In order to enjoy the best-tasting coffee right at home, you need fresh, quality grounds. And to get the best-tasting grounds, you need whole beans – and a good grinder. Grinding recently roasted whole beans yourself is the surest way to guarantee you’re getting the freshest, fullest flavor out of your coffee, and if you’re looking to take your morning Java to the next level, then ditching the pre-ground store-bought stuff and buying a quality grinder might be the best place to start.
Here’s a simple, unfortunate fact: Roasted coffee starts going stale pretty much right away. This is doubly true for beans that have been ground up, as the grinding process greatly increases the surface area of the coffee that’s exposed to air – meaning you’re going to eventually (and rather quickly) lose those delicious aromas and flavors. Grinding whole beans shortly before the brewing process is the easiest way to retain that taste and freshness.
Another important reason to grind your own beans is that it allows you to tailor the size of the grounds for different methods of brewing. Espresso and Turkish coffee, for instance, require a very fine grind, while methods like cold brewing and the venerable French press typically call for larger (or “coarse”) grounds to prevent sludge from passing through the filter and into your coffee.
The vast majority of cheap coffee grinders – including, perhaps, one you already have and are looking to replace – cannot deliver this sort of consistency. For that, you need a quality grinder, particularly what is known as a “burr grinder,” or one that utilizes a set of metal or ceramic burrs rather than metal blades to achieve a result consistent with the size of grind required for your brewing system. So toss that chintzy bladed grinder and get one that’s worth the beans you’re putting in it: These are the coffee grinders you need for brewing that perfect cup of joe in any kitchen.
Most electric grinders on the market are little more than jumped-up spice grinders that use metal blades, not dissimilar to a standard blender. This is bad news for coffee, as the metal blades throw beans around and chop them up willy-nilly (this is what results in the dreaded “dust and boulders” situation). By contrast, the OXO Brew coffee grinder ditches sloppy metal blades for conical steel burrs. Picture a ridged cone sitting inside a similarly ridged ring, with these sharp ridges working opposite each other to grind your beans.
The OXO grinder boasts 15 grind sizes (with several gradations in between each setting) and performs very well for its price, consistently turning out pretty evenly sized grounds, from fine Turkish or espresso coffee to coarse grounds for your French press or pour-over. Its push-button operation can’t be beat for simplicity, and both the hopper and the burrs are very easy to clean. For 100 bucks, the OXO Brew coffee grinder hits the sweet spot in price-to-performance and is the mill we recommend for most users.
It’s a little pricier than the OXO Brew mill, but if you want a coffee grinder with even more precision and consistency, the Baratza Encore is an excellent upgrade pick. It’s every bit as simple to use as the OXO Brew grinder – fill the hopper, select your grind, and push the button – but the Baratza Encore’s fine European-made burrs are a bit more consistent across all grind sizes and an impressive 40 settings make it easy to achieve perfectly sized grounds for whatever style of Java you’re brewing up at the moment.
Given that there are many, many factors that can affect the outcome of your coffee, being able to dial in a specific grind like this goes a long way toward making your perfect cup. Although it performs better than the OXO Brew mill overall, the Encore was kept out of our top spot by its higher $140 price tag, which might be more than many are willing to pay — but if you’re looking for the best electric grinder to be had without needless bells and whistles, the Baratza Encore is it.
Electric burr grinders are definitely pricier than the more common (and far inferior) blade grinders, but there are a number of options out there for the budget-minded. If you just need an inexpensive grinder for occasional use or you just want to try one out to see if you like it, the Cuisinart Supreme Grind is the best cheap model that fits the bill. It does a decent job at grinding beans with 18 different settings that give you a reasonable range of ground sizes for experiment with different brewing styles.
Full disclosure: A grinder at this price is simply not going to achieve the grind consistency and quality of something like the OXO Brew or Baratza burr grinders. The simple fact remains that, as with most things, you do get what you pay for here. But, if you’re understandably not ready to drop a Benjamin or more on a better way to chop up coffee beans, the Cuisinart Supreme Grind is a good — and very affordable — place to start.
It takes more elbow grease than holding down a button, but if you’re after the no-nonsense consistency that only an old-school design can offer (or maybe you’re just the type of person who refuses to write with anything other than a fountain pen), then the Japanese-made Hario Skerton Plus manual coffee grinder is a modern take on a time-tested classic. This centuries-old way to prepare grounds has the added bonus of not generating excess heat that can spoil the beans – a problem that’s not entirely uncommon with motorized grinders.
The Hario Skerton mill uses two conical ceramic burrs which are locked into place via a notched washer with which you set the grind size. This simple system gives you about nine or 10 grind settings, with the higher settings creating a coarser grind (loosening the locking washer creates more space between the burrs). If that sounds confusing, just know that it’s very easy to use and delivers excellent results. The drawback with a crank-handle system is that it’ll give you a little workout – even more so when making a finer grind – so we mostly recommend the Hario Skerton for medium- to coarse-ground coffee.
Any espresso enthusiast knows that this smooth Italian treasure is a strong but fickle beast. Along with heat and pressure, espresso calls for very finely ground coffee, something that can be tricky to get with even a quality burr mill. If you have a good espresso maker at home but find that other grinders are preventing you from achieving that perfect, creamy cup, then it’s worth it to invest in a purpose-built coffee grinder like the Breville Smart Grinder Pro.
Along with an attachment that lets you grind coffee right into a portafilter, Breville’s Smart Grinder Pro offers 60 grind settings and performs especially well at churning out super-fine, espresso-ground coffee. The only drawback we found with this unit (aside from its slightly steep $200 price tag) was that the Breville struggled to make truly coarse grounds – even at it highest setting, the grind was a little fine for a French press or cold brew – something to consider if you plan to make something other than espresso or Turkish coffee with this.
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