Flat vs Conical Burr Grinder – Am I Being a Pedantic Coffee Snob? - HOMEGROUNDS
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The Flat vs Conical Burr Grinder – Defining the Differences 

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, an exceptional coffee enthusiast, there is no consideration too small.

Yet, when it comes to the flat burr grinder vs. conical burr grinder debate, the difference might be about as insignificant as “aluminium” vs. “aluminum.”

Today we are going to measure just how far the flat and the conical burr grinders stand apart, and see if it really does make a difference for your brew.

Fact vs Fiction

As any microbiologist would say, when dealing in the realm of minutia, qualitative analysis just doesn’t cut it. You have to rely on quantitative, real and tangible and factual evidence to base a claim.

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 what a flat burr grinder and a conical burr grinder are, then check out this geeky but hugely informative video breakdown.

Grind Consistency

If you are currently making the switch from a blade to a burr grinder, then 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.

To the naked eye, the difference between the grounds from a flat burr and those from a conical burr would be imperceivable. 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 particle sizes: large and small. Even under the finest grind setting on a conical burr, this particle size distribution holds true.

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 distribution, meaning that all the grounds are uniform in size.

Although you may be quick to conclude that this alone elevates the flat burr higher than the conical burr, you’d be hasty in your judgement.

The dual size grounds from a conical burr, which is known as a bimodal grind, is necessary for a conventional espresso recipe. The smaller particles restrict the flow of water, allowing for a greater 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.

Though it may be more difficult to achieve a standard espresso pull with flat burr grounds, the ability to pull longer shots allows you to, in a matter of speaking, “break the mold” and get creative with your espresso recipes.

Here's a flat burr grinder - Source

Grinder Waste

Another big consideration in this debate is waste.

When you brew for perfection you understand that every teeny, tiny ground counts. Unfortunately, the flat burr grinder doesn’t understand this concept as well as the conical burr grinder does.

A direct consequence of the flat burr grinder’s shape is that some grounds will become trapped in the grinder. These trapped grounds could, depending on how regularly you clean your grinder, contaminate other batches and (ever so slightly) throw off the flavor of your brew.

A conical burr, because grounds flow straight down, does not suffer from this problem. Therefore, conical burr grinders are a little easier to clean, can produce consistent flavor without as much cleaning, and waste less than flat burr grinders.

Minor Considerations

There are a few smaller aspects to keep in mind when comparing flat and conical burr grinders. Although these won’t affect your brew as much as the previous two, they are still important to keep in mind.

Price

On average, conical burrs cost less than flat burr grinders. You could easily find a high quality conical burr grinder, like my favorite, 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 in a bit) and the burr machinery, are much simpler than a flat burr, allowing for a lower price tag.

Noise

Conical burr grinders generally run at a lower RPM than flat burr grinders, which need a higher RPM to ensure that all the beans are forced into the grind 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 motor directly translates to less noise. 

Conicals are often much quieter than their fast-paced siblings, who are well known for their hair-raising, high-pitched whine.

Heat

Just like with noise, conical burrs also produce considerably less heat than flat burrs. Lower RPMs mean less friction, and, consequently, less heat buildup between the burrs.

The oils in your coffee beans are very delicate, and vulnerable to drastic temperature changes.

It is best to avoid heat as much as possible, until you actually begin to brew, to save all those delicious flavors and aromas for your cup.

What Does It All Mean?

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 terms of 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.

baratza virtuoso conical grinder

However, flat burrs tend to trap more waste than conical burrs, which could then slip out in later grinds and kill the freshness.

The most important thing to remember is that the difference between these two is minute. If you are comparing a quality conical to a quality flat burr grinder, both of which are clean and in good working condition, then the subtle differences in grind freshness and grind consistency would be barely noticeable.

To make it simple: a flat burr grinder is going to require a lot of maintenance and attention, while a conical burr grinder is never going to break out of that conventional espresso mold.


Between the flat burr grinder vs conical burr grinder, which do you prefer? 

In the comments below tell me which one you prefer, and let me know what you thought of this article. For me, its a good conical burr grinder like one of these.

Let me know if you have any questions, and don’t forget to share the article with your fellow coffee lovers!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 4 comments
GUYOM - October 18, 2017

Hi!

Why is there so much hate for built in grinder?
I’m looking at the Lelit Kate machine which include built in Grinder with 36mm conical burrs and allows dosing. This looks everall very convenient and the price tag VS the Victoria model (same without grinder) is less than 200 USD, so much cheaper than a good grinder alone.

I wish you would have completed your article with a blind Taste of 5 to 10 coffee experts, to challenge if they could really make a difference between the 2 types of grinders.

Good article over all ! Thanks. !

Reply
Opal - April 10, 2018

I have a flat burr grinder which I’m fed up with the inconsistancy of its grinds, and its need for frequent cleaning. Now I have one with a ceramic flat burr, so it should last longer than steel, but the friction is still high so the grind feels warm. I don’t want to do the shaking and tapping to get the rest out of it either, which I do after each grind. I think I’m ready to try a grinder with a conical burr, and your article helped make this clear to me. And because it’s going to be for an espresso machine, I think the conical burr is better in my case. I have to try it.

Reply
Paolo Panicco - April 21, 2018

Flat Burs vertical placed gravity fed like (ek43 & Mazzer Zme) vs conical burs like in Mazzer Kold S witch is best for manual filter brewing , (Aeropress & v60 & cupping)

Arguing with a friend I think conical is better because of controlbilty and accuracy of partical cut creating a more uniform octigon partical vs cubalar partical , retaining oils vs extraction of oils on surface of particles from bursting flavor through cut route inn flat bur

Conical is cooler in temperature and more accurate in uniformity of partical cut providing less smalls and Evan particals = more Evan extraction in manual brewing vs flat burs that will over exstract and create high acidity due to more oils on outer surfaces of particles

Reply
    sean cantrell - August 28, 2018

    @ Paolo

    Do you have any data to support the claim that conical burrs provide for more uniform grind size or shape?

    All current data I have seen shows large flat burrs such as the EK43 or Ditting 804 having tighter particle distribution than large conicals (Robur, Kafatek, etc)

    Reply

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