Choosing a Coffee Grinder
If you enjoy a good cup of coffee, making an investment in a coffee grinder is a small price to pay for fresh coffee at its best, brewed at home or in the office. Coffee is most flavorful when the beans are ground just before brewing: Once exposed to oxidation through the grinding process, coffee beans begin to lose flavor. High-end versions of this countertop appliance can set you back a few hundred dollars, but we sifted through expert commentary and user reviews to find several costing $30 or less that are more than adequate for this simple task.
Coffee Maker Brands.The major manufacturers of lower-cost electric coffee grinders are Krups, Mr. Coffee, Capresso, Proctor Silex, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, and Black+Decker. These companies offer a range of models at different prices, including some very cheap coffee grinders that meet frugal consumers' expectations for performance, ease of use, and durability.
Our research identified three budget-priced blade grinders for our "best" category: the top-rated KitchenAid BCG111 (starting at $25), the no-frills favorite Krups F2034251 (starting at $14), and the Bodum Bistro 11160 (starting at $21) for coffee drinkers who value style as much as solid performance. For the "good" category, we picked two more blade grinders, the Mr. Coffee IDS57/55 (starting at $15), and the Cuisinart DCG-12BC Grind Central (starting at $26), both of which earn their share of raves from consumers. The Black+Decker Smartgrind CBG100S (starting at $18), by contrast, is probably worth bypassing; it garners relatively more complaints about durability than the other models we researched.
Cheap versus Expensive Coffee Grinders.The cheapest electric coffee grinders are blade grinders that chop the beans with stainless steel blades rotating at high-speed. They're less precise than some more expensive grinders and are best suited to churning out the medium to fine grind used in pour-over filtered coffee and automatic coffee makers. Another common use for blade grinders is grinding spices and nuts; most models we reviewed work for this purpose.
Burr Grinders.Serious coffee aficionados may prefer a seriously expensive coffee grinder. High-priced models, such as those from companies like Baratza and Breville, typically are burr grinders. Rather than chopping beans, burr grinders shave and crush them, either between abrasive plates or a cone circled by a serrated disk, to produce more uniform grounds. Burrs in expensive grinders, whether conical burr grinders or flat burr grinders, can be either steel or ceramic; ceramic burr grinders are the more expensive option and some say better for delivering the best tasting espresso. Lower-priced electric burr grinders, including some slightly above the Cheapism ceiling, feature flat disk burrs that tend to be made from cheaper materials and are a tad less effective.
One popular budget-priced burr grinder is the Mr. Coffee BVMC-BMH23-RB (starting at $31). What might be considered a "starter" model, it's good for slightly more discerning coffee drinkers still interested primarily in a medium grind that will work in an automatic pot. We also found two other burr grinders that should appeal to consumers looking for a slight step up in their grind game without a big step up in cost: Both the Cuisinart Supreme Grind DBM-8 (starting at $42) and the Krups GX500050 (starting at $35) garner positive reviews from thousands of satisfied owners. For those who take a relaxed attitude toward coffee making in the morning, the Hario Skerton MSCS-2TB (starting at $38) is a manual coffee grinder with ceramic conical burrs that makes it on to many experts' short lists.
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Coffee Grinder Reviews: What We Considered
In our research, we looked at recommendations from consumer product experts, like The Sweethome, commentary from specialty websites and blogs run by coffee aficionados, and consumer reviews posted on manufacturers' websites and at retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, and Macy's.
Coffee grinder reviews are fairly straightforward. Most comment on the uniformity of the grind, the ease of cleaning, and grinder longevity. Reviews also reveal a surprising assortment of uses for these small appliances, from the obvious grinding of coffee beans to the more surprising grinding of flax seeds for chicken feed and crushing of medicine for horses.
Performance.The mark of a top-notch coffee grinder is its ability to produce uniformly-sized grounds so that each granule or powdery speck brews at the same rate, which in turn minimizes any bitter or burnt flavor. The blade grinders we researched do a fairly decent job of even grinding, although some models are more adept at a given grind size than others. The best budget blade grinders excel at medium grinds, although a few can manage coarser grinds that are relatively even. Few blade grinders are proficient when it comes to espresso-style grinds, however, and none reach the standard set by pricier burr grinders.
With the best burr grinders you're guaranteed results that meet your specifications: If you want a coarse grind, all the grounds will be coarse; if you want a fine grind, all the grounds will be fine. They're particularly good at producing the coarse grind required for French press and cold-brew processes and the better models have no problem at all with the super-fine grind needed for espresso. Due to their cheaper components, less expensive burr models may not fare quite as well, and some experts say they may not be much better than high-performing blade grinders.
Ease of Use.Getting the optimal size grind for the beans you like and the coffee-making process you use probably involves some trial and error, according to coffee grinder reviews.
Inexpensive blade grinders are usually powered up with a simple push-and-hold control button that sets blades whirring and feature a clear plastic top (for viewing) that lets you decide when to stop the machine. Directions for most models recommend using a pulse action for the most even grind. Some experts suggest that giving the grinder an occasional shake to help distribute the beans can aid the process.
All of the entry-level electric burr grinders we recommend boast several different grind settings, from fine to coarse, depending on user preferences. Of course, the number of settings -- and actual distinctions between grind consistencies produced -- varies between models. These grinders also allow users to select the number of cups to be brewed, and the grinder will shut off automatically when the requisite amount of coffee has been ground.
Operating manual burr coffee grinders takes a bit more work, but many coffee lovers swear the extra effort is worth it. Coffee produced is said to taste better because cranking by hand means there's less risk of overheating the beans. They also have the advantage of being easily portable, for those who like to start the day with their favorite brew when camping or traveling, and they're certainly not as noisy as electric grinders.
A grinder's capacity may be a factor when it comes to ease of use. Some are designed to grind enough beans for a small crowd, while others can handle only enough for a few people. All of our picks can hold at least 3 ounces of beans, which is a generous amount. However, manufacturers' determinations of their grinders' yields and how much coffee is needed for a brewed "cup" sometimes differ; one 3.2-ounce model may say it can make up to 12 cups, while another will claim 18. The larger hoppers on the burr grinders we looked at can hold more than double that amount of beans. And while some manual models have the capacity to grind enough beans in one batch for multiple cups of coffee, many users won't have the patience or stamina to suit the task.
Cleanup.Mess and cleanup are among the primary issues consumers raise in coffee grinder reviews. Grinding coffee can be a dirty business, what with the beans' residual oils and grounds that wind up where they don't belong. Stray grounds that fall to the counter as you open the top of the grinding chamber irk some users of most models we researched. Some also grumble about spills when scooping out or otherwise transferring the grinds to the cap before dumping (or measuring) them into the coffee maker, grinds that cling to the plastic lid, or fine grinds that clump up under the grinding blade. Burr grinders sometimes get dinged when the chute from the bean hopper to the burr gets clogged, which either slows or stops the grinding process.
Frequent cleaning not only helps with coffee grinders' overall performance, but it also prevents build up of rancid oils that mar the coffee flavor. Most blade grinders can be cleaned with a damp sponge or cloth, although a few boast a removable chamber (with blade) that can even go in the dishwasher. The grinder on burr models is often removable and can be cleaned with a small brush (often included). Some with removable bowls also offer convenient lids, so users don't have to dirty another container if storing extra grounds.
For those worried about cluttered counters, there are coffee grinders that provide recessed storage so users can easily tuck away cords and move the grinder out of sight.
Durability.With but a few exceptions, budget coffee grinders seem to last. Many reviewers tell of replacing a treasured machine after five or even 15 years, and often with another of the same brand. Yet, even the coffee grinders we favor sometimes disappoint. We read plenty of reports lamenting units that failed in one way or another after minimal use; no model we researched escaped users' darts.
A final note: A coffee grinder will probably last longer if you don't overload it. Don't pack the grinding chamber with too many beans or grind too many batches in a row.