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1 October 2020

How to buy the best coffee grinder

Keen to grind your own beans at home to use in your coffee machine? We explain how to get the right coffee grinder for you.
Coffee grinder main
Manette Kaisershot

Grinding your own beans gives you ultimate control over your espresso, as well as the great taste of a freshly ground brew. We explain the jargon behind different types of coffee grinder to help you choose.

Not all coffee grinders will produce the right grind for the coffee you like to drink. In this guide, we explain the jargon behind different types of coffee grinder to help you choose the right one for you. Find out more about:

  • Electric burr vs blade grinders vs hand grinders
  • Flat vs conical burrs and ceramic vs steel burrs
  • Stepped vs stepless grinders
  • How much you need to spend
  • Features and brands to look out for 
  • Tips for keeping your coffee fresh

Just want to know which are the best coffee grinders? Head to our coffee grinder reviews

What kind of coffee grinder do I need? 

There are three main types of coffee grinder for you to choose from: electrical blade, electrical burr or a hand grinder. Which one is best for you depends on what type of coffee you like to make, how much you make, and whether you want the flexibility of being able to achieve different grinds tailored to different coffee types - espresso and filter for example. We explain the pros and cons of each type below.

Blade coffee grinders

Blade grinders (like the one in the picture below) have a spinning blade inside that cut the beans into smaller pieces, similar to a blender. 

Pros of blade coffee grinders

  • Relatively simple and inexpensive
  • Good for producing the rougher medium grinds needed for pour-over, filter or cafetière coffee

Cons of blade coffee grinders

  •  Blade heats up coffee as it chops the bean
  • Doesn’t produce a consistent fine grind, not ideal for espresso

Blade grinders don’t typically produce the fine and even grind that burr grinders are able to produce. Additionally, the blades tend to emit heat while chopping, which can alter the flavour of the coffee.

Electric burr coffee grinders

Burr coffee grinders have a small gear-like mechanism inside that crushes coffee beans to produce ground coffee. Because they crush, rather than chop, the beans, they don’t exert the same kind of force and heat that a blade grinder might. 

The image below shows the difference between grounds from and electric blade grinder (left) and a burr coffee grinder (right)

Pros of electric burr coffee grinders

  • Can produce a more consistent, fine grind for making espressos
  • Can grind larger amounts in one go
  • Often have multiple grind levels for different coffee types

Cons of electric burr coffee grinders

  • Tend to be more expensive than a basic blade or hand grinder

Most burr coffee grinders have different settings and can produce fine grinds suitable for espresso machines and also the rougher grinds needed for filter coffees and cafetieres, making them a more versatile option if you drink different types of coffee.

Hand coffee grinders

Hand grinders are what you would think – you grind coffee using your own arm muscle. Most hand grinders come with a burr in them, which is a cheap way to get a good quality grind for your espresso coffee maker.

If you're only grinding small quantities at a time, they can be a good option.

Pros of hand coffee grinders

  • Basic models are very inexpensive
  • Burr models can grind fine espresso grounds for less
  • Not as noisy as electric grinders
  • Take up less space

Cons of hand coffee grinders

  • Can usually only grind small portions of coffee at a time
  • Takes some physical effort

If you want to save space or you want something quite stylish then hand grinders may be just the ticket. They are typically smaller and more portable than electric grinders.

Flat vs conical burrs

You may see coffee grinders extolling the virtues of either a flat burr (pictured below left) or a conical burr (pictured below right).

Conical burrs - grind beans into two slightly different particle sizes. This works well in espresso machines.

Flat burrs - should grind the espresso beans into a consistent fine grind. While this may sound better in theory, the fine grind produced by a flat burr is trickier to get good, consistent results with when making coffee and is for those of you who might like to get creative with your coffee making.

Additionally, flat burr coffee grinders will usually be much pricier than their conical burr counterparts. For most people a coffee grinder with a conical burr is going to be more than sufficient for the job of grinding beans for your espresso coffee machine.

We've tested electric blade, burr and hand grinders. Find out which models we recommend with our guide to the best coffee grinders.

Steel vs ceramic burrs

Another choice you may come across while shopping for a coffee grinder is whether to go for a ceramic or steel burr in your coffee grinder.

  • Steel burrs - usually found in widely available coffee grinders sold in big retailers like John Lewis and Lakeland
  • Ceramic burrs - less common, but can be found on some hand grinders

As with all things coffee, there is plenty of fierce debate around about which is the best option, but each of these materials will handle grinding the coffee beans equally well, the main difference being in the durability of the grinding burr. A ceramic burr is likely to last longer than a steel burr, provided that it doesn’t encounter any rogue materials like a small stone that could cause it to chip.

Stepped vs stepless grinders

A stepped coffee grinder will have pre-set grind options for you to choose from, from a fine to a coarser grind.  Most electronic burr coffee grinders that you will find in retail shops like John Lewis or Argos will be stepped.

If you really like to play with your coffee then you might consider a stepless grinder. To get your hands on a stepless grinder you will have to venture out of the high-street shop territory and you’ll be spending quite a bit more money too.

A stepless grinder has no pre-set grind levels. Instead you can tinker with it to produce the exact grind you want. While a stepless grinder can offer you even more options for customisation, it does require an experienced hand to get good results.

How much should you spend on a coffee grinder? 

What you pay for a coffee grinder can vary wildly. Depending on the type and style you can end up spending anything from £20 right up to more than £2,000.

You can pick up a basic handheld or manual coffee grinder for around £10, electric blade coffee grinders start from around £20. If you want an electrical burr grinder then you will need to spend a bit more, usually at least £50. Premium burr coffee grinders made by the big-name coffee machine brands are priced around £200.

At this price, you might find that investing in a bean-to-cup coffee machine is more economical. These do the grinding for you and are a good way to get freshly ground brews at home.

See our coffee machine reviews to find a brilliant bean-to-cup model that suits your budget.

Features to look out for

  • Different grind settings - if you know you want to be able to grind beans for different drinks such as filter, espresso and cafetière coffee, look for a grinder with multiple grind options.
  • Capacity - if you want to grind larger quantities at once - enough for several day's worth of coffee for example - make sure you choose a grinder with a bigger capacity. Some can only do one to two portions in one go.
  • Size - blade grinders can be quite compact, the size of a small blender, whereas so burr grinders can be even large than your actual coffee machine, so think about how much countertop space you want to dedicate to coffee making.

Coffee grinder brands

You will find that most manufacturers who make ground coffee machines will also make an espresso grinder, including Bodum, Cuisinart, Dualit, DeLonghi, Krups and Sage. 

Some, such as Sage and DeLonghi, make grinders to match their coffee machines, such as the Delonghi Dedica coffee machine and Dedica grinder, and Sage Duo Temp Pro and Sage Smart Grinder Pro, which could be handy if you're after a coordinated kitchen.

We've tested the Sage and DeLonghi Dedica coffee grinders - see our coffee grinder reviews for our verdict on these models.

Tips for keeping your coffee fresh

Coffee beans go stale relatively quickly, so if you want the best possible espresso, it's important to store your coffee correctly. Here are some top tips from our coffee expert Giles Hilton:

  • Keep coffee in an airtight container to keep it from oxidising, or the beans from dehydrating further.
  • Avoid glass jars and direct sunlight. A cool, dark place is best.
  • Avoid the fridge - despite what many people think, this is not the ideal place to store coffee as there's a risk of it getting damp or absorbing flavours from other food. 

Now you know how to get the perfect grind, see our video guide to making the perfect espresso.

Looking for a coffee machine as well as a coffee grinder? Head to our coffee machine reviews to find the best model for your budget.