Updated: Oct 30, 2019
The ultimate coffee grinder guide
The ultimate guide to grinding coffee... After this guide, you will know everything there is to use & care for your current grinder, or buy a new one. We will share with you a complete knowledge guide for a one-stop-shop to everything grinding coffee.
Why grind fresh?
Manual vs Electric Grinders
Dosing vs Non-Dosing
Cleaning / Caring
Under extracted vs Over extracted
Why Grind Coffee Fresh?
When people first start drinking coffee, they will typically buy bags that have already been pre-ground for them. Whilst this is ok and will brew a perfectly fine cup of coffee, you can do better! There's no better way to drink a cup of coffee than one that has only just been ground. I remember when starting to get into specialty coffee. Every other tip seemed to be... ground coffee fresh, grind your own coffee, freshly ground, buy a decent grinder! Naively I dismissed all of these hints, however, I hope that after reading this guide you will not do the same as me! It really is the No.1 fundamental to a great brewed coffee!
If this has your attention, then the following guide will teach you everything you need to know about coffee grinders and help you on your way to great coffee. There is one key aim of any coffee grinder, to get the most consistent coffee grounds possible.
Manual vs Electric Grinders
This is equivalent to cycling to work vs driving. Yes, they both do the same thing and you will get to your destination. One will just take significantly longer than the other.
The same can be said for coffee grinders. Take note from someone who started out with manual coffee grinders on a budget, they can take a little while depending on the grind size (be prepared to be grinding for 1-2 mins). However, they will get the job done and will still produce a much better cup of coffee than buying preground. If you are just getting into coffee, a grinder such as the Hario Skerton is much recommended.
Most manual grinders are a great place for people to start in their coffee journey as they can be picked up cheap! This does not mean that manual grinders have to be inferior, however. Grinders such as the OE Lido will produce amazing coffee whilst still requiring the mighty power of the human arm.
Now here's the section for those of you that are feeling a little bit lazier... Electric coffee grinders. These come in a range of sizes / burrs / dosing etc. We will cover all of the aspects that you need to know throughout this guide, including some later purchase recommendations. An electric grinder is exactly how it sounds, the burrs are connected to an electric motor. The main advantage is the speed, depending on grinder this can be seconds to grind enough coffee for one cup.
Here’s an overview!
- Fast / high performance
- Ease of use / No effort
- Often perfect for espresso
- Costly especially for high end grinders
- Requires electricity
- Can still get great performance
- More effort required
- Limited settings / cheaper options may not grind for espresso
There are primarily two types of burrs in the market. But before this, let me mention a quick word on blade coffee grinders. Don't buy one. As mentioned, the key to a good grinder is consistent grounds. A blade grinder will do the opposite. It's furiously smashing up those coffee beans but in no regular fashion. You will end up with large and small pieces, as well as a lot of fines. This is less than ideal when you want every ground of coffee to brew identically. So as stated before, please try to stay away from blade grinders.
What about those two types of burr grinders we mentioned... Flat and conical. So, what is the difference? The great graphic below by Honest Coffee Guide perfectly shows the difference between how a conical burr (shaped like a cone) grinds compared to flat.
But is there a benefit to one compared to the other? Well at a non-commercial level, the short answer really is no. Even if you have a high-quality grinder you really aren’t going to tell a difference. It is only once you get into the serious money grinders that maybe you could tell. Some people may argue however that a flat grinder will have higher retention than a conical burr (due to the way coffee is not falling through), so that is the only main consideration to note.
Dosing vs Non-Dosing
There are two types of collection methods of your ground coffee. So what is the difference between dosing vs non-dosing you ask? Simple:
Dosing: Collects the grinds into a hopper
Non-Dosing: A chute straight into your portafilter/brewer!
Here's a more detailed explanation. A dosing grinder will more typically be used in a commercial coffee shop environment. This is because you can grind much more coffee at a time and is ready to be dispensed into a portafilter. The downside is that unless you are churning out coffee after coffee, grounds will be sat and are no longer fresh. Another negative is that this means you are grinding for a longer period of time, and as we mentioned earlier, it will generate more heat than lots of shorter grinds.
For an at-home scenario, a non-dosing grinder is what we recommend. It will mean that your coffee has only just been ground and will prevent the grounds from becoming stuck in the hopper after every use.
This brings us to ground retention. A low level of retention is ideal as it will reduce the amount of waste. A coffee grinder will always retain a percentage of coffee, however the lower the better, knowing that the weight you put in (ideally weighing beans before grinding) is the weight you are getting out. A typical retention rate may be anywhere from <1 gram up to 3 or 4 grams! Definitely do a little research on this when purchasing! One of the lowest retention grinders, due to the direct grind through design is the Baratza Sette 270.
Cleaning / Caring
Not really the most exciting part of this guide... but still something that should be noted. Some grinders will really start to get a build-up of old grounds anywhere that coffee can get trapped. Take the odd occasional opportunity to, if possible, remove your burr and use a brush to get rid of as much old coffee as you can. You can also purchase a product such as Grindz coffee grinder cleaning tablets. Run the suggested weight through your grinder and your done, it’s that easy.
Whatever people tell you… don’t use the common method of rice. Rice is far harder than coffee and was not intended to be in your coffee grinder! This will prematurely blunt your burrs meaning that they will not work as effectively. It often also just makes more of a mess than it does actually clean, so stay away. Just run some Grindz every now and again is all we recommend here. It really is quite easy to clean a coffee grinder from time to time.
The level of adjustment that you wish to have is really down to the type of coffee that you will be brewing. For you espresso lovers, you will want to have much, much finer control of your grind to be able to dial in those perfect shots. That’s not to say that other brewing methods, such as filter coffee, cannot benefit from fine adjustments. Below is a rough generic guide:
Cold-brew: Extra Coarse
French press: Coarse
Pour-over: Coarse to medium
Espresso: Very fine
Turkish Coffee: Extremely fine, like dust
Grinders will typically utilise two main types of adjustment, stepped or stepless. A stepped grinder will have set notches, normally numbered, whilst a stepless grinder is not defined and can effectively have an infinite adjustment (Obviously within the boundaries of finest and coarsest). Whilst a stepless grinder can be perfect for nailing that espresso grind setting with the finest of adjustments, it is not particularly practical if you are brewing multiple methods at home.
A stepless grinder will often not have any numbers or markings giving you no reference points for each brewing method. A stepped grinder, on the other hand, will always have numbers. You, therefore, know that "oh a 15 is good for AeroPress and 19 for my V60". This of course still gives you a level of adjustment, and a grinder such as the Sette 270 has two adjustment rings to still let you really dial it in.
Under Extracted Vs Over Extracted
So how can you tell when your grind is too coarse or too fine? The two key giveaways are taste and brew time.
When a grind is too coarse you will get an under-extracted brew, resulting in a cup of coffee that is weak and too acidic. On the flip side, if you grind too fine it will over-extract giving you a bitter, burnt tasting coffee.
A grind that is too coarse will brew too fast for methods such as pour-over, where the grind size affects the water flow. Too fine and your brew will take too long. If you aren’t brewing long enough, you will once again get an under-extracted weak cup of coffee. Too long and it will taste burnt and bitter.
So, now you know how the grind size affects your brewing. Keep an eye on these factors and adjust the grind size accordingly to find the sweet spot.
Here's a quick recommendation with some of the best grinders on the market.
Budget Manual Grinder:
Hario Skerton - Buy Here
This is the one for anyone that is starting out and looking to start to up their game. You cannot go wrong with a Hario Skerton and I’m sure you would have seen it be recommended countless times in forums. This is a great conical manual grinder with good amounts of adjustment.
Best Premium Manual Grinder:
Lido / Lido E
If you’re a fan of a manual grinder, but you want something with a little more consistency or maybe you want to get into espresso? Then the OE Lido or Lido E is your choice. The two-bearing design means that there is almost no movement between the two conical burrs, ensuring extremely consistent grounds. This could be classed as a stepless grinder giving you a great amount of adjustment, however it still has markings to make it easy to switch between brewing methods! A great choice!
Budget Electric Grinder:
Krups Expert Burr Grinder - Buy Here
Although at the cheapest end of the spectrum, it will still be a great grinder for those who are just starting. This is defiantly recommended for a pour-over / AeroPress situation and may not quite grind fine enough for espresso.
Mid-Priced Electric Grinder:
Sage Smart Grinder Pro - Buy Here
The smart grinder pro is a great step up from the Krups grinder, however, it does cost more. At this level, you may start to be able to dip your toes into espresso. If you really want an electric coffee grinder then this will be a great option.fine-tune
Premium Electric Grinder:
Baratta Sette 270 - Buy Here
If you are really starting to up your coffee game and looking to spend a bit more, then the Sette 270 is an ideal candidate. The direct grind through design means that there is no chute for coffee resulting in almost no grind retention. It features two adjustment rings, one major and one minor allowing you to fine tune your grind, perfect for espresso. The lower conical burr is also easily removed meaning that cleaning is a breeze. A highly recommended grinder and one we use here at Drip Coffee.
As a last note – there are also quirky tools such as the Kruve Sieves that aim to filter out the grind sizes, giving you only the most consistent grinds.
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What is your favourite grinder? Let us know below!