Why the grinder is important
According to common experiences all coffee lovers and enthusiasts, besides their personal skill and good quality ingredients they use, an essential if not the most important component of espresso making is the grinder. There is no other way around that.
Most people claim that they can make a better espresso with a cheap grinder and a cheap espresso machine, than they ever could if they only used the best and most expensive espresso machine, without the grinder.
The secret seems to lie in the process of extraction, because coffee beans go through a very rough and high intensity treatment. In the process of making an espresso, for instance, coffee beans are exposed to a 135 pound water pressure per square inch to extract the coffee under 30 seconds, which is very harsh. Other appliances like percolators or moka pots can’t do that.
But, no matter the quality and the intensity of the espresso machine, everyone still agrees that using the grinder is essential to making a good and tasty shot of espresso. Thousands of reviews and feedbacks all agree that the key for a good extraction is to have your coffee beans ground to a specific particle size, before they are put in the machine. According to the enthusiasts, this is the only way to ensure you will make the most out of your high quality beans, and produce a heavenly shot of espresso.
Best Espresso Grinders of 2017
|Low End Champion||Baratza Virtuoso|
|Middle Priced Recommendation||Rancilio Rocky Espresso Coffee Grinder|
|High End Champion||Macap M4|
|High End Champion||Mazzer Mini|
Budgeting for the grinder
I have come to the conclusion that you should spend at least $ 200 on your grinder, and not less. So, if you are thinking about purchasing a $ 200 espresso machine, you should spend at least the same amount on the grinder. But, if you want to go higher, you can scale your budget like this:
If you want to spend a total of $500, reserve $200 to $250 for the grinder, and $250 to $300 for the machine. And, if you even want to go higher, the difference can get bigger, but never go under $ 200, because you need and should purchase at least a decent device for this essential part of coffee making.
What to look for
In order to know your way around purchasing or researching about good coffee bean grinders, you should get familiar with the terminology. I will first explain the meaning of some terms like: doser, stepped, stepless, micro adjustment, timers, flat, conical, etc…
Stepless vs. stepped
Most grinders allow you to choose the size of the coffee particles and the intensity of the grind, and thus they are called ‘stepped’, because you can choose between various grinding steps. For instance, Baratza Maestro is a coffee grinder with 40 different available steps, while the most expensive Anfim Super Caimano Ti grinder offers 80 different steps, ranging from medium to powder (Turkish) grind.
On the other hand, grinders that do not offer a variety of steps are called “stepless”, and it means the sections are not preset, as with stepped. The differences between different grinds can be incredibly small, like 5 to 10 microns.
On some stepples grinders, like Mazzers and Compaks, the grinding process is regulated with the use of resistive collars that keep the grinders stable, while their incredibly strong force can be applied in different ways, controlled by the user, to produce either finer or coarser grind. Some grinders of this type use a gearing system that allows the user to change the burr height. They are popularly called ‘worm gear’ grinders.
The second method these stepless grinders have is the system of micro and micro adjustments. A good example is the Baratza Vario (and Virtuoso Preciso system, which is coming soon) thet offer you to choose to set up for either big jump grinding, or smaller as Baratza.
This system allows the Vario grinder to have an approximate range of 240 different grinding results, but contrary to the first stepless system, it is much easier to remember the grinding setting here. You can then easily shift between different settings without worrying about going back to the one you already used.
Doser vs. doserless
The doser chamber is something used since the 1920s-1950s era, when it was considered to be essential for the espresso quality. This technology of filling the doser chamber with ground coffee remains even today, even though it should go away, but in return there has seen some nice improvements. Anfim and Compax grinders are good examples of this. They have a nice filter basket for your coffee, putting all of it into an even mound.
Other grinders are doserless, meaning your coffee goes directly into the portafilter. Baratza does essentially the same thing by using a portaholder, which means it belongs in the doserless cathegory.
This doserless method is appealing, but may leave you with a lot of mess on the counter.
Conical and flat burrs
Although the question of which is better is still left without an answer, because both types produce a good cut for espresso brewing, there are some notable differences.
For instance, conical burrs have a larger cutting surface and spin slower and as a result do not heat up the coffee so much., but the flat burr models also have methods to reduce this.
There are various different types of times used on grinders. Baratza Maestro Plus and Virtuoso for instance use simple mechanical timers. K3 Touch has a more advanced mechanical timer, while Anfim Super Caimano and Baratza Vario have digital timers.
The truth is that advanced timers are better because they do not waste any time or coffee. Proof of this is Vario or Anfim, which grind an amount perfectly in accordance with your setting. Just set it and forget it.
The main benefits of this is the money saving, because the less coffee and time you waste, the more you get out of your grinder. A busy café could, if using the Anfim Super Caimano grinder, save up to 400g of coffee daily, because of its advanced timer and doser. 400g daily roughly pays of the grinder investment in about one year time. And, if used only at home, it still lets you have more shots than usual, again saving you money in the long run.
Low End Champion – Baratza Virtuoso
The Baratza brand is very well known in the coffee making business, especially because of their high quality grinders.
In order to determine if you prefer ‘stepped’ or ‘stepless’ grinders, you will probably have to try out both and decide for yourself, which can end up being costly.
But, to understand the difference is not that hard. ‘Stepped’ grinders have a range of grinding settings, let’s say from 0 to 40. The 0 represents a very fine grind (for espresso) while the 40 stands for a very coarse grind (French press coffee).
You will naturally have to find your own perfect desired setting, which is often considered as a rite of passage in coffee making.
This is why most enthusiasts recommend the previously mentioned grinder Virtuoso, which has 40 steps, giving you ample room for learning and experimenting.
Another advantage of the ‘stepped’ system is the also mentioned easy remember feature, because you can easily revert the setting to a previously used one, after you’ve experimented and perhaps didn’t like the new result. On the other hand, ‘stepless’ grinders will require you to be very skilled at this part of the process.
There is a very distinct and well defined difference between coffee grinders for home use and those for professional use. And, by professional use we mean grinders that can withstand working all day, around the clock, 24 / 7, grinding all the time.
For instance, the Virtuoso is somewhere around $ 200, which is a decent amount of money, but also fair. It does a good, decent job, but it is in our opinion not well suited for professional use, even though it is labeled as such often.
But, its quality really is impeccable, no question about it. Its DC motor has been put to the test many times and the feedback is excellent.
What we mean by this is that if you are truly looking for a professional grinder, you will probably need to pay much more than $ 200.
Middle Priced Recommendation – Rancillo Rocky Espresso Coffee Grinder
Espresso grinder for the home
There is nothing wrong with being serious and enthusiastic about homemade coffee. You have a right to allow yourself the pleasure of having first grade cappuccino in your home, made by yourself, for yourself or your guests, that has an astonishing taste and leaves you in that rich state of being awake.
An excellent suggestion for those purpose is the Rocky grinder, which already has a steady reputation for being the best in such things.
The Rocky may not be the cheapest one out there, its performance and coffee making quality easily place it in a higher grinder quality league.
Rocky settings – Grinding For Drip, Espresso, French Press
The Rocky grinder is know n to have virtually the best grinding capability out there. It can cover everything from fine espresso grind, to coarse drip coffee grind.
This makes it a perfect choice for everyone, as it almost has no weaknesses. There have been reports that its grind is not that strong when going for a coarse blend, but that’s disputable.
It is a perfect choice for either beginners, or experienced coffee enthusiasts everywhere. The recommended setting is 5 to 10 for espresso, and about 25 for the French Press.
Please take note that your coffee taste also depends on various other factors, like coffee beans and water quality, and many others. Also, your own taste and desires come into play, so there simply can not be the correct way of doing this. As the latin saying goes – De gustibus non est disputandum.
A quiet & cool operation
As previously mentioned, the higher the grinder’s power is the better its performance gets. The Rocky, for instance, has a powerful 166 W drive motor, which gives it a lot of power and in turn allows for a quiet and cool operation, and eventually leads to better coffee taste.
More power means more efficiency, which also means less noise during the grinding process.
Additionally, a powerful motor enables the grinder to work with less strain, which in turn means it will heat up much less. This means it will heat up your beans less, which also contributes to a better coffee taste.
High End Champions
Now, when we talk about grinders for professional and commercial use, the Macap M4 is highly recommended, but it can also naturally serve you well for home usage.
The Worm Drive Advantage
As mentioned before, grinders with worm gears allow you to freely search for subtle settings, using the handle. This enables the user to adapt to any type of grind, meaning you can adapt to all demands making this the perfect choice for let’s say a small café, where you can have this one grinder serving all kinds of different needs of the customers.
If you are using it in your home, you will probably find a few favorable settings and use those more frequently, but it will still allow you to explore your own taste in greater depths.
Compared to the Mazzer Mini, the Macap M4 has an advantage because it has pie-shaped areas in the dosing chamber. They are used to make it easier for you to pour in conventional amount of coffee beans, but you can of course doe as much as you see fit.This is another way of giving you flexibility in creating your own blend and taste.
Mazzer Hopper Swap Advantage
Compared to the Macap M4, the Mazzer grinder has some advantages of its own. It gives you the option to swap its hopper for something larger, contrary to the Macap.
The MACAP has a much broader line of grinders, and thus the M4 limits you to the M series size of hopper, while the Mazzer doesn’t offer many different models, but they are in turn much more adaptable. They both have a 1.3 pound hopper initially.
IF you are pairing your MACAP M4 with a Rocket Cellini espresso machine, you can choose to get the MACAP with the same stainless housing ad match it with the Rocket, giving them both a great and professional look and style.
The bottom line is that the Macap M4 Doser Adjustable Coffee Grinder is highly recommended for all professional and home uses. It is adaptable and highly customizable due to its worm drive, and paired with its excellent quality gives you a grinder you won’t consider changing for a long time.
In the espresso making industry world, the name Mazzer is considered synonymous with espresso. If you are truly an espresso fan, then it is not accident you came across this article.
The first impression you will get when you look at the Mazzer Mini is that it is a professional grinder, for sure. Its initial potential is 1.3 pounds of beans, with an option of enlarging its hopper. Also, it has a powerful motor with a lower rpm, meaning it will not heat up your beans in the process, contributing further to great taste.
It is a steppless grinder, allowing you high versatility in adapting to your own style and taste, or to that of your customers. ‘Steps’ are preset modes of grinding, ranging from fine to coarse, but a ‘steppless’ grinder allows more freedom in finding your own mode.
The doser question is something still not answered in the coffee making industry. When we carefully look at the pros and cons of grinders with and without the doser, it seems to come down to the question of its purpose. If you are purchasing a grinder for commercial use, then you will surely benefit from having a predetermined dosage feature, while if you are a home user you probably won’t need this.
At home, you will naturally use smaller quantities of coffee beans, so you won’t have coffee grounds waiting and going stale.
With that said, it is important to note that the Mazzer Mini can optionally come without a dozer, though this means a higher price in most online shops.
It is worth the effort to explore various methods of improving the quality of work of your grinder, and personalizing its performance.
DIY adaptations are done by some people, but you must think carefully before doing any tinkering with your $700+ machine, because it will most definitely render your warranty invaluable.
In truth, the Mazzer Mini has advantages that outnumber its disadvantages by a huge margin. The general feedback and experience people have with this grinder state that in most cases the problems occur with machine break down due to irregular use, nothing else.
So, the only choice you should really consider is to dose or not to dose. So, dozer or no dozer, pick your color and you are set for a long time with this 5 STAR grinder!
We have a post listing Best Burr Grinders of 2018, check it out.