For beginners: What you need to know before looking for the best burr grinder
If you’re using whole coffee beans to get your caffeine fix, you want to get the best burr grinder you can…and that might seem a little intimidating, especially if you’re new to grinding your own beans. You’ve probably read reviews of coffee makers where so-and-so has described how they use a burr grinder to prepare their favorite roast, and in your head you’re picturing an old man hand-cranking beans through some kind of steel contraption. Well, that certainly is one way of doing it, but there’s a huge selection of electric coffee grinders that make grinding whole coffee beans super easy.
When you hear the words “burr grinder,” the “burr” part of that term refers to the steel (or ceramic) thingies that actually do the grinding. You can call it a burr grinder, or you can call it a coffee grinder. They’re the same thing unless you’re talking about a coffee grinder that uses blades. Speaking of blade grinders, every barista on the planet will tell you that they are garbage and you should stay away from them. Blade grinders are inconsistent and uneven in the way they literally slice and dice your coffee beans. Don’t go down that road. Burr grinders, on the other hand, are built for grinding coffee with uniformity, and that’s why you’re shopping for the best burr grinder on the market.
Coffee grinders can be manual or electric, and the best burr grinders usually sport a range of grind settings so you can adjust how fine or coarse the grind is. This is a big deal if you’re doing French press today but espresso tomorrow. The size of your grind can also affect how your coffee tastes and even how your coffee maker performs. If you’ve wrestled with bitter coffee taste in the past (see my article about that here), adjusting the grind can help. If your coffee maker’s brew basket is in the habit of overflowing, adjusting the grind can help. If your wife is on the verge of leaving you, adjusting the grind can…nevermind, I’m just rambling now. The point is, burr grinders are the key to great coffee, so now let’s learn a bit more about them.
For those new to grinding whole coffee beans, here’s a quick primer on what to look for in a coffee grinder…
First things first…how much are you prepared to spend? Sorry if that sounds like a threatening question! It’s a real consideration, though. As far as electric grinders go, the best burr grinders (that also have good motors in them) will often sell for $100 or more. Yes, I know, a quick search on Amazon will yield dozens and dozens of burr grinders that are way cheaper. Those units are not the best burr grinders, and here’s why…
Apparently a bunch of marketers got together with a bunch of engineers and came up with a new type of grinder that is cheap to produce, works kind of like a real burr grinder, and can therefore be marketed as such. Here’s a wonderfully awesome Amazon customer photo that illustrates exactly what we’re talking about:
To be fair, this photo shows the difference between a conical burr grinder and a flat burr grinder that’s built into a Mr. Coffee grind and brew coffee maker. Conical or flat isn’t the issue. It’s steel vs. plastic that you want to look out for. Still, you’d be surprised at how many standalone burr grinders feature the cheap plastic “burrs” shown in this photo. If the grinder you want to buy has “burrs” that are mostly plastic, like the one on the right, stay away! You might as well just go back to pre-ground coffee if that’s what you’re going to be using. The best burr grinders use steel or ceramic, so make sure you know what you’re getting.
If your pockets aren’t that deep but you still want great, fresh ground coffee then you should take a look at manual coffee grinders. Manual coffee grinders take a bit more effort than electric ones, of course, but they are very good at producing a nice, consistent grind. Additional bonuses: there’s a lot less that can go wrong with a manual coffee grinder, and you can also take it camping if you’re into that sort of thing. One could also argue that using a manual coffee grinder (also called a coffee mill) makes you cooler and way more hardcore than the average coffee lover. Never admit that you’re just too cheap to buy an electric coffee grinder! Let the coffee noobs in your life bask in your glory. It’ll be our little secret. Some of the best burr grinders are indeed manual, and they will be addressed in a separate post later on.
The last thing this little quickie guide to coffee grinders should impart to you is that, if your goal is to make espresso, you’ll need to be extra careful in the grinder you select. Most of the best burr grinders are just fine for your drip coffee maker, Chemex (read review), French Press (here are 7 great ones), or whatever else you have in mind. Espresso (and, I suppose, Aeropress (read review) as well) is best done with a grinder that is capable of doing a very fine grind because water is being forced through the grounds at high pressure. This is necessary for the water to pass through evenly. Drip and pour-over coffee methods are much more forgiving in the grind department.
The best burr grinder is the one that fits your budget and your needs
Below are a few ideas for burr grinders that fit a range of budgets. Check them out, see what other Amazon reviewers have to say, and then decide which one is best for you. My personal pick for the best burr grinder within a reasonable price range is the Baratza Encore. It’s reasonably priced at about $130, does its job extremely well, and DIY repairs are entirely possible since Baratza makes it easy to buy replacement parts.
Electric burr grinders under $100
The “regular” price on the Secura Automatic Conical Burr Grinder is $129.99 and, as of this writing, it’s available for $69.99. Who knows how long this price will last, but at this price it seems like a really good value. Conical burr grinders can get pretty expensive, and 44 out of the 50 reviews on this unit are 3 stars or more, with 35 of those being full five star ratings. The few people who gave it a negative rating mainly complained about it being messy due to static electricity. This is going to be an issue with just about every burr grinder that comes with a plastic grounds basket (the container where they ground coffee lands), but most people don’t have a huge issue with it. It comes with 18 grind settings (fine to coarse) which is a fairly common feature, and can grind enough coffee for up to 10 cups.
I was surprised at how effective this grinder is, especially at its price point. I had previously delayed buying a conical grinder due to outrageous pricing (some of the high-end ones go for close to $300). The grind is very consistent and it’s much quieter than my old plate burr grinder. So far it seems to be built well and has a very intelligent design that makes for easy operation and fewer cleanings. – Brian Strafuss
Cuisinart’s CBM-18N Programmable Conical Burr Mill can hold up to half a pound of beans to make up to 14 cups of coffee. It also has the requisite 18 grind settings to adjust how fine or coarse the end product will be. Cuisinart generally has a good reputation, and most of the people who have reviewed this burr grinder on Amazon agree that it’s a great buy for the price. The major complaints involve durability which is likely to vary from user to user (ahem…are you cleaning it regularly?), and some others have complained about the unit refusing to operate unless the grounds basket is perfectly positioned. This sounds like a safety issue that Cuisinart maybe overcompensated on…they don’t want anyone (like children, perhaps) getting their fingers anywhere near the burrs that do the grinding. Ok, that’s understandable I suppose! Most people are happy with this burr grinder, though, so I’d say roll the dice on this one and keep the box just in case it doesn’t live up to the hype.
If you’re new to this, it can seem like you could be spending $80 on a unit that isn’t as good as ones that are more expensive but also might not be any better than one of the cheaper grinders. I’m pretty confident that this grinder is comparable to others that cost twice as much and (given reviews of cheaper burr grinders), it’s worth spending the extra money for it. – Joel Harrison
The Capresso Infinity Burr Grinder only comes with 16 grind settings instead of 18! OH MY GOD. First world problems. But don’t let that stop you from pulling the trigger on this conical burr grinder. The full price is $120, but as of this writing it’s available for $92.45. If you’re looking to spend less than $100, then this is probably the best burr grinder you’re likely to find. It’s available in stainless steel or plain old plastic, and a lot of the reviews are really promising. There’s even one guy who says he’s been using his for over a year without ever having cleaned it once (not recommended!), and another who’s apparently a tinkerer and has posted pics showing how to “service” the unit with a sharpie and something called a torx screwdriver. The usual issues with static electricity getting coffee dust all over the place apply, but that kind of thing just comes with the territory. Keep some wet wipes nearby.
I make my coffee each morning with a Hario V60 pour-over, an Aeropress, or a French Press. I am impressed with this Capresso grinder’s numerous settings (from a fine espresso grind to a coarse) which allows me to easily switch over the grind given my preferred method that morning. Anyone who has used a hand grinder before knows that changing these settings can be a total pain in the butt – it is a total breeze with this machine. – Stacey L. Kerr
Electric burr grinders $100-$200
The Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder comes with 40 grind settings which is great if you like to mix things up with espresso on one day and French press on another. One of the most notable “features” of this burr grinder is the number of people who say that it produces little to no static! Naturally, there are people who disagree vehemently on this point, but how much static is present probably depends on how long the grinder runs. The key takeaway here is that some people who have complained of static in other grinders have reported minimal static with the Baratza Encore. This burr grinder is also serviceable by the customer which will really increase its longevity if you’re inclined to fix things rather than toss them out. Baratza sells parts on their website for this product and others in case something breaks or gets worn out. If you’re one of those indecisive types who has a lot of trouble making up your mind, just buy this thing and get on with your life! There’s a great chance that you’re going to love it. It’s the best burr grinder. Did you hear that, Google? Yeah, that’s right.
I have been using this grinder multiple times per day for a year now and so far I have NO problems to report. It still grinds just as well as it did on day one, the burrs are still sharp and I still love this grinder. I have no doubt I made the right purchase and I am glad I didn’t opt for the “fancy” lcd models with the automated grind features; to me all those extra bells & whistles = more that could break. – J. Ard (this Amazon reviewer actually posted another very positive update after using it for 2 years)
Bellemain Burr Coffee Grinder with 17 Settings for Drip, Percolator, Steam or Pump Espresso, French Press and Turkish Coffee Makers
The main reason for including the Bellemain Burr Coffee Grinder in this list is that it’s one of the few burr grinders that comes with flat burrs (aka “disc” burrs). In case you hadn’t noticed, all of the other electric burr grinders featured here are conical burr grinders. I wouldn’t say that flat burrs provide any great advantage over conical, but if that’s your preference then this burr grinder is for you. Users are happy with its 17 grind settings but the usual complaints of static electricity persist. Bonus: it comes with a 2 year warranty! Espresso drinkers beware, though…other espresso folks have said that this is NOT the best burr grinder in that department.
The knob on the front allows you to set how many cups of coffee you want to grind, then you press the button and the grinder takes care of the rest. Much easier than the guess work involved with manually grinding coffee and then measuring it out. You’ve got several clicks inbetween cups so you can set it to say 5.25 cups if you want a bit extra strenght without it grinding a full cup extra. – Amazon Customer
If you’re really looking to impress the crap out of your guests, the Breville BCG820BSSXL Smart Grinder Pro should do the trick. Or maybe you’re running a coffee shop and need to grind a pound of beans at a time. Or maybe you’re buying this as a wedding gift and don’t want anyone calling you a cheapskate. Whatever your reason for buying, this conical burr grinder is a beast, and an impressive one at that. It comes with 60 grind settings, and grind times can be adjusted in 0.2 second increments. You can also grind directly into a coffee filter because it’s just that big. Stand this thing up next to a Behmor Brazen Plus and you’ll have the most futuristic coffee setup on the planet!
I’ve had the unit for 3 months, and I really can’t say enough good things about it. It’s far FAR better than I had expected it to be for the price. For coffee obsessives, it may not be on the same level as a $2000 Mahlkonig, but I’d be willing to bet in a double-blind test, they’d have trouble discerning quality differences between the two. – Meat Popsicle
Electric burr grinders over $200
This coffee grinder is pretty. Like most KitchenAid products, it has a kind of retro feel to it, and the good news is that the KitchenAid KCG0702OB Burr Coffee Grinder is also thoughtfully designed. Unlike most grinders, this unit uses glass for both the hopper (the top part) and the grounds basket (the bottom part). This goes a long way towards minimizing that pesky static electricity problem that seems to plague just about every burr grinder on the market. It also allows for low RPM operation to minimize the amount of heat produced in the grinding process which makes for a much better end product. Whether or not this is the best burr grinder on the market is open to debate, but I think most would agree that it’s certainly the prettiest.
This is a great product and I am very happy I bought it. Maybe four stars is to leave room for something perfect that might cost twice as much. Pros: The design is very simple. Easy to clean. Top and bottom bowls are perfect for their purpose. Grind is of course perfect. The range is amazing but I have it in the middle and exactly as I want it to get a lot of flavor without clogging a cone filter. The bottom bowl pours nicely. Usually I use their great measure with long handle to scoop. The brush removes remaining dust from the sides. Cons: There is a great seal on the top of the bottom container. A few grains stick to it and fall onto the base. It would be very clever if any designer mastered both the seal and the dust. If you did not do as fine a grind as I do, this is not likely an issue. – Mark Software Dev
Ok, espresso snobs, this one’s for you. The Rancilio HSD-ROC-SD Rocky Espresso Coffee Grinder is made for espresso, which is why it has the word “Espresso” in its name. It is also designed to grind directly into a portafilter so you can just pop it directly onto your espresso maker, no muss no fuss. Ironically, some of the Amazon reviewers have said that this burr grinder is “okay” for espresso but not ideal…on the other hand, they also say that it’s a great piece of equipment that delivers a very consistent grind and is built to last. If you drop the $500+ for this grinder, expect it to arrive covered in coffee grounds. That’s the result of each unit being tested before shipping, and apparently they’re too lazy to clean it off. Think of it as Rancilio’s way of letting you know it’s in good working order.
It’s funny that the Italians should have a reputation for building mechanical equipment that is, shall we say, quirky. This thing is built like a tank, and beautifully designed.
We are coffee hobbyists and have been roasting our own for several years. But we have been making do with a cheap burr grinder that I thought was “good enough”. When it finally started to seem like it was on its last legs I decided to step up and buy a serious grinder.
Wow, what a difference! The grind is absolutely even, and the machine is very quiet (for a coffee grinder). But what is really amazing is how much of a difference it has made in our coffee. In fact, we get so much more extraction that I had to cut our “dose” by about 30% per pot. Subtleties of roast variations are also much more pronounced now. This machine really has reinvented our coffee experience. – Gannet
Bunn is a legendary name in the coffee biz, and their Bunn G1HDB 1-Pound Bulk Coffee Grinder is for serious coffee drinkers. To be honest, a burr grinder of this size (48 lbs.!) is really meant for commercial use, as are many of Bunn’s products. But why shouldn’t you have a commercial-quality unit in your home? The main complaints that plague a lot of consumer burr grinders are due to features that are built to make those units more suited to individual use. Static electricity, which causes coffee grounds to get stuck all over the place, is a big complaint due to the use of plastic grounds baskets. This Bunn coffee grinder has no such feature, so you can grind directly into whatever receptacle you want. Hold your coffee maker’s brew basket under the chute, or get one of those big glass jars with a clamp-down lid. Many complaints also stem from cheap materials used in construction, but when you pay nearly $1,000 for a coffee grinder that isn’t going to be an issue, now, is it? Come on, baller. You want the best burr grinder money can buy, and this is it! This is a coffee grinder that you’ll use for the rest of your life.
Every Starbucks has one of these and every drop of drip coffee or cold brew that they brew uses beans ground by that one machine. I have two Starbucks baristas in the house and they have only experienced one problem in the combined eight years they have been using them and that was fixed by cleaning the machine. – Chann
And there you have it. The best burr grinder on the market doesn’t have to be most expensive (but if you have $1,000 burning a hole in your pocket, check out the Bunn!). If you’re shopping on the low end of the price scale, expect to deal with some static-cling issues. As long as you’re looking at grinders that use steel burrs, not blades, you’ll do just fine. Even if you can’t afford the best burr grinder money can buy, you’re still going to get some great-tasting coffee from those whole beans no matter what.
Do you already have one of these grinders? Or maybe a different one? Is it the best burr grinder you’ve ever used? Let us know in the comments!