When it comes to improving the quality of your morning cup of coffee, it’s hard to overstate how important your grinder is to your finished cup of coffee. To understand that, we have to think about the overall goal when we are making coffee: to extract as much flavor from the coffee as you can.
Coffee and wine are very similar, in that geography and processing methods affect the flavor of the finished product. But unlike wine, coffee depends on the at-home consumer to brew the coffee. And that is where most of the coffee’s flavor is usually lost.
You can buy unroasted beans and roast them yourself (or go to a local roaster and get them to do it for you), but it won’t make much of a difference you aren’t grinding correctly. And the simplest and most significant change you can make is to start using a burr coffee grinder.
We recommend using a burr grinder for most situations, but we also recognize that many of you still want to use a blade grinder, or perhaps you like the feel of grinding beans with a hand grinder. Our list includes all three types of grinders.
The Baratza Encore wins out for its combination of versatility and budget-friendliness. David LaTourell of Intelligentsia recommends the Baratza Virtuoso coffee grinder for home use, but the Encore offers a comparable quality of grinds while costing about $100 less. The Encore has a high torque motor that, in combination with electronic speed reduction, grinds the coffee slowly to reduce any heat build-up and noise. It has over 40 settings, ranging from 250-1200 microns. It’s also very easy to use over time. You can easily remove the burrs for cleaning, and the anti-static technology keeps coffee grind build-up at bay. This is a great solution for the home or even a small coffee shop.
If Money is no Object: The Baratza Virtuoso is an improvement over the Encore, but only slightly.
Rancilio is the brand of choice for many high-end coffee shops looking for reliable, high quality commercial brewing equipment. Rancilio has recently released coffee grinders aimed at the consumer market.
These grinders are amazing. They have giant 50′ metal burrs that slowly pulverize the coffee beans expertly without building up any heat. The added benefit of these burrs? They are quiet. Not whisper quiet, but about half as loud as the Baratza Encore, which is not a loud machine at all. We are recommending the Doserless one. The doser makes it much more difficult to clean.
So why isn’t the Rancilio at the top of our list? Price. The $349 Doserless version is as low as it gets for these grinders, which is realistically out of most people’s price range. If you want the absolute best regardless of price (lucky you!), then by all means get the Rancilio.
This is Capresso’s commercial grade grinder. It has the sturdiest build quality of all the grinders on this list. The most impressive feature is how there’s no vibration when it’s grinding coffee. Most grinders will make your kitchen counter vibrate at least a little. The grind settings are also very wide, with its extra-fine setting even getting down to 150 microns. You can set a timer to grind anywhere from 5-60 seconds (depending on the volume of coffee). The only problem is that there is no on/off switch like in the Encore. Instead the grinder works on a timer.
4. Espressione Professional Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
Ease of Use: 4.75
Coffee Grind Quality: 4.90
This grinder, along with the Baratza Encore, are both quiet as a mouse when they are working. The Espressione also has a handy auto shut off feature, so it turns itself off when it’s done grinding the coffee. The only drawback is that you’ll have to keep yourself from forgetting that there is coffee in there (which I did) after it’s done working. It’s also really small and compact, so it doesn’t take up much space on your counter. The major drawback is the cleaning needed. There’s a large learning curve when it comes to cleaning the burrs.
Bodum has made a burr coffee grinder that is both incredibly easy to use, but be warned: this is for home use only. Bodum advises you to wait 5 minutes in between grinding sessions to keep the motor from overheating. This is definitely not for commercial use (unlike the grinders ranked higher than this one). The grinder does have some definite strengths that make it a great choice for a home grinder. Bodum made the tray out out borosilicate glass instead of plastic, which keeps the coffee particles from flying around and clinging to the tray. This makes clean-up and maintenance a breeze. The build quality is top-notch. In short, it’s a great home-use coffee grinder. If Bodum had used a more efficient motor, it might be a great choice for cafes as well.
This grinder works by turning a dial on the bottom of the hopper. It goes from fine to extra-coarse (sorry, Turkish coffee lovers!). This grinder doesn’t have any stand out features, it just does everything well. It’s compact, sleek looking, works quietly, and is easy to use. The downside is that the grinds tray is made of plastic, which as we know is bad for cling. You can also set the amount of grinds and the Cuisinart will shut off after the amount specified is ground. I never used this feature, since I would only use the desired amount of coffee beans into the hopper in the first place. Dumping a set amount of beans into the hopper for days at a time is a recipe for stale coffee.
Mr.Coffee’s Burr Mill grinder is a very convenient, easy to use grinder. Where Mr.Coffee loses points is static. The finished coffee grinds seem to defy gravity as I pulled the tray out, and as a result it was a little more difficult to clean. The quality of the coffee grinds was above average, however the burr grinder seemed incapable of producing true espresso coffee grinds. I set it to maximum fine grind and the result resembled cone filter drip coffee rather than espresso roast. If you’re only going to use the grinds for a drip coffee maker or french press, then the grinder will work just fine. It’s also very budget friendly. Since it comes in under $50, it’s understandable that it can’t live up to a Baratza grinder.
This is a nice looking coffee grinder. It’s one of those machines that you’ll want to leave on the kitchen counter just to show it off. Over time, though, the clear grinds tray won’t look nice and clean. Making the tray tinted in future models would go a long way towards aesthetics.
But forget about how it looks, how does it grind? The big drawback to this grinder is the static. Which means that the burrs will need to be cleaned quite frequently. The coffee grinds themselves were quality. The espresso was just as fine as it should be. The coffee grinds for french press seemed a bit smaller than they should be, but after brewing up a pot it didn’t make a difference in taste at all. Overall a pretty looking machine that will grind your coffee (albeit loudly for a burr grinder).
The Gaggia 8002 MDF coffee grinder is an absolutely amazing burr grinder when it comes to quality of grinds produced, types of grinds, build quality and longevity (many users brag about having the Gaggia MDF for 10 years or more). The reason it’s so low on this list? The cleaning. Unlike the Rancio Rocky grinders listed up at #2, the Gaggia MDF doesn’t have a ‘doserless’ version, meaning you need to disassemble it completely in order to clean it. It’s a bit quieter than the Rancio Rocky, although it weirdly doesn’t have rubber pads on the bottom of the grinder, meaning the vibrations can echo off your kitchen counter and make it much louder sounding than it really is. Still, at $189 the price is more reasonable.
Some of us prefer the tactile act of grinding up coffee by hand. The grinders also tend to be much more affordable, and you can take them camping with you. There’s nothing better than watching caffeine-deprived campers’ eyes widen when you pull out the hand-crank coffee grinder.
We separate out the hand grinder from the electric burr grinders, since it really isn’t fair to compare them 1 to 1.
10. Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill
Ease of Use: 5.00
Coffee Grind Quality: 4.4
The ceramic coffee mill is as simple as it looks: add coffee beans, turn the crank, and out comes fresh coffee grinds. The quality of the grinds doesn’t compare to a burr grinder, but it is simple, fast, and affordable. The Hario Grinder costs anywhere from $35-$50 and it is the ultimate in portability. Out at the cottage? No problem. Camping? Power outage? You can still have coffee.
It’s also easy to clean: a simple rinse and it’s done. You have to clean it every time, but the job is so simple that it becomes a tiny task to go along with your breakfast dishes.
Whereas blade grinders use blades that violently tear apart the coffee beans, burr grinders use two plates, or ‘burrs’, that close in on the beans and ‘pulverize’ them. The coffee grinds from burr grinders are superior for two reasons:
Uniform Grinds – the coffee particles from blade grinders are a mixture of too large (flavor-containing particles aren’t released), medium-sized and too small (flavor particles are eviscerated by the grinder).
Flavor-Containing Oils Survive – the natural oils that are contained within coffee beans are mostly destroyed by blade grinders. Here the oils are released and stay with the coffee grinds.
What Grind Setting Should I Use?
Most burr coffee grinders will let you choose the grind settings for your coffee. However, some of the automatic grinders want you to set their grind settings by ‘microns’. The size of coffee particles is measured in microns. So for French Press, for example, you will want larger coffee grinds (900 microns), and for espresso you’ll want a lower setting (about 300 microns).
You can use this chart as a reference for coffee beans:
Turkish – 100 Microns
Espresso – 300 Microns
Paper Filter (i.e. cone-shaped coffee-makers) – 500 Microns
Metal Filter (i.e. flat-bottom coffee makers) – 700 Microns
Percolator – 800 Microns
French Press/Bodum – 900 Microns
That’s it! Any burr grinders I forgot to mention? Let me know your thoughts and suggestions for burr grinders to try out.