Best Coffee Grinder 2021 | The Best Coffee Grinders for Brewing Everything From Pour-Over to Espresso

Life-changing coffee starts with two things — the right beans and a great coffee grinder. To help you choose one, I’ve put electric and manual models through their paces. The best espresso grinder is the Baratza Sette 270Wi. For modern nomads, I recommend the Comandante as the best manual coffee grinder.

Here at Coffeeness our philosophy is: “Anyone who drinks capsule coffee has lost control of their life.” But I think I need to expand on that philosophy because if you’re drinking pre-ground beans, you’re also in need of some coffee counseling.

Let me explain. Even the highest quality coffee beans lose a lot of their volatile aromas within minutes (!) of grinding. Which is why buying a proper grinder is an absolute must.

The tricky part is of course tucked away in the word “proper.”

While each brewing method requires a different grind texture, not every grinder is equally suited to both coarse and fine grinding. In an ideal world (and kitchen), you’d have a whole arsenal of different mills. Especially as a grinder is a piece of equipment that lives deep in if-and-but territory.

So it’s not a case of chuck in beans, hit button? Unfortunately not. Which is why I’ll go into lots of detail and dig into subcategories in this coffee bean grinder guide.

For example, I’ll look at the differences between a manual and electric coffee grinders. And no, it’s not just about the power cable.

Other important factors, I know you’ll want to keep an eye on are value for money and noise levels. Just like with my super-automatic espresso machine reviews, I’ll also unpack grinder design.

Keep checking back here as I’ll be increasingly reviewing new grinders. And major upsets in my top picks do happen. In fact, my new favorite for espresso is the Baratza Sette 270Wi.

Arne gives the Baratza Sette 270Wi coffee grinder the thumbs up

Coffee Grinders at a Glance — Design, Purpose and the Power Cable Question

My golden rule for coffee is that if you’ve gone all out on a portafilter machine, your grinder should at least match it in price and quality. If you’re a French press or pour-over coffee lover, you can get away with a cheaper mill. Although my idea of “cheap” might not be the same as yours.

Ordering a separate grinder along with your new coffee machine would really be the right way to do it. Of course, no one does. But that would be the logical thing to do.

So how do you find your way around the world of grinders? Here are the broad categories you need to be aware of:

Muscle Power vs Electric Power

  • Manual coffee grinders like the Comandante require a fair bit of elbow grease and only grind small portions at a time. But they are often da bomb when it comes to espresso. And you can use them anywhere and everywhere because look mom no electricity. Be warned, the price might make your eyes water … Arne holds up the Comandante C40 MK3 Nitro Blade manual coffee grinder
  • Electric coffee grinders save you having to sweat, but mean you’re stuck with the machines’ capabilities — or limitations. There’s a huge range of options and prices. Plus, almost every model is purpose designed for a specific preparation method. Which is why when I make espresso, for example, I always haul out the Baratza Sette 270Wi.

Conical Burrs vs Flat Burrs vs Blades

  • Much like you find on super-automatic espresso machines, more compact mills usually have a stainless-steel conical burr grinder, while at the upper end of the price scale a ceramic flat burr coffee grinders are the mechanism of choice.
  • If a product description mentions a blade grinder, you stop reading right there and then. Blades are a big neon warning sign for cheap, useless junk and awful results.

Whenever I taste-test coffee or espresso beans or review a machine without a built-in grinder, I instinctually reach for a manual coffee grinder, which basically means my beloved Comandante. If someone else has snagged it, either the Zassenhaus Quito or the Porlex Tall are equally good.

Ane presents the Porlex Tall and its box

That makes the three sound pretty similar. But in terms of price and pitfalls, they’re wildly different. What they have in common are the typical advantages of a manual coffee grinder:

  • Straightforward operation and adjustment
  • Easy to clean
  • Possible to quickly change beans
  • Compact and robust
  • Usually a good bet to achieve the finest grinds
  • Stylish addition to any shelf
  • Won’t raise your electricity bill or blood pressure

The last point is often how I decide whether a particular manual coffee grinder under review gets a high or low score. That’s because the components’ center of gravity and their knock-on effects for the crank radius and handling mean it very quickly becomes apparent whether you’ll use models like the Porlex Mini for years to come or banish them to the back of a cupboard.

Another thing that will make or break a grinder is ensuring the recommended preparation method matches the intended use. The Gefu Lorenzo, for one, is a whizz at producing the coarser grinds suitable for a French press, while the Zassenhaus Quito can produce powder even finer than what’s required for espresso.

The Zassenhaus Quito coffee grinder next to its box

In theory, all mills can grind the full spectrum of sizes. What separates the wheat from the chaff is the uniformity of the grind. Clean extraction requires that every coffee ground is the same size. Sure, I’m overstating it slightly, but it is important.

The Best Affordable Manual Coffee Grinder

Welcome to the weird world of pricing. How is that the difference between the Porlex Mini and the Tall averages $5-10 on Amazon? All I can say is that it’s kind of a USP killer for the Japanese brand.

Those few bucks are basically the only reason the smaller 0.7 ounce version claims the title of best coffee bean grinder in this category. With an extra $5-10, you can get the Porlex Tall, which grinds a full ounce of beans.

Thanks to a highly precise ceramic conical burr coffee grinder (!), both versions deliver impressively even results without excessive cranking.

Arne shows of the Porlex Mini and its box

What’s more, they are genuine all-rounders, capable of producing the goods for virtually any preparation method, whether coarse grinds for the French press or fine espresso grinds. Such jacks-of-all-grinds inevitably compromise somewhat on consistency. But that’s easily overlooked at the price.

The Hario Mini Mill is worth mentioning because it’s astonishingly cheap at under $40. And it shows in the workmanship. And with the judder in the handle, cranking will wear out your arm choicest selection of foul language pretty fast. If you can muscle through, grind results are surprisingly decent for espresso and pour-over. But it’s a bust on French press.

The Best Expensive Manual Coffee Grinder

If my rhyming skills were up to more than love/dove, I would compose a love poem to the Comandante. Since first reviewing it, this grinder has traveled all over the world with me. And I’m not exaggerating. It’s the first thing I pack along with clean underwear.

So far, I haven’t found another hand grinder that delivers better precision across the grind spectrum and functions so flawlessly. Plus, to my knowledge, there’s no other grinder that chews through beans faster. This is thanks in no small part to the sophisticated way it transfers power and a double-ball-bearing mounted grinding mechanism. Bottom line, the beans are ground before your arm can even start complaining.

Arne with the Comandante C40 MK3 manual coffee grinder

As is inevitably the case, the best manual coffee grinder comes at a price. At about $250, this hand-crank grinder costs a chunk of change. And forget about a price drop down the line.

For that reason, I only recommend the Comandante if, like me, you’re a bit of a nomad and can’t bear life without great coffee everywhere you go. And, of course, if grinding by hand helps you reach a higher state of consciousness.

The Big Coffee Grinder Review | The Best Machines for Coarse Grinds

As soon as electrical circuits and motors enter the equation, the range of machines on offer explodes and is, frankly, pretty confusing. To make matters worse, the divide between good mills and junk is starting to look like the Grand Canyon.

It goes without saying that electric coffee grinders are less of a bother. But that doesn’t mean they’re easier to operate or more precise. So it’s imperative you don’t lose sight of what brewing methods the grinder is recommended for. As usual, price is also usually pretty decisive.

For all their grind settings — which can be stretched even further with a bit of finessing — machines like the Capresso Infinity (marketed as the Nivona CafeGrano 130 in Europe) can’t produce the particle sizes for espresso. But if you only need it for coarser pour-over or French press grinds it puts in a solid performance.

This is true of most grinders around the $100 mark. Which makes them a great place to start your journey into freshly ground coffee.

Hang on a sec, you say. What about the Cuisinart Supreme Grind? It’s a burr coffee grinder and it costs only $60! To be honest that just proves my point that going below $100 is heading into the grinder badlands.

Even if you survive the assault on your ears, it’s messier than a four-year-old with finger paints. A combination of bad chute design, excessive fines and static ensure cleaning up after grinding is a mission of note.

Worst of all, you just can’t make good joe with the Cuisinart coffee grinder. That’s because its block burr set is inferior to both conical and flat mechanisms, producing tons of powder even at coarser settings. As a result, it’s difficult to avoid bitter, over-extracted drip and French Press coffee.

And it’s my impression that brewing methods requiring coarser grinds are where most successful converts to the freshly ground cause start out. So why is it easier and cheaper to get those grind consistencies right? Because the conical or flat burrs don’t have to operate with barely a hair’s breadth between them. Even cheaper machines can pull that off.

If you’re looking for uncompromising grind quality even on these less challenging consistencies, the Baratza Encore conical burr coffee grinder will do you proud, but set you back about $140.

The Best Grinder for French Press Coffee

If you think grinding for a French Press is a piece of cake, think again. Sure, it’s definitely at the coarser end of the grind range but that’s a bit of a catch-22:

The bigger the coffee granules, the more obvious inconsistencies in particle size — not just during the extraction process, but also in such mundanities as the gritty bits at the bottom of your cup.

Which is why I personally regard the grinders under $100 as non-starters in this category. The Baratza Encore gets my blue ribbon when it comes to brewing with a French press. It is a real whiz with coarser grinds, doesn’t have issues with static and even an average joe should have no problem adjusting and operating it as well as any seasoned pro.

The Baratza Encore grinder with other coffee equipment

To sweeten the deal, it has no less than 40 grind sizes and is built to last. Plus, it looks like it means business. All that plastic detracts from that a bit. And the noise volumes leave something to be desired. But at the price it goes for on Amazon, you really can’t ask for more.

If you’re a stickler for consistency at the coarse end of the scale, there’s the Baratza Virtuoso+ — the next model up from the Encore. Thanks to a different burr geometry, the Baratza Virtuoso+ improves uniformity and almost doubles throughput rate, despite sharing a motor with the Encore. Oh and there’s some blingy stainless steel.

But is it worth an extra $100? Unless you have a super-sophisticated palate or are grinding up big quantities of beans, probably not.

The Best Grinder for Pour-Over Coffee

Drip or pour-over brews, whether made in a Chemex or coffee maker, are forgiving methods where grind and dosing mistakes are not the end of the world or the pot. So it’s unsurprising that there’s a slew of machine options at a whole range of prices that could claim the title of best grinder.

While the filter paper easily compensates for some unevenness in grind consistency, you should always be aiming for a medium-fine grind.

With its fairly even grind, the affordable Oxo Brew conical burr grinder will do the job. But for just a bit more you could be enjoying the Baratza Encore’s superior consistency. For me, it’s a no brainer.

The Best Coffee Grinder for the Bialetti

If you ask me, we don’t give the old stove-top moka pot nearly enough love. This all-Italiano method of brewing strong coffee that’s distinctly espresso-esque is inexpensive, very forgiving and a total cinch to prepare.

In this brewing method, water is forced up through the funnel, which holds the coffee, and into the upper chamber. So what size grinds should you put in the funnel? While you should go for coarser than espresso, the medium-fine grind is definitely closer to that consistency than pour-over.

For most grinders, crushing beans for a Bialetti is pretty much the upper limit of their capabilities. Which means, we’re right back with the Oxo Brew conical burr coffee grinder and Baratza Encore.

Once again, you’ll be in moka mecca with a super-consistent grind, but the stove-top pot can take some grind irregularity in its stride and you’ll still enjoy a good cup of joe.

The Best Espresso Grinder | All My Top Picks

The fact that we even use the term “espresso grinder” for a machine that basically whizzes up beans like any other coffee grinder tells you these mills are a cut above. A good espresso grinder won’t leave you high and your cup dry when it comes to the finest grinds.

As I’ve mentioned, this calls for quality components and precision mechanics that get the flat or conical burrs to operate in seriously close proximity. The result should be an almost powder-like grind where every granule is exactly the same size.

That’s because pulling a shot of espresso with a portafilter isn’t something you can muddle through. It’s all about precision. Mess up the grind and not even the best espresso machine can save the day. Which is why I can’t emphasize enough that your choice of grinder is the bigger make-or-break factor than the espresso machine.

And yes, good espresso grinders don’t come cheap. Starting with the Breville Smart Grinder Pro at $250, it’s a steep climb to the $550 Baratza Sette 270Wi and slightly more expensive Eureka Mignon Silenzio. And we haven’t even touched on the advanced and pro models.

Arne with the Eureka Mignon Silenzio grinder

So it’s unsurprising that a lot of people wonder whether getting so hung up on the espresso grind is really necessary. Short answer: Yes. Otherwise you’re wasting your money and the time spent painstakingly crafting espressos.

Along with the portafilter renaissance, there’s a lot happening in this category. In fact, even manufacturers who don’t usually produce grinders are venturing into the fray. Just look at DeLonghi with its KG 52 series. Exciting stuff! I’ll soon be reviewing more devices.

The Best Affordable Espresso Grinder

While it has its flaws, the fact that the Breville Smart Grinder Pro produces a beautifully uniform espresso grind at this price deserves big ups.

Keep in mind, that Breville Smart Grinder Pro is a bit like Baratza Encore conical burr coffee grinder in that it’s best at one end of the grind range. So it’s a hit for espresso but a miss on French press. As an added bonus, noise and static levels are tolerable.

There’s a whopping 60 grind settings, with the finest powdery enough for Turkish coffee. Which is a testimony to its serious wattage. While that’s great, it is going to see those stainless steel burrs heat up fast. So go easy, you don’t want to singe your beans.

Also watch out for a niggle in the grind cup design. The opening in the lid is small and the vibrations that go with longer grinding sessions can bump it out of position below the chute. Cue a pile up of grinds on the lid. Aside from the mess, this can potentially clog the grinder. Ditch the lid — problem solved.

You can also grind directly into a portafilter.

The Breville Smart Grinder Pro won’t satisfy true coffee geeks, but such an impressively uniform espresso grind at that price is not to be sniffed at.

The Best Espresso Grinder for under $300

If you’re a Baratza fan like me, there’s good news: The brand has made a relatively inexpensive entry-level version of its revolutionary grinder shaped like the number seven — the Baratza Sette 30 AP. This machine also pulverizes beans in a flash. And since the motor is out of the way behind the grind mechanism, there’s plenty of room below the chute for your portafilter.

The Baratza Sette 270 Wi grinder with tampers

The Best Expensive Espresso Grinder

OK, so you’ve probably already guessed that I consider Baratza Sette 270 Wi the best burr coffee grinder for espresso. And for good reason. Sure, you can get something cheaper, but you won’t find a grinder that produces a more uniform grind — and does a clean and professional job of it.

The price tag on all that awesomeness is $550 price tag. A fair whack of that is attributable to the intelligent built-in scale, which lets you grind by weight and is what the W in the model name refers to. As a result, dosing is spot-on. The $150 cheaper Baratza Sette 270 (unavailable on Amazon) uses a timer for dosing.

To be honest a lot of what sets the Baratza Sette 270 Wi apart are subtleties that you’ll only really pick up on — and appreciate — when your espresso skills and palate have advanced a fair way. But the thing about those niceties is that they’re a bit like movie goofs — once you’ve spotted them you just can’t unsee (or untaste) them.

If you’re serious about going old school, you’re bound to love the timelessly classic Eureka Mignon Silenzio. It’s got retro appeal by the bucket load and is utterly uncompromising on espresso. Another advantage of all that high-quality stainless steel is that its less suceptible to static. If the Sette didn’t exist, I’d still be grinding with the Eureka.

Since buying a new Mazzer Mini (around $1000) or Quamar M80E (close to $900) may put you on a diet of two-minute noodles for a month or two, I recommend keeping an eye out for a good second-hand machine.

Arne with the Mazzer Mini coffee grinder

Otherwise, the air and options are a bit thin at this price point. That’s mainly because freshmen home baristas and those on a budget find it hard to justify shelling out that much. In contrast, those who are practically pros are more interested in machines you won’t find on Amazon and whose names are passwords to coffee geekdom.

The Smart Shopper's Grinder Checklist

I’m all for sharing is caring, so I’m happy to tell you exactly how I conduct my reviews — what coffee beans I use and what I take into consideration. No secrets and no lies.

So what’s the most important thing to look for when buying a grinder? A machine that is an expression of a coherent 360-degree concept where overall quality is clearly a priority. With that as your starting point, it’s possible to compare a good but affordable manual coffee grinder like the Zassenhaus Quito with a stylish electric device like the Eureka Mignon. In fact, that’s exactly what you want. How else can you make up your mind?

Breaking that idea down into specifics, these are boxes you want a grinder to check:

  • Grind size can be steplessly adjusted
  • Little to no coffee grounds remain in the machine after grinding
  • Every single granule is a perfect replica of the next
  • The motor and grind mechanism don’t heat up the coffee
  • There is little to no problem with static electricity
  • The grinder is safe, high quality and durable
  • The settings are intuitive, easy to follow and implement

You may have already twigged that it’s pretty difficult to determine those things when looking at a grinder in a shop or online. Which is what makes it so difficult for your ordinary coffee lover not to be distracted by all the wrong things — like price.

At least with grind sizes, you’ve got the facts to make a decision at your fingertips. Just bear in mind that overall product quality tends to increase exponentially, the more choice you have in this department. Plus, you also want a machine where stainless steel is specced as the main material.

The control panel for setting grind size on the Baratza Sette 270 Wi

Not only is static automatically less of an issue with stainless steel but you’ll also have fewer residual grounds left in the machine’s insides. Everything just clings more to plastic.

There’s also a roundabout way to figure out how much heat the machine is likely to create. All self-respecting coffee bean grinder manufacturers should specify the machine’s grind capacity. In the case of the Baratza Sette 270 W, it’s between 3.5 and 5.5 grams per second.

The higher the number of grams per second, the faster the coffee grinds pour into the portafilter or grind cup. Faster is better because there’s less time for heat to build up through friction.

The same principle applies to manual coffee grinders. Often, the handle’s length and properties are make or break in minimizing heat.

If it’s shoddily designed, you’ll fight with the thing for ages just to get the revolutions going and keep up the momentum. And the longer you spend cranking away, the more your grounds will heat up.

While the ultimate thumbs up or down on a manual coffee grinder is always a hands-on test, a close inspection of the product photos can be quite helpful. There you can see whether the crank has a good grip with rounded, ergonomic edges so it fits comfortably in your hand.

It’s hard to put something so tactile into words, but check out the crank on the Comandante versus on the much tinier Hario Small. You’ll notice distinct differences between the knob at the end of the crank as well as its length and shape in relation to the grinder’s body. Even without physically testing the grinders, it’s pretty clear that the Comandante works better as a lever.

Arne with the Hario Small coffee grinder

The ABCs of Grinding Mechanisms

Let’s briefly revisit the grinder mechanisms and why they’re important. For starters, that type of mechanism has a direct impact on levels of heat generated. When you get down to it, the same requirements and material properties that I’m always yabbering on about with super-automatic espresso machines apply here, too. But it’s worth going over again.

This grind mechanism comprises two rings, usually with angled teeth that lie flat on top of each other. The beans are crushed between the two rings. Moving the rings closer together or further apart adjusts the grind size finer or coarser.

Usually, a motor drives one of the concave burrs, while the other is fixed in place. Inside the burrs, centrifugal forces push the grounds outwards, simultaneously grinding them finer until they drop through.

Pro baristas love this grind mechanism. Because when it’s built with the right caliber of components and workmanship, it produces highly consistent grounds and minimal heat. Just a heads up that those kind of results also crucially depend on:

  • Burr diameter
  • The burrs achieving a high number of revolutions per minute (rpm)

Bigger burrs not only take longer to heat up but can also grind up more coffee beans at a time. Lazily turning burrs defeat the object because longer grinding times mean they can’t beat the heat. Which brings us to the other downside of flat burrs: Big burrs mean a bigger machine, especially if they’re driven by a motor.

Conical burr coffee grinders aren’t so very different from their flat burr cousins. But take a peek at the mechanism and you’ll see that the one burr nests inside the other one. The coffee beans fall straight down as they pass from the wide end of the cone’s funnel and exit at the narrow end.

Since conical grinders tend to be more compact, there are a lot more options both at the lower end of the price spectrum and in manual versions. You’ll hear a lot of people say that this setup requires less speed (rpm) to produce a quality grind.

That’s not wrong, but also not always true. Attach an under-powered motor to second-rate conical burrs and you’re guaranteed a bum grind. But the motor doesn’t need to be as high-end as for flat burrs. Which is often the reason for the difference in price.

A downside to the design of (motorized) conical burr coffee grinders is that they often can’t be steplessly adjusted. The upside is they’re more likely to produce consistently small granules for espresso. The reason is that the beans work their way down the full height of the cone, which often results in a finer grind than from a two-bit flat burr grinder.

From all my ifs and buts, it should be clear that no grinder mechanism is solely responsible for a superior grind. It’s a sum of many parts — the grind mechanism, motor and machine design all have to work together.

Material choice is the subject of just as much musing (and ranting) as the grind mechanism itself. Sure, metal has its disadvantages but I like to take the middle road and on this: Both stainless steel and ceramic have their place.

Metal is obviously a better conductor of heat. Which is why it’s all the more important that conical or flat burrs made of the material get the job done quick. But I have to admit that steel has a durable robustness you’ve got to love. Metal mechanisms can be noisier but with good insulation, you won’t even notice. In fact, it’s the quality of the sound at volume that grates more.

As a case in point, my favorite grinder at the moment, the Baratza Sette 270 Wi, has a stainless steel conical burr grinder. If that’s an inferior material, you could’ve fooled me.

Baratza Sette 270W coffee grinder

Manufacturers fall over themselves to proudly announce that their grinder has a ceramic mechanism. What’s the deal with that? Well, ceramic sounds more la-di-da and superior to ordinary old steel. Moving from emotional to more solidly rational grounds, ceramic is an extremely hard, smooth and neutral material that won’t impart any flavor. So theoretically, it’s a good choice for bean aroma and fast grinding.

And you can’t argue with any of that. But ceramics are as weirdly paradoxical materials as diamonds. Like the gems, they’re hard enough to cut glass but so brittle they shatter when dropped. If your ceramic grinder suffers a serious knock, there’s every chance a burr will chip. I speak from experience. An undetected stone in my beans damaged mine.

Which is not to say I’m anti ceramic grinders. I just don’t think they’re necessarily better than their stainless steel counterparts.

For the sake of completeness, I’m going to briefly touch on the blade grinders that are so plentiful in lower price brackets.

You’ll notice I’m NOT linking to any lade grinders because I really don’t think any of them are worth buying.

Why? Because a blade grinder is basically a blender in a different package. Nothing more. A pair of rotating blades, which are attached to a knife block, chop randomly at the beans as they bounce off the container walls.

The blades from the Bosch SilentMixx Pro blender

Some pieces are pulverized to a fine powder, others remain coarse. So the opposite of a uniform grind. Which is why you should steer clear of blades, whether in a coffee maker with grinder or standalone mill.

Based on some of the comments, there are really some people who grind their coffee and pepper in the same machine. Honestly, I can only throw up my hands.

You won’t believe it but I discovered my grandmother’s old blade grinder still floating around my parents’ house — the Krups Type309. I’ll say one thing for these machines: They’re practically indestructible. This old blade grinder must have worked it’s way through sacks of beans over the decades.

Want Your Coffee Grinder to Crush it? Here's How to Set it Properly

You’re not going to like this, but all things being equal, you should recalibrate your coffee grinder each time you open a new bag of coffee or espresso beans.

Think that sounds totally OTT? The thing is that the smallest variations in the roast or the bean surface affect what your grounds look like.

You’ll notice this when, for instance, the new batch of beans suddenly tumbles out of the grinder chute faster or slower. Despite using the exact same setting, the grounds are actually coarser or finer.

This is just one of many reasons that I own several coffee bean grinders. I’m also not that keen on cleaning and resetting a machine with each new bag. How obsessive you get about this probably depends not only on the amount of money and space you have to play with but also your taste for experimentation.

If you’re an equal opportunities coffee drinker who enjoys both portafilter espresso and java from a French press, for example, two grinders are practically essential.

Feels like a stretch? I recommend a manual coffee grinder for the French Press and an electric coffee grinder to make life easier with the portafilter. Which is exactly what I usually do when reviewing beans.

A word from the wise — having some sort of visual reminder of roughly what your optimal settings are for each brewing method is essential. It’s just too easy to absentmindedly bump or adjust the dial or ring on a grinder. And then you have to start the whole calibration process from scratch. Been there, done that. So take a photo or make a marking, and save yourself the headache.

Portafilter filled with grounds

Hitting on the perfect grind size takes time. And since that varies from one brewing method to the next, here are a few tips to help you get there a bit faster.

But first, a very important point when adjusting any motorized grinder:

Always adjust the grind setting while the machine is running, so that the burrs can “settle into position.” It takes a couple of shots before change in speed and grind size really becomes apparent. Take a good look a what comes out of the grinder — you should be able to spot even subtle changes in consistency.

So here’s an inconvenient but unavoidable truth: You can only tell if the grinder setting is spot-on when the coffee lands in your cup and you’ve tasted it. With espresso, of course, you get an early heads-up thanks to the crema. But what about drip coffee or French press?

For Drip Coffee

Since your coffee maker needs a medium grind, the logical place to start on any grinder is the slap bang in the middle of the scale.

Settings on the Baratza Sette 270 Wi grinder

If you’re lucky enough to land on the sweet spot straightaway, your brew will be a very full-bodied but not too dark coffee. Depending on the roast, it could range from amber to burnt honey. As for the rate that the brew filters into the pot, you’re looking for a steady flow but not a deluge.

Coffee that gushes through indicates the grind is too coarse. If you’ve moistened and bloomed the grounds but there’s barely a trickle when the rest of the water is poured over, it’s too fine. Especially bitter manual pour-over brews are the result of a grind that’s (unintentionally) too fine. The same goes for excessive acidity.

For Espresso

Spotting a perfect espresso in the cup is easy but nailing the grind to produce it isn’t. Remember that a fine grind needn’t necessarily be your grinder’s lowest possible setting.

This is where the difference between a separate grinder and the things built into super-automatic espresso machines becomes painfully apparent. Despite always maxxing out a super-automatic grinder to its finest setting, I’m often disappointed to find that it’s still too coarse.

The Melitta Purista produces a shot of espresso

You can tell if a coffee grinder is set too fine when the granules leave the chute sluggishly in great lumps that plop down with big pauses between them. While this isn’t necessarily a serious issue for the grinder, it is going to be for the espresso you try to make with a portafilter.

There are two ways to spot an excessively fine grind in the portafilter: Firstly, the espresso drips into the cup in a slow treacly way. Secondly, the crema is very dark and uneven. Take a sip, you won’t be able to miss the blast of bitterness and how totally off the aroma profile is.

When the grind is too coarse, both the granules and brew will make far too rapid an exit from the respective machines. A very clear, strong jet of coffee is an unequivocal sign of under-extraction — and an excessively coarse grind. The coffee will be horribly pale and thin with virtually no crema.

Adjusting the grind size in the smallest possible increments is even more critical with espresso than the other brewing methods. If you have a stepless grinder, you should just edge the dial or collar over with a thumb or finger. Unless of course the settings are complete bunkum anyway.

From there you just have to keep working through the cycle of adjusting the grind, checking the dosage, pulling a shot, tasting and back to tweaking the grind…

Arne shows off a perfect espresso in a cup

With that in mind, you’re probably starting to see the method in my madness when I recommend using several grinders and why I generally prefer a manual coffee grinder for testing several coffee beans?

How to Clean a Coffee Grinder

No water means no problems with moldy coffee residues, right? Not quite. Sure, there’s less risk of the petri-dish effect with a grinder than, for instance, a coffee machine with grinder or even a super-automatic espresso machine.

But coffee beans are oily little critters. Given enough time, oil goes rancid. Yummy, not.

That’s why you also need to clean coffee grinders. But it’s pretty easy to do. There are two basic cleaning rituals for  grinders:

  1. Running grinding cycles with special cleaning granules, tablets, etc.
  2. Disassembly and vacuum

I do the second procedure once a week. Those of you who don’t use your grinder as often can extend the interval — but only a little! Honestly, it’s child’s play to take apart a grinder.

That’s because one of the two (conical or flat) burrs has to move anyway. So it’s not difficult to remove it by hand from the mechanism by following the instructions in the user manual. Once you’ve done that, you can clean the rest of the grinder with a vacuum cleaner and scrub the removed burr again with a toothbrush. That’s basically it. Done and dusted.

Going the detergent route is pretty popular especially among those who get freaked out about disassembly. I get that. But I should point out that doing the job by hand saves you money. Plus, I can be sure that I’ve done a really thorough job.

Arne with a whole selection of grinders

Often the bean hopper doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The problem is this is where oils build up fastest. Depending on the extent of the residue, a gentle wipe might not do the trick. Remove the hopper, empty it out, clean it by hand with food-grade soap and allow it dry well before reattaching.

That’s pretty much grinders 101. Or have I missed something? Give me a shout in the comments. I’m all ears (and eyes).

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