Here's the deal: if you're not using a good coffee grinder your coffee will taste terrible.
In fact I’ll go further and say that your grinder MORE important than your coffee maker, as without a consistent grind your coffee will either taste too weak or bitter.
Not even the world barista champion can make a tasty coffee with a bad grinder.
So what then is the best coffee grinder for home use?
For those who want a quick recommendation have a click through the table below...but for the coffee geeks out there prepare to go down the rabbit hole as I'm sharing everything I've learnt about grinders over my 5 years as a barista.
We'll cover everything from grinder budgeting, differences between burrs, and quite simply why a good grinder will lift your barista game.
Top 3 Best Coffee Grinders
40mm stainless steel conical burrs
Doserless output with optional collection bin
50mm stainless steel flat burrs
Doserless output (doser version avaliable)
Baratza Vario 886
54mm ceramaic flat burrs
Programable auto-dose with digital display
Budgeting For A Grinder (It's All About R.O.I)
If you’ve already looked at some coffee grinders you may have got a massive shock as some of them cost more than espresso machines themselves!
I felt exactly the same when I bought my first coffee grinder as I thought the espresso machine was my #1 priority.
In reality you should think of them as two sides of the same coin.
You can't make a good coffee without the other.
But If I had to choose I'd always opt for the best coffee grinder over any espresso machine, as if you have a bad grind not even a Synesso Hydra (a very expressive espresso machine) will be able to make a good coffee.
So how much money should you put towards a grinder?
It all depends on your budget, but generally the more expensive the grinder the more accurate and durable it is. (Well most of the time).
But I can hear you saying, "give me numbers dammit". So I'll oblige.
The table below takes out the guess work out of budgeting for a grinder.
Grinder % of Budget
You’ll notice that as the price of the espresso machine goes up the proportion of your budget for the coffee grinder goes down.
Similarly, the cheaper your espresso machine the more of your budget you should put towards the grinder.
This is because when you have a smaller budget your grinder will give you a better R.O.I (return on "coffee" investment).
Next up we're going to discuss why a coffee grinder is important and what makes a good one.
Why A Good Grinder Is So Important?
So why on earth do you even need a coffee grinder? Can’t you just go to your local cafe and ask for some pre-ground coffee?
If you want to get the most out of your espresso machine the answer is a resounding no.
Let me explain why:
- Freshness: Grinding fresh beans is essential for producing great espresso. Pre-ground coffee won’t cut it as it quickly degrades, isn’t adjustable, and can’t compensate for the changing elements that affect coffee quality. For the best results you need to grind fresh coffee and extract it straight away.
- Adjustably: Every barista knows you have to adjust your grind settings several times a day. This is because variables such as air moisture, temperature and bean age all affect your extraction time. A good coffee grinder allows you to adjust for these variables. Pre-ground coffee can’t do this as it’s set to one particle size.
- Consistency: Without a consistent grinder you’ll be wasting a lot of coffee trying to get your grind right. A good grind ensures you can replicate your results time again.
What Makes A Good (And Bad) Coffee Grinder?
So now you know why you need a grinder, but what makes a good one?
This is an important question as a lot of times when people buy an espresso machine they get disillusioned with the quality of their coffee.
More often than not this isn’t the result of the espresso machine but actually the grinder they used.
Espresso is hot water passed passed through ground coffee after all. You can’t expect quality coffee if you’re using a sub-standard grinder. Knowing how to cut through the junk will save you a lot of time.
So what should you look out for?
First off lean this important phrase:
I need a burr coffee grinder. Everything else is junk!
Burr Coffee Grinder (Good)
A “burr grinder” describes the way a grinder grinds its coffee. They work by having one stationary disk and one spinning disk that grinds.
This allows for fantastic performance and accuracy and as a result have become the gold standard for grinding coffee.
Good cafes strictly use commercial burr grinders as they produce the most even and uniform grind particles.
So it makes sense to incorporate a burr grinder into your home set up, as any other type will give you sub-standard results.
We’ll cover burr grinders in greater detail later on in this article, but first lets quickly discuss what grinders you should avoid.
Blade Coffee Grinders (Bad)
The alternative to burr grinders are “spinning blade” grinders. Stay away from these!
Spinning blade grinders are not in any way suitable for espresso.
Instead of creating uniform particles, blade grinders simply CRUSH the beans into uneven parts.
Blade grinders are only suitable for brewing methods that don’t depend as much on grind consistency, like French Press, but if you have the choice you should always opt for a burr grinder regardless of the brew method.
A lot of people don’t realize how bad blade grinders are, that’s why KRUPS F203 Splice is the best selling grinder on Amazon.
Don’t be deceived by the “best seller” rating. This is one of worst grinders you can buy.
Let me show you why.
Below you can see an example of how a burr grinder differs from spinning blade grinders.
Notice how on the left the burr grinder produced consistent and even particles, while the spinning blade grinder spliced the coffee up into uneven parts.
If you put that blade sliced coffee into your espresso machine you would taste the worst, grind filled, and under extracted espresso in the world.
But that’s not the most frustrating thing about it.
The most annoying thing about using a spinning blade grinder is that no two grinds will ever be the same! Imagine trying to make good tasting espresso without a consistent grind…you’ll be wasting a lot of coffee that’s for sure.
Frankly if it’s not a burr grinder it’s not worth your time!
Different Types Of Burr Coffee Grinders
But here’s the tricky thing most guides on the Internet fail to mention – not all burr grinders are created equal!
This is because the price of burr coffee grinders are affected by the build quality, features and the actual burr used inside the machine.
We're going to discuss all these element but we'll start of with the fundamentals - the two main type of burrs you can choose from:
- Conical burr grinders
- Flat burr grinders
Both of these grinders have their pro and cons and advocates on either side. But in general both conical and flat grinders are sufficient to make great tasting espresso at home.
The key differences between them is how they go about grinding the coffee, how long the coffee bean is in contact with the burrs, and the coffee particle shape they produce.
The verdict is still out on which is better but most high end consumer manufactures tend to favour flat burrs over conical due to their accuracy, whereas cafes use conical burrs tend to be more popular due to less heat output.
Knowing how conical and flat burrs differ will help you narrow down which is the better fit for your budget and needs.
Concial Burr Grinders
Conical burr grinders have two key parts. The first is the conical burr that spins, it’s responsible for grinding the coffee. The second part is the stationary burr, it’s responsible for setting the grind size as you can move it closer or further away from the spinning conical burr as shown in the diagram below.
The main benefits of a conical burr grinder are:
- It grinds at a slower RPM when compared to a flat burr grinder due to the “cone” shape. This means that the coffee is exposed to less heat.
- It creates “bimodal” grind particles. This means that it creates two sets of grind: one smaller grind and one slightly bigger grind. The end result is a stronger “full body” espresso. Some advocates of flat burr grinders say this is not a good thing, as it means the grinds are not evenly extracted.
- More forgiving to dial in when compared to flat burr grinders as the mix of small and slightly bigger grinds give you more “leg room” to have a similar shot for a longer duration.
I recommend domestic conical burr grinders for the home barista just starting out on their coffee making journey.
This is because they’re more forgiving to set up and are usually the cheaper option. The caveat being as the coffee ages you’ll have to adjust the grind slightly due to the beans losing essential oils.
The Breville Smart Grinder to the right is an example of a great entry level conical burr grinder.
Flat Burr Grinders
Flat burr grinders work by using two “flat” burrs to grinder the coffee. One burr is responsible for spinning and grinding the coffee, while the other burr stays stationary and moves closer or further away from the spinning burr in order to set the grind setting.
Recently a lot of home baristas have been advocating the benefits of flat burr grinders over conical burr grinders.
The main benefit is that flat burrs create more uniform grind particles. As a result the short extraction is more “true” to the essence coffee blend as each coffee particle is evenly saturated, rather than having an uneven saturation like conical burr particles have.
The key benefit of flat burr grinders are:
- They produce a more uniform grind distribution compared to conical burrs.
- The uniform grind allows for even saturation of the coffee, whereas conical grinds do not due to slightly different sized particles.
- The coffee has less exposure to the burr blades, however flat burr grinders have to spin at a higher RPM when compared to conical burrs. This means more heat output. Higher end flat burrs have mechanisms in place to mitigate this heat such a larger burr diameters reduce grind time.
I recommend flat burr coffee grinders for those looking for precision in their grind output. This is because flat burr grinders create more uniform grind particles.
The caveat to this precision is that you may have to adjust your grind settings more frequently depending on the build quality of the grinder. You could also argue that heat may be an issue, but this is a negligible concern for home espresso as you're not making 100+ coffees at day.
The Baratza Vario 886 to the right is an example of a precise flat burr grinder that is a favourite among precision advocates.
Which should you get? Conical vs Flat?
Ultimately the verdict is still out on which is better.
But for home use I believe you should put more weight on a grinder’s accuracy. This is because at home you have the time to make the perfect coffee, and because of this I have a personal bias towards flat burr grinders as heat is not an issue with low volume. If you're in a commercial setting I'd go for a conical.
But in the end you can’t go wrong with either as long as the grinder is of good build quality.
In terms of taste profile some advocates also say that conical burrs bring out “brighter” and “fruiter” elements in coffee, while flat burrs enhance the “earthy” and “caramel” tones.
So your taste preference may be the better indicator of which grinder type to get, as once you get to the mid to high end grinder market both have the ability to make quality espresso.
Other Grinder Considerations
Moving on from the burr types there are few other considerations you need to make when picking the best coffee grinder for home. These are:
- Burr size
- Stainless steel vs ceramic burr durability
- Whether the grinder has a doser, is doserless or has a collection bin
- Auto-dosing / Timers
Burr Size Surface Area
Not all burrs are the same size.
Entry level coffee grinders tend to have smaller burrs, whilst higher end and commercial grinders have larger burrs.
So naturally the next question to ask is, “does the burr size affect the quality of the grind?”
The short answer: yes.
The benefits of larger burr grinders are:
- Larger burr coffee grinders have the benefit of not needing to spin as fast to grind the same amount of coffee. This translates to less heat output in the grinding process.
- The next benefit is grind accuracy. Typically the larger the burr, the greater accuracy and consistency it has. But note this also depends on the material and durability of the burrs
However these large burrs are usually only found in commercial grinders. For home use standard sized burrs will do the jobs just fine and more consideration should be put on the burr durability and build quality.
Stainless Steel vs Ceramic Durability
Moving on from the burr size the next consideration you need to make is what material the actual burr is made of.
The material is an important as it affects the durability, sharpness and life span of the burrs within the grinder.
Generally burr grinders are either stainless steel or ceramic. If you find a burr grinder made of anything else stay clear as you’ll be wasting your money.
Stainless Steel Burrs
Stainless steel burrs are the more common of the two types. This is because they are much cheaper to manufacture, however this does not mean they’re not as good.
Ceramic burrs are the less common and more expensive material, and are generally considered to be the more premium and accurate option.
Doser vs Doserless vs Collector Grinder
One of the main way burr coffee grinders differ functionally is how they distribute the coffee after it's ground. You tend to find higher end home grinders make use of doserless systems.
Grinders With Dosers
A doser is a chamber that collects ground coffee. Within it there is a pie shaped divider that rotates upon the pull of a lever. This mechanism allows you to “dose” the same amount of coffee into your group head with every pull.
A doser is handy in commercial environments as it is much faster than a doserless grinder. This is because you always have freshly ground coffee ready to be extracted with a pull of the lever, and each pull distributes roughly the same amount of ground coffee.
Doserless grinders on the other hand are just as they sound. They have no coffee chamber to collect ground coffee, rather they grind on demand directly into your group head.
The key benefit of doserless grinders is freshness as you’re always using freshly ground coffee. However they are not as fast as doser grinders as you have to wait for the coffee to grind each time rather than having a supply ready. For home use the speed of grind output is not a big issue.
Grinders With Collection Bins
The final option are grinders with a collector bin. These are simply doserless grinders that grind straight into a collector basket. They don’t have any latching mechanism to put your group head in.
Bin collector grinders are therefore the cheapest of the three option and are purpose built for coffee brewing rather than espresso making. The Baratza Encore below is an example of a popular bin grinder. You can also grind straight into your group head, however their is no stand or auto-dose.
What Type Of Doser Do I Recommend?
As this guide focuses on home use it should come to no surprise that I’m an advocate of on demand doserless grinders over doser and collector bins.
This is because in a domestic environment you have no need for a doser as you’re not making hundreds of coffees a day, and theres no reason to use a collector bin for espresso.
Your primary concern should be freshness. As when you use a grinder with a doser you run the risk of having old left over coffee in the chamber contaminating your grind. Using old coffee has a bad effect on the taste of your espresso.
A doserless grinder eliminates this risk.
Grinder Timers / Auto-Dose
Some grinders come with programable timers that allow you to grind the same amount of coffee with each use.
Grinder timers are predominantly a feature in on-demand doserless grinders. This is because doser grinders have no use for timers as the ground coffee is kept in the coffee chamber.
Grind timers on doserless grinders allow for greater consistency as you’re not guessing how much coffee you need for your group head.
The Best Coffee Grinders Conclusion
Phew! So that concludes this epic guide. If you have anymore questions regarding what to lookout for when buying a coffee grinder, or just need a second opinion on a grinder you’re looking to buy, post a comment below and I’ll get back to you.