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Grinding coffee for espresso can be tricky. As a brew method, espresso tends to be somewhat all or nothing, owing to the fact that its pressurized preparation can bring out the best or worst of your coffee beans depending on how they’re ground. When you add a budget to the mix, it can be tough to find a grinder that suits your machine, and your tastes. For the budding home baristas out there looking for their first grinder, we’ve put together a list of five fantastic picks for espresso grinders under $500. Please note that this list is organized by price and that ultimately the “best” grinder will be the one that best suits your needs and preferences.
A relative newcomer to us at the time of writing this list, the BB005 TM by Bezzera is fairly unassuming at first glance. Sporting a rather retro-minimalist design, there’s actually a lot to love about both its construction and its performance. For starters, the grinder is produced in Italy by Bezzera, designed as a companion to the full spectrum of their home machines. Uncommon for a grinder at this price point is the BB005’s full AISI 304 stainless steel housing. Also uncommon are its 48mm conical steel burrs and its stepless micrometric grind adjustment.
Taking a step back from the jargon, let’s break down what that actually means and how it benefits you. Conical burr grinders have a pair of asymmetrical burrs. Unlike their counterparts in flat burr grinders which have two (often identical) flat grinding discs, conical burr grinders have one cone shaped burr and one ring shaped burr that encompasses it. The benefit to this design is a general reduction in retained coffee (ground coffee that remains in the grinding chamber) and in heat produced (the motor generally doesn’t have to work as hard). As for stepless micrometric grind adjustment, that’s actually two topics.
When a grinder’s burrs have stepless adjustment, it means that there isn’t a fixed amount of distance that they move (AKA a step) when you change your grind size. Micrometric on the other hand refers to the adjustment itself and how it is achieved mechanically. On the BB005, rather than directly adjusting the top burr, rotating it left or right to change grind size, you instead use a small knob on the top-right of the grinder to make your changes. By twisting the knob, the motion is translated into the rotation of the top burr, causing it to move closer or farther away from the bottom burr. The benefit of adjusting this way is that you can make incredibly precise and minute adjustments to your grind. The downside is that precision comes at the cost of being more time consuming than if you were directly adjusting the burrs.
With the technology lesson out of the way, let’s go over basic operation. As an automatic grinder, pressing the switch on the front panel with your portafilter will activate the motor to begin grinding. The BB005 TM is specifically a timed grinder, meaning that you can set your desired grinding time and the motor will operate for that long. Taking a more analog approach, time is set via a dial, marked to denote “0,” single, double, and triple shots (notated by one, two, or three dots, respectively). In total, grinding time can be adjusted between 2 and 28 seconds with the three shot indicators signifying approximately 6/8g for a single, 12/14g for a double, and 18/20g for a triple based on your grind. It’s important to note that if you want to stop the motor once it’s begun grinding, you’ll need to either adjust the timer knob to “0” or flip the power switch off.
So, why do we like this grinder? One of the key reasons is just how precise its adjustment is. When we first got our hands on the BB005, we tested it alongside the BZ13 which had also just arrived in the studio. Even paired with a prosumer grade machine, we were able to dial in delicious shots without difficulty. Thanks to micrometric adjustment, maintaining consistency in our extractions was also never an issue. It’s also worth noting that Bezzera rates it as capable of grinding 4kg (that’s 8.8 lbs) of coffee an hour. Not without its flaws, stopping a grind cycle mid-grind does take a bit of getting used to, and the motor is a bit noisy without a ton of insulation. All that said, the BB005 TM is a fantastic grinder for the money and a great choice for anyone starting out on their espresso journey.
The Baratza Sette 270 has slowly, but steadily become emblematic of the shift towards low retention, single-dosing espresso grinders that have become increasingly popular among home baristas. Introduced initially under the pretenses that it would be positioned for all-purpose use, it’s hard to deny that the Sette is an incredibly successful espresso grinder. Another Baratza grinder, and an entry on this list, the Baratza Vario is better suited for the designation of “all-purpose coffee grinder.”
What exactly makes the Sette 270 so good at espresso grinding? For starters, the Sette is designed in such a way that it retains almost no coffee at all. In fact, it was this grinder that inspired Mark Prince of CoffeeGeek to coin the term “zero retention” grinders, referring to grinders that retain less than 0.5g of coffee after grinding. Baratza achieved this in part by directly positioning the Sette’s conical burrs and dispensing chute directly above the convertible device holder (hereafter referred to as the portafilter catch). The other half of the equation is the revolutionary design in which the outer ring burr rotates while the cone remains stationary. Coffee simply falls straight through the burrs with nothing but static preventing them from landing in your portafilter (and we can do something about that).
In my introduction to the Sette 270, I used the term “single-dosing” to describe the types of grinders that have become popular in modern times. Fortunately, there’s nothing complicated about this concept. The dry coffee used to pull a shot of espresso is sometimes referred to as a dose. So, when you single-dose, that simply means that you’re only grinding enough coffee for a single preparation. The benefit to single dosing is that you greatly reduce coffee waste, especially when weighing your beans ahead of time with a precision scale. Additionally, as opposed to storing your beans in the hopper, which isn’t airtight and exposes to light, you can store them more efficiently and only take them out when you need them. When it comes to grinding this way, static electricity isn’t your friend. Fortunately, lightly misting your beans with water via a process called the Ross Droplet Technique, AKA RDT Spraying will eliminate static generated by grinding.
Grinding on the Sette 270 is handled by a suite of three programmable time profiles and a start button. Each of the three profiles can be programmed within 1/10th of a second grinding times, though when grinding for espresso, you’ll rarely need more than a handful of seconds, thanks to the Sette’s output of 3.5 - 5.5g/sec. Grinding time is displayed on an LED screen in the center of the grinder’s front panel. If you need to stop the motor while grinding, simply the start button again to pause and retain your remaining time, or the stop button to reset. Pressing the timed profile buttons will switch the grinding time to whatever the button is programmed for. To program these buttons, simply press and hold the desired button to enter programming mode for the profile.
Grind adjustment on the Sette 270 is fairly unique as it combines elements of both stepped and stepless adjustment. The burr assembly consists of two halves for adjusting your grind. The top half, or macro adjustment, consists of 31 stepped adjustments, while the bottom half consists of a micro-adjustment wheel which adjusts steplessly. When making adjustments, one full revolution of the micro-adjustment wheel is equal to one stepped adjustment. However, it cannot adjust the burrs beyond the current macro setting, only within it. Regardless, the inclusion of the micro-adjustment wheel affords users the precision necessary to dial in extractions on prosumer level machines and maintain consistent extractions.
All in all, the Sette’s speed, programmability, and incredibly low retention make it an attractive choice for home grinding. Additional features like its adjustable portafilter catch for hands-free grinding, hopper stopper, and easy to access burrs help to round out the user experience. As far as downsides are concerned, the Sette is made mostly of plastic and is fairly loud while grinding. Something else worth mentioning is that the Sette 270 is more of a Musketeer than a Zoro in that the Sette series of grinders also features the more entry level and fully stepped Sette 30 AP, and the weight based Sette 270Wi (in case you’re interested in some grinders that aren’t on this list). Regardless of its intended purpose, the Baratza Sette 270 is one of the best choices around if you’re looking for a featureful home espresso grinder.
It seems like every time I turn around there’s a new version of the Eureka Mignon with new features to be in awe of. On this list however, we’re going back to the grinder that started it all, the Mignon Instantaneo. As the template for all Mignons to follow, the Instantaneo set the bar high by condensing a number of impressive features in an incredibly compact frame. Like the BB005 TM, the Mignon Instantaneo has both an analog grind timer and micrometric burr adjustment. Uniquely square shaped for a grinder and only 14” tall, the Mignon owes its signature look to its one-piece aluminum housing.
As discussed above, micrometric grind adjustment allows for incredibly precise changes to your grind size. However, unlike the BB005, the Mignon’s adjustment works a bit differently. Similar to other Eureka grinders like the Atom and the Zenith, the Mignon’s grind adjustment key doesn’t directly move the burrs, but instead raises and lowers the motor inside of the grinder which in turn raises and lowers the bottom burr. This unique solution not only provides incredible control over adjustment but also allows the Mignon to retain your grind settings when you remove the top burr for cleaning.
To start grinding on the Mignon Instantaneo, a portafilter activated switch underneath the grinding chute can be used to start and stop the motor. Using a button on the bottom right hand side of the grinder, you can set the operating mode to either “manual” or “timed” dispensing. In manual mode you start and stop the grinder manually, grinding exactly as much coffee as you want. In timed mode, the analog dial can be used to set automatic dispensing time between 1 - 14 seconds. To pause a timed cycle, you can press the switch again to stop grinding mid cycle.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the Mignon is one of the best looking grinders on this list. As a commercial grinder manufacturer, Eureka pays close attention to visual details as many of their grinders wind up on the bar of a cafe. The Mignon’s body is made from powder coated aluminum, with chromed accents and sloping leg supports that frame the grinding chute, helping to contain any stray grinds that escape the portafilter while grinding.
The Mignon Instantaneo was the grinder that launched Eureka for us. Its compactness and price make its incredibly accessible choice to anyone looking for a good-looking and high-performing grinder. While it might not be our first recommendation, our customers paired it with prosumers just as readily as entry level machines. Some things to be aware of are that the Mignon’s smaller burrs (50mm) and smaller motor limit its grinding speed to about 0.8g - 1.2g per second when grinding for espresso. As a result, at the max timed setting the grinder will dispense about 16.8g of coffee. Grinding is also fairly noisy compared to some of the pricier options from Eureka, and grinds may clump a bit at finer settings. Apart from that, the Mignon Instantaneo is a cute and capable grinder that easily fits into most kitchens and budgets.
The Baratza Vario is a great grinder. It has been for a long time and it was once a commonly recommended grinder to pair with prosumer espresso machines. As commercial grinder manufacturers like Ceado and Eureka came into prominence among home users, the Vario took a back seat to bigger burrs and bigger motors. Eventually, the advent of the Sette took the world of home espresso by storm and the Vario was overshadowed by its ingenious, albeit unconventional sibling. However, the Vario more than deserves a spot on this list. It’s something of a “Once and Future King” of all-purpose coffee grinding, and yes, all-purpose includes espresso.
As the term “all-purpose” suggests, the Vario is capable of producing grinds suitable for all forms of coffee preparation. In fact, on Baratza’s own grinding comparison chart, the Vario is rated at 4-stars (Very Good) for both espresso and manual brewing, with only the Sette 270/270Wi and Forte AP pulling ahead for espresso and the Virtuoso+ and Forte BG surpassing it for manual brewing. This identity is fully embraced by Baratza, with the Vario shipping with both a heavy duty aluminum portaholder and a ground coffee catch bin.
Unlike the other grinders on this list, the Vario has fully stepped grind adjustment. However, in the context of all-purpose use, this is actually an advantageous design decision. Because the steps offer fixed and unchanging points of reference, that means that you can very easily record the position of specific settings for different methods. Similar to the Sette, the Vario has both micro and macro burr adjustment. Macro adjustments are made in 10 steps, numbered 1 - 10 and micro adjustments are made in 23 steps, lettered A - W. That means there are a total of 230 grind settings and when you find a particular setting that suits the method you’re brewing with, you can record your alphanumeric combination to remember for later, sort of like a massive game of Battleship. H7. You sunk my Chemex!
In addition to easy-to-remember settings, the Vario set the standard for Baratza’s timed grinding with three programmable timed profiles. Just like the Sette, the Vario can either grind a profile automatically with time displayed via a digital screen, or operate manually for on-demand dispensing. Given the Vario’s flexibility when it comes to grinding for all brew methods, profiles can be set not just for single / double shots, but for entirely separate devices. The most recent version of the Vario includes a hands-free metal portaholder that securely locks into the frame of the grinder as well as a plastic grinds bin that is perfect for measuring your yield or weighing out a single-dose when paired with a scale. That said, if you intend to single dose heavily, you would be better served by the Sette.
Rounding out the Vario, its 54mm ceramic burrs keep their edge well and generate less heat. For the tinkerer at heart, the burrs can be swapped out for a pair of stainless steel ones to push the Vario’s grinding performance for manual brewing to the absolute limit. While this list is for the best espresso grinders under $500, the Vario’s multi-purpose persona is what makes it such a great deal. When it comes to espresso grinding, the first three macro settings all represent a suitable range for dialing in (and that’s subdivided between 23 micro settings). While that’s not as infinite as a stepless grinder, the Vario offers far more variability than most stepped grinders. Compared to the Sette, the Vario may be a bit slower, and perhaps not quite as good at dialing in shots, but it brings a lot to the table when it comes to full spectrum grinding.
The second grinder on this list whose manufacturer also makes espresso machines, the Pro M54 is an espresso grinder produced by Profitec as a companion to their espresso machines. Following the same matter-of-fact naming convention as their other grinder, the Pro T64, the name describes the grinder’s operation and burr size, manual and 54mm. With a minimalist design philosophy and push and grind operation, the Pro M54 in many ways sells itself on looks as much as on grinding performance.
Starting with the exterior, you’ll notice that this is the only grinder to be featured with polished stainless steel housing. I’ll be the first to admit that the brilliant reflective surface isn’t something that always comes through well in photography. But, having seen it in person, I can attest that this is one grinder that’s truly gorgeous in person. Featuring a unique 8-sided octagonal design, the Pro M54 trades flashiness for simple, subtle, prettiness. The build quality is something that goes beneath the surface, with an aluminum frame supporting the housing and the motor. On that topic, at 235 Watts, the Pro M54’s motor is the second most powerful on this list behind the Mignon which is 260 Watts. Where Profitec’s attention to detail as a luxury home brand really shines is in the insulation of the motor which dampens the sound of grinding. Imagine a soft whirring compared to the sounds of beans being obliterated that you hear with the BB005, Sette, and Mignon.
Grinding on the Pro M54 is a straightforward affair. Simply push the activation lever with your portafilter. The motor will run for as long as you hold the lever in place. That’s it! While timed grinding is nice, if you have a suitable scale for dosing your shots, you’ll get a feel for what 18g of coffee looks like and how long it typically takes to grind. With a pair of 54mm flat stainless steel burrs, grinds are consistent and distributed properly for espresso extraction. Similar to the Vario, the Pro M54 is a stepped grinder, however, adjustment is accomplished by pressing down on a release lever and rotating the grind adjustment collar left or right. The release lever also doubles as a locking mechanism to prevent accidental adjustments from being made. As a result, adjusting and dialing in the Pro M54 will be much faster than the BB005 or the Mignon.
Compared to the other four grinders, the Pro M54 does little else but grind coffee. For many people, that isn’t a problem. With its German engineering and built-to-last design, the Pro M54 is as sturdy as the machine it was designed to accompany and exists to facilitate your daily intake of espresso. Final features like the easy-to-access burrs and removable spout cover for easy cleaning make this perhaps the most utilitarian choice among the five. While it may not have the speed or programmability of some of the other grinders, the Pro M54 reliable and attractive design are perfect for the espresso minimalist.
And that’s our list! Any of these grinders would do nicely in a pairing with a prosumer machine, and their modest price points make them perfect picks for a starter setup. Please note that we’re constantly experimenting with and evaluating the products we sell, so don’t be surprised if this list gets updated in the future.