To make great coffee, it’s essential to grind your beans right before you brew. And for that you’ll need a home coffee grinder. Don’t settle for any old machine, though. A weak grinder will hinder even the best coffee makers. Poor grinders mistreat whole beans, pulverizing them inconsistently. That in turn leads to uneven coffee extraction, and ultimately, bad joe.
Avoid this scenario by getting a grinder that delivers the goods. I’ve chosen my three favorite below. Yes, this list starts at $99, but that’s because I tested all of these models personally, and just didn’t like the results from the cheaper batch. (See the testing details below, along with a full list of other models that didn’t make the cut.) I’ll follow up to see if any other bargain models are worth the trade-off in the future.
The best grinder overall: Oxo Brew Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
Tyler Lizenby/CNETIf you need a solid, all-purpose coffee grinder, I recommend the $99 Oxo Brew. In terms of grind consistency, the Oxo placed second within my test group. That’s behind the $199 Breville Smart Grinder Pro, which ranked first but also costs twice as much. The Oxo Brew, however, grinds beans faster. And while it has fewer coarseness settings, Oxo’s machine is more versatile. It can grind fine enough for espresso in a pinch. It can also produce grounds coarse enough for brewing siphon, French press and cold brew. It’s also a snap to clean and creates less of a mess than other grinders.
The easiest grinder to use: Baratza Encore
Tyler Lizenby/CNETYou can’t get much simpler than Baratza’s $139 Encore. The Encore has just one control: a switch that turns the grinder on and off. Continually pressing a button on the Encore’s front activates grinding, too. Grounds from the machine were relatively consistent in size. It’s also less noisy than many other coffee grinders we’ve tested.
The best for making espresso: Breville Smart Grinder Pro
Tyler Lizenby/CNETYou’ll pay a little more for the $199 Breville Smart Grinder Pro. But if you’ve got your heart set on pulling espresso shots at home, this grinder is the way to go. The Smart Grinder can produce extremely fine grounds, the sort necessary for brewing quality espresso. It also created the most consistently sized grounds of all the machines I tested. The Breville boasts 60 coarseness settings, and it comes with adapters for espresso machine portafilters. If you like brewing siphon, French press or cold brew though, consider looking elsewhere. Even at its coarsest, the Breville’s grounds are too fine for those methods.
So, how exactly do we test coffee grinders?
An ideal coffee grinder produces ground particles that are of a consistent and correct size. By that we mean that the size of ground coffee particles should match its grinder’s coarseness setting. The size of grounds produced should also be fit for the intended brewing method, as outlined within the product manual.
To test each grinder, we first hand-wash and dry all parts recommended by the manufacturer. We then set each machine to the appropriate coarseness level for drip or automatic coffee brewers (again, as indicated by the manual). Sometimes the manual lacks specific directions. In this case we select the middle coarseness setting, then bump it up by one more level (from fine to coarse). For example, if a grinder has 16 total coarseness settings (assuming 16 is its coarsest option), we’ll set it for level 9.
in Next we weigh out 10 grams of whole coffee beans. By default our test beans are Kirkland Colombian roast (from Costco). It’s the same beans we use for our coffee maker tests. (No judgments, please.) When you go through as much coffee as we do, it pays to be frugal.
Then we run our sample beans through the grinder. We also make note of how long the grinder takes to finish the task. Next, we carefully collect the grounds, then sift them with a two-screen sieve for 60 seconds. For that we use the Kruve Sifter Two. It comes with two mesh screens of different aperture sizes (800 and 400 microns). This step lets us measure the grind consistency of our sample.
A superior grinder will produce grounds that are mostly between 400 and 800 microns in particle size (at our chosen coarseness setting). Finally, we weigh the grounds that collect between the two screens (800 microns top, 400 microns bottom).
A bad grinder will produce particles of varying sizes, from large to small. Blade grinders are notorious for this issue. Typically a coffee grinder with steel or ceramic burrs yield grounds that are much more uniform in size.
Additionally, we repeat the process at least two more times. From there, we can record an average optimal yield for each grinder.
Want more? Here’s a list of coffee grinders I’ve put through their paces for this evaluation, in addition to the ones above. And below that you’ll find a chart that displays how well they stack up against each other.