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What’s the Difference Between a Flat and Conical Burr Coffee Grinder

The debate between conical and flat burrs is a discussion of minutia for coffee geeks. You should only consider the shape of a coffee grinder burrs once you’ve already decided to purchase a burr grinder, and settled on a price point and build quality. These other decisions will have a much larger impact on your coffee’s quality than whether your grinder has conical or flat burrs. Nevertheless, if you wish to delve into which burr shape is preferable, here’s a synopsis of the finer points people will bring up in the debate.

Conical and Flat Burrs Are Shaped Differently

Conical and flat burrs both grind coffee the same way. One serrated ring moves against another ring with jagged edges. As coffee beans go between the two rings, they’re ground to a uniform size.

The difference between the two types of burrs is the shape of their rings.

Conical burrs have a cone-shaped ring that sits inside another cone-shaped ring that’s hallow. Beans are directed down through the burrs at a slight angle, but the path is essentially vertical.

Flat burr grinders have two rings of burrs that sit horizontal to the ground. One faces upwards and the other faces down. Coffee beans drop between the burrs, are ground through the burrs and then drop again. In this design, the coffee makes two 90-degree turns.

All Burr Coffee Grinders Provide Uniform Grinds

Both types of coffee grinders will provide uniformly ground coffee and have several different grind settings, at least. As long as you have a good-quality burr grinder, you’ll be pleased with the results regardless of whether its burrs are conical or flat.

Before moving into coffee-geek lore, this should be emphasized again. Both kinds of burrs do a great job, and you’ll find both conical and flat burr grinders at cafes. This is more a discussion of theories that’s best enjoyed over a fine beverage than a major consideration to take into account when purchasing a grinder.

Coffee Geeks Have Preferences

Despite the above disclaimer, coffee geeks have theories about both conical and flat burrs. Most have experience to base their theories on, but few of these theories have been scientifically proven. The ideas you’ll usually hear are three-fold.

First, flat burrs often retain more grounds than conical burrs. This is likely the most valid of all three theories, and it’s probably the only one to consider if you’re selecting a grinder. Because of their shape, flat burrs typically do retain more grounds than canonical ones. This varies from grinder to grinder, though.

If you’re grinding coffee for espresso, you might want to consider how many grounds will stay in the burrs. Some models retain quite a few grounds, which could increase the amount of coffee you go through. Although flat burrs generally trap more grounds, you should check the specific grinders you’re looking at because this rule doesn’t always hold true.

Second, baristas generally find conical burr grinders more forgiving than flat models. Most baristas say conical burrs are easier to dial in and require less adjustment. This consideration, however, is of minimal use for home coffee drinkers. If you only use your grinder once a day, you’ll need to adjust it each day. Additionally, you’ll only be able to notice a difference if every other aspect of your brewing method remains absolutely consistent.

Third, some coffee enthusiasts claim that the different styles are better at emphasizing different notes. While prevalent and intriguing, there is little more than anecdotal evidence to support this theory. Generally, conical burr grinders are said to bring out individual and bright flavors, such as those of exotic African coffees. Flat burr grinders supposedly meld and enhance darker notes, such as the nutty and chocolaty flavors of South and Central America.

Learn More About Burr Coffee Grinders

This is a discussion of small differences in coffee grinders, and it’s not nearly as important as other differences between grinders. If you’re looking for the right coffee grinder, check out CoffeeCademy for more information on coffee grinders and like us on Facebook to continue getting new updates on grinders.

Author Scott

Scott is a professional writer for Driftaway Coffee. He worked as a barista for eight years, but today prefers to enjoy his beverages from the other side of the counter. When not drinking Driftaway Coffee, Scott usually has a mug of his own roasted coffee nearby.

More posts by Scott
  • Javier

    My concern of purchasing a flat burr grinder is the fact that I only have 2 to 3 coffee cups a day and suspect that the amount of coffee grinds remaining within the grinder burrs would go stale between grinds. Therefore a greater waste of coffee. My question is: “Is there any way to expel the greater amount of grinds from the machine after each use by running it dry for longer (without beans)”?

    • Mike

      Ground coffee, especially fine ground, will go stale within a couple of hours. The delicate oils in the coffee beans rapidly oxidizes in the presence of oxygen. Frequent cleanings (every grind) is required for optimal results (no rancid bean grind mixing with fresh grinds). This is the reason I’ll grind 1 weeks worth. seal grinds in glass container, and refrigerate immediately after grinding which slows the oxidation process (don’t freeze). What is the reason you believe your grinder is trapping a significant amount of material? My Cuisinart burr grinder traps very little. You can also use a chop stick or other slender object to dislodge any remaining material from the current grind session which might help. Finally, I use the chop stick method and compressed air to give the unit a good cleaning between grinds. Good luck.

  • lena

    what do you personally prefer-a conical or flat blade grinder? Also I purchased a pour over style coffee brewer with a metal filter(no paper used) and no one is sure what grind I should use, Not even Starbucks where I purchased it:( Do you know grind??? I noticed that it is terrible if coarse at all.
    Thanks

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