So many models, so many types. And with it, so many specifications. Some are very technical, others are more generic. Just like buying a laptop, if it’s your first time, buying a grinder can feel intimidating. Fear not.
The first step is to always break down the complicated into simple chunks. That’s precisely our goal here at The Hearty Brew. Take this article as your little cheat sheet. Here are the top 12 things to consider when buying your coffee grinder.
1. Blade vs Burr
I’ve done a whole smackdown about blade grinders versus burr grinders before. Check it out. Basically, you need to choose a grinder with either blades or burrs. In doing so, you choose the main method in which your beans will be ground.
Do you want just a quick coffee? Would you prefer the convenience and cheap price point of a blade grinder, even though it uses sharp blades to unevenly chop up your beans?
Or would you rather save up a little more for a burr grinder? Burr grinders use serrated burrs to properly grind your beans into even, uniform grounds. They can cost slightly more, but are well worth the price. You can get decent entry-level ones for under $100, and burr grinders are what I personally recommend if your goal is to brew better coffee.
2. Electric vs Manual
You’ve got the electric type, where you plug it into a power outlet. Load your grinder up with beans, press start, and the grinder will work to grind out your desired dose. Electric grinders are somewhat bulky, and will take up a fixed space in your kitchen. You likely won’t move it around a lot.
Or, you can opt for a manual hand-crank grinder. These can only grind small doses at a really slow rate, depending on how fast you turn that handle. But, it comes with the perk of being more affordable, lightweight and portable. Plus, it produces extremely consistent, high-quality grinds.
3. Build Material
Cheaper, lower-end grinders will have a predominantly plastic build on the exterior body. Plastic is a lot more fragile, and can crack easily. Cheaper grinders, even those from reputable brands, also face the issue of quality control. If you are unlucky, you might just get a defective model, or one that has a far shorter lifespan than another exact model. Don’t expect very many of them to last more than a year or two, especially under constant use.
As you reach into the hundreds, build quality will increase. A stainless steel casing will cover most of the grinder body, giving it better durability and solid finish. The lifespan of medium to higher-end grinders will also be much longer. The good ones can last for years with only minor maintenance, even with heavy usage.
4. Burr Material and Size
For blade grinders, it really doesn’t matter what the blades are made out of, as the final result is mostly the same. Burrs, on the other hand, come in stainless steel or ceramic options. Stainless steel burrs are the industry standard thanks to their ability to handle really large grind volumes. However, some may prefer a ceramic burr, as they say it gives a more “organic” taste to the coffee.
Ceramic burrs are more fragile, and a hard bump can chip them. Even a small chip can really affect the consistency of the grinds coming out, so be extra careful with the ceramic ones.
When it comes to size, the bigger the burrs, the better (and the more expensive too *sobs*). They are measured in millimeters, so you’ll see something like 46mm or 63mm burrs.
5. Noise Level
This one is an important factor. If you live by yourself, or you enjoy the classic coffee cafe atmosphere of a grinder hard at work, it might not matter as much.
But, if you’re flatting with people, or like to make a brew at the odd hours of the night, you’ll want to pick a grinder that operates quietly. A gentle whirring is what you’re looking for, not a deafening roar or squealing springs that would wake the dead. Lower-end models suffer from this most, but there are a few good models with a relatively quiet noise level, such as the Capresso Infinity Conical Burr Grinder.
6. Hopper Capacity
The hopper is the top container of your grinder which holds the beans. It looks like a funnel in most models. Knowing the capacity of the hopper is something to factor in, especially if you make a large brew in the morning for your big family. Most hoppers can fit a full retail bag of beans (250g or half a pound).
Another option is to get a single-dose grinder. This type of grinder has no hopper at all. It’s designed to grind only one serving of coffee beans at a time. This might sound funny (why would I buy a grinder that doesn’t allow me to store my beans?), but I really like it. This means you have to weigh and grind your beans fresh before every brew, which will vastly improve the taste of your coffee. It’s an amazing option if you only make a couple of coffees a day for yourself or a partner. Your beans won’t sit in the hopper and get stale.
A popular single-dose grinder is the Niche Zero grinder, a relatively new invention but already a beloved favourite of the coffee community.
7. Hopper Trapdoor
If you wish to transfer excess beans from the hopper into a separate container for storage, a trapdoor is an excellent feature to make your life ten times easier.
A trapdoor is a little plastic or metal sheet that, when pulled shut, prevents the beans from falling out the bottom of the hopper. This allows you to then remove the hopper without beans spilling out. For grinders without a trapdoor, you would have to tip the entire grinder over to pour any excess beans out. This increases the risk of an accidental drop, which you 100% do not want.
8. Range of Grind Size
Most coffee grinders allow you to choose the grind size you want, typically by rotating the hopper, or by twisting a dial. You can go from extra coarse (for French Press), to a medium grind (for most pourovers), to extra fine (for espresso). Depending on the type of coffee you brew and drink the most, you’ll want to ensure your grinder of choice has that grind size. For example, don’t get an espresso grinder if you mostly drink French Press.
Some models measure this grind size out by numbers, for example: 1 = fine; 10 = coarse. Others will just write “espresso grind” or “pourover grind”. Make sure the grinder you’re considering has small adjustable, increments between the grind sizes, and not just a flat out jump from “fine” to “medium”. This will allow you the most control when experimenting with your own coffee recipes and brew types.
9. Espresso Consistency
Espresso, and any coffee that requires a finer grind (e.g. Turkish coffee), deserves to be scrutinized even more. This is because proper espresso requires a very, very uniform grind, and most low-end grinders will not be able to manage such an even grind when the grind setting is at an extreme end.
Some grinders are specialized for espresso use, such as the Mythos One used by many cafes in pairing with their espresso machines.
Manual, hand-crank grinders actually work really well in grinding fine, and in many instances can grind far finer than the finest setting of a cheap electric grinder. The only problem is that they’re quite a pain to use if you want to dial-in espresso. You’re gonna have to stand there cranking and cranking endlessly.
10. Ease of Use
Pick one that suits your skill level. Some grinders are targeted for beginners with intuitive digital display screens to dial-in your coffee. For example, the Breville Smart Grinder Pro.
Some are designed more for seasoned coffee users, such as the Mazzer Mini Manual. This home grinder produces amazing, consistent grinds up to the finest settings, and is used even in many cafe settings. But it is a slight pain to adjust the grind settings and is a mess to use.
If espresso is to go-to brew method, you’ll also want to get a grinder with a proper portafilter holder. That way you can grind straight into the portafilter basket, instead of having to take an additional step of transferring coffee grounds from the grounds bin into the portafilter. Trust me, this one is a lifesaver.
11. Ease to Clean
Regular cleaning of the grinder is important. Just wiping down the exterior isn’t enough – grinding beans causes natural coffee oils to build up on the burrs, and if left unchecked can cause a deterioration of taste in future coffees. That’s why finding a grinder that can be disassembled easily is so important.
You don’t want a bazillion different bits and screws involving two dozen tools. Many models these days click in and out of place, and can be taken apart to reveal the burrs. A clean grinder makes clean tasting coffee.
12. Your budget and your needs
Grinders can get very expensive, very fast. In most cases, the more you pay, the better quality you will acquire. But don’t go broke trying to improve your brew. You can get grinders with good value, that is, a good enough quality for the price point you pay.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t make a beeline for the absolute cheapest grinder you can find.
One last tip: don’t buy a grinder just because of the brand – buy one according to your needs and abilities. If you don’t ever intend on brewing espresso, don’t fret if your grinder isn’t designed for a super-fine espresso grind. Know what you need before you shop, and never lose sight of that original goal.
Topping it off!
Have this handy checklist near you the next time you’re choosing a grinder. It’s sometimes hard to compare grinders spec for spec, so by following this list, you’ll have a baseline for comparison between different models.
You’d honestly be surprised at how many good grinders are out there for an affordable price. I know I was when I first researched it.