Straight to the Point
One of the easiest ways to improve your coffee quality at home is to purchase a high-quality burr grinder. Our top picks include the Baratza Virtuoso+, Baratza Encore, and Breville Smart Grinder Pro. This article highlights the best tips for getting the most out of your machine, including how to keep it clean and adjust your grind settings.
The first burr grinder I owned was an antique, hand-crank model. I got it during my college years. The adjustment crank was rusted shut, eliminating one of the key advantages of a burr grinder: control over your grind size. So, it's no surprise my coffee in college was lackluster.
But adjustable grind size is just one advantage of a high-quality burr grinder. The best models also deliver precision and consistency, allowing for proper extraction during the brewing process.
I know: a burr grinder can be a big investment. And to get the most out of your grinder, it's helpful to have a handful of facts straight (like how often to clean it and when to replace the burrs). Here are six coffee grinder tips I've learned during my 16 years working in the specialty coffee industry.
1. Keep It Clean
One of the easiest things you can do to take care of your coffee grinder and brew better coffee at home is to clean it regularly. We break down the best ways to clean a grinder here, but the short of it is that regularly using grinder cleaning tablets can flush out old coffee grounds and oils.
As coffee grounds sit out in the open air, oxygen causes them to go stale. When enough old coffee grounds are hiding in your burrs, you might find that all your freshly ground coffee starts to take on a stale aroma. Same with coffee oils: as the residual oils in your grinder go rancid, new coffee suffers as well. It’s best to get ahead of the problem before it starts, so consider a monthly dose of grinder cleaning tablets. It never hurts to open the grinder up and dust off the burrs a few times a year, too.
2. Make Sure It's Level
While this isn’t a major issue for most people, older houses can have a tilt to the kitchen counters that can throw off the grinding orientation of the burr set. If coffee keeps funneling into the burrs consistently from one side, it could potentially push the lower spinning burr of its axis, creating an inconsistent grind particle distribution and putting excess wear on the burrs and the motor. This is an extreme example for most motorized grinders, but now that phones come with a built-in level, it never hurts to double check.
3. Weigh Your Coffee
Weighing your coffee can have a massive positive impact on your brew quality, and I talk about that in a few places on Serious Eats in depth. When it comes to grinders, however, there’s a few reasons why you want to weigh your coffee before grinding, and they both have to do with keeping an empty hopper.
When you fill a grinder’s hopper, you’re exposing that coffee to more oxygen than you would if you kept it in the resealable bag it came in. As the coffee in that hopper goes stale and the oils begin to go rancid, it’ll impart more of those flavors into the plastic of the hopper and the grounds bin.
Weighing out each dose right before you grind helps keep your coffee fresher, and it also puts less stress on the burrs. When a hopper is full of coffee, and you’ve ground the amount you want, the burrs stop with some coffee mid-grind. It requires a lot of torque from the motor to start the burrs up with coffee particles stuck between them, which wears down your motor quicker. By weighting out just what you need, the coffee passes through the grinder fully and the burrs are cleared for the next dose.
For most people, a kitchen scale will do the trick, but we highly recommend coffee scales for their resolution and accuracy. As for how much coffee to weigh out, the Specialty Coffee Association recommends 55 to 60 grams of coffee per one liter of water, allowing people to make slight adjustments based on brew strength preferences.
4. Adjust Your Grind Setting
Though many manufacturers have default settings for various brew methods, part of the fun of a burr grinder is exploring all of the options available. There’s always the chance that a slight grind adjustment could really send your coffee quality into another dimension.
This is because different coffees have varying densities, based on where they were grown or how light or dark they were roasted, and that means that different grind settings can extract a variety of flavor compounds. In general, a denser, lighter roasted coffee might need a finer grind to help extract its flavors, while a less dense, darker roasted coffee will extract quickly even with a slightly coarser grind.
It’s also worth trying some slight adjustments for coffees you’ve already dialed in: one bump coarser or finer might open up more sweetness in the coffee you’ve already been drinking for days. There’s literally no way to know unless you test it: every single grinder will develop its own calibration level unique to its usage, so even if a friend tells you the best grind setting they’ve used for the same exact coffee, it might not perfectly correlate to your grinder.
Burrs also wear down over time, requiring you to adjust your grind setting to extract the same amount out of your coffee. Mastering grind adjustments might seem overwhelming, but once you find a range that works for your brew method of choice, play around with moving the adjustment dial one notch at a time and see what works.
5. Let the Static Disperse
Coffee grinders are the bane of clean counters everywhere: grinding coffee creates static, and the chaff (the tan papery substance that lives in the cleft of each coffee bean) loves to get clingy with static.
Some grinders, like the Baratza models, come with an anti-static grounds bin. The only catch: it takes about 40-50 seconds for the anti-static plastic to dispel the charge. That can seem like a lifetime in the mornings (I know, I’m guilty of wanting to brew immediately, too), but if you hate the way chaff gets everywhere, give it a shot, and use that time to fill your brewer or kettle.
6. Replace Your Burrs
Not much is permanent, including the sharp teeth on your brand new set of coffee burrs. Yes, even stainless steel can dull over time against coffee. Baratza (the maker of a couple of our favorite grinders) rates its burrs for 500 pounds of coffee grinding, which, if you go through a pound a week, is about a 9-year lifespan. Personally, I recommend a burr swap more frequently than that and suggest replacing the burrs every three to four years. Baratza offers a full line up of replacement burrs on their website, as does Breville. Most other grinders, sadly, don’t offer replacement parts, meaning that when the burrs go, the grinder does too.
What can I run through my coffee grinder to clean it?
The best product to clean your coffee grinder is a coffee grinder cleaning tablets. They’re made out of compressed cereal grain that’s designed to absorb coffee oils and flush out old coffee particles. Other pantry items, like uncooked rice or Grape Nuts are too dense and hard and will dull the burrs along with putting strain and stress on the motor. They should never be used.
Should I clean my coffee grinder after every use?
Mostly, new coffee being ground flushes old coffee through the grinder, so cleaning a coffee grinder only needs to be done every two to four weeks. It can’t hurt to run grinder cleaning tablets through the grinder more frequently, but if you’re taking the grinder apart to clean it too often, it puts stress on the parts that hold the burrs together and can loosen their fittings.
How do you sharpen a burr grinder?
The easy answer: you can’t. Sharpening the burrs on your grinder would require removing them and using a sharpening stone on each tooth, which is intensely time consuming and would remove so much material from each burr that the burrs would no longer be close enough together for drip coffee. Instead, select a grinder from a company like Baratza or Breville that allows you to purchase replacement burrs and replace the burrs every three to four years.