Choosing the right coffee grinder

Any professional barista will tell you: grinding fresh with a quality burr grinder is probably the largest contributing factor to making good coffee. But with hundreds of coffee grinders to choose from, ranging from R200 to R50 000, how do you choose the right coffee grinder? We’ve put together a short 2021 guide to make things easier. 

1. How much can you pay for a coffee grinder?

Coffee grinders vary vastly in price and there’s good reason for this. The most significant cost components of a coffee grinder are speed and power of grinder, followed by the size and specification of burrs, build quality, grind adjustment mechanism and dosing features, e.g., programmable dosing. 

We’ve grouped coffee grinders from the bottom to the top of the food chain and will touch on each category’s merits and features.

Blade electric R200 – R800 No burr Poor quality grind
Manual burr grinders R700 – R4300 Conical burr Espresso capable
Entry electric grinders R1500 – R2500 Conical burr Alternative brews/no espresso
Advanced electric grinders R3500 – R7000 Conical burr Alternative brews/espresso capable
Domestic espresso electric R8000 – R14000 Conical burr Espresso specialist
Domestic espresso electric R8500 – R14000 Flat burr Espresso specialist
Commercial espresso R13000 – R50000 Flat or conical burr Espresso specialist

Blade versus burr grinders: 

The same way you can’t chop wheat into flour, you can’t chop beans into coffee. Blade grinders chop beans, they don’t grind them. The result is a massive variance in grind particle sizes, which is highly undesirable when to brewing a decent coffee.

Only burr grinders deliver the granular uniformity required to brew coffee well.

Whilst a blade grinder is definitely still preferred to pre-ground coffee, it really should be a last resort. Rather spend a little more and buy an affordable burr grinder. If you must use a blade grinder, here’s a good hack by James Hoffman: Coffee Hack: The Best Blade Grinder Results

Burr Coffee Grinder
Burr Coffee Grinder
Blade Coffee Grinder
Blade Coffee Grinder

2. Secondly, how many people are you grinding for?

If you’re mainly grinding for yourself, and don’t mind a minute of manual grinding, you may enjoy the versatility and affordability of a manual coffee grinder.

Manual coffee grinders offer really good quality grind for a significantly lower price than electric grinders. However, if you’re grinding for more than 2 cups at a time, you’ll prefer the extra capacity, speed and convenience of an electric grinder.

Choosing a manual coffee grinder:

Manual grinders have come a long way recently. Top-end manual grinders, like the Timemore Chestnut, have high quality burrs and extremely accurate adjustment mechanisms. They do take a little physical effort and have limited capacity, but the quality of grind is right up there. Most will grind 20-50 grams of coffee, or 1-2 cups in a minute or so.

The major benefit of a manual grinder is grinding fresh anywhere from kitchen to camp site, to mountain top. Light-weight and compact, this ideal travel partner allows you to enjoy freshly-ground coffee everywhere you go.

Watch out for cheap copies! Whilst they mimic the simple form and workings, they usually lack the all too critical precision, expertise and quality assurance you get from reputable specialty brands such as Timemore, Hario and Comandante. Cheap copies, like blade grinders fall hopelessly short of the consistency and grind adjustment precision required to brew a decent cup of coffee.

Good manual grinders are capable of grinding espresso, however it can be cumbersome.

Timemore Chestnut Hand Coffee Grinder

Choosing an electric coffee grinder

If you’re brewing for 3 or more people at a time, you’re going to need an electric burr grinder. There’s a huge variance in price and capability of electric coffee grinders and choosing correctly will save you in the long run. Almost all electric grinders either lean towards alternative brew methods or espresso. This is because espresso requires more refined adjustment mechanisms to alternative brew methods:

  • Espresso (fine to very fine grind)
  • Moka pot/stove top (medium – fine grind)
  • Nanopresso (medium – fine grind)
  • AeroPress (fine – medium -course grind)
  • Pour-over/filter (medium -course grind)
  • Plunger/French press (course grind)

Basic (R1500 – R2500) and advanced (R3500 – R7000) domestic electric grinders are alternative brewing specialists. Serious coffee enthusiasts and professionals will typically have one of these, like the Baratza Encore (R3900), dedicated to alternative brewing, coupled with another grinder dedicated to espresso.

As with most coffee products, go with reputable specialty brands such as Baratza, Mahlkonig, Eureka, Mazzer and Anfim.

Baratza Sette Coffee Grinder

3. Are you grinding for an espresso machine?

Whilst domestic grinders are capable of grinding for espresso, they’re not ideal. They typically don’t have step-less grind adjustment or grind fine enough to dial in different coffees on an espresso machine. Any flaws in the brewing of espresso are magnified by the immense pressure being applied. Therefore, grind fineness and consistency are crucial, hence the hefty price tags on espresso grinders. For this very reason, professional baristas prioritize the quality of the grinder over the espresso machine.

If you’re using an espresso machine, you’ll need a specialist espresso grinder (R8000+). If you’re a commercial set up, you will need a commercial grade espresso coffee grinder (R13000+). Only a commercial grinder has the speed, power and endurance to deal with capacity required in a café. Domestic grinders are only good for 1 cup per minute and a maximum of 20-30 cups throughout a single day.

 

4. What special features are you looking for?

Programmable/on-demand dosing: Convenience, consistency and waist limitation

Microns, seconds and grams all need to be accurately and consistently delivered when making espresso. Programmable/on-demand dosing allows you to set and program the amount of coffee you wish to grind each time.  This goes a long way to increase consistency, convenience and limit waist.

Time-based on-demand grinders start at R6500 for alternative-brew grinders and R8500 for espresso grinders. At the very top end, weight-based on-demand grinders have built-in scales to precisely measure doses by weight, (E.g. Baratza Sette WI, @R14000), which are far more accurate than time-based dosers.

Conical versus flat burrs:

Flat burrs are generally preferred for espresso with the exception of high-end conicals like the Baratza Sette. However, flat burrs are less efficient, slower and can retain more coffee than conical burrs. Flat burr grinders require more powerful motors, making their starting price much more expensive.

Conical burrs are more efficient and generally preferred for courser grinds required for alternative brews. Although, high-end conical burr grinders, like the Baratza Sette, have a specialized design to deliver a uniform espresso grind more efficiently to allow for more specialty features.

Flat Burr Set
Conical Burr

Speed and power

The main price differentiator of coffee grinders, be it home or commercial, is the speed and power of the motor. This will affect the speed and endurance of the grinder. Mid-range grinders (R3500+), such as the Baratza Encore, will grind about 20 grams (1 cup) in about 15-20 seconds, whilst an advanced grinder like the Baratza Sette (R10000-R14000), will grind 20 grams in 3.5-5.5 seconds! Making it the fastest domestic grinder you can get, matching speeds of top-end commercial grinders. So check the grinders speed performance before buying. Note: Slow doesn’t make bad coffee, it just takes a little longer. 

We hope we have helped you choose the right coffee grinder for your home or office (or home office).

2021 is going to need all the help it can get. Grinding fresh coffee every day will no doubt be a great investment.

All the best! 

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