You may agree with film director David Lynch's proverbial maxim that "even a bad cup of coffee is better than no coffee at all." But if you can brew up a truly great cup o' joe right in the comfort of your own kitchen? Well, who would say no to that?
One key to making the perfect mug at home: a burr coffee grinder. So, in a caffeine-fueled quest to suss out which coffee grinders contributed to the best brews, we tested 10, ahem, buzz-worthy models. And, after many, many, many cups of coffee (feeding an addiction we're not ashamed to admit to), we winnowed it down to three winners:
- Best overall coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display — Whether you want an espresso, a classic drip or a pour-over French press, this mid-level machine created the most consistent grounds of any grinders we tested.
- Best value: Bodum Bistro Electric Burr Coffee Grinder — If we were judging by looks alone, this might have been our top pick, but it also performed admirably as an entry-level model.
- Best mini/handheld: Porlex Mini Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder — For coffee drinkers who spend a lot of time on the road, this tiny hand-grinder delivers big results, thanks in part to spring-loaded ceramic burrs.
A quick look at the winners
For each contender, we used whole beans from Coffee Project New York and tested out multiple grind settings (where applicable) focusing on drip, espresso and French press. We also considered functionality — including grind consistency and user-friendliness, durability, ease of use and aesthetics — in rating each grinder. Finally, while coffee grinders can enter the upper echelon of cost (some with four-figure price tags), to keep our focus on value, we decided to keep the testing pool concentrated in the mid-range, capping it at $250.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). Its sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
The Bodum Bistro burr grinder is packaged in a contemporary look (we especially liked it in poppy red) and includes a dozen adjustable settings, a static cling-free glass bean catcher, and just enough special features to make it an ideal starter machine for coffee-grinding novices.
At just 8 ounces, the tiny Porlex Mini handheld offers precision grinding, with 18 settings, in a travel-friendly size. You probably wouldn't want to use it if you need several cups to get going in the morning, but for a cup or two, especially when you're in the outdoors or traveling, it's hard to beat.
A deep dive into the winners
Best Overall Coffee Grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com)
While $249 isn't exactly a steal, in the world of quality coffee grinders, the price tag is considered mid-range. But the performance? Top-notch. Since 1999, this company has been racking up awards for its grinders, and the Virtuoso+, with its sleek, intuitive design, quickly rose to the top of the 10 models we tested.
First: the grind settings. While most of the grinders had fewer than 20 settings, the Virtuoso+ had 40 to choose from. Having more options allows you to micro-customize the grind size to your liking, so you get the exact taste you want from the beans. We were wowed by how easy it was to quickly and easily customize our grinds, from espresso or Turkish coffee (which call for the finest grind) at one end of the spectrum to French press or cold brew (which require coarser grinds) at the other. Simply turn the hopper to clearly marked settings to grind for your desired style of coffee.
The Virtuoso+ features a handy digital timer display that allows you to program your time within one-tenth of a second by using a knob on the side. This feature, which wasn't available on many of the other models we tested, lets you grind your beans for an exact amount of time — a useful capability when you're in a hurry and know the measurement you're looking for. Having a timer is also important because once you find that magic grind number that suits your taste, you'll get the same amount every single time. If your timer is set for too long, your coffee may be too strong; if it's too short, it will be weak. If you're still experimenting with grind time and weight, you can use the pulse mode to explore precise and consistent grinds.
The 40mm conical burrs on this model, meanwhile, created the most consistent grounds of any grinder we tested at settings for espresso, drip and French press. Conical burrs are cone-shaped, which helps control grind size, heat transfer (which can burn the beans) and noise levels.
Compact and sturdy — it weighs in at 9 pounds — the machine takes up less room than most coffee machines, and it has nice counter appeal thanks to its minimalist stainless steel and black design. Aesthetics are subjective, of course, but we preferred this design to others in the testing group. Another bonus: The bean hopper (which holds 8 ounces) and grinder bin (which holds 5 ounces) are transparent, so you can see what you're working with, and the added touch of an LED light in the bin makes it extra easy to monitor your handiwork.
While certainly not silent (sorry to wake you, kids, but Mom needs her morning jolt!), this grinder was quieter than many of the models tested, and cleaning out the burrs, hopper and grounds catcher was relatively easy, in part thanks to the included brush.
When it comes down to it, this is an excellent coffee grinder for anyone looking to replicate a great cup of coffee that you'd find at a specialty shop. The consistent results, precision grind settings, sleek design, timer function and other special touches — such as the powerful yet quiet motor and LED-lit bin — make it worth the price tag. Sure, it may take a little experimenting to find the perfect settings for you, but it's a crowd-pleaser every time: Drip for Dad, espresso for Mom, cold brew for the teenagers. Everyone leaves happy — and caffeinated.
With 12 adjustable grind settings, this is our top pick for amateur baristas ready to up their game with a burr grinder. The Bistro, which uses 35mm stainless steel conical burrs to crush beans, received high rankings for a consistent grind on multiple settings. It didn't score quite as high as our overall top pick, but it came close and still far outperformed other starter grinders.
Setting it up took a bit more time than other models, due in part to sparse instructions, and it took us a while to discover suggested timing for different grinds embossed on the inside of the hopper lid. But once we got the hang of things, it couldn't have been easier: Just pour your beans into the hopper, choose your grind size by twisting the hopper, set the timer anywhere from one to 20 seconds, flip the power switch and turn it on.
Twenty seconds should be plenty of time if you're brewing a full pot, but if you want a second round, the company advises letting the motor cool off for five minutes after the full 20-second round before starting again, to prevent overheating.
The body of the grinder, made of rubber, plastic and glass, was our favorite when it came to style. Modern and minimalist, it comes in five colors — black, red, white, chrome, die-cast copper and shiny copper — and its small size (it weighs in at 4.7 pounds and measures 7.6 by 7.1 by 12.5 inches) means it takes up very little counter space.
And while the grinds aren't quite as uniform as those produced by more expensive models, the Bistro has some nice features for a machine under $100: A friction clutch lets you know if small stones get into the burrs, and the 11-ounce borosilicate glass bin helps reduce static, meaning the grounds are easily poured out.
If you're really into espresso or looking to delve into the art of coffee-making, you may want to look at higher-end models. Espresso requires an extremely fine grind — think the consistency of powdered sugar — and those grinds need to be uniform in size. Entry-level grinders just can't reach that level of fineness or consistency. But if you're a newbie who just wants to play around with a few variables in search of a better cup, the Bistro is definitely for you.
Best Mini/Handheld: Porlex Mini Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder ($77.50; amazon.com)
The Japanese-made Porlex Mini is a dream for frequent travelers. Whether you're on the road frequently and have more refined taste than the standard in-room coffee station can satisfy, or you're an outdoorsy type who loves camping almost as much as quality joe, this hand-held grinder can keep you on your coffee game no matter where you are.
The Mini is tiny, weighing just 8 ounces and measuring 5 inches tall by 2 inches around. And if you're an Aeropress fan, you're in luck: It fits right inside.
But that compact size doesn't mean you sacrifice flexibility. Say you want espresso, but your companion wants French press. The device's 18 grind settings yield extremely consistent results for both.
The key to its consistency is its spring-loaded ceramic burrs, which don't heat up like stainless steel versions. These burrs stay sharp, are static-free and don't absorb water and odors. Ceramic burrs also don't rust, making them a breeze to clean.
Now, because of its small size, the Mini has only a 20-gram grind capacity, which is fine if you just want a cup or two. But it took us about 90 seconds to grind 20 grams, so beware that it can be time-consuming to grind enough for several cups.
Even with its sleek, minimal, stainless steel body, rubber grip, detachable handle, fantastic consistency and great portability, we do concede that $77 is pricey for a manual grinder. However, there was really no comparison between the Mini and the other handhelds we tested — both manual and electric — when it came to grind consistency, and this is the only model that we recommend. In fact, we'd put its uniform grind performance up against some of the higher-end electric models we tested. Plus, waking up to a fabulous freshly ground cup of joe on your trip? Totally worth it.
Best practices for coffee grinders
After testing 10 coffee grinders, we felt well on our way to achieving amateur barista status. One thing we learned: While all the models varied in features, all were quite similar in user-friendliness, ease of assembly and general intuitiveness.
But since even slight variations in grind size can change the flavor profile of your java, and consistent grinds reduce bitterness, you should expect to pay $100 and up for a good burr grinder made of durable materials that'll achieve optimal consistency.
If you like to keep things simple, but still crave something more flavorful than your regular cup of joe made with preground coffee from the supermarket, an inexpensive electric grinder will likely be just fine. It'll taste more like what you get from a coffee shop and be more flavorful than you may be used to.
If you're not too concerned about the size of your grinds and/or only need a cup or two at a time, a simple manual grinder you hand-crank to operate may be enough. Another plus for manual grinders? Almost no noise. All the electric grinders we tested are likely to rouse anyone still sleeping a few rooms away.
However, if you enjoy the challenge of honing your barista skills to create that just-right cup that's so much more than simply a morning jolt of caffeine, or if you like to switch things up between espresso, cold brew, French press or any other coffee variety, investing in a burr grinder with a few more bells and whistles and multiple settings will be worth it (and still cheaper over time than daily stops at the corner coffee shop).
The key is in the burrs. Sure, preground coffee is super convenient, but beans start to go stale once they're ground up, which is why no true coffee expert is without an at-home grinder.
For comparison, manual (or blade) grinders are usually less expensive, but make for more inconsistent grinds that range from powdery to coarse. Burr grinders, on the other hand, boast two blades — one of which is motorized and rotates — that crush the beans and help ensure a consistency in that grind size, which leads to better flavor, aroma and body.
As far as build goes, most of the burr grinders we tested use ceramic or stainless steel burrs. Stainless versions are more common, but may need to be replaced after a few years, while ceramic burrs are longer-lasting and result in extra-fine espresso grinds.
The ability to adjust grind settings allows for precise grinds tailored to the coffee you're looking to make. Craving espresso? You'll want the finest grind your machine offers. Drip? Opt for a medium grind. French Press? Choose the coarsest setting. Some grinders also allow you to set the grind time, meaning you'll get the exact measurement you're looking for.
Finally, if your grinder has a large hopper, resist the urge to grind up a bunch of beans at once to use throughout the week. Coffee tastes best when it's freshly ground.
How we tested
For each coffee grinder, we tested the same type of whole beans by adjusting the settings for drip, espresso and French press. We also evaluated:
- Functionality: We looked at grind consistency, user-friendliness, the intuitiveness of the machine, the number of grind customization settings, and the amount of coffee that could be poured in the hopper and stored in the container.
- Durability: We ranked the grinders on signs of damage over time, build quality, quality of materials, motor power and serviceability.
- Setup and breakdown: Considerations included how easy it was to put together and take apart, the size of the grinder, including how much counter space it needed, and how easy it was to clean.
- Aesthetic: Looks are subjective, but we ranked the grinders according to style and first impressions on appearance, as well as the option of choosing from multiple colors and finishes.
How we rated
Based on the above testing criteria, we designated points for each coffee grinder in each subcategory, with the total score determined by the sum of its subcategory marks. The point system breakdown included:
- Functionality had a maximum of 45 points: grind consistency (15 points), user-friendliness (10 points), grind-size customization (15 points), coffee capacity (5 points). For each model, we completed multiple tests on three grind styles: espresso (extra fine), drip (medium) and French press/cold brew (coarse). We compared the consistency of the grinds throughout the sample.
- Durability had a maximum of 25 points: everyday durability/signs of damage (10 points), build quality (5 points), motor power (5 points), serviceability (5 points).
- Setup/breakdown had a maximum of 10 points: first impression (5 points), multiple colors available (5 points).
- Warranty had a maximum of 5 points: Lifetime (5 points), two to four years (2 points) and less than two years (0 points).
Other coffee grinders we tested
Oxo Brew Conical Burr Coffee Grinder ($99.99; amazon.com)
We were big fans of this well-priced model, which features 15 grind settings and a 30-second programmable timer. The static-fighting stainless steel container kept grounds from clinging to it, grinds were pretty consistent in different settings, and we really appreciated the one-touch button on bleary mornings. This is our value runner-up, but the Bodum Bistro won out for its elevated aesthetics.
Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder ($139; amazon.com)
This burr coffee grinder is a great option if the Virtuoso+ is a bit out of your price range. Available in both black and white, it comes with 40 grind settings and features an on/off switch and steel burrs. It made consistent grinds at every setting we tested, but the lack of a timer and inability to measure the precise amount of grounds it was producing per batch were issues.
Hamilton Beach Fresh Grind Electric Coffee Grinder ($18.98, originally $29.99; amazon.com)
This one's not a burr grinder at all — it's a blade grinder. But if you're heading off to college or just dipping your toe into the home-grinding game, this basic model is a good place to start. The quietest grinder of those tested, it doesn't offer any grind-size customization, but it's small and easy to clean by wiping it out with a damp cloth. But a blade grinder just doesn't compete with a burr model.
Brim Electric Handheld Burr Grinder ($145; amazon.com)
Folks with small kitchens or an eye for sleek style will be drawn to this compact hand-held burr grinder that includes nine grind setting adjustments. The press of a button yields enough grounds for about two cups of coffee, but we found it took a long time to grind and was louder than most models, and the grounds were inconsistent.
Kona Manual Grinder ($16.98; amazon.com)
A no-nonsense starter model, this manual grinder has 18 grind settings, and while those did change grind size, the grinds were of uneven consistency. So if you want freshly ground coffee on your next camping trip, throw this in your backpack. If you plan to brew a quality pot of coffee in the morning, however, opt for a more advanced countertop grinder.
Capresso Infinity Burr Grinder ($88.99, originally $120; amazon.com)
With 16 settings, this burr grinder offered a solid performance. The hand-dial timer was a bit clunky and less precise than models with digital timers, but we found the grind was consistent — particularly the espresso grinds, which were nice and fine. It was also quieter than most models tested.
Breville Smart Grinder Pro ($199.95; breville.com)
A close runner-up, this model gets high marks for featuring a whopping 60 grind settings, an electronic timer, a large 18-ounce bean hopper and easy-to-read LCD display. Espresso aficionados will also appreciate the option of choosing between cups and shots. But as the largest machine we tested, it lost points for taking up too much counter space, and with more controls, it seemed overly complicated.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.