Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: The best coffee grinders are your ticket to the best brewed-at-home coffee. You could venture through the forests of Ethiopia harvesting Geisha beans yourself and spend years honing the perfect pour-over technique, but without a good grinder, that fancy coffee is going to taste like flat coffee-flavored La Croix.
Jenna Gotthelf, the national wholesale education manager at Counter Culture Coffee, explains the power of a good grinder thusly: “We can’t just drop whole bean coffee in water and expect anything to happen. We need to smash coffee into smaller pieces so water can access all the things we want to get out of it, like flavor and caffeine.” The better your coffee grinder is, Gotthelf says, the better you’re able to access all of that good stuff for coffee brewing.
The reasons for this are pretty simple: when you grind coffee, you increase the surface area that’s exposed to oxygen. Grinding your beans right before brewing gives the oxygen in that air less time to react with and remove all the wonderful flavor-producing chemicals you actually want to taste. Hence, taking the extra step to grind beans before you make coffee, rather than buying pre-ground coffee, improves your coffee’s taste.
Gotthelf and Josey Markiewicz—the senior director of coffee quality and education at La Colombe Coffee Roasters—both compare a good coffee grinder to a high-quality knife. “If you use a butter knife to cut a steak, you are going to have to work harder than if you were to use a higher quality steak knife. Sure, that steak will slice but the job is easier with better tools,” Gotthelf says.
What makes a great coffee grinder?
Even a mediocre grinder will produce coffee that tastes leagues better than the pre-ground stuff. But as we’ve spent time putting a wide range of coffee grinders through the wringer, we’ve learned that a truly exceptional grinder does more than just get you great coffee. A great grinder is easy for your pre-coffee brain to set up, use, and clean. A great grinder doesn’t take up too much precious countertop space. And a great grinder isn’t so loud that it wakes up every person, pet, and critter in your home.
At minimum, an acceptable home coffee grinder allows you to control the size of your coffee grounds. That way, regardless of whether you’re in the mood to brew with your Chemex or barely awake enough to push the buttons on your automatic drip coffee maker, you can use the grinder to get coffee suitable for the job (yes, different brewing systems require variable grind coarseness).
The very best coffee grinders do more than just provide a consistent grind. Like the very best coffee makers, the best grinders are extremely easy to use. You shouldn’t have to do much more than just put in your coffee, flip a switch, wait a bit, and then take out your grounds. Actually adjusting the grind size should be easy too, so that you have the option to toggle between a fine, medium, and coarse grind depending on the type of coffee you’ve decided to make. Ideally, your coffee grinder should also be light and relatively small, but not so light that it rocks around spewing grounds everywhere every time it runs.
What’s the difference between various types of coffee grinders?
Almost everyone’s first coffee grinder purchase is a blade grinder, usually bought because paying $20 sounds a lot better than paying $150. But if you’re someone who’s really serious about the quality of your cup of joe—and customizing the grind size based on whether you’re making a French press coffee or using an Aeropress—the only grinders worth considering will employ a pair of abrasive ceramic or stainless steel burrs to crush your beans to a consistent size. The size of your grounds, finer or coarser, depends on how far apart you set the burrs.