What the best coffee grinders have
- A consistent grind. With burr grinders, you should able to get the same grind from the same setting each time you use the grinder. In the case of blade grinders, you should have a consistent grind without any leftover chunks.
- Versatile settings. If you're spending the big bucks on a burr coffee grinder, be sure it can handle every grind you are ever likely to need, from super fine for Turkish and espresso brews, to coarser grinds for drip and French press. Blade grinders tend to be just "press a button and grind" devices with few settings and options, so versatility isn't as important.
- Ease of cleaning. Grinders that are designed so parts can be wiped clean with a damp cloth are preferable to those that require maneuvering a brush into crevices to get out all the grounds. Also, the burrs in ceramic burr grinders should be easy to access for cleaning. Most users say you shouldn't use soap for grinders because rinsing sufficiently to avoid a soapy aftertaste can be a challenge.
- Deep lids, in the case of blade grinders. With blade grinders, the lid is also the ground-coffee receptacle, and deep lids can hold ground coffee with fewer spills.
- Relatively quiet operation. Blade grinders tend to get worse reviews for noise; if you use one first thing in the morning, you'll want a model that doesn't' wake the dead -- or your spouse or children. If noise is a problem, you may want to look at a manual coffee grinder -- though also consider the added time requirements for using one.
- Solid construction. A high-end burr coffee grinder should last for years. This means an all-metal drive train and a stainless steel construction.
Know before you go
Is ease of use a priority? If you simply want to make a fresh cup of coffee without the hassle of a lot of cleanup, a blade grinder is the way to go, and many users say they work very well for a drip coffee maker.
Do you just need a grinder for spices or seeds? In that case, don't spend the big bucks. A $20 blade grinder works very well for these items. Some grinders can also handle nuts, but you may be better off using a good food processor for that.
Are you a coffee connoisseur? Burr grinders crush beans slowly, which preserves flavor and aroma -- so if you're looking for the best possible taste and fragrance, go with a ceramic burr coffee grinder. This is particularly important if you drink espresso, which is one of the most challenging grinds.
Do you want doser or doserless? A doser is chamber that is separated into sections. The sections rotate so that each one can be filled with a single dose of ground coffee, which makes it possible to grind, hold and dispense enough grounds for several cups of espresso in quick succession. Most coffee aficionados prefer doserless because they don't like the idea of the beans sitting in the machine and perhaps getting stale. Doserless machines are also easier to clean.
Stepped or stepless? Stepless grinders do not have presets, rather they have an infinite number of grind settings. They are not as easy to use as stepped grinders, but true connoisseurs love them for the fact that they completely control the grind.
Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it
Researching coffee grinders can be daunting for the average person. Sites where passionate coffee aficionados gather can be quite strident in their opinions, and quite contemptuous of anything they don't consider a "serious" grinder. Some of these folks are rarely pleased unless they have a professional barista-quality brew.
We'd like to say this: Don't be intimidated. If you have a standard drip coffee maker you'll probably be perfectly satisfied with a blade or less-expensive burr grinder. Even these, reviewers say, raise the taste level of a cup -- or pot -- of coffee without the need for a several-hundred-dollar grinder. In fact, unless you have a super picky palate, one of those less-expensive grinders will be fine for most specialty coffees, and work especially well for pour-overs. If nothing else, start small and work your way up to more expensive options as you become more knowledgeable and experienced in the art of coffee grinding.