The old adage of “value in, value out,” applies more so to coffee than most other aspects of life. You’re doing yourself no favors with that cheap electric grinder you picked up on sale last year. There’s an unofficial rule that for every dollar you spend on an espresso machine, half that should go toward a coffee grinder. The best grinders put out a consistent grind across the very fine to coarse spectrum. Combined with freshly roasted beans, the end result is a coffee experience fit for a king. Yet many coffee drinkers are still using blade-based grinders that deliver an inconsistent grind, resulting in a less flavorful mix of under and over-extracted coffee.
Now is a better time than ever to revisit the role of the coffee grinder in your kitchen. We put together a list of the best coffee grinders based on budget below.
Photo: Dennis Tang (CC-BY-SA)
Electric or hand grinder?
Electric grinders have the obvious advantage of saving time, but avoid blade grinders like the plague. Stick with a burr grinder for more even results. A quality conical burr grinder starts at $150 and can cost as much as $1200. The investment is well worth the price.
Hand grinders such as the Hario Mini Mill are the way to go on a budget. What you save in price is made up for two-fold with elbow grease, but it’s worth well it. These and grinders are perfect for French presses and filter coffee, but not as consistent as top-notch burr grinders for finer espresso grinds and won’t be able to reach the fineness of Turkish coffee.
Our Winners: Hand grinders
The Price-Performance Winner: Hario Mini Mill
The Hario Mini Mill combines of the best of price and performance in the hand grinder category. The author uses this grinder at home and finds it a perfect companion to the Aeropress. The only downside is coffee grounds may get stuck to the plastic catch bin. It’s perfect for coffee for one, but not much more. All things considered, though, it’s one of the best bargains in coffee. This is especially true if you value portability.
Big Brews: Hario Skerton Ceramic Grinder
The Skerton picks up where the Mini Mill leaves off. For a few dollars more, you get a bigger glass catch bin that coffee is less susceptible to catch onto. Compared to the Mini Mill, the Skerton has a sturdier base. According to reports at Prima Coffee, the Skerton is a bit more difficult to turn, however, and it’s also less portable. Yet the Skerton is a no-brainer if you’re routinely brewing for multiple people.
Indie Alternative: Orphan Espresso Lido 2
Orphan Espresso is currently crowd-funding what promises to be perhaps the most precise hand grinder ever built. The Garrotts at Orphan have spent more than three years perfecting the steel dual-bearing design. We haven’t tested the Lido 2 yet, but if anything its industrial design will look great in the kitchen.
Price: $175 at Orphan Espresso
Our Winners: The Electrics
Price-Performance: Baratza Encore
The Encore is a new model improved from previous generations. It is amazingly precise for the price, making it our winner in the price/performance and entry-level grinder categories. The Encore makes an excellent companion to your first espresso machine and leaves all other blade grinders in the dust.
Mid-range: Rancilio Rocky
The Rocky is a solid choice for those looking to up the ante without hurting the wallet too much. According to CoffeeGeek, its 1990s design is built to last. Many Rocky owners report having their grinders for 15 years. The Rocky contains the same 50mm burr set and motor as the pricier Rancilio MD40 as well. We think it looks pretty sexy as well.
High-end: Baratza Vario
This 55mm ceramic burr grinder is as versatile as it is precise. It’s easy to make even the most minor adjustments and quickly switch between the 230 possible grind settings. The Vario also has a special no-retention bin.