Coffee Grinders Pt. 2: 5 Things to Consider When You Buy

    In the first part of our coffee grinder overview, we talked about why you need a high quality coffee grinder to make a great cup of coffee. Now that you understand what makes the coffee grinder so important to making excellent coffee, it's time to figure out which coffee grinder is the best one for your needs. There are five different areas to consider when choosing the best coffee grinder for your home brewing needs. Let's run them down one by one, along with our recommendations for great choices in each area.  


1) Drip, Espresso or Both?

  The single most important consideration when choosing a coffee grinder is what you're brewing with your beans. If your brewing method of choice is drip or press, you want a coffee grinder that excels at grinding coarser grinds uniformly without creating a lot of "coffee dust" -- what the industry refers to as "fines." If you prefer espresso, the coffee grinder you want is one that gives you a lot of control at the finer end of the grind spectrum. The two aren't mutually exclusive, and there are a few that give you the versatility to switch between coarse and fine grinding.You'll notice that we break out our coffee grinders by type: coffee grinders, espresso grinders and multi-use grinders to give you a starting point. Our descriptions and reviews give you the pros and cons, including how well each grinder does with coarser and finer grinds.  
  • Drip: The Baratza Virtuoso has 40 grind settings from extra coarse to extra fine. That's enough range for most brew methods and should satisfy anyone but a dedicated espresso fanatic.
  • Espresso: The Mazzer Mini is the gold standard for espresso grinders. It started as a pro grinder, but was adopted by the serious home espresso market. It comes in both doserless and doser models.
  • Multi-use: The Baratza Preciso is a step up from the Virtuoso. It features two grind adjustment levers to give you both macro and micro adjustments so that you have a full 440 grind settings to take you from French press to Turkish coffee. The Preciso also has a Portafilter cradle for hands-free grinding and steel conical burrs for even, consistent grounds at all settings.
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2) Measurement Matters

  Coffee grinders allow you to measure the amount of coffee you want to grind in two ways: by weight or by time. Most lower end grinders work on a simple timer - you just set the number of cups you want to brew and the machine works for a set amount of time. Many also allow you to grind for the amount of time you want by holding in a button or pushing lever. Higher end grinders allow you to grind by weight, which is much more precise, and some give you the option to choose between the two. In addition, you can choose a coffee grinder with a built-in doser, which catches the ground coffee and then delivers it in measured doses into your brewer, container or portafilter.  
  • Timer: The Baratza Vario sets a high bar for timer-based coffee grinders. It offers 200+ grind settings and the ability to save three timer settings for one-touch grinding.
  • Weight: The Baratza Vario-W, introduced in 2011, was the first machine to feature an integrated scale so that you can weigh your coffee on the fly instead of after you grind. It's appropriate for light cafe use, but is also very popular with serious espresso drinkers.
  • Upgrade: Don't want to invest that much? The Baratza Esatto lets you upgrade your Baratza Encore, Virtuoso or Preciso to weight-based measurements.


3) Beginner or Pro?

  One term you'll see when you're shopping for coffee equipment -- especially espresso equipment and coffee grinders -- is entry level grinders. A good entry level coffee grinder provides all the essential features you need to get a good, uniform grind without too many finicky bits that require experience to get just right. First, let us go on record with this: buy the best coffee grinder you can afford. It's better to have some features that you'll grow into than to have your skills outpace your coffee grinder's capabilities in just a few months. That said, the biggest difference between entry level grinders and the grinders favored by pro baristas is the grind setting mechanism.  
  • Beginners: Stepped grinders have distinct grind settings. You'll feel them click into place when you've got the burrs into place. Stepped grinders make it easy to replicate the grind settings when you get them just right, making them ideal for beginners. The Baratza Preciso is an excellent choice for beginners.
  • Pros: Stepless grinders offer you an infinite number of grind settings -- you just keep turning the adjustment mechanism until you get the grind consistency you want. That gives you a lot of flexibility to fine tune your grind for every possible condition -- but it can be a lot harder to replicate the settings again and again. The Mazzer Mini is one of the most popular stepless grinders on the market, but the Ceado E7 -- made for the prosumer/light commercial market -- offers the combination of stepless grinding and visible settings, giving you the best of both worlds.


4) Manual vs. Automatic

  We've focused on automatic grinders so far, but there are some excellent reasons to choose a manual coffee grinder. They're quiet, portable, do a great job of grinding coffee and operate even when you don't have electricity. Manual grinders are especially popular with travelers and for office use -- and they're a great choice when you want fresh ground coffee without waking up the baby. We recommend the Hario Mini Slim, has ceramic conical burrs, stepless grinding, a small profile and -- something not offered by many others -- a covered bean hopper to keep your coffee beans from jumping out while you're grinding.  


5) Your Budget

  Obviously, the amount you have -- or are willing -- to spend will probably be your final determination. If the bottom line is your bottom line, you can't get much more affordable than a manual coffee grinder. If you really don't want a workout with your morning coffee and your budget can't stand much of a workout, your best option may be the Baratza Encore. It offers professional quality and 40 grind settings that will take you from French press to espresso, and while it doesn't have either a timer or a scale, you can upgrade it to weight-based measurement with the Esatto.   In our next installment, we'll share a handy grind chart to help you fine-tune your grinding for your favorite brewing method.  

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