It’s difficult sometimes trying to do everything right in crafting the perfect cup of coffee. You may try bags and bags of specialty roasted coffee until you find your favorite blend at just the right roast. Or, you could research the best ways to brew coffee, then purchase the best brewer on the market (look at my Best Coffee Brewer article for suggestions). You could lovingly store your whole beans until they are finally ready to be ground just before brew. But, if your coffee grinder isn’t up to snuff, then all that work is done in vain.
I’ve spent over 6,000 hours sourcing, roasting, grinding, and brewing specialty coffee from all over the world, and I’ve had a lot of up and down moments with a long line of coffee grinders along the way. The coffee grinder is one of the pieces of equipment that seems to take the most abuse and is least capable of standing up to it. But, in the process, I’ve found a few excellent home grinders that have risen to the challenge. And, so far my favorite coffee grinder is the Breville Smart Grinder Pro.
Top Three Picks for Best Coffee Grinder
Let me share my experiences with you so you don’t have to spend years of trial and error like I did to make an informed coffee grinder decision. I won’t be talking about any commercial coffee grinder in this review. Those are a whole different beast.
But I’ll get into the mechanics and function of a really great home coffee grinder here.
Best Burr Grinder – The Breville Smart Grinder Pro
This is my all-around favorite coffee grinder because it just does not give up. For a few years, I roasted and sold ethically traded coffee at local farmers markets. And, because I was just starting out, I could not afford a commercial grade coffee grinder. So, to provide the grounds for twenty large carafes each Saturday morning all season long, I used my Breville Smart Grinder Pro, a strictly home use machine.
The Breville coffee grinder handled the abuse I gave it Saturday after Saturday without complaint for three years in a row! A typical consumer may use the Breville coffee grinder to brew up to 14 cups of coffee on a lazy Saturday morning. I was grinding enough beans for 400 cups of coffee on those same Saturday mornings. The Breville never let me down.
Besides its commercial-grade durability, let me tell you what else I love about the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. For one, it’s a stepped adjustment, conical burr coffee grinder. Burr grinders give you a more even, consistent particle size in the ground coffee product. This is an important aspect because too much inconsistency in the grind can result in poor quality brewed coffee.
The Breville coffee grinder is easily adjustable for grind size. It features a backlit LCD screen that tells you where on the grind spectrum you are. As you turn the dial you can see the tick mark on the spectrum change whether you’re adjusting the grind to be finer or coarser. You can also adjust the number of beans you want to grind, and the amount of time you want the grinder to take grinding those beans. All of this can be done with a push of a button or a turn of a dial. Once you’ve dialed in your settings, just push the start button, and you’re one step closer to an excellent cup of coffee.
My favorite thing about the Breville though is its espresso dosing function. You can set your grinder to ultra fine grind for espresso, then choose how many shots you’d like it to grind for you. Breville provides two different size portafilter holding brackets that attach via magnet to the coffee grinder.
So, you can just set your portafilter in the holder, push the button, and let the coffee grinder dose out the espresso for you, just like at a coffee house. Or, another way to initiate the grind is by giving the portafilter a quick push. It will activate the grinder, thanks to a trigger that rests between the grinder and the portafilter. Making espresso can be messy, especially when you have to scoop ground espresso from a cup into your portafilter. Having the ability to grind right into your portafilter in such a mess freeway, is just an extra touch that shows the consideration the folks at Breville have taken with their machines.
A bonus feature that is often overlooked with the Breville, is its ability to adjust to wear and tear on the grind. Inside the actual burr grinding mechanism is a removable ring. Within that ring is a ten step adjustment you can use to widen the grind variability on your machine in either direction – finer or more coarse. After a few years, if you notice your grind setting isn’t performing as well as it used to, you can adjust this ring to ensure continued consistency in the grind.
The last thing that makes the Breville so cool is it’s removable, locking hopper. It will hold a pound of beans, which will last you a while. But, you may want to change out the beans before that pound is used up, say to try a different roast or enjoy some decaf. To do so, just unlock and remove the hopper, then click a release lever to dump all the beans back into a container. Reposition the hopper into the grinder, and add new beans. The whole process takes less than a minute.
Best Blade Grinder – The Hamilton Beach Custom Grind
Now I’ll be honest with you. Generally speaking, blade grinders are not my first choice. I say this because they do not grind coffee as consistently as burr grinders too. This can make the biggest difference in the quality of coffee brewed by methods requiring very coarse or fine grinds such as french press and espresso.
But, if you’re budget conscious, a consistent drip coffee drinker or you don’t drink coffee frequently, then a blade grinder may be an appropriate choice for you. Blade grinders are inexpensive, straightforward, and easy to operate.
And of all the blade grinders I’ve used, the Hamilton Beach Custom Grind has been the most enjoyable to use. With most grinders, the first thing to go when reaching its last days is the motor. Low-quality grinders can burn out easily when the motor is overburdened. But, with the Hamilton Beach Custom Grind, I’ve been able to grind coffee for countless pots of brewed coffee without any trouble. And I can then save my burr grinder for use with my more demanding brew methods, such as with my espresso machine.
In general, blade grinders are constructed simply. So what makes the Hamilton Beach so special? For starters, you can adjust the grind – or so it appears. Grinding beans with simple blade grinders mean pushing a button and holding it there until you get the grind you want. On the Hamilton Beach, you can set the grind level and it will grind the beans as long as it needs to for the grind level you’ve selected. That means no more guesswork for you.
It also has a level markers based on the cups of coffee you intend to brew. So you can measure out the number of beans you’ll need just by dumping them in up to the appropriate mark. This means no more measuring out with scoops. There’s an adjustable lever on the face of the grinder. You can set the lever according to how many cups of coffee you’re brewing, and the grinder knows how long to grind.
Maybe best of all, you don’t have to turn the entire grinder upside down to remove the grounds once the grinder has done its job. The Hamilton Beach features a removable cup. You can pull that cup out and dump the beans into your basket or cone filter. Then just place the empty cup back into the grinder. So all in all, the Hamilton Beach Custom Grind is a whole lot of blade grinder at a very affordable price.
Not Too Shabby
Burr grinders are best. They provide the most consistency in the grind. This is so important in the final cup quality, especially in the French press, pour-overs, and espresso. But if you drink coffee infrequently, drink only drip brewed coffee, or you’re on a tight budget, the Hamilton Beach Custom Grind is one blade grinder you can count on. I’ve even ground espresso in this grinder. While I wouldn’t do it every day, I actually got a decent espresso pull from it.
Best Manual Grinder – The Mueller Ultra Grind
Manual grinding is a pain, I’ll be honest. There’s no way around that. What takes you seconds to do with an electric grinder will take you minutes with a manual one. But there may be some circumstances that require a manual grinder, especially if you’re a coffee die hard. So if you’re going to buy one, I’d suggest the Mueller Ultra Grind.
On The Go
Camping is the first thing that comes to my mind when a manual grinder would come in handy. If you haven’t figured out already, I’m one of those hopeless coffee diehards, and that doesn’t change when I’m camping. I cannot stand instant coffee. Some of those who are braver than me drink it without complaint. I wish I was as good as them!
Instead, I break out the manual grinder and my beans out of the camping bin. I sit in my camping chair and turn that crank until I get the number of grounds I need. Then it’s into my insulated french press they go, and I’m on my way to one excellent cup of camping coffee!
Of course, it doesn’t have to strictly be used for camping. You may also find it convenient to bring along with you during bad hotel coffee stays. Or you may want to use it while staying with friends or family who doesn’t drink coffee, or worse – use K-cups.
The Mueller Ultra Grind is slim and compact, so it takes up minimal space in your camping bin or suitcase. Each piece, except for the grinding handle, nest into each other. Grinding is as simple as pouring the beans into one end, attaching the crank, and cranking grinds out into the other end. Pull the grounds end off, and dump them into your brewing mechanism of choice.
The Mueller actually gives you a wide selection in the grind with eighteen different grind settings from French press coarse to espresso fine. You can also grind herbs and spices in this portable grinder. Just keep in mind, the finer the grind, the longer you’ll be cranking. It takes me about four minutes on average to grind beans for one serving.
If you’re especially sensitive to noise pollution, well then you’ll be happy to know that the Mueller Ultra Grind is pretty much silent. Since you’re the one doing all the work, not the grinder the only sound you’ll hear is the crunching of the beans. It’s quiet, lightweight, mess-free, and very easy to keep clean.
The Difference Between Burr and Blade
The type and quality of a coffee grinder have a bigger impact on the taste of your coffee than you may think. If your beans aren’t ground evenly at the appropriate size for whatever brew method you choose, you can easily end up with over or under extracted coffee. But, with a little bit of research and consideration, you can pick a quality grinder that will help you get the most out of your brew.
Although both will get the job done, with varying degrees of quality, there is a fundamental difference in the mechanics of a burr grinder vs. a blade grinder. Let’s start with the blade grinder.
Blade grinders basically consist of a blade and a motor. Usually, the grinder top loads the beans and the motor is positioned directly underneath the blade. Blade shapes can include the sharp S, propeller style, and cross. Although the shape may vary, the fundamental operation is to chop the beans to smithereens, or at least until they’re generally the right grind size.
Achieving the desired grind size is just a matter of grinding for the appropriate amount of time. The longer the blade grinder runs, the finer the grind becomes. The less amount of time the grinder runs, the coarser the grind is.
The great thing about blade grinders is their affordability since the construction and design is inexpensive to manufacture. The not so great thing about blade grinders is their inability to create uniformity in the grind of the beans. For that, you’ll need to turn to burr grinders.
The mechanics of grinding become a little more complicated with burr grinders. Burr grinders consist of two teeth-like gears that rub up together, literally crushing beans between their teeth. There is two type of burr grinders: conical burr grinders and flat burr grinders.
Conical Burr Grinders
While both conical and flat burr grinders crush beans between their teeth, they both do it in slightly different ways. A conical burr grinder consists of two cone-shaped teeth gears. One solid one nests inside a larger, hollow one. As the beans flow down in between the two sets of teeth, they are crushed and then fall out the underside and out the grinder mouth.
Conical burr grinders usually grind beans at a slower rpm, which reduces the loss of important bean oils that contribute directly to the flavor quality of the final cup. They are typically more expensive than flat burr grinders, though.
Flat Burr Grinders
Like conical burr grinders, flat burr grinders crush beans between their teeth. Flat burr grinders consist of two serrated rings that sit horizontally upon each other with a bit of space in between. As beans fall down, they pass in between these teeth and then flow out the bottom of the grinder. With both flat and conical grinders, bean grind size is dependent on the amount of space in between the two sets of teeth.
Flat burr grinders are typically less expensive and quieter than conical burr grinders. However, they tend to move at a higher rpm, which can negatively impact the taste of coffee. They become jammed more frequently.
That being said, most of the differences between these two types of burr grinders are negligible and often are the subject of debate among coffee fanatics.
Choosing The Correct Grind
Grind preferences can be really subjective once you’ve dialed in the appropriate range. It’s really a matter of personal taste depending on how extracted you’d like your grinds. A smaller grind translates to more surface area for the water to run over. More surface area means more opportunities to extract all those good coffee flavors. Conversely, a coarser grind means less contact the grounds have with the water.
Brewing methods like the French press that require the water mingle awhile with the grounds. So it needs a coarser grind to avoid over-extraction. Fast flow methods, such as espresso, means hot water is pushed through grounds at an optimum 19 bars of pressure. So it requires a very fine grind so that grounds are sufficiently exposed for proper extraction is such a small amount of time.
Generally speaking though, there are general grind levels recommended for each type of brew, so that gross over or under extraction doesn’t occur.
The first thing to do is to get your grinder dialed into the correct range (coarse for French press, medium fine for cone drip, fine for espresso, etc.). Then you’ll be able to adjust from there based on your own tastes or trial and error.
Questions and Answers
Q: I’m grinding the recommended amount of beans for my brewing method but it tastes sour. What can I do to fix this?
A: There could be a variety of factors at play. Ruling out each factor one by one is the best way to determine why your coffee is tasting sour.
The first thing I would do is check the roast level of your beans. Ignore what the package says and take a look at the beans themselves. Are they shiny or glossy? Is the color of the beans dark or very dark? If so, then your beans have been over roasted, which is one of the biggest culprits in a sour tasting cup of coffee.
If you prefer dark roasts, look for roasting companies that correctly roast their beans. Dark roasts should at most be medium-dark brown in color with only a slight sheen of oil. Anything dark destroys the integrity of the bean and completely masks the fundamental coffee flavor.
Once your beans check out, look at your grind. Is your grinder set at the appropriate setting for your beans? Try adjusting your grind to a coarser setting so that less surface area is exposed to the water. If you feel you’re having to overcorrect by moving so far out normal range for your brewing method, then move on to checking the extraction.
How much time is your water spending mingling with the grounds? If the water brew rate is adjustable, make sure you have it on the right setting. For example, some drip brewers will have settings that allow water to sit in the filter longer for stronger coffee.
Make sure its adjusted for the fastest flow rate. French presses are similar. When letting your hot water sit with the grounds, make sure you set your timer for the appropriate amount of time before pushing down the plunger.
Q: What’s the best brew method for getting the most flavor out of the grind?
A: Well that’s really up to you. But, personally, I prefer some methods over others. When I have the time to spend carefully brewing my coffee, and I have some really high quality, craft roasted beans, I prefer the pour over method. With pour over you can expose the grounds to a bit of hot water a little at a time to ensure precise extraction. This takes a little time and attention, so I typically only get to do it on the weekends.
If I’m drinking my coffee with milk, then I’m an espresso gal all the way. I love a finely pulled espresso with a nice thick crema injected with a healthy dose of foamy latte milk. But when I’m in a hurry, like most mornings, and I need a lot of coffee on hand, I turn to my trusty drip brewer. Drip brewers are a little more forgiving with variability in the grind, but the most consistent, correctly dialed in grind will give you the best-brewed coffee.
So, to sum it up, the burr is best. Our favorite is the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. But, if you need a good second best then go blade with the Hamilton Beach Custom Grind. If you need a non-electric option to take on the go, I suggest the Mueller Ultra Grind.