An Expert Guide to Coffee Grinders: How to Buy the Best Grinder for YouPublished on 09/05/2023 · 19 min readLooking for the perfect coffee grinder to assist you in making your morning drink? This Expert guide helps you choose the best grinder for your coffee needs.
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TL;DR A high-quality burr grinder is the most important tool for every serious coffee aficionado. The right first-class grinder will allow baristas to prepare beans for any brewing application perfectly by providing a predictably even and consistent grind. When buying a grinder, you can’t just ask, “Which coffee grinder is best?” You should consider factors such as brewing application, grind consistency, range of grind size, ease of grind and dose adjustments, cleaning, and burr type (conical or flat).
As a passionate coffee enthusiast and seasoned cafe professional, I have had the privilege of immersing myself in the captivating world of fine coffee and espresso for nearly two decades. Over the course of my personal journey, I have savored and then created the nuanced and perfectly balanced richness of a well-crafted espresso shot, and I love sharing my passion! This pursuit has brought me immeasurable delight and equipped me with a wealth of knowledge and experience.
As a Coffee & Kitchen Expert with Curated, I am thrilled to share valuable insights, practical tips, and personalized recommendations to help folks elevate their coffee and espresso experiences. Whether you are just beginning to explore the complex world of coffee and espresso or consider yourself a seasoned aficionado, we can unlock the secrets to a truly exceptional cup of coffee together.
Nothing is more powerful in creating fine coffee and espresso than the grinder. Hundreds are on the market; some will lift your coffee experience to new heights, while others can hold you back! I have created this guide to help you understand what goes into a coffee or espresso grinder and how to pick the best coffee grinder for you.
What Is a Coffee Grinder, When Were They Created?
At the most basic level, coffee grinders crush whole coffee roasted beans into smaller particles. Historically, coffee beans have been ground in many ways, with the most basic method being mortar and pestle. These simple devices are not much more than a sturdy bowl with a large stone or wooden club that would crush coffee (or other things) into powders or pastes. However, they were slow and inconsistent. There is a record of them being used for coffee processing circa 800 A.D. in places like Ethiopia.
In the 15th century, spice mills were used to grind other spices and coffee, and while these were very good at creating very fine powders, they still couldn’t achieve the types of grinds that suit coffee best. By the 17th century, the coffee mill was born, and then in the 18th century, coffee grinders came into production. Hobart, from Troy, Ohio, made the first belt-driven grinders in the late 1800s. Of course, since the turn of the 20th century, many advances in manufacturing have led to the creation of the modern coffee grinder.
Today, there are so many manufacturers, brands, types of grinders, and specific grinding applications.
Choosing the Right Grinder for Your Coffee Goals
When choosing a coffee grinder, it's important to consider what your final coffee goal is. What type of coffee product(s) are you trying to make? Coffee? Pour-Over? French Press? Espresso? Different grinders will help you achieve different results.
There are two basic grinder types: blade and burr. Blade grinders are not recommended by any serious coffee expert, and there are three types of burr grinders: coffee grinders, designed for a broad range of coffee preparations; espresso grinders, specialized for finely-ground espresso; and coffee/espresso combination grinders, which can handle the full range from coarse to fine. While coffee and coffee/espresso grinders are used to grind coffee beans, espresso grinders are specifically designed to produce the ultrafine, unvarying grind essential for making high-quality espresso.
Espresso requires a much finer grind size than most other coffee applications, so espresso-specific grinders are designed only to produce fine grounds. The best espresso grinders have a very precise grind adjustment, known as stepless, that allows the barista to make infinitesimal micro-adjustments.
On the other hand, coffee grinders and coffee/espresso combination grinders are designed for more general use. They can produce a wider range of grind sizes, suitable for various brewing methods such as drip coffee, pour-over, and French press. So, while many coffee and coffee/espresso grinders can be used for espresso, a dedicated espresso grinder will generally produce a better taste and overall result.
What to Consider When Buying a Coffee Grinder
1. What grind adjustments are best for me?
When buying a coffee grinder, it's important to consider the grind setting adjustments. There are two basic types of adjustments: stepped and stepless.
Stepped adjustment means that the mechanism used to adjust the grind has incremental and predetermined stops where it must lie. On the other hand, a grinder with stepless adjustment has one continuous motion of adjustments.
Grinders usually adjust using a ring the barista spins. At one extreme, this ring will deliver the coarsest grind option and, at the other end, the finest. If Grinder A is stepped, it may have 12 or 24 or more positions it clicks into as you spin the adjustment ring. These positions are easily re-found, so if you need to drastically change your settings often (say from French press to espresso), this type of grinder can make those large adjustments easily.
Stepped adjustments, however, are less precise than stepless. Let’s say Grinder B is stepless. This means that the adjustment ring spins freely with no stops along the way and that there are infinite adjustment settings between the two extremes of the ring. There may be numbers or hashes as a reference mark, but the stepless adjustment can stop anywhere along the path. This infinite adjustment is necessary for the barista who insists on the highest quality espresso. Here is why.
With our example grinders, let’s say that the stepped grinder (Grinder A) produces over-extracted espresso at position 12 and under-extracted espresso at position 13. There is no 12.05, 12.25, or 12.5, only position 12 or 13. So if the barista is unhappy with 12 and 13, they cannot refine their grind to a setting that falls between those steps. Conversely, suppose that the same barista is using Grinder B. In that case, they could make any number of ultrafine adjustments between the 12 and 13 positions because the adjustment mechanism can stop anywhere on the dial. With some testing, the barista can find the exact fine-tuned adjustment location on this grinder that produces the highest quality espresso for their equipment and current coffee beans.
Stepped grinders can deliver high-quality espresso grinds. Still, as we have seen, stepless grinders are the pinnacle of precision grind adjustments, and precisely ground espresso beans are the number one contributor to a perfect shot of espresso. If you drink straight espresso, Americanos, traditional macchiatos, or just have a refined palate for coffee flavors, a grinder with stepless adjustment will be necessary to get the highest level of enjoyment out of your espresso setup.
2. What is the grind consistency and quality like?
Grind consistency and quality are critical factors to consider when buying any type of coffee or espresso grinder. Uniformly ground beans result in a more balanced final product, no matter your brewing method. Meanwhile, an inconsistent grind usually leads to over or under-extracted coffee, negatively affecting the flavor. As mentioned, there are two basic types of grinders on the market today, blade and burr grinders.
One will get you those consistent grinds and well-extracted flavors, and the other will not. Burr grinders are the only type of grinder that can create repeatable consistency grind after grind. Blade grinders are extremely inconsistent and should be avoided at all costs.
Are cheap coffee grinders worth it? The answer is that most serious baristas would rather have pre-ground beans than beans processed through a blade grinder. Although they are all certainly superior to any blade grinder, not all burr grinders are created equal, and it's important to understand what different models offer in terms of consistent grounds.
In general, larger burrs are better, and flat burrs are considered superior to cone-shaped or conical, but there are many more factors to consider, not just the size and shape of the burrs.
3. How much should a grinder cost?
Quality grinders can range in price from around $200 for entry-level grinders to over $1,500 for higher-end models. While you can find inexpensive blade grinders, avoid being tempted by their low price. They may not produce a uniform grind size nor a good aroma in the final cup of espresso or coffee.
Less expensive burr grinders will get you decent results. Still, they may be slower to operate, retain more grinds inside, and have an overall shorter lifespan than their more expensive counterparts. You'll find commercial-grade grinders designed for constant heavy use in a coffee shop setting at the high end of the price range.
When considering your budget, you should ask yourself what the grinder you are looking for will need to do to meet your expectations, and then choose the machine that meets your performance needs and budget.
What Are the Different Kinds of Coffee Grinders?
As a barista, I'm always excited to talk about coffee grinders. As previously noted, there are two main types of grinders: blade and burr.
1. Blade Grinders
Blade grinders are often the choice of someone just starting with home brewing. Because they are simple to use and typically inexpensive, they are a tempting first option for folks not looking to risk a lot of money on a new hobby they are uncertain about. Unfortunately, they are not worth the savings.
They use spinning blades to whack and chop the coffee beans, similar to a blender. Unfortunately, this method causes massive inconsistencies in grind size. One bean may be pulverized into dust, while others may only be split in half or quartered into little boulders.
The final product is also inconsistent with a grind that varies so greatly. Even if you are brewing a medium-grind basic cup of coffee, a blade grinder is never a great choice.
- Blade grinders are affordable and considerably less expensive than burr grinders.
- Blade grinders are easy to operate.
- Small and compact, blade grinders take up almost no counter space.
- The spinning blades produce an unusable and inconsistent, negatively impacting the flavor of your coffee or espresso.
- The spinning blades can generate heat, further deteriorating the flavor of your coffee beans.
2. Burr Grinders
Burr grinders, on the other hand, are the way to go if you're serious about freshly ground coffee. These machines use two abrasive surfaces (burrs) to crush the coffee beans into a more consistent grind. They aren't ground once the beans are small enough to pass through the burrs. If they are too large to pass through, they will remain in the grind housing until appropriately crushed.
This consistent grind creates better flavor extraction and a more balanced cup of coffee or espresso. Burr grinders are more expensive than blade grinders. Still, they are absolutely worth the investment if you're looking for a high-quality brew from freshly ground beans. There are two types of burr grinders: conical and flat. Each has pros and cons, but they both produce a great grind.
- Burr grinders crush the beans between two abrasive surfaces, producing a more uniform grind that results in a better-tasting final product.
- Burr grinders can produce a range of grind sizes, making them suitable for various fine-grind and coarse-grind brewing methods.
- The consistent grind size produced by burr grinders results in better flavor extraction, creating a more balanced espresso shot or cup of coffee.
- You generally pay more for a longer lifespan, larger burrs, and more accurate dosing/grinding.
- Burr grinders can be large and heavy, taking up more countertop space.
- Some high-end burr grinders are only more expensive because they are designed to withstand the high volume and speed demands of a cafe and won’t necessarily produce better coffee flavors.
In conclusion, not all grinders are created equally. If burr grinders are out of your budget, consider pre-ground beans that are ground to the correct setting for your brew method (especially if you have pressurized portafilters on your espresso machine) but do not be tempted by a blade grinder. If you're just starting out and want a simple, easy-to-use grinder, consider moving away from using an electric grinder. Manual grinders (hand grinders with burrs) or pre-ground from the cafe or grocery store grinder both can be a great choice. But if you're serious about your coffee and want a top-notch cup of espresso experience, go for a high-quality burr grinder!
Features to Look for When Buying a Coffee Grinder
When shopping for a coffee grinder, there are several specific features and technologies that you should look for:
- Brewing application and grind range: Not all grinders can produce grinds that are right for all brewing applications. For example, some grinders can produce powder fine enough for espresso but not the larger chunks needed to make a cold brew. Look for a grinder that can grind in a range compatible with your brewing method, and you are on the way to a great final cup of brew.
- Adjustment precision: Consider how precise of a grind adjustment mechanism you might need. Stepped adjustment might excel at rapidly switching between brew applications, but features like stepless micro adjustment can help the discerning barista dial in ultra-precise grinds for maximum control over the flavor and body of the final product.
- Ease of cleaning: Coffee oils can build up in the grinding chamber over time, negatively affecting your drink's final flavor. I recommend grinders that have easily removable burr gears that stay in tune when disassembled for cleaning. This will save time and motivate the barista to take proper care of their gear.
- Grind speed: Burr gears operating at high speed can actually pre-cook some of the flavors and aromas out of the beans and negatively affect the final flavor of your coffee drink. Look for grinders with a slow and steady grind speed that minimizes heat generation and flavor loss. Tip: These grinders often actually produce more grounds per second, but their secret is large burr gears and powerful motors.
- Dosing technology: Many grinders have dosing technology. Programmable dosing is accomplished by time or weight and allows the barista to reliably produce the same volume of grinds every time the grinder is called upon. The result is a more predictable final product and a recipe that is easy to repeat. Look for a dosing tech that services your recipe or brewing method well.
- Material quality: The material quality of the grinder can affect its durability and performance. Less plastic is good. Seek out grinders made from high-quality materials, such as metal casing and chassis, as well as hardened stainless steel and ceramic burrs that are designed to last.
Considering the features above will help you land a coffee and espresso grinder that meets your specific needs and helps you accomplish your coffee.
Features to Avoid in Coffee Grinders
On the flip side, there are a few features to avoid when shopping for a coffee and espresso grinder:
- Blade grinders: These grinders produce an inconsistent grind that is detrimental to your final product.
- Low-quality burrs: Inexpensive burr grinders often use low-quality burr gears made from inferior materials, such as aluminum or unhardened steel. These can wear out quickly. They may seem nice at first, but they will produce a semi-inconsistent grind during their shorter lifespan. Avoid aluminum, unhardened steel burrs, and grinders not listing burr material.
- Inaccurate or limited grind size adjustments: Some grinders lack precise grind-size adjustments, making it difficult to achieve the perfect grind size for espresso or other brewing methods. Others offer very few adjustments, meaning the barista cannot operate outside a small, unvaried grind range. Avoid grinders with less than 12 grind adjustment settings.
- Fast internal grind speed: High-speed grinding can generate heat, affecting your coffee's flavor. Instead, favor grinders that operate at a slow and consistent speed while still producing a high volume of grounds.
- Noisy operation: Certain grinders can be downright loud when operating, and for some folks, that is unbearable, especially during those early coffee hours. More often than not, mid and higher-end consumer grinders feature sound deadening that helps them operate quietly and comfortably, with some models specializing in quiet operation.
Avoiding these features will help you select a grinder that is right for your brewing application, produces a consistent grind, is easy to clean and maintain, and won’t wake up the whole house at 6 AM when you need an espresso.
How to Choose the Right Grinder for You
When it comes to choosing a grinder, consider your brew method(s), how much room you have in your coffee area, your budget, and the volume of beans you intend to grind. Here are some real-life examples of people I have helped:
Chet needs a grinder solution for various brewing methods, such as pour-over filter, French press, and cold brew, but not espresso.
Features to look for:
- Large range of grind sizes
- Large, powerful burrs
Products to consider:
- Fellow Opus: The Fellow Opus conical burr grinder is the follow-up to the beloved Fellow Ode. It uses unique design ingenuity to create a conical-burr grinder experience like no other. The wide range of grind sizes makes it perfect for Chet’s brewing methods, and the proprietary 40mm C6-40 “Burly Gear” conical burr set gently crushes coffee beans preserving their natural aromas. The Opus has a no-mess magnetic catch cup that helps the barista get their dose (up to 100g/grind) to their brewer without making a mess.
- Mahlkonig X54: The X54 is the intersection of value and performance and is one of the best all-around home grinders on the market. It can grind the full range from the coarsest applications like the French press to the finest powders for espresso and Turkish coffee. Mahlkonig’s proprietary burr gears are known for drawing extra sweetness from the beans, they are forever repairable, and the parts ship quickly from inside the USA. Preferred by competition baristas, the Mahlkonig brand brings prestige and performance to the coffee bar.
- Eureka Atom Pro Coffee Grinder: Handmade in Florence, this fully programmable, single-dose machine uses a powerful 920W motor to power a luxurious flat 75mm burr set. The stepless grind adjustment allows the barista to precisely dial in an extremely consistent grind for all coffee brewing applications. This commercial-quality item is highly durable and repairable. It will likely be the last grinder Chet will ever need to buy.
Shauna has a limited budget and is starting a pop-up, low-volume espresso cart. She needs something that is affordable but can handle low to mid-volume demand.
Features to look for:
- Compact design
- Highly adjustable
- Durable grinder
Products to consider:
- Rocket Faustino: This compact version of the popular Italian-made Rocket Fausto is equipped with 50mm flat burrs and has a 1.5lb capacity hopper. The programmable dosing and stepless micro-adjustments make it capable of dialing in shots professionally. While not technically commercial quality, the price tag presents a low barrier starting point for Shauna’s business to become operational.
- Eureka Atom 65 Espresso Grinder (Short Hopper): Mighty 65mm flat burrs are quietly powered by a direct drive motor for exquisite handling of even the most prestigious single-origin beans. The short hopper helps conserve space in places like coffee carts and micro-cafes. Being the most professional option on this list, the Eureka Atom 65 offers Shauna the flexibility and capability to grow and adapt to increased demand.
- Eureka Mignon Libra Espresso Grinder: The Grind by Weight feature creates very little waste, and 55mm flat burrs gently handle the beans to preserve flavor while grinding to a reliable consistency. Not super large, which is nice for small spaces, but it will meet a low-volume demand.
Pat wants a grinder to match his high-end prosumer home espresso machine.
Features to look for:
- Large burrs
- Ultra-precise stepless micro-adjustments
- Great looks to complement prosumer espresso machines
Products to consider:
- Rocket Super Fausto: This machine is highly programmable and uses a digital touch screen that adjusts dosing in 5/100th of a second grind increments. It features massive 75mm burrs and a powerful motor. Fausto always creates the right dose, creating an excellent final product. This stylish grinder will also complement the look of Pat’s kitchen and match the chrome style of Rocket and many other manufacturers. He won’t lose his grind setting when he cleans or replaces burrs.
- Mahlkonig E65S GBW: This is a dream pairing machine for any home or commercial machine. The Grind by Weight feature is user-friendly (does grams and ounces), really easy to program, and straightforward for the barista. A powerful and quiet motor drives Mahlkonig’s proprietary burr gears, known for drawing extra sweetness from beans. This machine is repairable, and replacement parts come from the USA. Preferred by competition baristas, the Mahlkonig brand brings prestige and performance to the coffee bar.
- Eureka Atom 75: Insanely fast and quiet, the giant 75mm burrs retain adjustment when disassembled for cleaning; however, they are generally very slow to adjust. The Atom 75’s slightly slower adjustment process makes this a little clumsy in a cafe while under pressure to meet service demands, but pairs perfectly with a high-end home espresso machine. Programmable dosing is easily adjusted with a reliable analog interface that fronts the large professional-appearing machine. This behemoth adds to the spectacle that is Pat’s high-end hand espresso station.
Find the Best Coffee Grinder for You
Choosing the right coffee grinder is more than a simple decision; it's an investment in your daily coffee experience. Whether you're a home or a professional barista, the details will really matter. The type of burrs, the adjustments and features, and even the aesthetics can make a substantial difference in your final product’s outcome and overall satisfaction.
The journey to find the ideal grinder can be both exciting and overwhelming. As a Coffee & Kitchen Expert, I've had the pleasure of guiding many on this path. My fellow Curated Experts and I would love to provide personalized assistance tailored to your unique situation, needs, and budget. Together, we can elevate your coffee experience to new heights and find the equipment that meets your demands and exceeds your expectations.