Experts and coffee aficionados agree: a good burr grinder is a crucial component to achieve the ultimate cup of coffee. A burr grinder will improve the overall taste of drip coffee, but it's even more important for specialty brews such as Turkish or espresso, as well as those that favor French press or pour-over coffees. It's worth noting, however, that many espresso experts say you have to choose the right burr grinder for that particular type of brew and they recommend a dedicated coffee grinder for espresso, which we discuss elsewhere in this report. If you really, really want a burr coffee grinder, but simply can't afford even the cheapest electric choices mentioned in this section, see our discussion of manual coffee mills elsewhere in this report. If you don't drink a lot of specialty brews and aren't as picky about your grind as some coffee drinkers are, or just need a grinder for spices or seeds, see our recommendations for blade coffee/spice grinders.
There are no grinders -- except a few that are stratospherically expensive -- that get the kind of love that Baratza grinders do. Out of that stellar line up of grinders, the standout model is the Baratza Vario Ceramic Burr Coffee Grinder (Est. $480). This workhorse has 230 grind adjustments and users say that wide variety of presets along with its highly precise settings make this grinder perform like a stepless grinder, with the ease-of-use of a stepped grinder (see our discussion of stepped versus stepless grinders in our introduction to coffee grinders). Possibly because of the large number of adjustments, the Baratza Vario gets very good reviews from owners and experts for repeatability -- that is the ability to easily switch between grinds and still find your old settings, something many grinders (and their users) struggle with.
The Baratza Vario is a ceramic, flat burr grinder with technology to prevent heat transfer to the grounds, something that many experts say conical burr grinders do better, though others say there's no difference between the two technologies. Owners say the Vario performs well across a variety of grinds from extremely fine Turkish grinds to coarser grinds for French press brews. One expert notes that it works better for coarser grinds if it's calibrated first with a tool that is included with the grinder. In spite of its large number of grind options, the Baratza Vario has a very small footprint, owners say, and is very attractive. It's also reported as highly durable. This version of the Vario is the 886, which replaced the 885 and now comes standard with a metal portaholder. The portaholder on the 885 was plastic. The two models are otherwise identical.
The chief complaints we saw regarding the Baratza Vario were related to ease of use. It has a confusing front panel, many say, although once you get used to it that's not an issue. The bean hopper is not removable, so you have to empty it completely to change beans, rather than just swapping hoppers, which makes switching between bean varieties a bit of a pain. The Vario allows you to grind directly into a portafilter, but that operation can be messy. (The portafilter is the filter that holds the tamped coffee for insertion into an espresso machine.)
They don't get quite the stellar reviews of the Vario, but we found two mid-priced grinders that get pretty good feedback and are a great choice at roughly half the price -- or less -- of the Vario. Those include the Breville BCG800XL Smart Grinder (Est. $200) and the Baratza Virtuoso (Est. $230).
The Breville Smart Grinder gets great reviews from both few experts and owners for its range of features and ease of use. It even compares favorably to the Vario in a few roundups. It has a narrower range of grind selections, but its 25 settings are sufficient for most people -- only the most diehard coffee-bean tweakers say they need more. It has a doser, which is great if you make a lot of coffee because it enables you to grind coffee for several cups at a time very quickly. The hopper is also removable so you can easily swap it out for different types of coffee beans. The Smart Grinder gets very good reviews for fine grinds, but less so for coarser grinds.
Owners give the Smart Grinder very high ratings too, saying it's super intuitive to use and that it has more adjustment options than most will ever need. Most users also say it's very consistent and works very well for a variety of grinds, but more finicky espresso enthusiasts say it doesn't do a good espresso grind. Many who have wanted a high-end grinder but weren't interested in the high prices that often accompany them are thrilled with the Breville Smart Grinder, saying the difference in the taste and quality of a cup of coffee it lets them brew (compared to pre-ground coffee) is significant.
The Baratza Virtuoso has long been a favorite of coffee enthusiasts and gets good reviews from experts as a highly affordable, entry-level conical burr coffee grinder. One professional reviewer notes that it's a good mid-level grinder for those wanting a reliable home grinder. Another says the Virtuoso is the first entry in Baratza's line up of prosumer grinders (i.e. a grinder that has commercial-level qualities for the home barista). It doesn't have the great ease-of-use features of the Breville Smart Grinder, but may appeal more to true coffee aficionados.
The lower you go in price for a burr coffee grinder, the lower the ratings tend to be, However, the Capresso 560.01 Infinity Burr Grinder (Est. $100) is a good grinder for the price, reviewers say. It's a conical burr grinder with 16 settings, from espresso to French press, and is widely considered to be a well-designed machine, with users commenting that they especially like how the container holding the grounds fits snugly into the base, which reduces coffee dust. Many also appreciate its slow grinding speed, which helps to preserve coffee flavor and aroma. The Capresso is recommended for automatic-drip coffeemakers, but many call it a good choice for espresso novices as well because it doesn't require the huge investment of an upscale espresso grinder. A few gripe about static electricity build-up, but this seems to be a common problem with burr grinders.
Another Baratza, the Baratza Encore (Est. $130) costs a bit more than the Capresso, but it also comes with the Baratza reputation as a great burr coffee grinder. This is a very basic grinder, and most say it's best for those who use mostly medium grinds -- such as for drip coffee makers -- because it's inconsistent at the upper and lower ends of the grinds scale. And speaking of scales, its dosing system isn't terribly accurate, you pulse a gram at a time and that dose can be inconsistent, so at least one expert recommends keeping a scale handy to be sure you're not over or under dosing your pour-over blends. Still, if you long for a Baratza, but don't have a lot to spend, experts say this is a good place to start. Those who went to this grinder from a blade grinder are very pleased with the step up in quality.
Elsewhere in this report: