Words by Michelle Johnson
When we walk into our favourite neighbourhood coffee shop, we usually notice a lot of movement going on behind the bar. We may see a barista leaned over a Chemex concentrating on the steadiness of the flow from a kettle and another fully engaged with a customer helping them choose some beans to take home. Then there’s the barista behind the espresso machine, confident and fully in control of the flow of drinks coming in and out.
A peek into their domain and you see even more movement. The barista fills the portafilter with finely ground coffee before levelling, tamping, and finally locking it into the machine to produce espresso. Of all those steps, the importance of levelling and tamping the coffee isn’t fully understood by new baristas and home coffee brewers, alike. But it’s arguably one of the most essential parts of the process — it can make or break the tastiness of your coffee!
A Brief History
In the late 90s and early 00s, tampers started to gain in popularity as baristas all over began to understand their importance in producing well-extracted coffee. Reg Barber was a pioneer in creating tampers with a wood handle and stainless steel base that fit larger espresso baskets (usually 58mm) perfectly so no coffee grind was left behind when pressing into them. Nowadays, tampers are fully customizable and come in a variety of types depending on your basket size, and even come handleless. No matter what, tampers are a staple tool on every single coffee bar across the globe, at home and in the cafe.
What exactly is tamping and why is it so important? Tamping is just another name for compressing coffee grounds into into a “cake”, or puck, in the portafilter. But this seemingly small step carries a lot of weight.
Compressing the coffee allows the grinds to fill every space inside the portafilter so when water is finally introduced, it doesn’t flow too quickly through the puck, resulting in under-extracted espresso. But if the puck isn’t compressed enough, water flows too freely and you end up with a very watery drink. Also with the addition of pressure from the espresso machine, there needs to be some resistance from the coffee. The more resistance, the longer it takes for the water to soak through the puck, and the more extracted your beverage will be in the end. Pressure is a variable not present when brewing filter coffee [the Aeropress is arguable], but is a major factor in why the total brew time for espresso sits around 30 seconds. Most baristas equipped with only a tamper get by just fine (I did!), but a newer coffee tool has emerged in recent years—the distribution tool.
Distribution is incredibly important in espresso brewing. Have you ever seen a barista swinging their arm and fingers around a portafilter, moving the coffee about? That’s distribution (and more specifically, this method is called ‘Stockfleth’). Prior to tamping, you don’t want there to be more coffee in any one part of the portafilter. The goal is to have a flat bed so the water can do its thing at an even pace for every grind. Tamping alone achieves this to some degree, but manual distribution absolutely ensures even extraction and better tasting coffee.
Distribution tools usually look like large metal pucks with an adjustable piece at the bottom that levels the coffee without compressing it, creating a flat canvas for even tamping. These tools also aid in consistency—something manual distribution can’t always account for. For this reason, they’re an awesome training tool for new baristas, and even those who are more skilled use distribution tools everyday. At national and world level barista competitions, you’ll almost never see a competing barista without one because consistent distribution and an even tamp scores high technical points!
The ONA Distribution tool. Pic by ONA
Within the barista community, there is a lot of debate whether or not these tools actually distribute coffee evenly throughout the portafilter. Folks also ask if they do so any better than other methods like the Stockfleth or palm-tapping, lightly tapping the side of the portafilter to settle the coffee grinds.
Our team at Barista Hustle conducted some experimentation to answer these questions. We found that distribution tools didn’t perform any better than other methods, but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and your budget.
Which Will Work Better For Me?
Between tampers and distribution tools, there are a range of options on the market to choose from for home coffee bars. Out of the two, tampers are a non-negotiable for brewing espresso. Most new home espresso machines will come with a simple, dumbell-shaped tamper. It’ll get the job done, but it never hurts to upgrade so that you can get the most out of your coffee!
First, you have to know the size of your espresso basket and purchase a tamp who’s base will fit. Any space left between the tamper and the walls of the basket will result in loose grinds. Those will have a negative effect on the taste of your coffee. Once that’s figured out, determine your price point. Wood, steel, and customizable tampers are usually priced between $50-$100 USD, depending on the customization. The PUSH Tamp, a handless tamper that helps relieve stress on the wrist (especially for baristas who work in high volume cafes), is priced at just under $200 USD. Another popular option is the Barista Hustle tamper, a minimal, black aluminium tamper ($55 USD) with a replaceable stainless steel base should it dent when dropped ($15 USD).
Some coffee shops remove manual tamping altogether and will buy a machine tamp—the Puqpress is the most well-known option. This has been really helpful for maintaining physical wellness for baristas in protecting their wrists. If you find this is important, consider investing in one!
The Puqpress, automatic tamping tool. Pic by Puqpress Official
As far as distribution tools go, it’s completely up to you. It’s a great practice to implement into home espresso brewing. More often than not, you’ll find your espresso tasting better and more consistent. Distribution tools are usually expensive, though. The OCD is priced just under $200 USD and most others are in that range. It’s possible to achieve consistency with manual methods of distribution, but with the one thing all coffee brewing requires—practice!
There are so many things that go into making the perfect cup of coffee. On top of remembering all the steps of the process, the tools needed all have their own intentional uses that are important. Now when you walk into the nearest shop, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going into brewing that tasty espresso that keeps you coming back. Hopefully, you’ll also realize this is attainable and achievable at home, too, and you can enjoy great coffee anywhere.
Can you really call yourself a connoisseur if you don’t own a coffee grinder to grind your own beans? Maybe, maybe not… Either way, here’s what you need to know to find the right grinder for a fresher and more flavourful cup…
Blades vs. Burr
A blade grinder has blades similar to those in a food blender. It grinds coffee beans very swiftly, which is an advantage, but the grounds produced are often different in size, meaning the resultant cup of coffee won’t be the best quality. On the plus side, you’ll find blade grinders have price on their side. That age-old struggle: price versus better tasting coffee.
A burr grinder produces very consistent grounds, so it’s the superior option if taste is your ultimate deciding factor. A burr grinder is a type of mill – coffee beans pass through a small gap between a stationary surface and a revolving surface, both of which are coarse. The two surfaces belong to two cylinders or a cylinder and a flat surface, and these are the burrs. The user can usually set the distance between the two burrs, allowing you to choose between larger or smaller grounds. This is definitely the first choice if your morning routine calls for a serious cup of coffee.
Manual vs. Electric
Electric grinders make grinding easy work. You pour beans into the funnel, press the button, and hey presto, freshly ground beans. However, if you’re choosing to grind your own beans over buying pre-ground ones, perhaps you’re not all about modern convenience. Also, given our national loadshedding situation, perhaps manual grinders are the way forward.
A manual grinder, albeit burr or blade, involves effort on your part. The manual burr grinder is, of course, the ultimate in personal control – you decide the size of the grounds based on where you set the burrs, and you control the speed of the grinding process, as you’re in charge of the swivel arm. The finer the ground you want to produce, the more elbow grease required. Those who make coffee from grounds they produced themselves using a manual burr grinder must feel all sorts of achievement unknown to the rest of us plebs, but we don’t recommend this option unless you know you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort.
Manual burr grinders are great for on-the-go coffee consumers and a hit amongst the craft coffee crowd, but an electric grinder (burr or blade) is probably best for those who want an easy operation that gives you a quality cup of coffee every time.
Some people are morning people … and for the rest of us, there’s coffee. And if there’s one thing we non-morning people love – it's that first cup that kick starts the day. Your first coffee in the morning is usually the quietest and most content moment of the entire day if you’re enjoying it at home, so it’s worth investing in to make sure you get the most out of it.
Coffee lovers around the world can attest to the benefits of setting up your own coffee station at home – placing everything you need for that perfect first cup within arm’s reach. If you can’t free up counter space in the kitchen, find a drinks trolley or a cabinet corner where you can dedicate the space purely to your caffeine fix. The advantage of a drinks trolley or bar cart is that it’s mobile, so you could even have it in your bedroom if you don’t want to wander too far from your bed in the morning.
Organise your morning
The purpose of a coffee station is to keep everything you need for that perfect cup in one place, clutter-free, lined up, stacked and organised just the way you like it so you don’t even have to think too much. Simplifying this one little thing leaves you free to really savour your coffee. So how can you start your morning off on the right foot? To set up your very own coffee station, you will need some (or all) of the following coffee accessories, depending on what you find essential to your coffee making process:
A coffee station is an inexpensive and easy way to bring some style to your early morning routine, not to mention the convenience of having all the essentials on hand. Bringing some structure to your morning coffee routine can help to make the whole process more relaxing, easing you into the day with a caffeine fix that’s truly satisfying.
Do you have a coffee station set up at home? Share a photo with us and tell us if it helps you get going in the mornings.
In the beginning of the idea of the 'coffee celebrity', one name was above all others: Tim Wendelboe. The owner and namesake of one of the now most famous roastery's in the world located in Oslo, Norway.
This roastery also played host to the first World AeroPress Championship (Three competitors in total!) and he was part of setting up the concept that has become such a worldwide phenomenon, WAC.
This snippet was filmed as European Coffee Trip put together The AeroPress Movie, which you can now stream here.
You may have seen this poster in your favourite cafe and thought, hmmm, that’s pretty! Well, this particular whirl of colour is more than just a pretty face. A collaborative effort by the Specialty Coffee Association and World Coffee Research, The Coffee Tasters Flavour Wheel is designed to be a tool for the coffee taster or avid coffee drinker to help identify flavours in coffee. Chad Whitby of Colombo Coffee gives us a hand in understanding how it works.
Words by Chad Whitby
Have you ever heard, 'It tastes like chocolate”, but then receive your coffee and it tastes nothing like the chocolate you expected? This is an example of how the terms ‘taste’ and ‘flavour’ are incorrectly attributed. This can be confusing, but when you break it down it becomes simple. Let’s try think of it a different way; taste is an opinion while flavour is fact. An argument could be made that all flavours are based on opinions, but like I said, we’re keeping it simple here.
Think of flavour as a colour and taste as our brain processing that colour as we see it. Let’s use blue as an example. Our brain makes the decision whether the colour is in fact blue, as opposed to say, green. Our brain’s perception of colour can be wrong (e.g. colour blindness) or different to another person’s perception, but the fact remains that the colour is blue. Reasons for error in perception are numerous. For example, we may not have ever seen the colour before and so we have no reference of what it is. We could have also seen the colour in a poorly lit environment and so our interpretation of the colour is inaccurate.
Often we find we can't differentiate between shades of colour not because we can't see them but more because we don't know their name. For example, many mistake amber for orange. Amber is a shade of Orange. Once we know this and we know what amber looks like, the next time we see Amber, we'll call it by the right name. This is also true of flavour. Our taste buds taste Earl Grey tea but our brain has no existing reference and so our immediate response is, 'I don't know what I'm tasting'.
This is why the Coffee Flavour Wheel is such an important tool. A team of highly trained experts have carefully compiled it so when we're stuck with identifying flavour, we can look to it for help. We start with the basic question: what type of broad flavour is it? These are at the centre of the wheel. Then we work our way outward. Much like colour, we start with the basic colour then we break down the shade. We also use the Flavour Wheel to understand what effects various green bean defects and roast profiles have on flavour.
Download your own copy at SCA store.
The flavour groups marked Green/Vegetative and Sour/Fermented can be used to help explain roast underdevelopment. Underdevelopment is when a coffee is not fully roasted and the chemical processes normally activated during the roasting process haven’t had sufficient time to react. Think of a cake that is brown on the outside but still has wet batter inside. This means if you taste a coffee and come across any of these flavours that you can rule it out as underdeveloped and green. As a roaster, this means we need to adjust our profile to get more out of the coffee.
As we move anticlockwise on the wheel, we get the Fruity, Floral and Sweet flavour groups which are generally delicate flavours. These are positive flavours and are accentuated in lighter roast profiles. These flavours are what we want to taste in brew methods like Chemex and Pour Overs.
Next, are the Sweet, Nutty and Spice flavours. Flavours like dark chocolate, hazelnut and cinnamon all pair well with milk and are eminent in darker and more developed roasts suited to espresso.
The Roasted section describes flavours associated with roast defect. A roast defect is when a roaster has poor roasting technique such as not opening airflow to extract negative fumes in the roasting drum or roasting too long which gives the coffee a malty or tobacco-like flavour.
The last section, Other, is related to green bean defects. Flavours like rubber, petroleum and medicinal are all signs of defects from processing, transportation, pest interference or stale green beans. Signs to look out for to know which coffees to avoid!
Understanding these flavour groups helps the customer communicate better with the roaster and barista. So, if you taste a flavour like malt or grain, you can go back to the barista and say “I think I’m getting a roast defect in this coffee, can you taste it?” Much like if you heard a sound from your car, you would first distinguish if it was a knocking, banging or scraping sound so that when you explained it to your mechanic they can start to determine the possible problem with the car. Effective communication for the win!
These flavours don’t always come naturally. So how do you get better at differentiating flavours and interacting with your local coffee professional? Practise! The reality is no one will ever be able to identify every flavour, but we can learn quite a few so that the next time we taste them, we can identify them. An example of this is remembering people's names. You know that you know the guy’s name, but you just can't recall it or from where you know him. You need a strong memory of place or situation to spark the name! If you're trying to remember blueberry flavour, try relate it to an experience or memory. I can identify dried fruit flavour immediately simply because they were my absolute favourite when I was young and marzipan was my worst so the moment I taste something that is even close to that flavour I am put off.
The next time you taste something and you're stuck trying to figure out what flavour it is, remember to start off simple: Is it sweet, sour, fruity, nutty etc? Once that’s answered, the rest becomes easier. Also, coffee people love talking about flavour, ask if you don't know so you can start to build your flavour library. Tasting flavours and identifying them is a journey not a destination. Happy tasting!
How does the inventor of AeroPress brew his morning coffee? Check out Alan Adler's recipe and all the tips he shared in his kitchen in California. He's a really entertaining guy! European Coffee Trip filmed it as part of the AeroPress Movie, you can watch the full film online here.
AeroPress recipe by Alan Adler:
1 - Put a filter in the cap and twist it onto the chamber.
2 - Add two AeroPress scoops of fine-drip grind coffee.
3 - Pour 80C (175F) water slowly up to the number 2.
4 - Mix the water and coffee with the stirrer for about 10 seconds.
5 - Wet the rubber seal and insert the plunger into the chamber.
6 - Gently press down for about 20 to 30 seconds.
7 - For American coffee, top-off the mug with hot water.
Filter coffee has seen many incarnations through the years, but the filter coffee machine and the batch brew at cafes has perhaps been the most widely used. Through waves of espresso coffee culture and alternative filter methods, it appears this humble machine is making a comeback.
Words by Paul Whitehead, BUNN Coffee
Originally published in Issue 23 of The Coffee Magazine
When I started working in coffee, it was late in 2008 and the industry was about to explode.
Espresso was of course the focus – filter coffee had always been restricted to hotplates, glass jugs and tar-like brews. Then people started using Syphons, V60s and Chemex brewers - manual brewing started to be a calling card of the speciality industry.
In the last 10 years, it seems crazy how much the industry has changed and evolved.
Brewing filter coffee in 2018 can be as simple and complicated as a barista would like. In this article I’m going to pitch that batch brewing filter coffee is a technically superior to manual, and how it fits into a modern coffee service against the traditional manual techniques.
Let’s start with the technical points – what could make batch brewed coffee a technical improvement over manual brew?
Temperature stability – by brewing in a funnel under the machine, you are creating a closed environment, perfect for maintaining water temperature. Water is dispensed at a pre-selected temperature directly from the water tank. This means temperature is stable and consistent throughout a brew - Drop off over about 5% is only present at the end of a brew in batches over 4L. Compare this to a pouring kettle, often holding brew water for minutes at a time. Is it at 94c when it hits the coffee after 2 minutes? How quickly is that temperature lost to the air on a colder day versus a hot day?
Coarser Grinding – the larger the batch of coffee, the coarser the grind size can be. The coarser the grind, the less fines are present. This means a batch brewer can achieve a more uniform extraction than a single cup system, by the grind size alone. Greater clarity and higher extraction levels are possible with a more unimodal, coarser grind.
Consistency – a modern batch brewer has digital tools to assist a barista. Pulse brewing and bypass controls give maximum control – once programmed a brewer will repeat until told to do otherwise. In manual brew methods, scales and timers are required to track a brew, but ultimately one inconsistency or slip from a barista can result in large variance brew to brew.
Being in control of your brew before you even start gives batch brewing an edge – knowing the brew method is consistent makes recipe creation and adjustment much easier after taste and measurement of results.
How things used to be
Before I got into coffee, at the start of 2008, I was in my 5th year as a chef in the UK. The job was hard work with fortunately no customer service required!
When I started work as a barista, I saw similarities between being a chef in the main kitchen and my job. Orders come flying in, and you have seconds to prepare a perfect product from just 2 ingredients. The art of being a barista back then was doing it as consistently as possible, quickly. This was achieved by focussing on your ‘craft’, using manual tools and good judgement. Wastage was high, efficiency low.
In filter coffee, manual brewing was everything. Time and energy was spent using kettles, fonts and boilers, folding filter papers, pre-heating apparatus, pre-weighing doses, all to create a brew that might be ruined by the bar wobbling, an imperfect pour, a cold day, customer chat causing distraction.
Profit was low on these single cup drinks – so we bumped the price up to one that made sense. It didn’t make sense to the public though, so less people ordered. This meant that a single cup of filter coffee often took far longer than it should, and was a burden on a barista team in full flow.
Rise of the machines
Nowadays there is a focus on making baristas efficient. This is evidenced in espresso - grind to weight grinders, automatic tamping, gravimetric machines and textured milk dispensers. Espresso and milk process has theoretically been reduced to pressing 3 buttons and pouring.
Manual brewing has had little change to it. We still pre-weigh doses in piles of small pots, we still use hot water systems and kettles that lose heat, still aim for consistency in pouring, dosing, stirring, timing, weighing, knowing inside that it might not always happen…
High quality filter coffee can be brewed in advance on a batch brewer - dispensed with the pull of a tap in seconds. Batch brewing filter coffee saves time, effort and inefficiencies during service by enabling the barista to prepare as many drinks as they want prior service.
The skill-set of a modern barista making both espresso filter coffee is recipe creation, detailed coffee knowledge and the ability to calibrate equipment to deliver a quality product. The machine does the rest.
By using tools to make their service more efficient, a barista should have more time, less stress. What does this mean? I would suggest that a member of staff that is less stressed, less overloaded and less rushed can:
Some may say that theatre is lost through automation, particularly with batch brewers. I see the reasoning behind that on a purely aesthetic level – a thermal server is not the same as a glass carafe. Also, batch brewing can result in wastage when a batch expires, but far less in my opinion than having to re-brew and dial in coffees on a manual brew station.
I believe that the last skill of the barista, which was almost lost to toil and labour over individual drinks, is quality customer service. The theatre created by a happy, relaxed, knowledgeable and customer oriented barista is greater than that of a silent one, head down with a V60 and a kettle.
Photo by Craig Kolesky
Hand grinders may seem like a lot of hard work, but Ishan Natalie, 3 time SA Barista Champion, can assure you that this labour of love is totally worth it. Whichever one you choose, it’ll be a gadget you’ll never regret having as part of your home barista kit!
Originally published in Issue 25 of The Coffee Magazine
Words by Ishan Natalie
The world of coffee is forever exciting, with new developments and creativity being showcased constantly; especially recently with home brewing options. I get very excited with new products, particularly those to use at home. With an already vast array of brewing methods and general coffee gadgets at home, I keep a close eye on what is new out there. This can be quite troublesome at times as I am quite impulsive in my purchases for anything I am intrigued by in coffee. I have an awesome wife who supports me in everything I do, but these gadgets are taking up more and more cupboard space in my home and the wonderful wife is less than impressed (haha!). So I’ve had to become a lot more selective with what I invest in for home brewing. It has to make sense – functional, efficient and, most importantly, necessary!
I think we can all agree that most of our coffee smalls and equipment are a luxury and ‘must haves’ based on our lust for lovely things. But do we really need them? Almost everybody, myself included, looks at new aesthetically pleasing brewing equipment (brewers, drippers, machines), but often overlook what I believe is, and should be, the first purchase for brewing coffee. The grinder! Grinders are considered less important to many (even in the coffee world), with people spending heaps of money on espresso machines and cool brewing devices in the pursuit of great coffee. I have learnt that this is the absolute wrong way of achieving better coffee. You see, the brewing devices and machines are merely a way we brew coffee to deliver a style of coffee, they are not the most important tool. That’s where the grinder comes in. Think about the structure of a home – the aesthetic design of the building provides comfort for living and fulfils our desires; but a solid foundation is what keeps it all together and maintains the integrity of the structure. Likewise, the grinder is the foundation to quality in your coffee. If you have a beautiful brewing method, but a poor quality grinder, you merely have a perception of quality, rather than the high quality that is possible with the right foundation.
In short, the grinder is king!
With travelling often for work nationally and internationally, I grew more and more intolerant of poor quality coffee on aeroplanes and in the hotel rooms I stayed in. Freeze-dried coffee was driving me crazy. And so, in 2003 I took the plunge and bought a Gater hand grinder which suited my needs at the time – it was inexpensive, light and compact. This meant that I could chuck it in my luggage or backpack and take it everywhere. This gave me an option for better coffee brewed anywhere. Paired with my Aeropress at the time, it made for a convenient, traveller-friendly brew kit. I loved my grinder, Pinky as I name it, as it was very bright pink. As much as I would get weird looks when I whipped out my very bright pink grinder on the airport floor, I was very proud of it. It opened a whole new world for me when I travelled, I could I enjoy newfound complexity in each extraction. The only downside was that there was no lid to attach to the beans chamber which resulted in the beans sometimes flipping out, messing up my brew ratio. Its amazing price point meant sometimes I struggled with particularly dense beans sometimes hitting a ‘road block’ that put pressure on the bearings, but all in all, it served me well and started my love affair with hand grinders.
Then I came across the Lido 3 by Orphan Espresso. I competed at the 2015 World Barista Championship in Seattle and I remember chilling in the hotel room for some competition preparation and downtime when Craig Charity (SA Barista Champ 2014) walks in with the Lido 3 he got at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Expo . We brewed coffee and he spoke of the grinder with utmost respect and admiration. Just by looking at it and listening to Craig with his immense technical knowledge while he showed us the mechanism of how it was built and worked, I really wanted one. But then the hurdle that made me rethink the decision of buying one – it cost about $195!!! Plus it weighed close to a kilogram. The thought of paying that price for a hand grinder (and a heavy one for my hand luggage and general use) was ridiculous and I decided I couldn’t afford to spend that much on a grinder. Famous last words!
It was the last day of the SCA Expo, and I walked the show floor to explore. I came across the Orphan Espresso stand and got to speaking with owners Doug and Barb Garrott, who were so proud and technically proficient with why they designed the grinder the way it was. I quickly came to believe that this grinder was the best thing on earth: the blades were stainless steel and cut to precision; it cut through coffee like butter and was quick and effortless in grinding; it was easy to adjust the grind, it has a long bean shaft and a rubber lid to prevent the beans from flipping out, whilst also reducing the noise of grinding, supported by the very sharp burrs; it came in a soft padded carry bag with slots in the side that contained a ball point hexagon screwdriver to strip the grinder for cleaning and reassembly, as well as brush for cleaning the blades. An exceptionally well thought out piece of coffee equipment.
So miraculously, I found the money to make the impulse (but calculated) buy. Thank goodness for credit cards! Up until this article was published, it has still been the best investment I have ever made in brewing devices/ equipment to make coffee at home and when I travel. Even with my electric grinder on my kitchen counter, I always reach for the Lido 3. This grinder is so well designed and put together, it’s was worth every penny to me.
I only recently unpacked and started making use of my Grindripper set that I got as a gift on that same trip to Seattle. I found this to be a great alternative for traveling extremely light with very limited luggage/ carry on space. The grinder is attached to the dripper and is great for a single cup brew no matter where you are. It is sturdy for a little grinder though a bit slow in grinding due to the blade size. The burrs are adjusted with an easy to handle knob attached to a screw shaft and adjusts a click at a time making for a precise adjustment.
There are so many reputable hand grinders on the market – Hario, Rhinowares, Porlex, Commandante and the new & exciting Lume battery operated hand grinder. All differ in size, weight, grind mechanisms, user-friendliness, grind variations and ultimately, price.
I would highly recommend investing in a hand grinder that is versatile; you want a grinder that can achieve grinds for a variety of brew methods from French Press (course) to Espresso (fine). Hand grinders vary in price quite substantially due to materials used and therefore, longevity. It depends on what your needs are and I suggest chatting to your supplier, but also doing some research online with various coffee professionals and home brewer forums before choosing.
If you come across the term ‘ceramic conical burrs’, this is the material and shape that the burrs are made of. Most on the market use ceramic burrs, but there are stainless steel options too, like the Lido and Commandante and nearly all I have seen are conical in shape. The burrs you buy the grinder with are basically going to last you a lifetime as the volumes of coffee you will brew at home or on the go are far less significant than in a coffee shop application. Just so you can understand, it’s recommended to change industrial coffee grinder blades every 500kg of coffee ground. If you brew a 2 cup batch for yourself every day, at an average of 20g of coffee for every 300ml of water, you would only need to replace your burrs, or attempt to sharpen them every 25,000 days/ 68 years! This will obviously vary dependent on burr quality, ceramic vs steel and size of burrs. Ceramic and larger circumference burrs stay cooler during grinding due to less friction and will therefore last longer. To improve longevity it helps to strip/clean your grinder weekly/ monthly to remove any coffee residue and grind build up in and around the blade assembly. Uncleaned burrs and assemblies will lead to poorer tasting coffee and potential mechanism inefficiencies.
My personal criteria for choosing a grinder are as follows: I like having a grinder that allows me to grind volumes of coffee up to 50g in one go for multiple cups, with the ability to adjust grind from fine to course for various brew methods. I use my Lido 3 for 1 cup brews as well as up to 5 cups/ Chemex for guests, cupping, paper and mesh filters, you name it! I have brewed coffee on aeroplanes (with uncomfortable looks from air hostesses and passengers), hotel rooms, on the street, in airports, at home, on the beach and on hikes. The possibilities to have fresh, great tasting coffees wherever you are limitless and fairly inexpensive when you invest in a quality hand grinder. Rather than asking your local coffee shop to grind the coffee for you and limiting your coffee freshness and flavour to a matter of a day or 2, grind whole bean at home for a much more flavourful experience that lasts a lot longer. Nothing beats the smell of freshly ground coffee wherever you are. And believe me when I say, coffee tastes sweeter and you savour it so much more when ground fresh and brewed by your own hands. It’s the labour of love!