Exploring the Differences Between Flat vs Conical Burr Grinder Coffee
Work, sports, or eating stuff: we all have our obsessions. Mine is coffee (and eating stuff).
To the suburban dwellers ordering a “venti, extra whip, skinny caramel frappuccino” at Starbucks, the nuances of coffee are about as imperceivable as their mounting credit card debt. But for you – the exceptional coffee enthusiast – there is no consideration too small. Yet, the difference in the flat burr grinder vs. conical burr grinder debate might be about as insignificant as “aluminum” vs. “aluminum.”
Today we will measure just how far the flat and the conical burr grinders stand apart and see if it does make a difference for your brew.
Flat burr grinders offer more control and are better suited for cafes, commercial uses, or serious espresso brewing.
The Importance of Grind Consistency
The coffee-passionate are not the best at separating opinion from fact and have been known to regard their “taste” as a tool of impartial scientific discovery. Yet we, as passionate coffee devotees, deserve better than the speculations of the self-professed, so let’s get to the facts.
If you’d like a quick rundown on a flat burr grinder and a conical burr grinder, check out this geeky but hugely informative video breakdown.
If you are currently switching from a blade to a burr grinder, you are well-versed in the importance of grind consistency. This is naturally one of the first questions anyone should have in the debate between flat burr and conical burr, and it is, unsurprisingly, one of the most important.
Burr-style grinders are your best opportunity to get the most out of a coffee because they create similar-sized particles.
The Difference in Particle Size
The difference between the grounds from a flat burr and those from a conical burr would be imperceivable to the naked eye. Yet, subject those grounds to the scrutiny of a microscope, and another story begins to unfold. A conical burr grinder will produce grounds of two large and small particle sizes. This particle size distribution holds even under the finest grind setting on a conical burr.
These are the teeth of a conical burr grinder (the Baratza Encore, to be exact)
On the other hand, a flat burr grinder produces a remarkably even particle size, meaning that all the grounds are highly uniform. For this reason, flat burrs are generally more expensive than conical burrs. Although you may be quick to conclude that this alone elevates the flat burr higher than the conical burr, you’d be hasty.
The dual-size grounds from a conical burr, known as a bimodal grind, are necessary for a conventional espresso recipe. The smaller particles restrict the water flow, allowing for more excellent saturation of the larger particles. The even particle distribution of a flat burr grinder forces a barista to grind slightly finer than with a conical burr grinder or to pull longer shots.
Comparing Flat vs Conical Burr Grinder: Which is Right for You?
The Importance of Grind Consistency and Grinder Waste
Though achieving a standard espresso pull with flat burr grounds may be more challenging, the ability to pull longer shots allows you to “break the mold” and get creative with your espresso recipes.
Here’s a flat burr grinder – Source. Another significant consideration in this debate is waste. When you brew for perfection, you understand that every tiny ground counts. Unfortunately, the flat burr grinder doesn’t understand this concept as well as the conical burr grinder.
A conical burr is easier to clean, produces consistent flavor without as much cleaning, and wastes fewer grounds.
Contamination Issues with Flat Burr Grinders
A direct consequence of the flat burr grinder’s shape is that some grounds will become trapped in the submarine. Depending on how regularly you clean your grinder, these trapped grounds could contaminate other batches and (ever so slightly) throw off the flavor of your brew. Conical burr grinders, because floors flow straight down, do not suffer from this problem.
Considering Cost, Noise, and Heat
There are a few more minor aspects to remember when comparing flat and conical burr grinders. Although these won’t affect your brew as much as the previous two, they are still essential to remember.
On average, conical burrs cost less than flat burr grinders. You could easily find a high-quality conical burr grinder, like the Baratza Virtuoso, for less than half the price of a high-quality flat burr grinder. The mechanism in a conical burr, like the motor (which I will address) and the burr machinery, is much simpler than a flat burr, allowing for a lower price tag.
Conical burr grinders generally run at a lower RPM than flat burr grinders, which need a higher RPM to ensure all the beans are forced into the grinding chamber and out the sides. Because conical burrs don’t require as high an RPM as flat burrs, they don’t need as powerful a motor. A less powerful engine directly translates to less noise. Conicals are often much quieter than their fast-paced siblings, well-known for their hair-raising, high-pitched whine.
Like noise, conical burrs also produce considerably less heat than flat burrs. Lower RPMs mean less friction and less heat buildup between the burrs. Because the oils in your coffee beans are delicate and vulnerable to drastic temperature changes. So, until you begin to brew, it’s best to avoid heat as much as possible to save all those delicious flavors and aromas for your cup.
Making the Decision
Though these last few points may seem to favor conical burr grinders over flat burr grinders, the first two, grind consistency and grinder waste, are the most important in your brew. Flat burr grinders are noisier, hotter, and pricier than conical burr grinders, yet they churn out a much more consistent grind.
Grind consistency can most dramatically impact the quality of your coffee. However, flat burrs trap more waste than conical burrs, which could slip out in later grinds and kill the freshness.
To make it simple: a flat burr grinder will require much maintenance and attention, while a conical burr grinder will never break out of that conventional espresso mold.
The Subtle Differences in Burr Grinders: A Consumer’s Perspective
The difference between a flat and a conical burr grinder is minutiae. If you compare a quality conical to a quality flat burr grinder, clean and in good working condition, the subtle differences in grind freshness and consistency would be barely noticeable. However, a good conical burr grinder still wins the race!
FAQs – Flat vs Conical Burr Grinder
1. Does a burr grinder make a difference?
Yes, a burr grinder makes a difference. This type of grinder allows you to change the distance between the burrs so you have more control over your grind size. They also achieve more consistent grounds when compared to other grinders.
2. How long do coffee grinders last?
Coffee grinders (quality ones) can last between 1000 – 1500 pounds of coffee. The life expectancy of a hero also depends on the type of coffee and grind size and the degree of roast, etc., you chuck into it. A good indicator that it’s time to change the burrs is when you notice the grinder is struggling to grind coarse.
3. What burr grinder is the best?
The best burr grinder produces precise and consistent grounds through slow grinding/crushing power while keeping it down – in our humble opinion, these grinders are the best.