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What Is A Burr Grinder?

A burr grinder is a tool, coffee enthusiasts and professional baristas usually use to achieve a freshly ground and brewed coffee experience. It creates a uniform consistency in the grinds that give it a taste with just the right amount of flavor extraction.

There are two main types of burr grinders:

  • Flat burr grinders
  • Conical burr grinders

Burr vs. Blade Grinder

Just a quick look at blade grinders as well before going further with the burr grinders.

The main difference between burr and blade grinders is the grind quality of the beans.

The vast majority of coffee enthusiasts prefer the Burr Grinders due to the consistency of the grind.

Blade grinders simply do not offer this level of uniformity, and  the coarseness produced by this type of grind may affect the taste. Also, when using a blade there is more production of “boulders,” or large pieces of grind.

Breville BCG600SIL Dose Control Pro Coffee Bean Grinder, Silver
Breville BCG600SIL Dose Control Pro Coffee Bean Grinder, Silver
60 precise grind settings from the finest Espresso to the coarsest French Press Grind

Last update on 2023-11-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Flat Burr Grinders Vs. Conical Burr Grinders

  • Flat burr grinders work by grinding coffee beans between two flat rings with serrations to a uniform size. The rings face each other on the serrated side and rotate in opposite directions as a means of grinding. The beans are dropped into the top of the grinder and pulverized. After this process, they drop again to the bottom of the grinder and are ready for use.
  • Conical burr grinders do the same, but with cone-shaped burrs. You drop the beans into the top of the grinder, angling downward of the cone while crushed and ground against the force of the stationary and moving burr.

Both burr grinders will produce the fresh flavor desired of the most discerning coffee drinker as they create the consistent particle sizes required.

However, those of a particular taste may want to pay attention to their choices closely.

Conical burr grinders tend to produce slightly inconsistent ground sizes, which is key to creating the conventional taste of espresso. This essentially leads to a flavor imbalance when producing espresso with a conical burr.

With a flat burr grinder, grounds end up being finer, forcing whomever is making the drink to pull longer shots with their espresso.

A longer shot allows for more flavor to be enjoyed. For the espresso lover, the options for creativity are varied with this method of grind.

Flat burr grinders in general retain more grounds than conical burrs.

This is important as it can affect the amount of beans bought and consumed. It can also affect the flavor of one’s brew.

how does a burr coffee grinder work

Which One to Use?

Professional baristas and coffee enthusiasts agree that conical burr grinders are easier to clean and retain less grounds than flat burrs. Because they ground the beans at an angle, they are less apt to stay within the serrations of the blade and thus have less of an effect upon flavor and use of beans. Another theory states that the type of grinder used depends upon the source and flavor notes of the bean. 

Conical burr grinders are best suited for coffees containing bright, individual flavors, like those of Africa. 

Flat burr grinders usually are a stronger choice for the nutty varieties of South and Central American beans.

It may be of importance to note that the majority of coffee makers with a grinder found in the coffee industry are those of the conical burr variety.  

Conical burr grinders offer greater efficiency because of their shape. They generate less heat while grinding the beans and cost less to produce.

Different Parts of the Burr Grinder

In the image below, on the left is the conical burr. On the right, the flat burr.

The serrated edges of each burr ground the beans.

Typical burr grinders will include a bean hopper, a switch to turn on the grinder if automatic, or a hand crank if manual.

This grinder grounds and deposits the beans into the coffee chamber, ready for use.

how does a burr coffee grinder work

How Does a Burr Coffee Grinder Work?

In short, burr grinders work by pulverizing coffee beans into smaller and smaller particles between two sets of burrs.

This creates finely ground coffee with a relatively consistent particle size.

These fine grinds, coupled with the consistently sized particles, create a flavor experience that lessens the bitterness that can result from over extraction.

Over extraction occurs when large coffee particles extract flavor slowly during the brewing process and small particles extract quickly. 

Burr grinders work using sharp cutting instruments and precision adjustment to grind coffee beans in a consistent manner.

Feed the beans into the top of the grinder. Then two burrs opposite of one another chop the beans up. The beans are broken, then coarsely ground, and finely ground. The two opposing burrs allow the beans to get stuck, forcing them to be broken down.

Burrs can be made of materials such as steel or ceramic. They can also be flat or conical, or a combination of both.

Ceramics are often found in the grinders you would operate manually, or hand grinders.

Steel burrs do not last as long but are cheaper than ceramics and a lot more common.

Check out this great video on the different burr types.

What to Expect In Price

You should also note that with any product, it is best to do your research ahead of time and choose a burr grinder suitable for your own needs.

Price is usually what consumers think of most when making a purchase, and burr grinders are no exception. 

Do be wary of burr grinders promising great results for a great price. 

Burr grinders suited for all budgets do exist. Hario and Javapresse make great hand operated grinder reasonably priced that are available on Amazon.

Also advantageous is that hand-operated grinders can offer their user a better consistency of grind, although this method does sacrifice convenience.

If you want to check out some automatic grinders, we recommend to check out these two popular grinders on Amazon: the Breville Conical Grinder and the Krups Flat Grinder. We have also picked the best quiet coffee grinders in case noise is an issues for you.

Whichever style of burr coffee grinder you choose or what your favorite coffee brew method requires, a fresh flavor will be achieved.  

Although the most discerning drinkers have their opinions of each grinder, both permit a much more memorable experience than pre-ground coffee.

Pros and Cons of Using A Burr Grinder

Using a burr grinder certainly has its advantages.

First, the consistent grind size of your beans will ensure a flavor you can appreciate. You will come to appreciate the flavor of your coffee as it is not over extracted. You can't get the same results with other grinding methods.

Go from stale, pre ground coffee a freshly ground cup made to your own specifications. The grinders come in a variety of features and price points, so cost will not play a role here.

Despite all burr grinders advantages, disadvantages do exist.

For one, beans can be higher in price than pre ground coffee. If you choose to purchase a hand operated burr grinder, you may sacrifice the convenience of an electric model.

The cleaning process for a burr grinder is not difficult but does require more steps than a regular coffee machine to maintain.

Cleaning and Care of Your Grinder

We heard of some grinder owners reporting going a few years before they have to clean their grinder.

We recommend to clean more often to protect the great flavor of your beans, and to ensure a sanitary experience.  Often times a simple grinder brush will do the job. Know what to expect as you select your preferred grinder.

While your beans may continue to be ground consistently during cleanings, excess oils and grounds can build up and affect the taste of your brew.

You should never clean your grinder using water, as the metal parts inside can become corroded. Different methods of cleaning exist depending on your particular grinder.

Some grinders, such as the Jura Caspresso Infinity Conical Burr Grinder, available on Amazon, come with a small brush used to clear away any debris and oil left behind.

How to Clean Your Coffee Grinder

You will need a brush, along with your grinder, a microfiber cloth and grinder cleaning tablets like the Urnex Grindz that you can order from Amazon. 

You also may want to have a can of compressed air and a shop vac nearby.

Before proceeding here is the disclaimer: the instructions we provide can only be meant as a general guide to give you an idea of what to expect. Please be sure to refer to your grinder's own manual for the best possible cleaning instructions.

The Cleaning Process

The primary goal here is to remove any loose debris and clean off as much oil as possible. You will not be tearing apart the grinder, you will just take apart the easily removable pieces, so don't worry.

You start by removing the bean hopper. On the Baratza Encore, for example, you will turn the hopper all the way to the right. On the OXO grinder, however, there is a button that releases the hopper on the back. Wash the hopper with soap and water.

Next, remove the loose pieces from your grinder. Be sure to set them aside so that they do not fly all over the place.

You might even position your grinder over a trash can if available so that you minimize the mess.

Next is the outer burr.

For some grinders, you can lift the burr straight up and out. Others, you may need to turn the burr counter-clockwise and then lift it.

You can then clean the outer burr with a brush.

As previously mentioned, some come with a cleaning brush.

Grinder brushes are available for purchase, and these usually come with extra parts to make the process easier. Brush away the coffee dust and oils and prepare for the next step.

Cleaning Inside

You will now clean the inside of the grinder. You can use a brush to clean here and then shake out the grinder. Compressed air works wonderfully here, or a shop vac too. 

Afterward, you can clean the coffee grounds output by gently knocking the side of the grinder.

Your goal here is to dump as many grounds as you can out of the grind chamber. Now remove the grinds bin and dump those out as well.

Because the grounds do tend to stick to the bin, some find it necessary to use soap and water here.

Now put everything back together by referring back to the initial steps used to take apart the grinder.

Be sure to fit back any rubber gaskets or small parts that may have been taken off. It is important that your outer burr is fitted in properly. 

For the Encore, this means putting on the burr and rotating it until it fits into its spot with little movement. Once this is secure, replace the hopper.

Lastly, use Grindz to finish up. These are food safe tabs you run through your grinder to ensure oils and debris are gone for good. Run them through and when done, discard them.

Check out these two video tutorial for more detailed info on how to clean the OXO and the Baratza grinders.

Final Thoughts

For those seeking the best in freshly made coffee with a unique flavor experience, a burr grinder could be the best idea yet.

Several models exist with varying price points, making this option available to virtually everyone.

Their operation and methods are simple but produce a complex flavor pre-ground coffee cannot match.

By creating uniform particles from coffee beans, quality and taste is more apt to be ideal.

We truly hope this guide on burr coffee grinders can be of help and enjoy your cup!