The main consideration in choosing a multi-purpose grinder is matching its’ capabilities in the fine espresso grinding range with the type of espresso machine you are using. Grind size is critical for espresso and less so for other brewing methods like drip, press and pour-over.
So I have 3 grinders here representing our favorites in different price ranges and capabilities. The Jura-Capresso Infinity at the low end for about $100. The Smart Grinder Pro from Breville sits in the mid-range in the low 200’s and the Baratza Vario is at the high-end in the upper 400’s. All three will do a good job grinding at medium to coarse settings for drip and press brewing. But do know as you go down in price grinders tends to produce more fines when grinding at coarse settings. This means you’ll have a dirtier cup when brewing with methods like press that do not use a paper filter.
As grinding for espresso is much more critical than for other brewing methods your main consideration in grinder selection is the type of espresso machine you’re using. Now espresso geeks will tell you there’s no way a $100 grinder like the Jura Capresso Infinity can produce a decent shot - short of getting really lucky. And for the most part they’re right. But when brewing on an entry-level machine, using a pressurized filter basket, grind size is much less critical. Now, shot quality is not as good of course but fresh ground coffee is going to produce a much better shot than using pre-ground coffee. So if on a budget or just getting into espresso on an entry-level machine with a pressurized filter basket the Jura Capresso Infinity is a reasonable choice.
Some key stats on the Infinity. From fine to coarse it has just 16 grind settings, at 100 watts it has the lowest power of the bunch. Grinding is handled by a small conical steel burr. It’s rather loud compared to the others and the exterior is all plastic. Grinding is controlled by a timer dial with a range of 5 to 60 seconds. The infinity grinds into a plastic bin with no mechanism for grinding into a portafilter.
Moving up our mid-range choice is the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. And it’s a big move up! An LCD screen shows grind size setting, grind time and number of cups to grind for. As you change the number of cups, the grinder automatically calculates grind time. The grinder has 60 grind settings which are controlled by a dial on the side. If you need more range, you can get it with additional adjustment available on top of the stainless steel conical burr.
For espresso, the Smart Grinder comes with hands free cradles for 50-54 millimeter portafilters and standard commercial size 58’s. It also comes with a nice grinds bin with an airtight seal for grinding for other brewing methods. Grinding is started with a button under the display. When using a portafilter, automatic grinding can be started by pushing in the portafilter and releasing or, you can grind manually by pressing in and holding the portafilter. Some other nice features on the Breville, a locking hopper which stops bean flow and allows for easy changing of beans and a removable tray to catch any spill. It has a 165 watt motor - so more power than the Infinity.
The Smart Grinder Pro has a lot of features for the price and with portafilter activated timed and manual grinding and a nice sealable grinds bin it’s definitely setup to be used as a multipurpose grinder. It generally gets excellent reviews as a very capable grinder on a price versus performance basis. In our view, it’s a good value and produces a grind quality capable of servicing mid-level espresso brewing on single boiler machines like the Gaggia Classic and Rancilio Silvia.
Moving on, the Baratza Vario is often recommended as the entry point into higher-end espresso brewing. Most think it’s capable of grinding to the prosumer level. While the other 2 grinders use conical steel burrs the Vario uses larger 54 millimeter flat ceramic burrs driven by a 180 watt motor which is the most powerful of the bunch. It’s thought the ceramic burrs produce a better grind for espresso than the smaller conical steel burrs found on the other grinders. And there’s something of a consensus that with all other variables the same, espresso made from the Vario has more complexity in flavor than that from the Smart Grinder Pro
Grind size is adjusted using macro and micro adjustment levers with 230 possible grind settings. The micro adjustment makes precisely dialing in an espresso grind easy while the macro adjustment makes big jumps for other brew methods quick. The Vario comes with a metal portaholder for hands free operation for espresso and a plastic grinds bin for other brewing methods. This Vario has 3 programmable time based presets which can be set in tenth of a second increments and can grind manually as well. The slightly more expensive Vario W has the option of grinding by weight into a grounds bin.
On the outside the Vario is definitely the most rugged of the bunch with its metal portaholder and other metal surrounding the control panel and base.
To sum it up, for espresso geeks looking for a multi-purpose grinder the Vario tops our recommendations. For light use, It’s able to match the grind quality of many single purpose espresso grinders. We like the Breville Smart Grinder Pro for those making espresso on mid-level single boiler machines. And the Jura Capresso Infinity is an economical choice for those using entry-level machines brewing in pressurized filter baskets - a definite upgrade from using pre-ground coffee.
Now, If you have any questions on these grinders or anything coffee related ask in the comments below. Thanks for reading and hope you’ll come back soon for more of the good stuff on everything coffee.