Types of Coffee Grinders
This is the most common type of grinder. Blade grinders chop beans with a spinning blade attached to a motor. These models are relatively cheap as far as countertop appliances go -- most cost less than $20. They tend to be simple, mostly plastic, push-button machines, although some have multiple settings. Blade grinders are also useful for other tasks such as grinding spices, seeds or nuts. If you do so, however, the grinder must be cleaned thoroughly between uses to avoid mixing flavors. Some users report keeping two inexpensive blade grinders handy: one for coffee and one for spices.
Experts say if you are a serious coffee aficionado you'll want to invest in a burr coffee grinder. Burr grinders have two gears that slowly crush the beans into particles. Most have ceramic burrs, which are thought to stay sharper longer than other materials. Ceramic burr grinders can come with either conical burrs or flat plate burrs. Some people don't like flat plate burrs, saying they can heat up too much, but most high-end grinders have technology to keep that from happening. Many experts say there is no difference in grind quality between the two styles, so that is not a make-or-break consideration, just a difference in style.
These are also burr grinders, but, instead of a motor, you crank the grinder by hand. It's slower than using an electric grinder, and also can take a bit of muscle, but many people love the meditative process of manually grinding their own coffee beans. There's a learning curve to using a manual coffee grinder to get just the right size grind, but once they "get it," coffee lovers say a manual grinder is a cinch to use.
The best espresso requires a very fresh, very fine grind, something that not all coffee grinders can achieve. Blade grinders, as well as some of the other grinders that we recommend in this report, can't grind finely and evenly enough for espresso. These burr grinders, on the other hand, have been tested by experts and owners and found to be suitable for producing the fine grinds that espresso requires.
Coffee experts agree: A great cup of coffee stars with the grinder. You
can have the highest-end coffee or espresso maker money can buy, but if you
don't start with an even, fresh grind from high-quality beans, you may as well
save your cash. In fact, CoffeeGeek.com has worked up a handy chart for
how to plan your espresso maker/coffee grinder budget to get the optimal setup.
In the preamble to that guide, Mark Prince notes, "I've often said that I can make a better
shot of espresso with a $200 espresso machine and a $400 grinder than I can
with a $2,000 espresso machine and no grinder (or a blade grinder)... and it's
Burr grinders are more expensive than blade units, but most experts
agree that the added expense is worth it to get the most precise grind -- a
necessity for specialty coffees and brewing techniques like espresso, French
press, pour-over, or Turkish. Many burr grinders have upscale metal
constructions, and they have a solid, weighty feel. Small, portable burr
grinders start as low as $35 or so for a manual model, but can go up to $700 or
more, depending on the number of settings, build quality and grind consistency.
Many owners opting for the top-priced models say they expect their grinders to
last a lifetime.
However, plenty of people manage to soldier on with a less expensive or
less high-end coffee grinder and are very satisfied with the resulting brew.
And don't forget, you still need a good coffee maker as well. We cover coffee makers, single cup coffee makers and espresso machines in
separate reports. Check them out to find the perfect pairing for your grinder.
The best blade coffee grinders
If you're looking for a simple and dependable blade grinder, you can't
go wrong with the Krups F203 Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder (Est. $16). It has
thousands of reviews at Amazon.com, as well as thousands more elsewhere, and the
overwhelming majority of comments are very positive. Some of these reviews go
back more than a decade, and many owners have come back to update their reviews
to say their Krups grinder is still going strong 5, 10 or 12 years later,
making this little grinder an amazing value.
Its simple operation is another reason why owners love the Krups F203
grinder. Just push a button, they say, and it starts grinding; release the
button to stop. You do need to check the consistency of the grind every now and
again because the Krups doesn't have any presets for, say, coarse or fine
grounds. However, users say the learning curve is very slight and you'll
quickly develop an intuition for when you have the grind you desire. Most of
the poor reviews we see, and there aren't many of those, are from people who
bought this for specialty grinds, such as espresso. Blade grinders simply
aren't suitable for that very fine, even type of grind.
The only other complaints we saw about the Krups was that it can be
messy when removing the lid, with coffee (or other ground items) spilling out.
Many say they have solved that problem by simply turning the unit upside down
and tapping it against the counter to dislodge loose grinds before removing the
lid. Many reviewers suggest it's easier to clean if you use a nylon brush to clean
out the remaining contents. A few say that this grinder is noisy, but many more
say it's quiet enough to use in the morning without waking those still sleeping,
so, in this case, the decibel level seems to be in the ear of the beholder.
The Proctor Silex E160BY Fresh Grind Coffee Grinder (Est. $14)
is even more affordable than the Krups F204, and gets reviews that are almost
as good. The E160BY gets better feedback as a spice and seed grinder than a
coffee grinder, however, and we see more durability complaints than for the
Krups grinder. Still, most owners say it works great and is super simple to
use. What the Proctor Silex grinder has that the Krups grinder does not is a
retractable cord, and reviewers absolutely love that feature; they say it makes
it very easy to store.
Another top choice, with a larger capacity than either the Krups or the Proctor
Silex grinders is the Capresso Cool Grind (Est. $20), which
can hold enough beans for up to 15 cups of coffee. Owners say the Capresso Cool
Grind does a good job of making a consistent grind, but note that it's hard to
get the grounds out of the container dome after grinding. Still, like the
Proctor Silex, the Capresso has built-in cord storage, which is very popular. It
also features technology to keep heat from building up when grinding, something
that coffee experts say can negatively affect the taste of your coffee. It does
get good reviews overall from coffee drinkers, even a few who say it competes
very well with their burr grinders.
There's no doubt that the Krups F203 shines in this category due to the
sheer weight of years and years of mostly positive user reviews, but if a place
to put the cord for storing is a priority, both the Proctor Silex E160BY and
the Capresso Cool Grind have those features; and the Capresso may be better
suited for those who want to use a blade grinder as their exclusive coffee
Finding The Best Coffee Grinders
Cale Guthrie Weissman, Dec. 14, 2015
Mark Prince, Not Dated
Editors of Cook's Illustrated, May 2016
To determine our Best Reviewed coffee grinders, we analyzed expert and
owner reviews as well as professional tests. Some are older tests and reviews,
but are still valid because many of these coffee grinders are so durable and so
popular that they have been around for many years without any significant
changes. Prince's tests and analyses at CoffeeGeek.com were an invaluable
resource, as was the expertise and hands on experience of other coffee-loving
experts. Just as important as the experts' experience is owner reviews. When it
comes to coffee, there are some extremely knowledgeable amateurs out there who
give excellent feedback. It's also interesting to see what newbies have to say
when they take their brand-new grinder for a spin.