Do you ever wonder why you can’t make coffee as good as your favorite coffee shop?
Maybe you think you need a $10,000 quadruple grouphead espresso machine…
Maybe you thought you need years of barista training…
Maybe you put it down to coffee shops buying expensive coffee beans…
Let me tell you it’s none of that.
What it comes down to is any coffee shop worth its salt will be using a quality grinder that gives a perfect extraction. That’s what makes delicious coffee.
Most people buy preground or using a cheap blade grinder to slice up their coffee beans. And they usually aren’t happy with the results.
So you don’t want to spend on buying coffee every day…
But it’s frustrating to have force burnt and bitter coffee down each morning just to save a buck or two.
Isn’t your morning coffee supposed to be a treat?
So let’s talk coffee grinders.
First up, an unpleasant truth.
What you need to know before getting a coffee grinder
To put it simply, the coffee grinder is the number one thing that affects the taste of coffee. (Quality of coffee beans is a close second, by the way.)
The coffee shops that you buy awesome coffee from invest in quality grinders that cost upwards of $1000.
That’s the reality. I’m not going to sugarcoat things, the engineering required to produce a machine capable of delivering a smooth, even grind is not cheap. If you genuinely want top tier coffee at home you n
However, you have one advantage over coffee shops. Those super expensive coffee grinders need to be able to grind up a dose of coffee beans hundreds of times per day
So let’s get down to brass tacks, how much do you need?
My view is that if you’re not willing to spend $60-80 then you may as well hit the back button on this website and find one of those “authentic” reviews that tell you about the latest and greatest 30 buck grinder (hint: it won’t be that great). That amount gets you the first on my list (the Bodum bistro) which is the bare minimum.
What I’d really recommend is my number two, the Baratza Encore, well known in the coffee community as being excellent value for the price and capable of making really good coffee.
Anyway, check them out and see what you think.
1. Best Under $75: Bodum Bistro
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 is a great upgrade from preground or blade grinders and really the first step in truly good coffee making.
The Bodum Bistro is a decent 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 deficiencies. In that case, save up and get the next model up in price (the Baratza Encore.)
|Burrs||Stainless Steel Conical|
|No. of Steps||11 (but a sliding scale)|
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.
2. Best Under $150: Baratza Encore
This is what I would consider an entry level grinder to making good coffee. That means that with some smart brewing and a fine choice of coffee beans you’ll be capable of competing with coffee shops.
The Encore performs very well at mid-size consistency for drip machines, pour over, aeropress, moka pot. Coffee beans will be ground in chunks of an 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 a significant change in size in your grounds and this will affect the smoothness of your coffee.
|Burrs||Stainless Steel Conical|
|No. of Steps||40|
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. Check that link out if you buy one.
Upgrading The Baratza Encore
The Baratza models are very similar and in fact, you can actually change the Encore burrs for Virtuoso (the next grinder in my list) burrs to upgrade the grind consistency and improve the quality of your coffee.
The burrs cost $30 whereas purchasing them but buying the Virtuoso costs at least an extra $100 so it’s a great deal. You will need to be handy as it’s a fair amount of work and not recommended for someone with no experience of DIY. Certainly, it’s not something I feel comfortable doing.
Another issue is that the Virtuoso comes with a more solid build and a built-in timer. You don’t get these upgrades by changing the burrset. Of course, these are merely cosmetic and don’t affect the taste of your coffee.
If you like a task and have some time on your hands then it’s worth it. You can search Google for guides on how to do this and you’ll get an excellent quality grinder for $130 + $30 or thereabouts.
3. Best Under $250: Baratza Virtuoso
Firstly, I must mention that the Virtuoso is very similar to the $100 cheaper Encore. Both are made by Baratza and they are identical in many ways. They differ in three: the Virtuoso has better burrs (and so a better grind), a timer and a more solid body.
The burrs give you a considerably better grind that I’ll talk about in a second. The timer is surprisingly useful as it stops your grinder running forever until you come back and turn it off.
The body makes the grinder feel more solid and helps deaden some of the sound and so is quieter than the fairly loud encore. It also grinds a fair bit faster than the Encore.
The virtuoso performs extremely 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 very few taste-ruining fines – much fewer than the Encore.
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.
The Virtuoso is significantly better at coarser grinds. Definitely the choice if you are a big French Press drinker or Cold Brew maker. It’s not perfect though.
The burrs are much further apart when grinding coarsely which allows smaller particles to pass through more easily. It takes surprisingly expensive equipment to get an excellent coarse grind. This is pretty good for home use, though.
This is a really good option if your budget allows it and will last you a long time. I.e. if you ever feel the need to upgrade from this then you can pretty much consider yourself an expert.
|Burrs||Stainless Steel Conical|
|No. of Steps||40|
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.
Is Freshly Ground Coffee Worth It?
To put it simply, investing in a quality grinder is the best thing you can do to make nice coffee.
(The next best thing and a close second is to start buying high quality, freshly roasted coffee beans.)
Pre-ground coffee will start losing freshness as soon as you open the pack. And using a cheap burr grinder will cause you all sort of headaches. Let’s not even get started on the dross you’ll get from a blade grinder.
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.
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.
What’s The Most Important Quality In A Grinder?
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. I’ve included a star rating out of five to give you a rough idea, too.
Grind consistency is what makes your coffee taste like silky smooth brown gold or the sludge you’d scoop out of a pig trough. Consider your purchase accordingly.
Is Getting A Grinder The Best Use Of Money?
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 gooseneck kettles or refractometers for now. It’s all about the grinder. Get a good one and feel satisfied with your purchase for years.
What’s The Minimum Cost For A Good Coffee Grinder?
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 only for farm animals. (In my opinion, at least.)
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 at least 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.
Is There A Difference In Grinding For Brewed Coffee And Espresso?
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 a totally different animal. Espresso is made by forcing very hot and very pressurized 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 dialed 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.
Should I Get A Hand Grinder Or An Automatic Grinder?
All grinders come under two categories: hand (manual) or automatic. Hand 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.