Have you ever been chased by a bunch of nerds? Ever had to run from the scowl of a mob of elitists who all know better than you and all know what you should do and all want to shout at you for something that you don’t really understand?! Figuratively speaking, I mean.
Because there are few communities that are more nerdy than the coffee community. And there are few things that the coffee community get angrier about than getting a good grinder. I’m serious.
Speak to that tattooed Australian at your local coffee haunt – he’ll tell you how the fines in your grind are smoking your brew. Mate. Or read through a 300 page forum argument on the relative merits ! Nerds get worked up about this stuff.
And guess what? I’m a nerd, too.
The one and only important thing
To put it simply, investing in a quality grinder is the best thing* you can do to make nice coffee. Pre-ground coffee will start losing freshness as soon as you open the pack. A cheap burr grinder will cause you all sort of headaches. And let’s not even get started on the dross you’ll get from a blade grinder.
*The next best thing is to start buying high quality, freshly roasted coffee beans.
By far the most important thing when buying a grinder is the evenness of the grind. Cutting your coffee beans into nice even-sized chunks gives you smooth coffee that brings out the taste of the coffee bean. It extracts properly, basically. A grind that has larges chunks will underextract and leave your coffee weaker and harshly acidic while if the grind has lots of fine grounds you’re going to have a bitter cup.
Every time you’ve ever had a really great coffee at a coffee shop or somewhere, the key has been an excellent grind (and probably some very good coffee beans.)
Fine particles —> overextract causing bitter flavors
Large particles —> underextract causing sour and acidic flavors
Perfect, even grind —> smooth, rich coffee.
Ever read the pack of your African single origin coffee and wonder why you can’t taste the sweet notes of strawberry? The key to bringing out those flavors is a good consistent grind. And this article is going to tell you exactly how to do that.
Below is my choice for the best automatic grinder for each price point. While other factors have been taken into account, ease of use, durability, features. The overarching metric I have used is the quality of the grind.
Quick tip: For a really good grinder that has the ‘buy-it-for-life’ quality you need to be looking at the Baratza Encore or Virtuoso. Those things are good enough to be used by coffee drinkers who are well acquainted with great coffee and are sturdy and will last. Also the customer service from Baratza is top notch. The Bodum is just about acceptable but if you really start getting into coffee you will want to upgrade sooner rather than later.
|Bodum||Baratza Encore||Baratza Virtuoso|
|Best Under $75||Best Under $150||Best Under $250|
|Capacity||220g (8oz)||8oz (227g)||8oz (227g)|
|Burrs||Stainless Steel Conical||Stainless Steel Conical||Stainless Steel Conical|
|No. of Steps||11 but sliding scale||40||40|
A few things you should know
Only one thing matters
At this point, I hope you realize how important grind size is to making good coffee. As such, the evenness of the grind is the main thing I’ll be discussing for each grinder. I’ll mention features or important things I feel you should know. But the absolute number one thing that matters here is the consistency of your grind. That’s what makes your coffee taste like silky smooth brown gold or the sludge you’d scoop out of a pig trough.
All your money should go on a grinder
If you’re serious about making good coffee then here’s the quickest way. Buy a French Press (if you prefer a thick, creamy full bodied brew) or a Pour Over (if you prefer a cleaner, brighter brew). Then take the rest of your budget and buy the best grinder possible. Make sure you’re supplied with high quality and freshly roasted coffee beans and you’re 80% of the way to making better coffee than most coffee shops.
Example: You have a $150 budget. You like full and thick flavors so you buy yourself a solid French Press for $20. You have $130 left which is just enough for a nice Baratza Encore which will be smashing out some fantastic coffee in a matter of days.
Don’t spend $300 on an espresso machine unless you can get a good grinder with it. Don’t worry about that $100 thermometer kettles right now. Get a good grinder and feel satisfied with your purchase for years.
These seem expensive
Yep. Beginners are always shocked when they learn how much grinders can cost. Especially when they’ve been eyeing up that $10 blade grinder they sell at Walmart. What beginners are also shocked to learn is that blade grinders produce brown filth suitable for farm animals. Even going up to the $30-40 burr grinders is a complete waste of time, as far as I’m concerned. What people don’t understand is how crucial evenness of grind is to a decent brew.
A long time ago, I used to use a Hario Skerton burr grinder which was just $40 and a durable and solid looking piece of kit. What I couldn’t work out is why my coffee tasted worse than it did before I bought it. The four to five minutes I spent turning the grinder annoyed me, too.
If you’re budget doesn’t go as high as $100+ then I’d recommend trying preground. It will go stale fast but as a beginner you won’t notice a drastic difference and you’ll have a good extraction every time. Also, if you time it right and make a brew as soon as you get the place to grind it then you get a taste of what you can achieve with a good grinder.
What do you mean by ‘for brewed coffee’
Grinding coffee fine is a different beast to grinding coffee coarse. This article is only talking about the coarser grinds you would use for Drip Coffee, Pour Over, French Press, Cold Brew and the like – brewed coffee, in other words.
Grinding coffee beans for espresso is totally different animal. Espresso is made by forcing very hot and very pressurised water through a densely packed ‘puck’ of coffee grounds. The coffee flavor extracts from the grounds very quickly and so it requires a very fine grind and a grinder that can be dialled in to very small adjustments. The grinders here are not really suitable for that task without some modification.
I’ll make an article on grinders for espresso at some point but you could research Lido E for hand grinders and Baratza Sette for automatic.
Hand grinder vs automatic
All grinders come under two categories: hand (manual) or automatic. Hang grinders require you to physically rotate a lever to grind the coffee beans. Automatic grinders use a motor that plugs in to an outlet that does the grinding.
The big advantage of automatic grinders is the convenience. Press a button and watch your coffee pop out in a few seconds. Particularly if you are making coffee for a few people, you don’t want to spend 10 minutes tiring yourself out!
The big advantage of hand grinders is you can get a better grind for a cheaper price. For example, a $200 hand grinder might give you the same consistency as a $600 automatic grinder. Also you get the option of taking it on the road with you, perhaps on a camping trip or something.
If you think you’d prefer a hand grinder I have a lovely little article on just that.
Best Under $75: Bodum Bistro
|Burrs||Stainless Steel Conical|
|No. of Steps||11 but a sliding scale|
The Bodum Bistro is a well made device and the standout option at this price point. To an experienced drinker, it’ll produce acceptable coffee but not great coffee. To someone who is inexperienced at making coffee at home this may make good tasting coffee and seem like a great purchase. Just understand that it can get a lot better than this.
The Bodum Bistro is a passable grinder. It will produce ground coffee at a consistency that is borderline acceptable for good coffee. If you’re new to this whole coffee thing and just want to dip your toe in, this will produce drinkable coffee.
If you’re used to enjoying fantastic third wave pour over from independent coffee houses, you will likely notice the deficiences. In that case, save up and get the next model up in price (the Baratza Encore.)
Preground or this?
If your budget only goes this high then you may want to consider simply buying preground coffee. When you buy your coffee beans at a local roasters or coffee shop they will offer to grind the beans for you. This can be quite practical if:
– You drink a lot of coffee. The coffee will not get that stale if you get through a 250g bag in 5-6 days.
– You live near somewhere suitable. If you can pick up a bag and get it preground on your commute then it can work. If you don’t, I don’t recommend buying preground from a grocery store.
– You only use one method. If you go from Pour Over to Aeropress to Cold Brew then you really need the versatility a grinder gives you. Of course if you have three coffee devices then you should consider putting the money into getting a solid grinder.
In my opinion, you’ll have better times doing this than using the Bistro. But that’s a decision you’ll have to make given your circumstances.
Best Under $150: Baratza Encore
|Burrs||Stainless Steel Conical|
|No. of Steps||40|
The Encore performs very well at mid-size consistency for drip machines, pour over, aeropress, moka pot. Most chunks will be of a pretty even consistency and there will be few taste-ruining fines. At this level you’ll be bringing out a complexity in the coffee many have never appreciated. Get a good Ethiopian on the go and enjoy your notes of blueberry or lemon or whatever single origin is in vogue this year.
If you use something coarser for French Press or Cold Brew then you will get a decent grind but not great. You are going to notice significant change in size in your grounds and this will affect the smoothness of your coffee. The Virtuoso further down might be what you want – it outperforms the Encore comfortably at larger grind sizes.
As mentioned above, Baratza is a big name in the world of automatic grinders. The company is known for excellent value grinders and renowned for its fantastic customer service. The piece of mind of getting a well-established and well-liked brand works double when you know any fault is going to be rectified post-haste.
The Encore is quite loud and slow, particularly if you’ve worked in a coffee shop before and are used to commercial coffee grinders. It takes minutes, rather than seconds. It’s automatic though, so you can just leave it running while you’re prepping the rest of your brew. The next grinder, the virtuoso, is faster (because of the burrs) and quieter (because of the body).
And a lovely option about going with Baratza is the settings guide on their website which tells you a starting point for how to grind you coffee for each method.
To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the question…
The Baratza models are very similar. In fact, if you’re a DIY kinda guy or gal then you can change the encore burrs for virtuoso burrs to get the same grind consistency. It’s not something I have done or would do but you can get the burrs for $30 whereas the virtuoso costs an extra $100 or so. It’s a fair amount of work, I’m told. Also, you won’t be getting the more solid build or the timer that the virtuoso has if you do this, of course.
If you like a task and have some time on your hands then it’s worth it. You’ll have an excellent quality grinder for $130 + $30 or therabouts.
Best Under $250: Baratza Virtuoso
|Burrs||Stainless Steel Conical|
|No. of Steps||40|