One of the big decisions to make on your coffee journey and quest to make barista quality at home is which grinder to use. In this article I talk about Ceramic Vs Steel burr grinder. In another article I detail conical vs flat burr grinder.
By the time you have finished reading this article, you will have the low down on both ceramic burr grinders and steel burr grinders and be able to accurately decide which is best for your coffee needs.
Everyone has different needs and requirements regarding their coffee. Keep reading to find out which one is best for you and best meets your needs.
What Is A Burr Grinder?
Getting started at the very beginning before we talk about the construction materials involved in the ceramic Vs steel burr coffee grinders topic.
The important part is to know what kind of blade we are talking about here; later we’ll get into the more VIP details.
It is a burr blade, not a flat blade, or blade of any other type, a burr blade.
Burr blade grinders (where are referred to commonly only as burr grinders) use two blades which combine and produce a uniform and consistent grind size.
A blade grinder, on the other hand, is something that resembles a propeller blade, similar to a smoothie maker. They are less accurate and less consistent in the size of your grind, which has a negative effect on the flavor profile of your cup of coffee.
Are blade grinders cheaper?
but there is not much in the price difference, considering a grinder will last most people 10 years or more if you take care of it and maintain it well.
Also, the old adage – you get what you pay for and what you want is quality and a product that leads you to getting a greater flavor in your coffee.
Read: How to grind coffee for a percolator
What Is A Ceramic Burr Grinder
To state the obvious, a ceramic burr grinder is a coffee grinder that uses a burr that is made of ceramic.
The majority of homes use domestic burr grinders that have a ceramic burr. There are a few reasons for this. The principal reason I like them is they have less heat dissipation to your beans. Less heat to your beans caused by the friction when grinding means you have a more perfect, more ideal state for the flavor compounds and oils in your coffee beans.
and perhaps eye catching or attention – grabbing, the ceramic blades are long-lasting. A ceramic burr keeps its sharpness for many years to come.
The downside, though, is they start off less sharp than a steel burr grinder. The obvious drawdown of a steel burr is the need to regularly, every year or two, to sharpen the burr, where as a ceramic counterpart keeps its sharpness almost indefinitely!
That’s right, there are a couple of reasons and plus points in the argument for a ceramic grinder.
they are not as robust if you drop them from a height or if they are subject to being dropped the burr can break. If, as I expect, your grinder remains in one place and is not moved around much on your countertop, this not at all an issue.
On the upside your ceramic burr grinder is not going to get rusty or deteriorate at all.
Read: Conical Vs Flat burr grinders
What Is A Steel Burr Grinder
Without stating the obvious too much here, a steel burr grinder is a coffee grinder with a stainless steel burr.
Apart from the chassis, stainless steel coffee grinders are made 100% of metal. The burr is made of molybdenum and chromium which is designed to prevent the metal working parts from corrosion.
Stainless steel grinders are easier to manufacture and are usually factory made by a machine or by casting. Due to the material used, they are better for high speed grinders due to the burr being better able to manage impact and friction better than a ceramic burr.
a steel burr is easier to fix to an electric motor. You will find stainless steel burr on budget coffee grinders due to the low cost of materials.
Types Of Burr
There are two types of burr on a grinder, a conical burr and a flat burr. The details I go into in more detail in another article.
Both a conical burr and a flat blade burr produce a good quality grind so that you can make a wide range of barista quality coffee drinks. The coffee ground by both are consistent and able to make as fine a grind as you need for an espresso and as large you need for percolator, cold brew and cowboy coffee.
For now let’s touch on the main points starting with a conical burr.
Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
A conical burr grinder has two cone shaped burrs (hence the name conical) with ridges that use a crushing action to grind the coffee beans. This type of grinder is usually a low speed gear reduction type of grinder.
As per the topic of this article, a conical burr grinder can be made of ceramic or stainless steel.
Flat Burr Coffee Grinder
A flat burr grinder, often commonly called a flat plate burr grinder, has twin serrated plates that face each other. The coffee beans are drawn between the two flat burrs and then crushed to the desired preselected size.
Manual Or Electric?
Both a ceramic and stainless steel burr grinder are available in the traditional hand crank manual and electric motor options.
There is not so much of a difference and owning both is not too much of an inconvenience as a manual grinder is small, compact and inexpensive. I am a big fan of manual grinding.
The main plus point for me, as far as manual grinding, is being able to easily stick it in my bag and take it with me. From my own experience, a ceramic burr is best for hand grinders.
It is not going to make too much of a difference, no huge difference should you use a manual method of grinding or an automatic grinder.
It’s your choice.
The Effect On Flavor
The heat of the matter, and what the issue is here.
In the coffee community, there is a lot of debate by very intelligent coffee experts and coffee lovers as to which is best.
For a definitive answer, a material scientist will be required, and scientific tests are set up. This is something I fully intend on doing.
If you are a casual coffee drinker or a casual home coffee brewer, you are not likely to notice too much of a difference.
To be honest, the difference is notable but minimal even with the best of beans and with all brewing methods and techniques used.
Generally speaking, you will experience a cleaner, crisper taste in your mouth with a steel burr or blade grinder. It is generally touted on coffee forums and groups that stainless steel coffee grinders produce a good, clean flavor coffee.
If pour over coffee, chemex coffee or drip coffee is what you make most often, then it is a perfect choice if the slight effect on the flavor is important for you.
Metal retains heat and conducts heat better than ceramic and thus are initially more affected by the room temperature. They, steel burr or blade grinders also generate more heat and the extra heat is said to affect the coffee experience.
…And this is where the debate begins!
Some claim the heat from the burr is detrimental to the quality of your Cuppa Joe and, thus, a ceramic burr is better due to greater heat resistance.
Others, rather intelligently, point out that the heat is created by the grounds, in short, the heat in ground coffee is from the crushing and grinding of the beans and a metal burr being a greater conductor of heat, takes the heat away from the beans.
It seems that the debate is more about the source of heat and not so much about the material. One thing for sure is that heat is not good for your beans as you are grinding.
That is something we all agree on.
My own take is that a ceramic burr is better and produces less heat in the process of grinding due to operating at a reduced speed in comparison to a stainless steel grinder. Less friction is produced and thus less heat from your beans.
While the burr gets warmer, the heat is transferred to the beans waiting to be ground. Which means metal burrs conduct heat away from the beans being crushed but back and up to the beans on top of it waiting in the queue to be ground. This is where a ceramic burr wins in the heat transfer debate.
This, for what it is worth, is an argument for my own technique of weighing your beans prior to grinding and grinding only what you are about to use. This will keep the heat transfer to a minimum regardless of what type of burr your grinder has.
Grind Precision And Sharpness: Ceramic Vs Steel Burr Grinder
When it comes to sharp blades, a steel burr is much sharper when you first buy them and for a period after. With time and use they lose their sharpness whereas ceramic burrs are not as sharp as their steel counterparts, but their strong point is their ability to retain their sharpness for much longer.
A ceramic burr almost does not lose its sharpness.
Ease Of Cleaning
There is not a big difference here when it comes to cleaning your grinder, regardless of the burr material, be it a stainless steel burr or a ceramic burr.
What is clear is you must absolutely keep your machine clean and clear of grind particles for a clean taste as old particles, however long they have been there, start going off and oxidizing as soon as they have been ground.
An easy way of keeping your grinder clean is by grinding only what you are about to use and weigh your beans with a digital scale beforehand and then grinding them. Afterwards, you can give your ceramic or steel burr grinder a quick and thorough brush. Every so often, once a week, a quick wipe to remove any coffee oil that has built up.
Then once per month, if you are a regular coffee drinker, give your grinder a proper clean.
Personally, I find ceramic conical burr grinders easier to maintain and clean.
The big lesson here is don’t let old grounds or a dirty grinder spoil your coffee.
How much a coffee appliance sets us back can be a deciding factor. When you are deciding on the cost of this piece of equipment, a ceramic burr grinder is more expensive initially. To make a proper cost break down analysis you need to factor in the price of sharpening your metal blades if you are to decide on a steel burr.
This is for me an inconvenience – even for a manual grinder, for you, it may not be an inconvenience. I simply don’t want to take my grinder to a local workshop or handyman to have the blade sharpened.
Which Is Best?
Which is best is a personal decision that only you can take, and you only as your preference will vary from another.
For me, undoubtedly, a ceramic burr is hands down better every single time – be it a manual grinder or an automatic electric grinder.
The reason is consistency of grind, ease of cleaning, heat dissipation and longevity.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ceramic Vs Steel Burr Grinder
What Type Of Burr Grinder Is Best?
Ceramic conical burr grinders are by far the best type of burr grinder and is the industry standard. Conical ceramic burr grinders produce a high quality even grind size at a low RPM and are made of a material that is poorly conducts heat and thus heat transfer from the burr to the beans is eliminated.
Which Is Better Conical Or Flat Burr Grinder?
Conical burr grinders are better due to being able to produce a high quality and consistent grind size. The heat-resistant quality of the ceramic material helps to eliminate the transfer of heat caused by friction during grinding to your beans.
Also, conical burrs are much easier to clean and maintain.
How Long Do Steel Burrs Last?
How long your steel burrs will last depends on how much coffee you grind. Steel burrs 500 pounds (226 kg) of coffee beans is how long a steel burr should last. At a pound (454 grams) of coffee beans grinding per week this is the equivalent of just over 9 and half years.
And by no means does this mean that you should replace your grinder as you can replace the burr just as easily.
What Kind Of Grinder Does Starbucks Use?
The preferred grinder used at Starbucks is the Mahlkoenig EK43 grinder. It’s not the only grinder, that they use, but it is the referred grinder.
Do Ceramic Burr Grinders Wear Out?
Yes, all burrs and blades will eventually wear out and a ceramic burr grinder is no different. A ceramic burr grinder is good for 750 pounds (339 kg). If you are grinding a pound (454 grams) of coffee ground per week your ceramic burrs should last you almost 14.5 years.
Can You Wash Ceramic Burrs?
Yes, you should clean your burrs regularly no matter what material they are made of as old grinds can get stuck and old coffee oil too and this will spoil your coffee. Simply remove the hopper and clean the burrs and chamber on a weekly basis.
Frappé-Ing It All Up – Ceramic Vs Steel Burr Grinder
Burr grinders, be that flat burr or conical burr, are made of two materials. Each has their plus points and their drawbacks, but for me, in the Ceramic Vs Steel burr grinder debate, the clear winner is ceramic.
This stands true for manual hand crank grinding and electric grinding of coffee grounds.
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