Some people turn to manual burr coffee grinders because they can't afford electric models. Still others love the ultimate hands on experience that a manual coffee mill offers them. However, be warned that there are drawbacks to manual coffee grinders. They can be difficult to use and you need a certain amount of hand or arm strength. They're also best if you're not a heavy coffee drinker since manually grinding beans is not a quick process. If you just need a basic grinder for drip coffee or spices and seeds, see our discussion of blade coffee/spice grinders. If you drink a lot of coffee or want more settings and features, see our discussion of the best burr coffee grinders -- we have choices for every budget. If espresso is your thing, you may want to check out our choices for the best coffee grinders for espresso.
The Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton (Est. $30) gets ratings from experts and owners that rival those of high-end electric burr coffee grinders for its excellent performance. It's a ceramic burr grinder that many reviewers say is as precise and consistent as electric grinders costing hundreds of dollars more. It's slow, but that slower grind means you don't have to worry about heat transfer to the coffee grounds, which can negatively affect the flavor. However, some say it's too slow, noting that it can take up to six minutes for a full grind, although only about 30 to 45 seconds for a single-cup, pour-over grind. Using this coffee mill takes some muscle, too, with many reviewers saying this is a good way to build up your Popeye-sized forearms. That means it's not a good choice for those who may have hand or arm weaknesses or grip issues. Still, some people very much enjoy the process, adding that it turns their coffee making into a "meditative experience."
There is a learning curve with the Hario coffee mill, but users say that once you get the hang of it, you can get a consistent grind every time. The coffee mill does better, they say, with coarser grinds for pour-over brews or French press, but not as good with finer grinds for espresso and Turkish. It's also got a learning curve for adjusting the grinder; the adjustment process requires partially taking the grinder apart, and then there's no way of knowing if it's adjusted correctly until you actually try grinding the beans -- it's all trial and error.
Because the burrs on this grinder are said to rival even commercial grade grinders, if you don't mind manually grinding your own beans, the Hario coffee mill is a great value for everyday or occasional use. Many say they use the Hario coffee mill only for camping or travel, but others note that the glass container makes that impractical due to breakage risks. Others keep the coffee mill around to use in a power outage. Some say that they simply don't drink enough coffee to justify spending more on a grinder, but still appreciate a high-quality grind for a daily pour-over or French press.
If you want a great coffee grinder specifically for travel, we highly recommend the Porlex Mini Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder (Est. $45). It looks almost like a stainless steel travel mug, with a 200 gram capacity container on the bottom, and the grinder on the top. The handle detaches and fits into a holder on the side of the grinder. Several reviewers describe it as "tiny" compared to the Hario. One thing users absolutely adore is that it fits inside the AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker (Est. $30), which we review in our report on single cup coffee makers. However, they say it's also terrific for French press brews and for drip coffee.
Some owners say that they get less sediment and a more consistent grind with this grinder than with blade grinders, which makes sense since the Porlex has a set of ceramic burr grinders that, even in a manual grinder, will perform better than a blade grinder. This grinder gets high praise for sturdiness and durability, and some say it doesn't take as much strength to grind with the Porlex as it does with the Hario.