Kitchn Love Letters

I’m a Coffee Expert with 20 Years of Experience — These Are the Grinders I Use at Home

updated Feb 25, 2021
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Someone holding a coffee filter with spent gounds.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

When people find out I’ve been a specialty-coffee professional and coffee educator for the past 20 years, they love to ask me the following question: “What’s the best brewer I can buy to make awesome coffee at home?”

Even after spending nearly 10 of those years behind the bar, working with espresso machines that cost as much as a two-door sedan, my response is always the same, and it often comes as a shock: Your coffee brewer is only as good as your grinder.

A grinder is as important to your coffee as your best chef’s knife is to the rest of your kitchen. You want something that makes clean, efficient cuts. You also want to make sure that the pieces (in this case, the coffee grounds) are a uniform size, so they “cook” evenly. Obviously coffee doesn’t cook, but it does get extracted by water. And water is lazy: It needs as much of the work done for it as possible. If your coffee grounds have uneven particles — some big chunks and some powdery, fine stuff — the water will bypass the ones that are harder to work with (the bigger ones) and will over-extract the smaller ones.

Of course, different brewing methods call for different particle sizes in order to maximize extraction. A French press, for instance, needs a uniform, coarser grind; espresso requires a uniform fine grind; and drip coffee needs something in the middle. 

Credit: Ever Meister
My home coffee setup (and burr grinder!).

Electric spice grinders, which we call blade or “whirly-bird” grinders, will never give you the right grind profile: You’ll always wind up with some grounds that are either too coarse or too fine. A grinder that uses burrs instead of a blade is key to the coffee of your dreams: Burrs are sharp disks of metal or ceramic that can be adjusted to be closer to or farther apart from each other, which controls the size of the resulting grounds. 

Most burr grinders are easy to adjust and aren’t the countertop behemoths you might imagine. My favorite models are compact and — best of all — pretty affordable. Grinder company Baratza has been the industry darling for 20-plus years, and you’ll find their burr grinders on the brewing stations of many coffee professionals. My favorite model of theirs is the Encore, a perfect, no-frills burr grinder that will get just get the job done. (Note: If you’re making real-deal espresso, you’ll probably want a specialized grinder and Baratza makes those, too.) The Encore’s conical burrs are exceptionally long-lasting, and the company even sells spare parts and offers top-notch repair assistance, should anything go awry. The on/off knob is usually the first part to go (consider it a rite of passage), but these workhorse grinders have the potential to keep you caffeinated for many years to come.

However, the grinder I personally use at home these days is a newer entry to the world of countertop coffee: OXO’s conical burr coffee grinder. Just like the Baratza Encore, it’s a simple machine, it’s easy to adjust, and — my favorite part — it grinds all of the coffee you put into it, so there’s none that gets left in the machine (which is what usually happens with the other burr grinders I’ve used.) This means you can measure out precisely the amount you need and the machine will grind exactly that amount. While it’s a bit louder than the Encore and doesn’t have the same service support, it’s also about $40 less expensive. I’ve been seriously impressed by it — and that’s saying a lot.

Do you have a grinder that you love? Tell us about it in the comments below?