If you care about coffee then you need to care about grinders. End of story.
Let me tell you our story. We had just started to get into coffee, loved finding the best cafes, and were excited about the idea of getting seriously into home brewing. So we did our research, went out and bought a $500 or so espresso machine. We started with pre-ground beans but then read the blogs, talked to the cultured coffee lovers, and decided we needed to take the next step and grind our own beans. And so (in a remarkably oblivious way) we went down to our local department store saw a coffee grinder on special and bought it.
In our minds the equation went: coffee maker + grinder = superior coffee. But we had one pivotal word missing, the equation should have gone: coffee maker + quality grinder = superior coffee. And so we wondered for a while why our coffee was tasting worse rather than better…
We had to learn the hard way that a bad grinder is actually far worse than no grinder. And that is why we have written this article; to help you find a manual grinder that will actually help make your coffee taste better and your brewing experience more enjoyable.
Why Should You Buy A Manual Hand Grinder?
Coffee grinders are widely recognized as what makes or breaks great balanced coffee. In fact they are probably the single most important piece of coffee equipment. A quality burr grinder (whether conical or flat plate) is the best and necessary starting point for excellent home brewing.
So once you have made the great choice to invest in a good grinder, the next important question to answer is Automatic or Manual? While we love Automatic Grinders and use ours every day for espresso, we think that there are some pretty weighty reasons to consider buying a hand grinder:
Perhaps the greatest advantage of manual grinders is that you get far more bang for your buck than with automatic grinders. Even the cheapest grinders on this list will outperform the vast majority of electric grinders under $150! Similarly, a $200 hand grinder will likely be able to compete with a $500-$600 automatic grinder which is pretty amazing! Because there are so few parts to hand grinders, almost all your money is going towards the quality and make of the burrs.
One of the great things about hand grinders is that they tend to be (with one or two significant exceptions!) far smaller and more durable than electric grinders. This makes them great for travel and in fact there is even a hand grinder so small that it will fit inside your Aeropress! Also because there is no electronics and so few moving parts in manual grinders a good quality one lasts for ages. Especially in the more high end manual grinders it is only really the burrs themselves which will wear out which can take years! So manual grinders allow you to take your coffee passion not simply to your kitchen at home but on that business trip, or holiday, or simply that trip to the in-laws.
While it is contended (as just about everything in our world), many coffee gurus contend that hand grinders are able to produce some of the best coffee in the world. Part of the reason for this is that (unless you are secretly Captain America!) there is no way that you can manually grind beans fast enough to produce heat. And when it comes to grinding beans heat is one of the grand enemies that can significantly alter taste.
Finally there is just this hard to define primal satisfaction in grinding your own beans by hand. If we are honest with ourselves coffee means more to most of us than simply the taste, it is a hobby, a passion, an art. It is about that deep satisfaction of extracting delicious balanced coffee from this unassuming bean. There is something intimate and personal about grinding your brew by the sweat of your brow (although admittedly the romantic ideal of this may fade significantly when you are five minutes into grinding that espresso!)
So overall we believe that hand coffee grinders are well worth your consideration both as an affordable entry into grinding your own beans, and as a high quality investment that may give your brewing that edge you are looking for.
What To Look for In a Manual Grinder
The range and diversity of manual grinders on the market is frankly incredible and can make the choosing process rather difficult. There are literally grinders of every shape and size; big and small, cheap as chips or worth more than your espresso machine, sleek and slimline or rustic with a cute wee drawer to collect the coffee grinds! Here are a few factors to think through to find the perfect grinder for you.
It will come as no surprise that the single most important consideration in choosing a manual grinder is the uniformity or consistency of the grinds. Because the flavour of coffee is directly governed by the extraction process, a wide range of grind particle sizes will lead to either an over or under extracted brew which will taste revolting. So while price will in some ways drive this, the aim should be to get the most consistent grinder possible.
There are basically two different price brackets for manual grinders which in turn reflect the consistency of the grind they produce. The first brackett is $50-$100 which will get you a quality burr grinder which can cater well to manual brewing styles as well as entry level espresso machines. This is terrific for the manual (non espresso) brewer as well as the general coffee lover. The next bracket is $200+ and will get you a high end burr grinder which can compete with commercial grinders and is more than sufficient to grind for espresso. These are great for the advanced or committed coffee and espresso lover who has the money to invest in quality.
You will also want to consider which brewing styles you want your grinder to cater to. Manual grinders deal most easily with the grind settings needed for pour over and Aeropress as these sit near the middle of the possible grind settings. As noted above, cheaper grinders will seldom be able to cater to the fineness and consistency of the grind required for Espresso. Similarly, many manual grinders will struggle to produce an even consistency for French Press as this requires a very coarse yet uniform particle size. If you are trying to figure out grind sizes for different brewing methods see our Guide to Coffee Grinding with Grind Size Chart.
Stepped vs Stepless
It is also worth considering whether you want this grinder to be solely dedicated to one brewing style such as Aeropress or whether you will be constantly changing between styles. If you are looking for a grinder for a range of styles then you will want a stepped grinder (with a preset number of grind settings) and one that allows you to easily switch between settings. However, if you are planning to dial in your grinder for say pour over and then just leave it there a stepless (with no preset grind settings but instead often a knob or screw which you tighten to suit your required grind size) might work just as well.
Another factor to take into consideration is how much coffee you will be wanting to grind at a time. Larger and less portable grinders such as the Handground and the Hario Skerton Pro tend to have a greater capacity (both can grind 60-100g of beans), while smaller and more portable grinders such as the portlex, the Javaprese, and the Commandante have a smaller capacity at 20-40g. So it is worth thinking through how much coffee you will need to grind at a time.
The Best Manual Coffee Grinders 2020
The Skerton “Pro” is Hario’s renovation of the classic Skerton with a bunch of significant improvements. The improvements include a new burr design with far more stability, a new grind setting system, and a slightly different look. And these improvements have rather remarkably taken the Skerton from what many felt was a sub-par grinder, to a quality grinder that is easy to use, produces a uniform grind, and is our top pick of grinders on this list!
This is a relatively large grinder which has a hopper capacity of 100g and is made of a mix of plastic, glass, and rubber. This means that while it can be used for travel it is better suited for a kitchen setting (although a nice hack is that you can actually attach a mason jar instead of the glass grind container if you do choose to travel with it). The grind setting is adjusted by turning a small ring that clicks for every adjustment. This is the same system used with the Hario Slim Mill for those acquainted with that model. We believe this is a great grinder especially for manual brewing styles. It is easy to use, made of quality materials, and has been widely hailed as a significant step up on the classic model.
The Handground grinder exploded onto the grinding scene a few years back as a renovation of everything that a hand grinder ought to be. Contrary to most models on this list, the handle on the Handground is on the side rather than the top which many have found to be significantly more comfortable (and comfort matters as all who have used manual grinders know well!) Another great feature of this kickstarter grinder is very clear grind size demarcations that are easy to use and easy to adjust. There are 15 settings which (in theory anyway) cover everything from espresso to french press and cold drip.
In terms of grind consistently the Handground is similar to the Skerton Pro and sits at the top end of the cheaper price bracket. The Handground particularly comes into its own with coarser grind settings such as are required for french press or cold drip. So if you are a French press sort of guy or gal than the Handground ought to be a very real contender for your choice. The Handground is the largest grinder on this list and weighs almost a kg, so probably not great for that trip to Hawaii but an excellent choice if all your grinding will be at home.
The Portlex Mini is a very popular grinder and is now well established as the grinder of choice for travel. This is due to how lightweight it is and its tiny size (the handle is removable) which allows it to even fit inside an Aeropress! Another great thing about this grinder is that being made from a mix of plastic and stainless steel it is very durable and is more than sturdy enough to bring with you on that hiking trip.
Like many of the less expensive grinders, the grind consistency can work well for pour over and Aeropress but will really struggle with either French Press or Espresso. It has 13 click grind settings which are easy to navigate and remember. It is worth noting that the tradeoff for the portable size of this grinder is that it can only grind 20g of beans at a time. So fine for one cup but if you are wanting to brew for your friends as well… then get ready to do some serious work! For a more information check out our review of the Porlex Mini here.
The Javapresse Grinder has been a bit of a crowd favourite for a while now. And there is lots to love about this grinder! In many ways it is a slightly larger version of the Portlex Mini with many of the same strengths. It is very portable with a removable hand crank and has a stainless steel body that is known to last. Other advantages of this grinder include a generous 40g capacity which will easily cater to 2 cups of brew, and 18 grind settings on a click knob under the burrs. The makers of this grinder also boast that it is one of the quietest grinders on the market, so no ruining the serenity at sunrise on that fishing trip!
The downside to the Javapress is that, like similarly priced grinders, the portability and cheaper price does lead to some compromise in terms of grind consistency.
The Zassenhaus Santiago in many ways represents our roots as coffee lovers. Zassanhaus is a German Company which has been around for over 150 years now and making coffee grinders for almost as long! Using one of these rustic and beautiful grinders can almost feel like a step back in time. And the Zassenhaus is more than just a pretty face! These grinders have excellent grind consistency and reportedly can even grind fine enough for turkish. The grind size is adjusted with a dial leading to a huge range of possible grind settings.
While it comes in three different forms of wood, we recommend going with Mahogany (if you are going rustic you may as well go the whole way!). The quality make of this grinder is reinforced by the astounding 25 year warranty that Zassenhaus offer!! In many ways this is more than a grinder, it is a piece of rustic and elegant art that just happens to double as a great coffee grinder!
Both the Lido 3 and the Commandante mark a significant shift in quality of grinders. These next two grinders easily excel the previous grinders in grind consistency and quality of burrs and the prices reflect them. The Lido 3 is a bit of a mammoth of a grinder at over 1kg weight and 13.5 inches tall (and ironically it is even advertised as a grinder for travelling!). But what it loses in portability it more than makes up for in quality and functionality! This grinder can easily grind for any brewing style including french press and espresso (although the espresso perfectionist may want to consider the Lido E model which is optimised for this brew style).
In terms of make it is constructed of highly durable heavy duty plastic and sports 48mm steel conical burrs. Probably the most common complaint with this grinder is that the stepless grind adjustment and lock is fiddly and not at all beginner friendly. However, the learning curve is well worth it for the grinder. This is the sort of grinder that you won’t need to upgrade from but could significantly up your coffee game!
The Commandante really marks the gold standard of manual coffee grinders in terms of elegance and grind consistency. This german-made grinder is easily the best quality grinder on this list and excels at all top notch espresso as well as easily catering to all other brewing styles. The burrs are made of the highest quality steel and have double axle bearings to ensure a uniformity of particle size. This makes a delicious cup of brew and has the added bonus of being one of the few high end grinders that still uses a stepped grind system for easy adjustment and replication of grind sizes. And lets be honest, it just looks pretty amazing as well! However, as with any high end grinder, you pay for the quality. The Commandante is the most expensive grinder on this list and so is an investment for the coffee lover who will accept nothing less than perfection!
This is a great video which reviews the high end manual grinders with a particular focus on their performance for espresso…
So what do we recommend? Well while it depends in part on what you are looking for. We think that you can’t really go beyond the Hario Skerton Pro especially for manual brewing styles. It is well built, reliable, good grind consistency, and a great price for what you are getting!
Alternatively, if specialty coffee is your thing and you have the money to pay for quality then we recommend the Lido 3 as the last grinder you will need to buy!