coffee grounds
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

We Tried 4 Different Ways of Grinding Coffee — And This Was the Hands-Down Favorite

updated Mar 10, 2021
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One could say I own too much coffee equipment. I have a Technivorm, a pour over, a French press, and a super-fancy espresso machine I feel unworthy of (my mom found it at an estate sale for a couple hundred bucks, but it retails for thousands). And, as far as coffee grinders go, I own and regularly employ a burr grinder and a blade grinder.

I always grind my own coffee and have steered clear of the pre-ground stuff, operating under the assumption that it would produce too-weak brew. But, I wondered, does it actually matter if you grind your coffee? Would you be able to taste the difference? If it really is best to grind it yourself, which way is best? Is it a matter of personal preference?

To find out, I rounded up the three different types of coffee grinders (a burr grinder, blade grinder, and a coffee mill or a manual, hand-cranked grinder) and compared them against pre-ground coffee. I bought the beans and pre-ground coffee from a local coffee shop near me (shoutout to Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters!) and made sure to use the same bean variety too (i.e., a breakfast blend, French roast, etc).

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

How I Tested the Coffee Grinders

To see which coffee grinder worked best, I ground 31.9 grams of coffee and brewed it with 18 ounces of water in my Technivorm Moccamaster, using the same ratio for the pre-ground coffee. (Are you confused about how much coffee to use? Here’s an extremely helpful calculator.) I evaluated how easy the grinders were to operate, too.

I decanted the brewed coffee into separate carafes and made sure to label each one. I then gathered up my family — all of whom are avid coffee drinkers — and held a blind taste test, recording their feedback on each of the brewed coffees and having them rank the coffee from best to worst.

The ratings: Each method received a rating, with one being our least favorite and five being the best. Like the rest of our showdowns, this one considered the final coffee results, ease, and price. Keep reading — along with the rating, you’ll find more detailed notes.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Coffee Grinder Method: Coffee Mill

Coffee: 1 / 5
Ease: 1 / 5
Price: 2 / 5 ($40 for the grinder)
Rating: 1.5 / 5

This option produced the most unevenly ground coffee and took minutes of work to grind coffee — and, even then, there were still a few whole coffee beans left in the hopper that just refused to be ground. Every one of my tasters ranked it as the worst-tasting coffee, too, and it produced the weakest brew. I think it’s a decent option for those traveling or camping without electricity, and who are determined to use freshly ground coffee for something like an Aeropress. However, there are better grinders for your money.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Coffee Grinder Method: Pre-Ground Coffee

Coffee: 2 / 5
Ease: 5 / 5
Price: 4 / 5 (The difference to buy whole-bean versus pre-ground coffee is typically around a dollar or less)
Rating: 3.5 / 5

Well, you can’t get any more convenient than pre-ground coffee. However, it didn’t make the best brew. The pre-ground coffee I used was almost too fine; an automatic drip coffee maker (like a Technivorm) with a cone-shaped filter requires a medium-fine grind. Because of this too-fine grind, more of the coffee’s surface area was exposed to water, which led to over-extraction. This meant the coffee tasted off, which can mean several different things, but, in this case, meant the coffee was flat and lifeless.

This is a key thing to remember here: When you buy whole beans, you can decide how fine or coarse you want for each batch. That’s not really the case with pre-ground stuff (unless you want to make it even more fine).

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Coffee Grinder Method: Blade Grinder

Coffee: 3.5 / 5
Ease: 4 / 5
Price: 4 / 5 ($20 for the grinder)
Rating: 4 / 5

While the blade grinder wasn’t as consistent as our top pick, it did a much better job at grinding coffee than the manual method. While grinding the beans, I made sure to shake the blade grinder to try to help the coffee grind as evenly as possible. And tasters picked this coffee as the second best of the bunch. For those that find our top pick out of their price range or have limited counter space, a blade grinder is a solid option.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Coffee Grinder Method: Burr Grinder

Coffee: 5 / 5
Ease: 4.5 / 5
Price: 2.5 / 5 ($140 for the grinder)
Rating: 4.5 / 5

The burr grinder was the clear favorite for many reasons. It ground coffee the most consistently out of all the grinders and made a full-bodied brew that was the top pick of every taster (for more on why coffee grind size and consistency matters, head here). It was also easy to operate: Just load the beans and flick the switch (although it does take some tinkering to find the exact right grind you’re looking for). And while some burr grinders can cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars, this one by Baratza is a phenomenal option at a more budget-friendly price, with 40 (!!) grind settings to choose from.

Do you grind your own beans at home? What do you use to do it? Tell us about it in the comments.