If you've read the preceding posts, you know that I believe the grinder is the single most important piece of coffee equipment, or if skimped upon, the largest setback. There are a few adages when it comes to grinders, mainly because it's so hard to get yourself to justify spending a lot on your first, or even second one. Those preaching these adages are only trying to save you some coin along what could be the inevitable and never ending upgrade path.
You can make better espresso with a $200 machine and $1200 grinder than you can with a $1200 machine and $200 grinder.
The grinder is especially important in espresso because the grind fineness and consistency need to be such that it can withstand 130psi water coming at it. We've all heard that water is lazy and will take the path of least resistance. Well, if your grind is inconsistent, that means channeling and over extraction in some areas and under extraction in others. This example applies to brewed coffee as well; if you have grinds made up of boulders and dust, you're going to have the boulders be under extracted and the dust be over extracted, you'll never get a balanced cup.
Spend as much as you can on a grinder.
Take how much you want to spend on a grinder and double it.
GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER!
These are all popular sentiments on the coffee forums, and there's a reason for them. All of the forum members have learned how important a quality burr grinder is to unlocking the potential of the coffee.
So, I've probably harped on enough, now let's get my personal list of recommended grinders. There are certainly other options out there in each category, but these are all grinders that I feel most comfortable recommending based on ownership, experience, feedback, or research. I already covered an under $100 option here >
Without further ado, my first recommendation over $100:
Baratza's site states, "The Encore is lauded by coffee experts as THE go-to entry level grinder for those brewing coffee at home," and I would not disagree with them. Baratza's grinders are routinely regarded as outperforming their price tags and their burr size. The Encore is sure to satisfy all brewing methods with a home friendly footprint and user friendly design. Their customer service and after sales support is also incredibly good.
If you're looking for additional features, such as timed grinding, you can work your way up their product line, but as far as bare bones, solid, motorized grinders go, the Encore just works. It will not grind fine or consistent enough for espresso needs, but any brewing methods will be well served.
$129 available at most coffee equipment retailers and Amazon here.
The OE Lido is a hand-held hand grinder on steroids. OE's hand grinders deliver grind quality and consistency at a price that electric grinders can't sniff, if you're willing to put in the sweat equity. The Lido, and its variants the E (espresso specific) or T (travel specific), and incredibly versatile for all brewing methods and really not bad to crank for a hand grinder.
The Lido 2 is still listed on OE's website for $175, click through via the picture OR, the improved Lido 3 is available online for $195: Prima Coffee
The just announced Baratza Sette just might be the game changer for the entry into a home (motorized) espresso grinder. Still plenty qualified for grinding all other methods as well, this grinder is looking to have the potential to bring a home friendly footprint, user friendly design, minimal retention, and great grind quality at a very reasonable price. I hope to have more feedback and experience with this one soon!
The Baratza Vario was my entry level recommendation for a motorized espresso grinder, but the Sette may just change that. In the meantime, the Vario is still a great grinder. It is extremely user friendly, versatile, has minimal retention, and has the ability to grind fine and consistently enough to meet espresso needs. This was my first grinder and one that I still use daily, though it's now dedicated to brew grinding duties. It is capable of grinding coarse enough for French Press and fine enough for Espresso, though it's not recommended to be frequently switching back and forth; you'll have to spend some time re-dialing in and resettling into the tight demands of the espresso range. The Vario does have a few drawbacks, such as you don't want to be switching back and forth between coarse and fine grinding, though no grinder is really meant for that, and that it can struggle a bit when grinding some demanding light roasted coffees for espresso. But other than that, it may be the most grinder you will ever need. The Vario-W does offer weight based grinding, which could be useful if you're going to keep the hopper full and grind into the grinds bin. I personally use it as a single doser, weighing out how much coffee I want, and grinding just that quantity until it has run through. The Vario's retention (amount of coffee that doesn't make it out of the grinder) is very minimal, usually around .1 grams.
The Forte is Vario's beefed up brother. All of the same functionality but in a more robust chassis able to serve commercial needs as a brew grinder or maybe as a secondary espresso or decaf grinder. If you can swing the price difference to the Forte, it might be worth it if you have a strong preference for really solidly built machines. Not to say the Vario is flimsy, but the Forte is robust.
$479 - from most major coffee equipment retailers or on Amazon here.
Moving into full on commercial territory things get a bit more complicated. There are some fantastic grinders in this category, and you can have the piece of mind that you're getting the best out of your coffee you can by using a fantastic grinder. Being that many of the the grinders in this category and beyond were primarily designed for commercial use, each of their pro's and con's, which make some better suited for your particular usage and needs than others. I will continue to update the grinders I prefer in this category, but encourage anyone that would like to discuss options in this range to contact me!
This first one is a bit of a wildcard because it is a relatively new model to the market, and it's less common in stateside specialty coffee shops than the usual suspects from Mazzer and Mahlkonig, but Anfim is a 50+ year old company that is actually owned by Mahlkonig's parent company, and the SCODY, or Super Caimano On Demand is now in its second generation, hence the "ii". There aren't a ton of bells and whistles on this on demand grinder (meaning it grinds what you need on-demand versus a doser), but it does boast some impressive specs for the price. It features very large 75 mm flat steel burrs that are upgrade-able to titanium coated burrs that are said to increase longevity and thus grind consistency in commercial environments; that is to say a home user may not see any benefit. The layout is very clean, everything you need and nothing you don't with two timed grind settings programmable to .1 second, and an easily accessed manual button on the lower left of the machine. Programming appears very simple and straight forward, and the manual on/off button seems to be well thought out in its placement. The stepless worm gear adjustment should be extremely easy to use and fine tune your grind fineness. The grinder has a real utilitarian charm to it, and represents about the least amount of money you can spend for a big flat burred grinder. The 450 W motor isn't going to be the fastest or most powerful, but should have no issues cranking out shot after shot with its built in cooling fan (which is probably a bit overkill for the home user). Prima Coffee states that it can accept the short hopper of the CODY ii, which should make this grinder come in around 17" tall, meaning it should be cabinet friendly for most home users.
The CODY ii is a little more suitable to the home user, removing the cooling fan (that will only increase ambient noise in the home), equipped with only the short hopper, and available in either white or black. The motor, controls, and overall look are pretty much the same as the SCODY, but burrs are slightly smaller at a still impressive 64 mm. The Cody ii is available from Prima Coffee for $925 here.
On-demand grinders like these are great for someone that doesn't want to do the extra steps of single dosing, and would rather walk up and grind, tamp, and go. This suits the home user that likes to stick with one coffee for awhile and thus doesn't need to keep dialing in the grind and thus burning through beans. The only drawback to on-demand grinders, such as these Anfim's is that there will be some coffee left in the grind path, or the space between the burrs and the chute, or in the chute itself. This is called retention, and that retained coffee will stale in prolonged periods between shots. Many home users work around this by purging and discarding a bit of coffee to clear out yesterday's grounds before pulling their first shot of the day. The CODY ii and SCODY ii both have relatively straight forward and short grind paths, but still expect to have about 5-6 grams of retention.
So, like I mentioned at the beginning of this section, there is some give and take with the larger more commercial grinders, so it's important to determine your preferences. The SCODY ii still represents a great value in being able to get a reputable, well built grinder with massive 75 mm flat burrs for $1,175 from Prima Coffee Equipment here.
It's a bit of a jump to the $1485 Compak E8, but with that jump comes a massive 83 mm flat burr set and solid construction. This grinder and the next two are all in a the same class of large flats (burrs) with the E8 edging out the other two in price. Compak has a reputable history of building great grinders and this massive flat burr option is sure to please those looking for a the biggest flat burr, on demand, grinder at the lowest price. The E8 should bring loads of clarity and highlight the lighter roasted coffees of today. The only drawback to this one is the size. At 20" with the short hopper, it's not likely to clear many cabinets. It could be used without the hopper and with a shorter tube or funnel of beans, but it will be important to keep the E8, and the next two large flats full with a consistent amount of coffee to maintain grind consistency. There's not a ton to highlight here versus the others other than it's just a well built, great performing, large flat, on-demand option for $1485 from Chris' Coffee here.
In full disclosure, the Ceado E37S was a tough one to include at this price. One of the quietest and fastest grinders on the market with huge 83 mm flat burrs, the Ceado E37S used to be steal the market away from the Compak E8 and Mahlkonig K30 Vario because it was available for $1100 - $1200. At only 17.55" tall with the short hopper, this was the biggest burr, least expensive, on demand grinder available. The E37S was however, not without its growing pains as many experienced clumping and spraying of grinds in early production, when adjusting the clump reducing flap or right after cleaning. Ceado has since started using a new clump reducing / flap / chute design that is said to mitigate this issue, but the main consensus was to leave it alone and let it do its job. And when you did leave it alone, it did it's job well. I've used the grinder and it is unbelievable quiet, fast, and super clean design.
Where I hesitate adding this grinder to the list is because the going price is now $1700 for the V2 version of the grinder, which, as far as I can tell, only changes the hopper and adds in an adjustable height portafilter holder. The revised price doesn't make this any less of a grinder, but many that had early frustrations with the E37S moved the Mahlkonig K30 Vario, and never looked back. The E37S has larger burrs than the K30, but the K30 is a proven performer and all around great grinder for pretty much the same price. In the end, I do feel like the E8, E37S, and K30 are all great options that most anyone would be happy with, and that they are all very similar, but if it were my money, I would have a hard time giving the nod to the E37S, with the strong track record of the K30.
A long time staple of the World Barista Competition stage and pretty much the standard for large flat burr grinders, the K30 Vario punches above what its specs would have you believe. With only 65 mm burrs and a 545W motor, the K30 somehow manages to be one of the fastest and quietest grinders on the market, only being rivaled by grinders like the Ceado E37S and Kafatek Monolith offerings. It's lauded for producing fantastic shots with great clarity and separation, and it's one of the more home friendly offerings, coming in at 17.5" tall with the short hopper. The body of the grinder is larger and has more presence than the photos lead you to believe, and the new all matte black and all matte white colors look killer. Just as with the other grinders in this section, there are two programmable timed dosing buttons that can be activated by pushing in (and holding) the portafilter. Admittedly, I did not find the adjustment for setting the timed dosing to be as intuitive as I would have thought, but once you learn how to do it, it's straightforward and easy to use. A barista mode also allows the user to manually dispense coffee by holding the button in. You can again expect about 6 grams or so in retention, and I've heard of some versions of the grinder's software only allowing programming down to the half or whole second, making purging more wasteful given how fast the grinder is. The K30 Vario has more or less become the standard for on demand, flat burr grinders, and it was at the top of my personal short list when I was last shopping for grinders. Available through Chris' Coffee for $1750 here.
Compak K10 Pro Barista
Returning back to conical territory, the Compak K10 PB has long represented the top large conical burr grinders, typically sharing this role with the Mazzer Robur, which I don't include because it's nearly $1,000 more expensive. The large 68 mm conical burrs provide the layered depth, clarity, mouthfeel, and consistency that most are seeking from an espresso grinder, and in the great debate of flat versus conical burrs, the K10 PB is one that often steps into that battle. The K10 is also particularly popular in the Home-Barista world due to it's ability to me modified to suit single dosing, as discussed at length in this post. So, I won't go on too deep about this one, other than to say it works very well, and represents the least expensive, motorized, 68 mm ("Titan") conical burr grinder that can be single dosed. It is quite large, and will just barely clearly most kitchen cabinets without a hopper at all (requiring a single dose cup or ramekin type cup) at 15.5" tall. Available from Chris' Coffee for $1815 here.
The Macap M7D Conical Doserless is very similar to the K10 PB internally, with 68 mm conical burrs, but foregoes the old school thwacking of the doser in favor of programmable timed or manual on demand grinding. Proportions and even finishes between the two grinders are also very similar, with the M7D also coming in around 15" without a hopper. The M7D won't be quite as single dosing friendly as the K10 though with a chute that is not easily accessed to sweep out the grind path and minimize retention. The worm drive, steepless grind adjustment of the M7D is arguably an upgrade over the K10, offering slightly more precise, controlled, and quantifiable grind adjustments. Available for $1899 from the fine folks over at Clive Coffee here.
I stop at $2,000 because in my mind, from here there are two directions to proceed:
- More of the same, with even larger, more high volume commercially focused offerings from the same players. The Compak K10 for example is available with electronic dosing in E10 and F10 forms, and taken even further with the addition of fans for motor cooling. The large flats can be taken further with grinders like the Nuova Simonelli Mythos One, which is becoming one of the go to choices for top high volume cafes kitted out with the latest tech. But all in all, these grinders are typically just offering more features suited for high volume commercial cafes, and wont' provide a discernible difference to most home users in my opinion. (Although the Mythos One is arguably an exception, though it's not home friendly in size (says the guy with a K10 PB in the kitchen...)).
- The second direction above $2000 are the more niche, highly specialized, almost boutique-y single dosing grinders like the KafaTek Monolith Conical and Monolith Flat, Lynn Weber Workshops EG-1, and Titus Grinder, covered in depth in this post. If you have questions from here or want to geek out on grinders at this highest level, please feel free to contact me.
I hope this (non-exhaustive) roundup of grinders I would recommend at nearly all price points is helpful. Try and remember, after the actual quality of your coffee and the water, your coffee will only ever be as good as the grind your grinder is able to produce.