The fact that you find yourself reading this article is probably an indication that you are already convinced of the huge benefits of grinding your own beans. Pretty well across the board, baristas will tell you that the quality of your coffee will never exceed the quality and consistency of your grinds.
What this means is that if you are serious about brewing coffee then investing in a decent coffee grinder is absolutely essential. And we used the word invest very deliberately. Because well-brewed coffee relies heavily on consistency and quality of grind, in this article we are going to attempt to persuade you that getting a reliable burr coffee grinder may be the most important coffee decision you need to make.
Our Pick: Baratza Encore
Why Grind your own Beans?
So some people may still be thinking why do I need to grind my own beans? Can’t I just buy pre-ground beans from the local supermarket (a bad idea already!), or take my favourite beans to a local cafe and get them to grind them for me?
The short answer is, you can but they won’t taste as good. And the reason is that almost as soon as coffee beans are grounded, aromatics are released which affects the flavour. This is why cafes, almost without exception, grind on demand. Freshly ground beans = maximum flavour.
There are basically three benefits to grinding your own beans:
- Maximum Flavour – as noted above, coffee beans begin to release aromatics and degrade almost as soon as they are ground. So to extract the most flavor and subtle nuances of different beans you really need to grind immediately before brewing
- Adjustability – As any barista will tell you one size does not fit all when it comes to coffee grinds. Especially for espresso, there are a huge range of factors from bean age to how lightly or darkly roasted it is which require constant adjusting to pull the perfect shot. A quality grinder allows you to experiment to find the perfect grind size for each bean. In addition, a decent grinder is a huge help if you dip into various brewing styles. A good grinder allows you to grind one batch of beans for everything from espresso to pour-over and french press.
- Consistency – A good coffee grinder can end up saving you a huge amount of both money and stress due to consistency and the ability to replicate results. As many (including us!) have found out by experience, it is easy to waste a huge amount of money trying to get your grind right. A quality burr grinder allows you to experiment until you find the correct grind size and then replicate that time and time again.
So basically, the advantage of grinding your own beans with a quality grinder is better flavour, the ability to adjust, and consistency of grinds.
Understanding the World of Grinders
If you have begun to enter into the world of grinding you will quickly realise that it can be a complex and jargon-filled world. People will talk about a doserless espresso grinder with flat plate burrs at 750 RPM without blinking an eyelid!
So to help you out we will briefly navigate some of the common terminology. (So if you already know and love the jargon then feel free to skip this section and go straight to the reviews).
Burr vs Blade Grinders
The most important things to know here is you need a burr and not a blade grinder! Blade grinders are kind of similar to the blenders you have in your kitchen and use generally a metal blade to slice up the coffee beans. The problem with blade grinders is that the metal heats up and can partially roast the beans, and these grinders often produce very inconsistent grinds which leads to poor extraction.
Burr grinders crush the coffee beans between two revolving ceramic or metal rings leading to a far more uniform grind. There are two different types of burr grinders; flat and conical. Flat Burrs tend to be found in more expensive high end grinders, while conical burrs are more common in entry level machines. The long and the short is that a quality grinder of either type will provide a consistent grind but coffee enthusiasts love debating the pros and cons of each.
The important thing to note about burrs is that there is such a thing as fake burrs. These as basically blade grinders in disguise. The general rule of thumb is be suspicious of any automatic burr grinder under $100.
All burr grinders will also have an RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) speed. The higher the RPM the more consistent the grind which is good, but also the more potential for heat which is bad. Flat plate burrs however are able to deal with higher RPMs. So flat burrs tend to have higher RPMs while conical burrs tend to be lower.
Espresso Grinders vs Multifunction Grinders
Another important consideration in buying a grinder is what brewing methods you will be using it for. There are basically two types of grinders; espresso grinders which can cater to the fine grind required for espresso, and multifunction grinders which can grind across a range of brewing styles.
The rationale behind this divide is that because espresso uses the highest pressure and has the shortest extraction time, it requires the most precision in grind size. An espresso grinder must be able to repeatedly grind to a uniform consistency, as well as having the capacity to make extremely fine adjustments to the grind. Espresso grinders tend to use flat plate burrs and have high RPMs.
Multifunction grinders intentionally cater for a wide range of brewing styles. These grinders intentionally offer a wide range of grind settings and advertise as across-the-board grinders which can do everything from pour over to cold brew. These machines can also generally grind fine enough for entry level (under $500) espresso machines but will be found lacking for the real espresso enthusiast.
In terms of the grinders reviewed on this article, the Rocky Rancilio is the only espresso grinder, while the Baratzas and the Breville would be considered multifunction.
Doser vs Doserless
In researching the best coffee grinders you will regularly come across the terms doser and doserless. These terms basically refer to the means by which the ground coffee is distributed.
A doser is a pie-shaped chamber that collects ground coffee and releases it on the pull of a lever. This is particularly helpful in commercial settings as it is a lot faster than doserless and each “dose” distributes roughly the same amount of coffee.
Doserless grinders have no such chamber and grind immediately into your portafilter or attached coffee container. The advantage is that the coffee is always completely fresh while the downside is that it is somewhat slower.
Most home grinders tend to be doserless and “dose” the coffee with either a pulse button which you hold down for as long as required, or a timer function which allow the user to walk away while the the coffee grinds. (As a side tip, the timers are generally far less reliable and accurate than they claim!)
You will notice that the various coffee grinders offer anything from 16 to literally hundreds of grind settings. So how many do you need? Well again it depends on what brewing methods you will be catering to.
As a general rule of thumb you will need:
- 20-40 grind settings for standard methods (such as French Press and Pour Over)
- 40+ grind setting if you want to brew all styles (including entry level espresso)
Best Burr Coffee grinders 2019
The general rule of thumb when you come to grinders (or just about anything for that matter!) is that you have to pay for quality. The Baratza Encore is the outstanding exception to the rule! This highly capable conical grinder houses the exact same motor as its more expensive older brother the Virtuso at a considerably more affordable price. The Encore is really about a quality burr grinder at a price that is reasonable for the general coffee lover.
Baratza have a long and well deserved reputation for both lasting quality and excellent customer service. And both the Encore and the Virtuso certainly live up to this reputation. In terms of performance the Encore is very easy to use with an adjustable hopper that can rotate between 40 numbered settings from most fine to most coarse. But more importantly it does grind well and consistently at a price that is utterly affordable.
- Grind settings: 40
- RPMS: 450
- Burr size: 40mm
The Virtuso is the Encore’s Big Brother with the same great functionality plus some great features. As opposed to the Encore, the Virtuso has far more metal in the design making for a heavier base (which is helpful in a grinder). In addition it has a timer switch on the side and a slightly quicker and more heavy duty set of burrs.
This makes the Virtuso a terrific option for the coffee connoisseur who is willing to pay a bit more for quality. Perhaps the greatest point in favour of the Virtuso is that this is arguably the single most common home grinder owned by baristas. The Virtuso is reliable, produces a great grind, can cater to a wide range of brewing methods, and is known to last for years.
- Grind settings: 40
- RPMS: 500
- Burr size: 40mm
The Smart Pro Grinder is all about flexibility in function and its tech savvy look. This is a relatively new grinder on the market but is quickly growing in popularity with its impressive 60 grind settings and its timer which regulates the time of dosing down to 0.2s increments. The digital interface is relatively user friendly and to be honest just looks great on the bench top!
This grinder comes with both a grinds container as well as large and small portafilter cradles which is super helpful for espresso. While this machine is not an espresso grinder, its wide variety of grind settings means that it is more than capable for entry level espresso machines. The Smart Pro Grinder is a great option for the coffee enthusiast who loves anything digital and is looking for a machine to cater to a wide range of brewing styles.
- Grind settings: 60
- RPMS: 450
- Burr size: 40mm
This heavy duty machine is a commercial grade grinder for home use. Of the grinders reviewed in this article, the Rocky is for the espresso fanatic who is willing to pay for quality. This is an espresso grinder with commercial grade 50mm flat plate burrs and an impressive 1725 RPM.
The Rocky is all about quality that would be appropriate in a cafe, a high quality motor that is powerful and quiet, and the capacity to deal with a high volume of use. This grinder comes with both doser and doserless options. We recommend the doserless option as it is better for home use and easier to clean. And if you make the great choice of investing in one of these bad boys, don’t be surprised to find coffee dust in the machine when you get it. Every grinder shipped out is factory tested to ensure reliability. This is the grinder we use for espresso and absolutely love!
- Grind settings: 55
- RPMS: 1725
- Burr size: 50mm
What really makes the Capresso 565 stand out is the way it excels at super fine grinds. In fact while this is one of the least expensive grinders on this list, it is the only one that can capably grind fine enough for Turkish coffee. So if Turkish coffee is your thing, then the Capresso is the grinder for you.
This tidy wee grinder has four major settings (Extra fine, fine, medium, and coarse) and then four further settings under each. Also it is worth saying that this machine, like the Encore, is very affordable.
- Grind settings: 16
- RPMS: 420
- Burr size: 40mm
After reviewing the above machines we believe that the Baratza Encore is the best burr grinder for the coffee lover who uses multiple brewing styles. This grinder punches above its weight, grinds excellently, and best of all is completely affordable for even the entry level coffee lover. The only downside is that it can only really do espresso for entry level machines.
Alternatively for the espresso lover who will be brewing mainly on an espresso machine priced above $500, we recommend the Rocky Rancilio. This grinder is commercial grade, has a history of durability, and can deal well with regular use and heavy volume.