Coffee Grinders: A Buying Guide (and a Strong Suggestion) – Kaldi's Coffee

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Coffee Grinders: A Buying Guide (and a Strong Suggestion)

Rob talks about his experience with common coffee grinders and how you can get the most out of your specialty coffee purchase. 

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Are you getting the most out of your coffee?

If you’re buying pre-ground, the answer is probably not.

Grinding your beans fresh from whole bean is widely accepted as the easiest way to make the largest improvement to the taste of your cup. And, when you combine fresh ground with fresh roasted coffee (read our blog “Why Fresh Roasted Coffee Matters” for more on that topic), you’ve done most of the work in making lovely coffee that reaches its full potential.

But, the world is currently flooded by grinders of every price, quality, and ability (a quick check on Amazon yields results all over the map). With all of this choice, it’s easy to get confused. And this confusion makes it even easier to stick with your tried-and-true, highly-convenient pre-ground, or to throw money at a suboptimal grinder that doesn’t get you the results you want. 

I want your coffee experience to be as good as it can be. Here, I’m going to do my best to ease any grinder confusion and make a case for investing in a great grinder right away.

SPOILER ALERT

I’m going to say that 90% of the people reading this should just buy a Baratza Encore, but I’ll try to prove why.

I'll be covering seven different grinders. You can skip to specific grinders by clicking the links here.


My Quick Grinder Story
Rob looking at the coffee grinders

In my early days of coffee, I had little understanding of grinders but heard that it was good to have one. Like most people buying their first grinder, I went on Amazon and bought a cheap blade grinder with good reviews and felt pretty fancy about it compared to where I had been - I could buy whole bean coffee at the grocery store now! But, after experiencing less than stellar results (and a lot of sludgy, bitter French Presses), I went back to Amazon to upgrade to the Hario Skerton, a hand grinder that has some quirks and needs a lot of elbow grease. This improved the taste of my cups, but was overall not a pleasant experience. 

At this point, I realized I'd already invested $80 in two coffee grinders and I still wasn't thrilled with either one. So, I finally bought the Baratza Encore and started making the best coffee at home that I ever had. 

This all leads to one simple truth: I wasted money on suboptimal grinders instead of just getting a really good one to start. I’ve seen this happen over and over, and the goal of this blog is to help convince you to not make the same mistake.

Just to be thorough, I’ll spend some time spotlighting some other common models on the market - and ones that I personally have experience with - to give you more context on why investing in a good grinder from the very start makes the most sense. For each, I’ll also list out some pros, cons, and my personal and unscientific opinion on their cup quality.

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be judgy, just helpful. If you have one of the grinders on this list and you love it, then that’s all we’re aiming for! 

 This guide is for you if:
  • You’re curious about coffee grinders, but aren’t sure of its benefits
  • You’ve thought about getting a coffee grinder or upgrading your coffee grinder, but aren’t sure of your best options
  • You want the most out of your coffee, or at least to get your money’s worth from buying high quality specialty coffee 


FOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR BEST ENTRY LEVEL COFFEE GRINDERS


1. Baratza Encore
Baratza Encore Coffee Grinder - A great entry level coffee grinder that will fit most needs

The Baratza Encore is not new, but it is still my first recommendation for a grinder that will fit the needs of most people. It’s intuitive, high-quality, and produces a grind consistency more than good enough for most coffee drinkers (especially if using a drip machine). Right from the jump, you will taste the difference. It’s also a durable tank with renowned customer service backing it up. 

I’ll be extra clear here: If you just want an easy, good tasting cup morning after morning, go straight to the Encore

Skip things like the Cuisinart coffee grinder, the Hario Skerton, and others in that range. The Encore is a little expensive comparatively, but it’s the first price point in the automatic grinder market that actually gets you a really solid cup of coffee for years and years. I’ve seen it over and over: someone buys 1 or 2 of the cheaper grinders at about $100 total, then upgrades to this grinder (including me). It’s best to just use that money towards the Encore, and spend $159 up front on a quality grinder, instead of accidentally spending $259 over time as you realize your coffee could be so much better.

(I had this grinder for a long time before upgrading to a premium hand grinder and ultimately the Fellow Ode.)

BREW METHODS: Pour Over, Drip, French Press, Cold Brew

PRICE: Around $159

PROS: Intuitive, produces balanced cups, made to last

CONS: A little bit loud, not the best grind consistency at the coarser end, you might want to upgrade later on as your passion for brewing increases, can’t do espresso

OVERALL CUP QUALITY: 7.5 /10

2. Fellow Ode Brew Grinder Gen 2
Fellow Ode Coffee Grinder

The Fellow Ode has become one of the most popular grinders on the market. Its unique, stylish design definitely sets it apart from the Encore’s more industrial look, and its 64mm flat burrs give you cups with really lovely clarity and elevated sweetness. 

It’s more than double the price of the Encore, but this is one of the rare cases where you probably do get double the performance for your money. This is the grinder I have on my counter, and I love it.

Consistent grind quality from the Fellow Ode
Consistent grind quality from the Fellow Ode
 

BREW METHODS: Pour Over, Drip, French Press, Cold Brew

PRICE: $350 and up

PROS: Very consistent grinds (for better tasting brews), grinds most batches in under 10 seconds., great styling, one of the better bangs-for-your-buck on the market, upgradeable burrs

CONS: Earlier models can be a little messy with grounds, more expensive and maybe too expensive for most coffee lovers, does not grind for espresso if you’re interested in that. 

OVERALL CUP QUALITY: 8.5 /10


3. 1ZPresso K-Max Hand Grinder
1ZPresso K-Max coffee grinder

I’ll start with this: hand grinding is not for everyone. Since you’re supplying the force instead of a motor, you will get a bit of an arm workout each time you make coffee, especially if you like lighter roasts (dark roasts are a breeze). While many — including myself — grow to love this haptic feedback as part of their morning ritual, there are many who get tired of it.

3 types of hand grinders - the 1ZPresso K-Max, the Timemore Chestnut C3, and the Hario Skerton

That said, this premium K-Max hand grinder from 1ZPresso (pronounced E-Z-Presso) is absolutely amazing and makes great coffee if you’re willing to put in the work. Because you aren’t paying for a motor, you’re getting higher quality parts that help make your coffee tasty, like better stabilization and burrs. And, this particular grinder is really not that bad in terms of the force you need to supply. Grinding 20 grams takes about 30-40 seconds without much strain for all but the lightest of roasts. 


BREW METHODS: Espresso, Pour Over, Drip, French Press, Cold Brew

PRICE: Around $230

PROS: Great grind quality, actually grinds pretty fast for single cup brew, easy to use and tweak your grind setting, will last you a very long time (fewer parts that can break), portable for camping trips and vacations, unlike the above grinders it can grind for espresso

CONS: A little pricey, it will take you a while to grind for larger batch brews, hand grinding can become monotonous unless you really like the ritual of it (and the great quality of coffee grounds)

Overall cup quality: 8.5 /10

Want to learn more?

Coffee Chronicler has a great review of the 1ZPresso K-Max on his website. 

 

4. Timemore Chestnut C3 Hand Grinder
Timemore Chestnut C3 Coffee Grinder

This is one of the cheapest options for a really solid hand grinder. Timemore is relatively new to coffee grinders, but has quickly become known for good quality products with solid performance. 

The Timemore Chestnut C3 is small, purposefully so. It is especially suited for travel and was designed with the Aeropress in mind to help save space in your backpack or suitcase. Therefore, it can only hold about 25 grams at a time. If you’re like me and mostly make single cups at a time, this is totally fine. If you make 40 grams or more in your auto brewer every morning, this might pose some challenges.

The adjustment mechanism of the Timemore Chestnut C3
The adjustment mechanism of the Timemore Chestnut C3 

So, while it’s cheap and does a good job with grind quality, it has its limitations. It’s not the fastest at grinding, it’s not the most consistent, and it doesn’t have the ability to make the minute tweaks in grind size that would make it ideal for espresso (but it can make a good shot!). But, if you travel a lot, are price conscious, and plan on using the Aeropress as your main brewer, this grinder should be on your shortlist. 


BREW METHODS: Espresso, Pour Over, Drip, French Press, Cold Brew, Great for travel

PRICE: $79 and up

PROS: Great for traveling and can fit inside of the Aeropress plunger, solid grind consistency, relatively easy to find and repeat your preferred grind setting, solid construction

CONS: Only a 25 gram capacity, not has great of grind consistency as more premium hand grinders, not capable of doing espresso

OVERALL CUP QUALITY: 7 /10

Honorable Mention: 1ZPresso Q2. It's about $20 more, but produces quality grinds well above its price point. It also fits in the Aeropress plunger for easy travel. 

WANT TO MAKE YOUR BEST COFFEE AT HOME?

See our best brewing tips for the Aeropress, Kalita, Chemex, and more: Brewing at Home

THREE CHEAP COFFEE GRINDERS WITH QUESTIONABLE PERFORMANCE

Grimacing at a blade grinder

1. Blade grinder
Blade coffee grinder

This is where I started on my grinder journey. A blade grinder uses sharp blades to cut the coffee beans, and all coffee beans are exposed to the blades at all times. This means it’s impossible to fully control particle size consistency, i.e. how uniform in size each piece of ground coffee is. Some bits will be very chunky because the blades didn’t reach them much, others will be pulverized into fine dust. The result is usually a pretty muddy cup because some of the grounds are over-extracting (bitterness) while others are under-extracting (sourness). 

Close up of the coffee grinds coming from a blade grinder. You can see big chunks and powder mixed together.
Close up of the coffee grinds coming from a blade grinder. You can see big chunks and powder mixed together.

A blade grinder gets the job done. And that’s all that can really be said about it. 

If you’re looking for consistent, high quality cups each morning, this is not the gear for you, and you’ll be left wanting to upgrade pretty soon after buying it. 


BREW METHODS: Pour Over, Drip, French Press, Cold Brew

PRICE: $20 - $30

PROS: Cheap, can get you okay results with a couple well-known hacks, widely-available, grinds quickly

CONS: Poor grind consistency leads to less than stellar cups, limited capacity, very limited ability to repeat great brews

OVERALL CUP QUALITY: 3.5 /10


2. Hario Skerton Hand Grinder
Hario Skerton Hand Grinder

The Hario Skerton is well known to many specialty coffee fans. It’s been around for a long time, and was pretty much alone in its class when specialty coffee truly began taking off. As a result many coffee fans have one of these grinders collecting dust in their cabinets (including me). 

The Skerton is a bona-fide burr grinder, using ceramic upper and lower burrs to crush coffee beans. This burr set up lets grounds pass through a gap once they reach a certain size, thereby setting it apart from a blade grinder. This is theoretically great, but the Skerton comes with flaws. It has poor burr stabilization (which to be fair to Hario, they have tried to fix with newer models such as the one pictured here), which without getting too deep into it means that the grind consistency is generally poor. It also has pretty cheap burrs and parts, thereby resulting in a grinding process that’s either a few or several minutes and oftentimes requires hard labor. 

I personally think the Skerton is one of the reasons that so many coffee people still bristle against hand grinding. They’re essentially scarred from having a laborious process that resulted in a not-so-tasty cup.

Hario Skerton hand grinder
The jar from the Hario Skerton with coffee grounds

BREW METHODS: Pour Over, Drip, French Press, Cold Brew

PRICE: $55 and up

PROS: Cheaper than electric burr grinders, more consistent at the finer ranges, solidly built, improved click system on the Pro version

CONS Challenging to dial in, long and laborious grind process, fairly inconsistent grind quality (especially in the coarser ranges)

Overall cup quality: 5 /10

 

3. Cuisinart Supreme Grind Electric Burr Grinder
Cuisinart automatic coffee grinder

    Hey, this thing has 4.5 stars on Amazon and is over $50 - it has to be good right? For many, this can seem like a really solid investment and it’s easy to see why. $50 is not an insignificant sum of money! And it’s electric, so no destroying your biceps and wrists every morning.

    But, that price comes at a cost. The burrs are what are called “false burrs” and are made extremely cheaply. It’s predominantly made of plastic, which gives poor stabilization. It sounds like a vacuum cleaner and produces gobs of static. Lots of other corners were cut, and the overall user experience is simply not great - and neither are the cups it produces. 

    Grinds from the Cuisinart Coffee Grinder
    The grinds from the Cuisinart have a lot of static and make a good amount of mess

    So, you’re left with yet another grinder that is essentially negating the quality of the coffee that you bought, and thereby causing you to lose out on your coffee investment. And with its questionable longevity, you may end up having to buy another one (which puts you well over half the way there to a very high quality Baratza Encore). 

    BREW METHODS: Pour Over, Drip, French Press, Cold Brew

    PRICE: $55 and up

    PROS: Electric, accessible price point, better experience if you have a full hopper, built in grind timer

    CONS: Poor grind consistency, limited grind options, bad static, cheap materials, questionable longevity, many quirks make it not have the best user experience 

    OVERALL CUP QUALITY: 4.5 /10

    INTERESTED IN SWITCHING FROM AN AUTO BREWER TO POUR OVER?

    See our blog about starting off with the Kalita Wave 185: Kalita Wave 185 Pour Over How To


    MY FINAL CHANCE AT GRINDER PERSUASION, AND BEYOND

    The Fellow Ode, Baratza Encore, and 1ZPresso K-Max coffee grinders

    This was certainly a long walk, but hopefully I’ve provided you some useful information. In the end, the Baratza Encore is simply still the king at bang-for-your-buck grinder choices to most coffee drinkers. Its quality in both grind consistency and materials means that most people will find their experience with it better than good enough, and you’ll be happy for years (I’ve heard many stories of people having theirs for 10+ years and counting, and I gifted one to both my sister and sister-in-law and they are very happy owners). 

    So, I say this because I care: skip the cheaper options. It may actually be better to buy pre-ground for a while and just save up for the Encore rather than purchase cheaper, less-quality grinders that you’ll want to upgrade in a short period of time. 

    And, if this blog ignited any more curiosity in you, you should know that there are A LOT of great grinders on the market now in every shape and size. Things like the Niche, DF64, Baratza Vario, Eureka Specialita (I use this for espresso at home), and more have all gained fans far and wide, and are truly great pieces of machinery at higher price points. There’s a reason people fall down the coffee rabbit hole, and a whole community is waiting for you should you fall down it yourself. 

    In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your coffee and your moments with it. A beautiful cup is a beautiful start to the day, and I think a more beautiful cup unlocks even more beautiful days. A great coffee grinder may  very well be your key. 

    Cheers!

     

    MORE FROM ROB

     

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