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Espresso University: Guide to Coffee Grinders for Espresso

What grinder should I get for my espresso setup? How does the relationship work between the grinder and its burr set? Should I get a flat burr grinder or conical? In such a fast-growing industry with continuous innovation in technology and so many emerging options, it can be overwhelming to select the right coffee grinder. With this article, we want to help you think through these questions, so that you can make a thoughtful and informed decision that will take your espresso brewing to the next level.

Let’s start by reviewing and discussing a few of the different options on the market for coffee grinders at different budget levels, and looking at their differences.

Normcore Grinder - $90

The Normcore grinder is a hand grinder with a 38mm conical burr. Conical burrs function with an inner cone burr and an outer ring burr. When you crank that handle around on a hand grinder, it spins the inner cone burr, pulling the coffee beans through, crushing them evenly along the way until they come out the other end as coffee grounds. Changing the space between the two burrs is the way we adjust our grind size. The Normcore grinder has twenty-two steps per rotation. For a hand grinder that is not bad, and for most people this grinder will work great. It is important to understand, though, that there will be limitations to a budget grinder like this. It is definitely not truly espresso capable, as it does not have the micro-adjustments necessary to dial in true espresso.
Flair Royal

Flair Royal - $159

The Flair Royal is an all metal grinder with a bigger burr geometry. The burrs are 45mm Etzinger burrs. It has a ring to be able to make smaller stepped adjustments, which is so helpful when it comes to dialing in espresso. Being able to adjust your grind in small increments is absolutely critical when grinding for espresso. This is because espresso is so finnicky, and every little adjustment can make big changes in the espresso that you end up with. The Royal is great for that, and one of the unique benefits that it has over others, is the grinds catch cup has the same diameter as the Flair PRO 2 portafilter. This will be a huge benefit if you are a PRO 2 owner or are considering buying a Flair PRO 2 espresso maker.

Option-O Lagom Mini - $374

Electric grinders are very convenient, and while this grinder boasts an extremely compact size, it will do all of the work for you. A huge benefit of this grinder is that it has a stepless grind adjustment system. The adjustment ring that changes the burr spacing doesn’t have clicks, but glides along smoothly. This means that there are infinite adjustments available, perfect for making those micro adjustments for espresso. For how small and compact the Lagom Mini is, it is also very quick and doesn’t take long to grind for an espresso dose.

DF64 - $445

The DF64 is a grinder that operates with flat burrs. Flat burrs rotate against each other just like conical burrs do, except they are designed in the shape of two rings that sit flat, one against the other. The coffee beans are fed through the burrs and pushed out through the small space in between them toward the outside. Flat burrs can achieve great results for espresso. They need a higher RPM, so you never see them on hand grinders, but they are great for elevating the clarity and complexity that you can achieve in your coffee. The DF64 has a bellows system as well, allowing you to pump air through the grinder to expel any grounds that may be stuck inside after grinding.

Niche Zero - $525

The Niche Zero houses a bigger, 63mm conical burr. This is especially helpful for grinding large quantities of coffee, as the burrs resist heating up more than smaller burr sets that you may see in other grinders. These burrs will also typically grind faster simply due to a larger surface area. Another aspect of this grinder that makes it so popular is its focus on low grinds retention. Retention refers to the amount of coffee grounds that get stuck inside the grinder and don’t make it out into your dosing cup. Ideally, you would have zero retention, and that is what the Niche Zero is named after. The Niche is also a very quiet grinder, due to its incredible build quality.
Conical burrs

Should You Choose a Flat or Conical Burr for Your Home Espresso Grinder?

Ultimately, the choice between a flat or conical burr when selecting your grinder comes down to personal preference. Flat burr flavor profiles are often higher in clarity and complexity, while lacking some of the texture that you would get from a conical burr. Conical burrs produce this texture because they often have a wider grind distribution (more particles at different sizes with less uniformity) and typically produce more fines. Flat burrs often produce a more uniform grind, especially if you opt for a unimodal type of burr which has an extremely tight grind distribution.

How Does Portafilter Size Affect the Home Espresso Grinder You Should Buy?

You may have experienced the struggle of producing the same quality of espresso when switching between machines or upgrading your setup. One of the biggest factors to consider when thinking about dialing in your shots on different machines, is the portafilter basket size. Different espresso makers will often have different portafilter sizes. For example, the Flair PRO2 has a 46mm portafilter basket, whereas the Flair 58 has a traditional 58mm portafilter basket. Is bigger always better when it comes to portafilter size? Ultimately, the answer to this question is going to come down to your needs and what you are looking to get from your espresso experience.
Flair espresso portafilters

Portafilter Baskets and Coffee Bed Depth Affect Espresso Grind Size

A 46mm portafilter basket is very capable of pulling delicious shots of espresso. In many instances, it can pull shots that are just as tasty as a bigger, 58mm basket could. What you need to understand is that different basket sizes will produce different styles of espresso.

To explain this, consider the 46mm basket of the Flair PRO2. It can hold doses of 16-18g, even though its walls are closer together with a lesser diameter than the 58mm portafilter of the Flair 58, which also holds 18 grams. The reason they can still hold the same amount of coffee, is because the two different baskets have different depths. The 46mm basket is considerably deeper than the 58mm basket, and this is a very important factor in considering how they will extract coffees differently. The 46mm basket will have a smaller surface area where the water will initially contact the coffee, but the water will have a further distance to travel through the coffee grounds. In comparison, the 58mm basket will enable a larger surface area, but a much shorter distance for the water to travel through the coffee. For this reason, you will often have to grind slightly coarser for the 46mm basket with more depth, and finer for the 58mm basket with less depth.

Picking the Right Style of Coffee Grinder for Your Espresso Setup

How does this apply to the grinder that you select? Well, when it comes to espresso you will have to get a grinder that can grind fine enough and uniform enough for the size of your basket. Most of the grinders we have discussed so far in this article are capable of doing that. However, for something like the Normcore grinder, at those very fine settings each stepped click in grind adjustment is just too large to make the small adjustment that you need. What we would recommend if you want to use the Normcore (or another cheaper entry-level grinder) is an espresso maker like the Flair NEO. The NEO has a flow-control portafilter basket, meaning that it will create the resistance required to brew espresso for you, even if your grinder is unable to do this consistently.

For the Flair 58 or any other machine with a standard 58mm portafilter basket, you will need a grinder that is able to create that consistent resistance in the coffee grounds so that it can build even pressure. The grinder must be able to make very small micro adjustments. The DF64 and Niche Zero grinders discussed earlier are examples of great grinders that meet these requirements. 

Remember though, that smaller portafilters are not inferior. One of the benefits of going with a smaller basket size is reduced channeling. A 58mm basket, with its lesser bed depth, creates more opportunities for this as the water has less distance to travel through the coffee and more tendency to take the path of least resistance. With a smaller puck diameter and more depth, because the water has more distance to travel through the coffee grounds, it is more resistant to channeling. If you seek to achieve a similar bed depth in the 46mm and 58mm baskets, you can use very similar grind sizes and profiles between the two. You may want to try this because you enjoy the texture or clarity of a particular brewing profile, or because you just want to play around with your extraction and find what you like best.

Summary: Choosing the Right Coffee Grinder

We hope that this article has given you more of an idea of different factors to consider as you find the grinder that is the best fit for your espresso setup. To sum up, for a 58mm, commercial style basket, make sure you have a grinder that can grind very fine and uniform – fine enough to produce the pressure you need. For a smaller basket, you definitely have more options for more budget friendly grinders, and even hand grinders that are capable of grinding for espresso. If you have something like the NEO that creates resistance for you, you can spend even less on your grinder while still creating pressure as you pull your shot.

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