Clarification of an old question: Merits of conical vs. flat burr grinder?

Recommendations for espresso equipment buyers and upgraders.
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JDolezal
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Postby JDolezal » Jan 09, 2015, 2:50 pm

First off, as this is my first post on HB, I thought it necessary to express how grateful I am for the wealth of information on this site. It's been a source of great learning and inspiration as I figure out how to bring great espresso into my home. So thank you all for making this place what it is!

After a few years of using my Expobar Office & Breville Smart Grinder (I know, I know...), I've finally saved up enough money (~ $1000 budget) to get a good espresso grinder. In my research, I've come to understand that a major choice one needs to make when selecting a grinder for espresso is the choice between flat burrs & conicals. My impression of flat burr grinders is that they tend to highlight bass notes (chocolates, nutty, etc.), and that conicals tend to have better flavor separation and highlight brighter, origin-specific notes. Flat burrs also seem to be more difficult to dial-in, and the conicals seem to have better consistency (that is, there is less dialing-in required from day-to-day, and less adjustments needed when switching blends). When dialed-in properly, however, the "quality" (however that is defined) seems to be roughly equivalent for the two classes.

Rather than opening up yet another "which is better" comparison between flats and conicals, I'm looking for some specific feedback on your experiences with these grinder classes:

1) How well do conicals bring out bass notes, e.g. chocolates? I actually tend to prefer the "comfort" shots, as opposed to the super-bright, fruity ones. All the comparisons I've seen between flats & conicals would lead me to think that a flat burr would do a better job in this regard, but I've never actually heard of how well conicals perform in pulling chocolate and caramel-heavy shots.

2) How many extra shots in a day do you use to dial in a flat burr grinder, as opposed to a conical? I keep hearing that the titan conicals are more "consistent," but I'd like a better understanding of what people mean by that. Should I be expecting to waste 3-4 shots at the beginning of a day dialing in a flat, whereas I might only be needing to do it once with a conical?

If it helps, here are some of my preferences: I generally enjoy chocolate-nutty-comfort shots the most, but I home-roast and would still like to experiment with making my own blends and trying out SO on occasion. I'd typically be making 3-4 drinks a day. Mornings are kind of rough for me, so I'd love it if I didn't have a fussy grinder to deal with. :P

Oh, and I'm not married, so WAF & counter space aren't an issue :)

Thanks!

mgrayson
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Postby mgrayson » Jan 09, 2015, 3:01 pm

My 2 cents - the grinder makes much less difference than the choice of beans. If the coffee gives you a taste you like, you'll like it fine with either grinder type. The difference will be one of shading. I also prefer a "comfort" shot, and slightly prefer conical to flat, but I wouldn't object to any of the better grinders of either geometry.

I find my conical (HG-One) more predictable than my hybrid-flat (Versalab). The former never needs more than one adjustment, as I can tell how far it needs to go (if at all, which is seldom). But I may not be discerning by the standards of this site.

Whatever you get, enjoy!

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Spitz.me
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Postby Spitz.me » Jan 09, 2015, 3:38 pm

James, you may have to wait awhile for the conical vs. flat debate fatigue to wear off. There's been a lot on this subject lately. Members, better than me, may take a stab at repositioning their responses with your question. However, in the end, you're not asking anything different that hasn't been answered before.
I know I've pulled a great shot when the flavour is 'like a beany taste that tastes like a bean'.

BTD1986
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Postby BTD1986 » Jan 09, 2015, 5:14 pm

I don't think you can assign a "one size fits all" label to flats for being more finicky with dialing in coffee. Back when I had a super jolly, I would make sink shots on a daily basis, constantly dialing in the grind, even when using the same coffee. When I got a large conical, I would go weeks to months without adjusting the grind between different beans, so no sink shots. Now, with a k30, I haven't adjusted the grind since the day I got it (4 days ago). I have been pulling risrettos of a SO ethiopian through my Robur (single-dosing) and k30 back to back and I can't tell the difference. Back when I had my super jolly, there was a very obvious difference between its taste profile and the Robur's. So my humble opinion is that its possible for flat burr grinders to be engineered in a way to mimic the taste profile and forgiveness factor seen in a large conical. In the next few weeks, I'll be doing the same tests with a chocolate centric espresso blend to see if there is any difference between the two grinders.

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another_jim
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Postby another_jim » Jan 09, 2015, 6:16 pm

JDolezal wrote: ... I actually tend to prefer the "comfort" shots, as opposed to the super-bright, fruity ones. ... Should I be expecting to waste 3-4 shots at the beginning of a day dialing in a flat, whereas I might only be needing to do it once with a conical


It takes a long time to tell the difference in taste between competent grinders. If you like comfort food blends, there probably is no difference (in all my testing, I could find consistently repeatable taste differences only when using difficult coffees with narrow sweet spots).

How many shots you spend dialling in depends on how experienced you are, regardless of grinder. The difference between conicals and most flats is that the conicals stayed dialled in, whereas most flats need small adjustments throughout the day. If you do not weigh your doses, or dose within 1/3 gram consistently in some other way, this difference is also moot -- your dosing inconsistency will outweigh the grinder's.

The K30 and Mythos are reported to be as consistent as the conicals, and the competent baristas I know who use them all will use these flats as happily as a they would a Robur. The Mazzer Major is also reported to be this way, but there are far fewer around, so the evidence is weaker.

Mrboots2u
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Postby Mrboots2u » Jan 09, 2015, 6:41 pm

Spitz.me wrote:James, you may have to wait awhile for the conical vs. flat debate fatigue to wear off. There's been a lot on this subject lately. Members, better than me, may take a stab at repositioning their responses with your question. However, in the end, you're not asking anything different that hasn't been answered before.

I dont think that debate will ever end ........

Cincyjack
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Postby Cincyjack » Jan 09, 2015, 7:18 pm

another_jim wrote:The difference between conicals and most flats is that the conicals stayed dialled in, whereas most flats need small adjustments throughout the day.

Why is this the case?

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another_jim
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Postby another_jim » Jan 09, 2015, 8:26 pm

Lots of theories, lots of people have lots of certain answers; but I don't know.

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SpromoSapiens
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Postby SpromoSapiens » Jan 09, 2015, 10:39 pm

another_jim wrote:Lots of theories, lots of people have lots of certain answers; but I don't know.


Are these theories held to be true for hand grinders as well as motorized? Just curious. Sorry for the OT cliff note digging.

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another_jim
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Postby another_jim » Jan 09, 2015, 11:06 pm

I'm not sure about your question; is it whether off the cuff, no evidence theories about motorized grinders are also off the cuff, no evidence for hand grinders?