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Ahhhh! There's nothing like the aroma and first sip of fresh, hot joe in the morning. Crafting the perfect brew is an art form, not a science, and coffee aficionados agree that it starts with freshly ground beans. Many say that pre-ground coffee can be stale right out of the bag, so it won't deliver optimal fragrance and flavor.

After deciding to purchase a grinder, there are a few questions to consider. Will you be happy with a cheap grinder from a local discount store? Or should you invest in a luxury model costing several hundred dollars? The answer depends on several factors: the types of coffee beverages you like, how much time and effort you want to spend setting up and cleaning, how you plan to display or store it and how long you want this investment to last.

Coffee grinders fall into two basic categories: blade and burr. As you would expect, blade grinders chop beans with a spinning blade attached to a motor. These models are relatively cheap as far as countertop appliances go -- most cost less than $30. They tend to be simple, plastic, push-button machines, although some have multiple settings. Blade grinders are also useful for other tasks such as grinding spices or nuts. If you do so, however, the grinder must be cleaned thoroughly between uses to avoid mixing flavors in your coffee. Some users report keeping two inexpensive blade grinders handy: one for coffee and one for spices.

By contrast, burr grinders have two gears that crush the beans into particles. These models are more expensive than blade units, as much as 30 times more expensive, in some cases. Most experts agree that the added expense is worth it to get the most precise grind -- a necessity for specialty coffees like espresso, French press or Turkish. Many burr grinders have upscale metal constructions, and they have a solid, weighty feel. Burr grinders start at about $50 but can go up to $600 or more, depending on the number of settings, build quality and grind consistency. Many owners opting for the top-priced models say they expect their grinders to last a lifetime.

Some upscale grinders have dosers – a chamber that is separated into sections. The sections rotate so that each one can be filled with a single dose of ground coffee. Although dosers make it possible to grind, hold and dispense enough grounds for several cups of espresso, home baristas who only plan to pull one or two espresso shots a day probably don't need one.

To determine our Best-Reviewed models, we analyzed expert and owner reviews of coffee grinders, particularly looking at evaluations of performance, ease of use, appearance, durability and noise level. We also considered grinder prices and the relative value offered by different models. Our research includes professional test results in addition to discussion threads, blog posts and expert reports on coffee-enthusiast websites, online forums and blogs. Finally, we studied user feedback on retail and consumer-opinion sites, which provide real-world insight to supplement professional reviews.

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