The Best Manual Grinders: Fresh Coffee Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive!
Anyone who has had a cuppa using freshly ground coffee agrees that there is no going back! Grinding your beans moments before brewing, allows you to capture authentic coffee flavors and aromas. For this reason, a coffee grinder is a must-have for any coffee enthusiast.
However, you can’t just buy the first coffee grinder you get your hands on. It has to be a burr grinder. Electric burr grinders are quite expensive and best for making coffee in bulk. If you are starting your coffee journey, or perhaps you travel a lot, a manual burr grinder is your best bet. Read on as we tell you everything you need to know about manual coffee grinders. We also address the fuss about burr grinders and differentiate them from other types.
Blade vs. Burr Grinder
To get a rough idea of how blade grinders operate, take a peek at your blender. Coffee blade grinders consist of blades that rotate at high speed chopping off the coffee beans. When brewing coffee, grind consistency is key in ensuring even extraction. The chopping action of blade grinders produces ridiculously uneven grounds. Some grinders are so bad that they produce large chunks of beans.
Blade grinders also create a lot of heat due to the chopping action, which might alter the flavor of the beans. While blade grinders are affordable, no serious coffee enthusiasts should consider them. They are more often than not built cheaply and will wreak havoc on your coffee.
Burr grinders are the best option for making ground coffee. Previously burr grinders were quite uncommon, but of late, this is changing as they are making their way to many homes. Their consistency in grinding paired with the ability to adjust the grind size is top on the list of burr grinder pros.
Unlike blade grinders, which randomly hack beans, burr grinders work on a small batch at a time. The batch is fed between the teeth of two grinder plates, which can be spaced closer or further apart to control the size of the grounds. Burr grinders might be more expensive than blade grinders, especially in electricity consumption, but they produce excellent results and are durable.
Conical Vs. Flat burr grinder
Now that we have established that burr grinders are the best for coffee, does the type have any significant impact on taste? Burr grinders can either be flat or conical. Flat burr grinders have a pair of flat grinding plates, and the beans are fed horizontally in between the plates. Conical burr grinders are circular, and the beans fed from above. (The video below will give you a visual comparison of the two)
While these two grinders are very different physically, they both have a consistent grind size. However, the flat burrs grind much more evenly compared to conical burrs. And while the naked eye might not detect this difference in grind consistency, it makes all the difference in pulling espresso shots. This is because espressos are quite unforgiving, especially when it comes to the grind size.
While flat burrs win when it comes to the grind consistency, conical burrs are less noisy, produce less heat, and more affordable. Conical burrs are also low maintenance as they have little waste. Flat burrs come in a narrow shape that traps a lot of coffee, which leads to wastage and requires regular cleaning.
The bottom line is that flat burr grinders are suitable for a consistent grind required in making sensitive beverages like espressos. They are much noisier and hence better suited for commercial settings. For household use, a conical burr grinder is better off as it is affordable and makes a consistent grind.
Can you use a manual grinder for espressos?
Making expressos is a delicate art. One small setback and the shot might come out tasting quite nasty. A crucial requirement for a perfect espresso shot is grind consistency. Most manual grinders, especially low budget ones, cannot make a consistent fine grind.
Even if you get a high-quality hand grinder with impeccable grind consistency, the time it takes to operate a manual mill is too long for espresso making. This brings me to the other crucial requirement for pulling perfect espressos; freshly ground beans.
By fresh, I mean that you ought to be brewing 30 to 45 seconds after grinding the beans. Hand grinders take at least 2 minutes to grind enough beans for a shot. It gets more complicated if you are looking to make double shots or multiple cups. For these reasons, manual grinders are discouraged for espresso making.
Choosing a manual grinder: what do you look for?
Manual grinders are pocket friendly, and some are downright dirt cheap. Nonetheless, it is crucial to do some research to ensure the one you buy serves its purpose. Here’s what to consider.
Size of your grinder
Almost all manual grinders are small enough to fit in a backpack or suitcase ready for “on the road” coffee. The problem comes in when the grinder is too heavy or delicate for travel. You want a sturdy grinder that can survive the road. It should also be lightweight and compact to avoid taking up too much space in your bag. The material of your mill has a lot to do with all these qualities. We tackle this in a bit.
If, on the other hand, you simply need a grinder for home use, you can get away with choosing aesthetics over a sturdy make.
Hand grinders come in stainless steel, plastic, or ceramic bodies. A few brands go for the antique look and use wood for the grinder body. The material of your grinder plays a significant role in its durability. Stainless steel and hard plastic grinders are the best options for backpacking as they can take a good beating without getting damaged.
When it comes to the burr material, you can choose between ceramic or steel burrs. Both are excellent in grind consistency as long as they are of high quality. However, steel burrs are stronger and more durable, especially since ceramic burrs can easily be chipped by rocks, which are common in low-quality beans.
Most grinders have a capacity of 20 to 30 grams, which is enough for 2 cups. This is one of the challenges that come with owning a manual grinder. It can make small batches of coffee grounds at a time.
This is not to say that there are no hand grinders with a large capacity. If you plan on brewing more than the standard two cups of coffee, look for a grinder with a capacity of 70g and above.
You may not see much of a difference in the grind size when using a manual grinder. This is especially when compared to an electric grinder. If anything, most manual grinders are not able to produce a fine grind. However, this does not mean that you will be stuck with one grind size. Quality manual grinders offer the option to adjust the grind size enough for experimentation.
Past manual grinders had the adjustment knob placed beneath the burrs. This required you to open up the unit every time you needed to adjust the grind size. Tiresome, right? Well, modern grinders have done away with this old-fashioned feature making your grinding experience more convenient. So when shopping for a manual grinder, ensure the adjusting mechanism is easily accessible. Moreso, the more the adjustment clicks, the better.
Maintenance and longevity
Manual grinders are small, with many “hard to reach ” corners. To have an easy time cleaning, ensure the grinder can dis-assemble. This will ensure you keep your grinder clean hence protecting the integrity of your coffee.
The body of your manual grinder also plays a crucial role in its longevity. Go for a sturdy frame to protect it from bumps and breaks. If you are into antique grinders, ensure all parts are available and working before buying. Alternatively, you can opt for vintage designs such as the Zassenhaus grinder.
Finally, ensure you protect your burrs from wearing out by using quality beans (with no stones). Also, make sure you inspect the burrs and sharpen or replace them once they get dull.
Top 7 Best Manual Coffee Grinders 2021
The JavaPresse manual grinder is a customer’s favorite and for good reason. It comes in a slim but sleek design. The stainless steel body not only gives it an appealing look but also makes it sturdy. Strong, stylish, and compact, all great qualities for a great travel grinder. But does it get the job done?
Equipped with patented, high grade, ceramic burrs, this grinder makes consistent coffee particles. The ceramic burrs are also quite durable, withstanding the pressure of constant grinding. It also features an adjustable grind selector that has over 15 grind sizes. This makes the JavaPresse excellent for grinding to various sizes with precision hence compatible with most brewers.
The JavaPresse hand grinder is convenient and easy to use. Cleaning is also easy as it features removable parts like the hand crank. To make the deal sweeter, you get a free bag of high-quality JavaPresse coffee with each purchase.
- Strong and durable burrs
- Slim and compact design
- Numerous grind size settings
- Quite affordable
- Value for money
- Difficult to hold on to the hand crank when grinding
- The coffee does not always ground consistently
The Hario Ceramic coffee mill comes with a much-needed adjustment to make grinding easier. This includes a reinforced hexagon adapter that also reduces wear and increases grind consistency. It also comes with ceramic burrs that are precise at grinding, reduce grinding noise, and are tough.
The Mini slim Pro features a compact design that allows stress-free carrying, especially when traveling. It also feels comfortable in your hand while grinding. The hardy plastic body is more durable than it looks and can withstand a couple of accidental bumps. However, for a small fee, you can get the stainless steel alternative, which comes in black or silver.
You can also adjust the grind size using the adjustment mechanism, which is easy to use. One grind cycle makes up to 2 cups with the cup-sized markings indicated at the side of the grinder.
- Compact design for easy in carrying and storage
- The handle comes off to further save on storage space
- Ceramic burrs are strong and durable
- Clear cup size markings
- Improved ergonomic handle
- It could be more slim and compact for easier storage
- Grinds enough beans for only 2 cups
The Hario Skerton Pro is the smallest hand grinder in our lineup. It can easily fit in a handbag or any carry on bag making it an excellent travel brewer. Despite the size, this grinder can make up to 100 grams of coffee in one cycle. This is equivalent to 8 to 10 cups!
The Skerton pro features a solid cast handle that makes grinding easier. The handle is also removable for easier cleaning and storage. It comes with a wide grip body which is made of glass. The rubber base keeps the mill in place when in use. It also absorbs shock during accidental bumps and falls.
As far as grinding goes, the Hario Skerton Pro does a decent job thanks to the ceramic burrs. These ensure the grind size is consistent and produce little to no heat or noise. The best part of this grinder is the ease of adjusting the grind setting. A grind adjustment wheel is strategically placed at the bottom of the mill. This eliminates the hassle of going through the handle to access the grind adjuster.
- Quite compact saving on space
- Large ceramic burrs for a consistent grind size
- Removable ergonomic handle
- Easy to access grind adjustment wheel placed on the underside of the grinder
- 100g capacity which is expandable by feeding the bottom of the grinder to a ball jar
- A glass body is fragile making it a poor travel grinder
- The wide grip feels awkward and needs some getting used to
The Porlex Mini is another grinder that has undergone some upgrading making it more efficient. The handle which used to come off mid-grinding is now improved with a better shaft. The handle is also long for smooth grinding and comes off for cleaning.
The Porlex Mini has a capacity of 20 grams, which only makes one cup of coffee. This makes it ideal for the occasional coffee drinker. It also features ceramic conical burrs that produce a consistent grind. You can also grind to different sizes offering a wide variety of brewers to use.
The stainless steel body is easy to clean and durable. This, paired with its small size, makes it an excellent travel grinder.
- Small and compact
- Durable stainless steel body with strong plastic parts
- Ceramic conical burrs
- Ergonomic handle for easy grinding
- Grinds very little coffee per cycle
- The warranty does not count for online purchases.
If you are into vintage designs, the Zassenhaus grinder should fit right into your kitchen. It features a wooden body with mahogany finishing. You can choose from three uniquely crafted designs, each with an antique look.
The Zassenhaus also features a German, carbon-steel grinding mechanism that gets the job done silently and with minimal heat. The German-made grinding mechanism boasts of exceptional durability with a 25-year guarantee.
All three designs feature a long handle with a comfortable round knob for easy grinding. To top this, adjusting the grind size is quite effortless. Simply turn the knurled adjustment knob that is strategically placed below the crank. It comes with a capacity of 40g, enough to make 2 to 3 cups of coffee.
- Gorgeous antique design
- Durable German grinding mechanism
- An easily accessible adjustment knob
- A variety of designs to choose from
- Adjustable to various grind sizes allowing for experimenting
- Difficult to hold on while grinding
- The mahogany finishing comes off with time especially after constant cleaning
- Not travel friendly
Most antique grinders are not fit for traveling or camping, but the Akirakoki manual grinder threatens to change this. It comes in a compact design with a small body that can easily fit in a carry-on bag. The body comprises high-quality hardwood that is carved from the same wood, making it hard to crack.
The Akirakoki replaces the standard stainless steel burrs with cast-iron conical burrs that do not produce heat. Cast iron also gives this grinder a genuine vintage feel without the risk of rusting or affecting the taste of your coffee. Cleaning and maintenance are also quite easy as the unit can be taken apart completely.
As far as ease of use goes, the Akirakoki is quite simple to understand. You can adjust the grind size by rotating the gear nut piece under the handle. Loading the beans is done from above by sliding the iron cover away. While the grinding handle is ergonomic and comfortable while in use, grinding can take a while, leaving your hand sore.
- Beautiful antique design
- Small and compact hence great for traveling
- Easy to adjust the grind setting
- High-quality hardwood body which is durable
- Cast Iron conical burrs that do not heat the beans
- It takes a lot of time to grind
- Small bean capacity
The Lido 3 coffee grinder is the updated version of its predecessor, The Lido 2 manual grinder. This has come with some improvements in size and weight, whereby Lido 3 is lighter and smaller compared to it’s older brother Lido 2. Considering this grinder comes with a travel pouch and a handle that folds in, it makes a decent on-the-road or camping grinder.
I bet you have already noticed the hefty price tag that comes with this grinder. Well, this is because Lido 3 grinder is regarded as one of the few manual grinders fit to grind for espresso brewing. It chews through your coffee beans pretty fast and comes with a variety of grind size variations, including fine setting for espresso. The grind consistency is also solid, producing uniform results. To adjust the grind setting, align the aluminum locking ring with the 1grind size ring. This might take a couple of tutorials to master, but it sure beats the tedious process of unscrewing the grinder to adjust from inside.
The Lido 3 comes in a sturdy, see-through, plastic body which contributes to its lightweight nature. The plastic material is BPA Free hence safe. It also features quality, 48 mm, Swiss stainless steel burrs. These compared to ceramic burrs are long-lasting since they do not chip or break. The hopper has a capacity of 70 grams, which is enough for 4 cups. It also comes with a double-walled stainless steel ground jar.
- Produces a consistent grind
- Prescribed for making espressos
- Large capacity (70 grams)
- Powerful Swiss-made stainless steel burrs
- Easy to maintain with cleaning equipment included
- Travel pouch included
- Very expensive
- Adjusting the grind setting takes some getting used to
Fresh coffee doesn’t have to be expensive thanks to manual grinders. However, this is at the expense of time and effort used in grinding. As we come to a conclusion, it is important to note that manual mills are not for everyone. If you are into high-quality espresso shots, consider getting a high-quality electronic grinder. The same goes for anyone who takes more than the occasional cuppa ( unless you want a daily hand workout).
Any of our reviewed grinders above will get the job done. However, our top pick (and user’s favorite) is the JavaPressee hand grinder. It is designed for both at home and on the road use. It also makes a consistent grind with various grind settings. To top it all off, this grinder sells at quite an affordable price. You get your money’s worth and then some!