So you have chosen the right espresso machine for your needs. How do you choose a grinder to bring out the best that your machine can offer?
Can’t I just get my local to grind my coffee?
If you’re serious about good coffee, we would strongly advise against this. The chances of someone guessing just the perfect grind for your machine? Pretty much zero.
In any event, ground coffee is stale within minutes of being ground, so your money is wasted. Store purchased pre-ground coffee, no matter what the technology used is completely stale. It’s a waste of money!
Supermarket beans? Also stale. You should purchase coffee which is fresh. This means your means have a roast date and should be no more than a couple of weeks old before you start using them.
Conical or flat burrs?
To make things complex, there are two classes of grinder: blade (whirly blade) and burr. Whilst cheap blade grinders are sold as coffee grinders by many department stores, they have little relevance to coffee and should be avoided. Of the burr grinders, there are cheap and expensive conical burr grinders and the flat burr grinders.
In order of size, price and performance we consider entry level conical grinders, then flat burr grinders and then finally the large commercial conical burr grinders. Here’s what you will get for your money:
In the years prior to 2000, doser grinders were found in most cafes and the homes of those who were serious about coffee. The limitation of this class of grinders is if the dosing chamber is allowed to fill, the coffee in the doser is likely to become stale within a few minutes. Switched on cafes began grinding through their doser by switching the grinder on only when coffee was required, clicking like crazy until they had a suitable dose and then switching the grinder off. Home users copied the cafes.
Doserless grinders are now much more common and allow for fresh coffee at all times. We find that doser grinders are far less popular given the convenience of doserless grinders and we no longer recommend doser grinders in any application. Nevertheless, we can source Mazzer, Anfim, Compak and Macap doser grinders if required.
Ok, so how much do I need to spend?
We advise that you purchase the best grinder you can afford. It doesn’t make sense to pair a $3000 espresso machine with a $300 grinder and forego shot quality. Contact us to discuss your options. Like all gear, each grinder has its pros and cons and we call them warts and all!
<$100- don’t go there! Whirly blade spice cutters
All very cheap grinders will be “whirly blade” appliances. They create very uneven particle size and are in fact spice grinders. They should be kept for spices!
$100-200: Small conical burr appliances
In this price bracket, you will find the Sunbeam EM series at your local department store. These are barely adequate for espresso and have a limited lifespan. Although they’re the best of a decidedly average bunch, we advise against them.
$200-650: More expensive small conical burr appliances (around 1kg/week)
In this price bracket, the pick of the bunch is the Breville Smart Grinder Pro from a department store. It offers convenience and cleanliness. It is satisfactory for espresso, but would still be considered an appliance. Longevity appears to be 2+ years. The conical burrs used in this class have little in common with the big conical grinders and grind quality is also not as good as that found in the more expensive flat burr grinders. More recently, Baratza have introduced their Sette 270 conical burr grinder which is very fast and offers terrific grind quality. It’s quite noisy and at this point we will have to wait to get a feel for the longevity of this grinder.
$500-700. Flat burr small commercial. Manual doserless or analogue timer doserless. (2-4kg/week)
Now we’re talking! At this price point, you are purchasing a small commercial grinder which will grind on demand into your portafilter. Your local cafe may well be using one of these for decaf. These grinders will produce very consistent particle size and with care will last a long, long time. Examples include the Compak K3 Push, Compak K3 Touch and the beautifully compact Macap M2M which offers exceptional performance. Some grinders in this class have stepped grind settings, some offer continuously variable grind. We prefer continuously variable grind where possible. The smaller variants usually have a stepped adjustment and so long as the steps are small- as are those of the Macap, this compromise is fine. The M2M grinder is also quite compact- for tight spaces.
Circa $1000 (or as much as $2000). Digital doserless flat burr grinders (up to 20kg/week dependent on pricing)
These are aspirational grinder for home users. While grind quality is identical to the flat burr grinders above, you purchase the convenience of a digital timer. Set the particle size and then adjust the grind time in 0.1 second increments (or even 0.05 seconds in some variants) for accurate and repeatable dose and shot consistency. Examples include the very quiet to operate Eureka Atom, Macap M4D (the value for money choice in this price bracket) and the Rocket Espresso Fausto. The Mazzer mini-electronic is slower at more like 22 seconds per double shot. We do not feel that it offers good value for money and do not sell this grinder. As per the above group, spending more purchases speed, but not grind quality. Faster examples from Compak include the Compak E5OD, E6OD, E8OD and F8OD. Mazzer produces the larger Super Jolly Electronic and Mazzer Major Electronic (4 second double shot).
Circa $1700 to $5000. Large conical burr electronic doserless. (>20kg/week)
In this price bracket, we switch back to conical burrs but it’s not a case of the same grind quality as the cheapies. These big, very fast grinders run large burr sets and need big motors and powerful gearboxes to operate them. The burrs rotate more slowly than those of flat burr grinders. Grind quality improves incrementally- but mainly for those who prefer black coffee in that they can contribute to improved shot quality. This is generally undetectable under milk. You’d have to be very serious about your coffee! In addition, they generally retain more coffee in the throat between the burrs and the dosing spout or chamber than smaller grinders. This can be of concern to some home users as it may lead to some wastage. Great examples include the Compak E10 Conic OD, E10 Master Conic OD, F10 Conic OD and F10 Master Conic OD. Mazzer produces the Kony-Electronic and Mazzer Robur-Electronic and Macap produces the Macap M7D. You will be grinding at 4-6 seconds per double shot with these monsters.
There are inexpensive small hand grinders such as those manufactured by Handground, Hario and Rhinowares but we wouldn’t normally recommend these for espresso as they are either too slow or there is too much variation in particle size at espresso grind. They are however terrific for many manual methods of producing coffee. Some larger hand grinders which employ commercial conical burr sets will do the espresso job brilliantly- albeit with a good workout. OE Lido grinders (2, 3, E and E-T) and the Comandante C40 solve many, if not all of the deficiencies of the cheaper hand grinders.
Ultimately it comes down to your individual circumstances, but we do advise that you buy the best grinder you can afford for your machine. It’s wiser to save a few hundred dollars on an espresso machine and then allocate the savings to a better grinder rather than to compromise your enjoyment in the cup.