While googling my way around the web in search of a suitable $50-$60 machine to replace a broken blade grinder, I ended up at CoffeeGeek and learned about burr grinders. These little machines are a revelation.
Most lower-priced grinders are not grinders at all; they’re bladed choppers and their output is usually not an even grind of beans, but rather a mix of burnt bean dust and bean bits. A real grinder — a burr grinder — produces a true, even coffee grind. The taste difference is startling.
The little grinder that I settled upon, the Breville BCG450XL Conical Burr Grinder, is moderately priced and apparently a good representative of the breed. The machine is slightly larger (11 ¼ x 7 x 5 ¼ in.) than the basic chopper that preceded it, quite stylish, quiet enough (for a grinder), and about twice as expensive.
Ah, but its grind is in another league altogether. I now dial in an exact brew and expect a repeatable, clean, smooth-tasting cup of coffee. Since I’m a dedicated drip lover, I don’t really test the finer grind output of this machine, but my guess is that it would be less satisfactory for espresso than what the pricier models produce. The more expensive burr grinders do better at what this machine does well. They produce extremely even grinds over a wider range of grind output with greater tuning of both the quantity and the fine-ness of the output.