electric coffee grinders

Coffee Grinders: our guide

manual grinder

A coffee grinder is the most important bit of kit you need to improve your brew. I would rather have a good coffee bean grinder and an average expresso machine than the other way around. Especially it’s a burr coffee grinder it will be an investment that’ll pay back every time you make coffee.

So, how do you decide what to buy? When I first looked, I was really confused by all the options. Prices range from under £10 for a manual coffee grinder to £500 for top of range electric grinders. If you want a commercial grinder then they can cost even more. Read below and you’ll know how to get the right coffee bean grinder for you.

topics Covered

What makes a good grinder?

Coffee machine combo?

Don't buy a blade grinder!

Burr grinders, a guide

Grinders: manual or electric?

Electric Coffee Grinders - Best Buys

Manual Coffee Grinders - Best Buys

What makes a good coffee bean grinder?

A good grinder grinds beans into uniformed size pieces and does this without generating too much heat, and can mill from extremely fine to very coarse. We will look at each in turn. 

1. Uniformity of grind size

The uniformity of size it absolutely crucial in getting a consistency of flavour. As a general rule the finer the coffee the shorter the amount of time it takes to extract the flavour. If you have a mixture of sizes, then you will have a combination of over and under extracted flavour when you brew. 

Grinding Coffee

Read our guide to grinding. Everything you need to know for the perfect grind.

The uniformity of size it absolutely crucial in getting a consistency of flavour. As a general rule the finer the coffee the shorter the amount of time it takes to extract the flavour. If you have a mixture of sizes, then you will have a combination of over and under extracted flavour when you brew. 

2. Beware of too much heat!

The uniformity of size it absolutely crucial in getting a consistency of flavour. As a general rule the finer the coffee the shorter the amount of time it takes to extract the flavour. If you have a mixture of sizes, then you will have a combination of over and under extracted flavour when you brew. 

If too much heat is generated, then there is a danger of creating a slightly burnt flavour. Thinking about how you intend to grind coffee will have an impact on the type of burr you will select. See comments below under types of burr grinders. 

3. Grinding from extremely fine to very coarse

In terms of practical issues, I recommend that you buy a grinder with both the biggest range of grind size possible as well as the ability to finely control the size of grind itself. In particular look for machines that promote their ability to produce expresso coffee and offer a larger number of pre-set grind sizes. 

You also want to be able to grind small quantities of coffee each time as it is best used immediately. All coffee bean grinders have the ability to manually control the amount ground though some like the  take this to another level. 

More importantly you should make sure that there is as little scope as possible for ground coffee to remain in grinder, in the space between the burrs and where it is collected. If ground coffee is able to remain in the grinder between grinds, then there is a risk is goes stale and contaminates your next grind. 

Inevitably there is a trade-off between quality and price. See our best buy guides for recommendations for both entry level and home expert grinders.

You also want to be able to grind small quantities of coffee each time as it is best used immediately. All coffee bean grinders have the ability to manually control the amount ground though some like the Sage Smart Grinder Pro pictured opposite. This takes things to another level with the ability to control the grind in 0.2 second increments. 

More importantly you should make sure that there is as little scope as possible for ground coffee to remain in grinder, in the space between the burrs and where it is collected. If ground coffee is able to remain in the grinder between grinds, then there is a risk is goes stale and contaminates your next grind. 

Inevitably there is a trade-off between quality and price. See our best buy guides for recommendations for both entry level and home expert grinders.

Coffee Machine Combo?

Over the past few years, as we have all become more aware of benefits of freshly ground coffee, a whole new range of coffee machines with integrated coffee grinders have come to market. Are they worth it?

Personally, I prefer to have a separate grinder. I like to see the coffee and control the grind. There is nothing wrong with an integrated solution but in my experience, they offer less control than separate pieces of equipment. 

It really is personal preference. They are of course perfect if you want to quickly make a coffee or for an office where you don’t want ground coffee everywhere. There are some great machines on the market like the one pictured above from Sage

Don't buy a blade coffee grinder!

There are essentially two types of grinders; those that use blades and those that use burrs. Above we said that the main thing a good coffee bean grinder does is produce a uniform grind. Burr grinders are much, much better at doing this than blade grinders. 

Don't buy a blade grinder!

Although electric blade grinders are cheaper than their burr equivalents it is worth the extra money. If you are on a budget though you can buy a manual burr coffee grinder for about the same price as an electric blade grinder

Burr Grinders - a guide

So, what are burr grinders?

Put most simply burr grinders use two rough, abrasive moving pieces (the ‘burrs’) a small distance apart. The coffee is milled as it passes through the burrs. It is because this distance can be set easily that burr grinders are best at producing uniformly ground coffee.

Inside a burr grinder

There are two further aspects to burr grinders that are important. Firstly, whether to choose steel or ceramic burrs, and secondly the difference between flat and conical burrs.

Steel or ceramic?

I read lots on this and to me it comes down to heat. As your burr grinder is used it will inevitably generate heat. As we noted above there is a danger this heat could contaminate your coffee with a slightly burnt flavour. 

The advantages of steel burrs are that steel is very good at conducting heat away from the surface of the burr. Although ceramic burrs don’t conduct heat away as quickly as steel they do take longer to heat up. 

Personally, I think ceramic burrs are best for home grinders. That’s because I don’t think you’ll ever be grinding long enough to heat them up and unheated ceramic burrs have to be better than hot steel burrs conducting heat away. I appreciate that it’s not a settled matter and in reality unless you are a real pro you it won’t make much difference.

Flat or conical burrs?

Burr coffee grinders come in two difference types; flat or conical. Although they both make coffee in the same way the difference between them is the shape of the burr. For most of us there us really very little difference between the two.

Flat burrs
Flat burrs for a coffee grinder
Conical coffee burrs
Conical coffee burrs

We are now into the realm of coffee expertise (or geekery, if you like) as to which one is the better. There are many different opinions, but the majority seem to say that conical burrs have the edge over flat burrs. There are few reasons used to justify this. Conical burrs are said to be less likely to retain old coffee grounds and are easier to clean. 

As with the choice between steel or ceramic burrs whether you choose a conical or flat burr will have only a small impact on the quality of your coffee. For home grinders it’s much more important to remember to avoid a blade grinder and to look for a coffee grinder with a lot of range and flexibility on the grind size.

Manual or electric coffee bean grinder?

This is really a matter of personal preference. It is true that with an electric grinder you get more control over the amount and size of the coffee you grind. They are also really east and quick to use. 

Manual coffee grinders have a certain romance associated with them; well I think so anyway. There is a real pleasure in grinding under your own power. The other advantage they have is they travel easily and are perfect for camping trips.