Coffee experts and amateur baristas agree: Espresso grinds are the biggest challenge for coffee grinders. In an in-depth discussion of grinding beans for espresso at SweetMarias.com, editors exhaustively note the various factors that go into the final product of a perfect espresso grind. Of course, the grinder is one of the key factors.
If you don't need a grinder for espresso, but want a top ceramic burr coffee grinder, see our discussions elsewhere in this report on best burr coffee grinders and best manual coffee mills. If you're not all that picky and just want to improve the taste of your drip coffee, or if you need a grinder only for spices, nuts or seeds, see our section on the best blade coffee/spice grinders.
But for espresso drinkers, the top choice in every expert roundup and professional test we analyzed is the Rancilio HSD-ROC-SD Rocky Coffee Grinder (Est. $355). This ceramic flat burr grinder has 55 settings for a variety of grinds, but experts and owners say it particularly excels at espresso.
In spite of its price, reviewers agree it is money well spent for those who demand the best espresso. This grinder is also built like a tank, suitable even for light commercial use. That's why it should last for at least 15 years, according to experts, making its amortized value over time very good. Users concur, and we lots of reviews from owners who have had this grinder for quite a few years and say it's still going strong.
The Rocky gets praise across the board for its consistent results. It has a learning curve to master, as do most high-end grinders, but owners say it doesn't take long to get the hang of it. The Rocky is also reported as very easy to clean, much more so than comparable burr grinders.
This model does not have a doser, which allows you to store coffee in the grinder and quickly grind several servings in a row. However, most reviewers prefer doserless grinders, saying they keep the coffee grinds fresher, so if you'd prefer a version with a doser, the Rancilio HSD-ROC-SS Rocky (Est. $365) also gets top reviews from experts and owners.
The Mazzer Mini Espresso Grinder (Est. $685) earns a perfect rating at Amazon.com, and close to perfect at coffee enthusiast sites, although it doesn't have nearly as much feedback as other coffee grinders. However, it is also not commonly marketed for the consumer user. It's a commercial-grade grinder that coffee experts say will last decades.
This Mazzer is a stepless grinder that gives users a high level of control over each grind, but one expert says that makes it more suitable for more experienced users than for beginners. Many say that the Mazzer Mini simply can't be beat when it comes to performance and may be the ultimate home grinder for the serious espresso aficionado. Some say it outperforms the Rocky for a wider variety of grinds, but excels with espresso grinds, turning out the perfect texture and particle consistency.
The Mazzer Mini is a dosing grinder that can dispense coffee directly into the portafilter of any espresso machine and has a built-in tamper -- although its installation is optional if you prefer a detached tamper. Reviewers say the grinder is easy to clean.
While the Mazzer is undoubtedly a great grinder, the Rancilio Rocky rises to the top because it's simpler to use and a better match for a wider range of coffee-bean-grinding skills. Even some who love the Mazzer couldn't master the learning curve and exchanged it for a more user-friendly model.