For now, we’ll only consider burr grinders. There are low cost blade grinders available but you don’t want to use those for grinding coffee beans. Blade grinders hack coffee into random size particles ranging from dust to chunks. Brew from blade ground coffee and those dusty particles are over extracted while the chunks are under extracted. You end up with coffee that doesn’t taste good. Very unbalanced, it can be weak and bitter at the same time and result in dirty mucky cups.
On the other hand, burr grinders produce consistent particle sizes. Here’s a look at a burr set. Beans are fed into the center while one burr is spinning and the other is stationary. Ground coffee exits from between the burrs. The spacing between the burrs is adjusted to produce a desired grind size. More on that in a moment.
Burrs come in different shapes, sizes and materials. For shapes there are flat or conical types. Is one shape better than the other? Well, that’s hard to say and a debatable topic. What I can say is flat burrs may produce a more consistent particle size while conical burrs tend to grind faster. In general I prefer flat burrs when grinding for espresso and conical burrs for brew methods like drip, press and pour over. Those brew methods use a larger grind size and don’t require super fine control of grind size for good results.
Burr size is measured in millimeters and range from around 40 millimeters for lower cost but capable home use grinders, up into the 60 millimeter range for prosumer level espresso focused grinders and into 80+ millimeters for high volume commercial rated grinders. In general larger burrs tend to produce a higher quality grind and do it faster.
Burr material is usually steel or ceramic. There are even titanium coated burrs that’ll last a lifetime for most home users. Steel burrs are the most common. They are tough and do a fine job. If you’re grinding a lot they’re better at dissipating heat than ceramic burrs. Ceramics stay sharp longer than steel but are more brittle so more susceptible to damage from foreign objects. Is one material better than the other? It’s debatable. Sure ceramics last longer but steel burrs are good for hundreds of pounds of grinding before needing replacement. In my opinion any burr material is fine for a first grinder. If you’ll be grinding a lot of coffee I’d lean toward steel burrs for their better heat dissipation. And, I wouldn’t worry about ceramics being more susceptible to damage. I’ve ground a lot of beans thru ceramics and never had a problem.
Next up grind size adjustment. There are two basic types stepped and stepless. On stepped grinders there are definite stops for each grind size. Grinders with stepless adjustment have no stops so you can make extremely precise and essentially infinite grind size adjustments. The advice here; unless you are doing higher-end espresso on a prosumer level machine you don’t need stepless adjustment. Now you will find stepped grinders that can do espresso. They either focus their adjustment steps in the fine espresso grind range or have micro adjustments that get you really close to the same level of control you’d have on a stepless grinder.
Some other considerations when choosing a grinder: Motor power. It’s rated in watts and ranges from about 100 to more than 400. More powerful motors give longer duty cycles. That is they can grind more coffee and they usually do it faster. Grinders with lower power motors often have duty cycles around ten percent meaning grind for 60 seconds and the grinder should then rest for about ten minutes before using again.
Then there’s build quality. As with most equipment, you get what you pay for. As you go up in price you get better quality. There’ll be more metal and fewer or no plastic parts in more expensive grinders.
Beyond that we get into how the grinder is used. Things like timed or weight based grinding that’s programmable. How grind size is adjusted; For that, options run from turning a bean hopper, sliding controls, levers, turning collars and more. How grinding starts; there are push buttons, portafilter activated switches, and there are more options like how grinds are dispensed. They can go into a grinds bins, directly into a portafilter. Some grinders can do both and for espresso there are dosing grinders which grind into a hopper and then send a measured amount into a portafilter with a pull of a dosing lever.
So now that you know a little more about coffee grinders here are my beginner level recommendations depending on brew method.
For drip, press and pour over which use a medium grind check out the Capresso Infinity, Baratza Virtuoso and the ROK Manual. The Infinity has been around for years. It’s affordable and does a nice job. It’s not fast and some may find it a little plasticky. The Baratza Virtuoso has been around for years as well. It has the largest grind size range of all the Baratza grinders and can do coarse grinding for cold brew. If manual grinding is for you have a look at the ROK grinder. It easily has the most bang for the buck. Easy to use with the vertical motion and has stepless grind size adjustment.
If you regularly switch brewing methods from espresso fine to medium for drip and coarser for press you want an all-purpose grinder that allows for quick and easy adjustment between grind sizes. My my jack of all trades pick is the Baratza Vario. The Vario has long been considered the entry into prosumer level grinding for espresso. It dispenses into a grinds bin or a metal porta-holder for hands free grinding for espresso. It features larger 54mm flat ceramic burrs and 230 grind settings with micro adjustments to fine tune espresso grinds. It has 3 programmable timed presets and manual grinding. The macro and micro adjustments make it easy to quickly change grind sizes. It’s well built and in my opinion the go to grinder for those who need to make large grind size adjustments on a regular basis. It comes in a W version which has a built in scale and 3 weight based programmable presets when grinding into a bin.
For espresso only grinding two options on either side of the Vario price wise. If your budget is limited, check out the Gaggia MDF. At well under two-hundred dollars you get a lot of bang for your buck in the MDF. It has 50mm burrs and a one-hundred watt motor with gear reduction for increased torque. It’s a dosing grinder, so you grind into a hopper and then use a lever to deposit adjustable size doses into a portafilter. Above the Vario are Ceado’s prosumer entry level E5 and E6 series grinders. They feature larger 64mm steel burrs, stepless grind adjustment, more powerful motors, robust construction and a variety of timed dosing and grind start options. The Ceados give mid-level espresso enthusiasts excellent grind quality and a robust build at reasonable prices.
Those are my picks for beginner level grinders. If you have questions on grinders or anything coffee use those comments and I’ll get you the answers. Come back soon for more of the best on everything coffee brought to you by Whole Latte Love.