Last updated on October 12th, 2020
If you’re reading this article, I assume you’ve already decided to get a manual coffee grinder, but aren’t sure which one to get.
I know it can seem overwhelming to choose when there are so many similar ones out there. I’ve been using manual grinders for about five years now, so I’ve watched the options grow dramatically each year…
But, here’s the good news: while there are a lot of grinders out there, the number of good grinders is much, much smaller. I’ll show you what to look for, tell you my personal choices, and recommend other popular options at different price points.
(Disclaimer: I DID NOT receive any of the recommended grinders for free. I bought those I’ve personally used and the others are recommended based on research. However, the links in this post are affiliate links so if you buy through the links I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.)
What to look for in a manual coffee grinder
While grinding seems simple enough, you don’t just want to grind coffee beans into smaller pieces. You want to grind them into pieces that are all the same size… or as close as possible. Uniformity in size is why you get an awesome cup of coffee when you use a good grinder (assuming you have good beans and brew them properly).
No grinder is going to give you a perfectly consistent grind, but the good ones are dramatically better than the bad ones. As a bonus, they also grind much faster and require much less effort.
Here are the main factors to consider:
Ceramic or steel?
A lot of cheaper grinders emphasize that they use ceramic blades and how much better they are.
They’re just cheaper to mass produce. To make ceramic blades, you first create a mold to shape the burrs and then reuse that mold for future sets of burrs. The mold is expensive, but once it’s made, ceramic burrs can be mass produced for a much cheaper price than steel.
This doesn’t mean they are bad, but it also doesn’t mean they are better than steel. Generally, ceramic is better for espresso and finer drip grinds, while steel is better for drip, french press and other coarse grinds. But, it will also depend on the quality of the ceramic and the mold.
Personally, I think steel is much better for a manual coffee grinder. I’ve found that grinders with steel blades grind much faster with less effort and produce a more consistent grind.
The quality of materials will make a huge difference in how your grinder performs and how long it lasts. As I mention near the bottom, there are lots of cheap grinders out there, but most don’t perform very well and don’t last.
Of course quality usually raises the price, so you’ll have to balance this with the other factors mentioned.
There are two important sizes to keep in mind. First, there’s the burr size. Larger burrs will usually grind faster than smaller ones. There’s also the size of the grinder itself.
Smaller grinders are more portable, but if you’re making coffee for more than 1-2 people they aren’t very convenient. You often have to take off and reconnect both the top and bottom multiple times, which can be tedious to do daily.
Large grinders are just the opposite. They can grind more beans at one time but aren’t as portable.
A closer look at coffee grinder burrs
What exactly is a burr?
Rather than a single blade, a burr set consists of two pieces, usually made of steel or ceramic, that have multiple blades built into them. Beans are crushed between these two pieces.
In a manual grinder, you’ll turn a handle that turns a shaft that’s connected to one of these pieces. The more this burr moves back and forth during grinding, the less consistent your grind is.
The challenge is holding the center burr steady during this process. The best grinders will have a second metal piece at the bottom which stabilizes the burr while grinding.
My quest for the best manual coffee grinder
I started with a highly rated, but low-priced hand grinder. It did a decent job but didn’t last long. After it broke within a few months, I decided to replace it with a higher quality grinder.
I chose the Zassenhaus Panama, pictured below, and it’s still going strong after two years. But, as I got more into coffee, I wanted something that performed even better and could hold more ground coffee beans.
I tried the Handground, but had mixed feelings about it. The large capacity and some of the design features were nice, but the grind quality was a little below the Zassenhaus and I expected higher quality materials. Plus, it was slower. Much slower.
Ultimately, I decided to return it for the Lido E-T, pictured at the bottom. It was a big jump in price, but it’s an awesome grinder that produces a much more consistent grind with less effort than the others.
For a small hand grinder, I love the Zassenhaus Panama. It’s small, portable, and made with high-quality materials. The grind consistency is good, especially at finer settings, and the sharp steel blades grind very fast.
The downsides are the size and some of the design elements. The same small size that makes it portable, also means that it doesn’t hold much coffee. I usually have to grind, refill, and repeat for a large coffee or coffee for two.
The part where you remove the coffee grounds is the other downside. You have to hold it with your hand while grinding so it doesn’t come apart. It’s not a huge issue with me, but if you have small hands it might be a problem.
The Lido is widely considered one of the best manual coffee grinders available. It grinds just as consistently as much more expensive electric grinders, it’s built with high-quality materials, and its capacity is higher than most other manual coffee grinders. Also, you can replace parts that wear out rather than buying a whole new grinder.
But, the Lido is also big, heavy, and expensive. It weighs about 1 kilo, or just over 2 lbs, and when it’s fully assembled it’s about the size of a wine bottle. It’s not the easiest to use in the beginning, either. Changing the grind size requires adjusting two different rings and you have to make sure they’re neither too loose or too tight.
This would be in the top of the line category when it comes to manual coffee grinders, so it’s a lot more expensive than your average hand grinder. But, if you want a fantastic grinder and can deal with the size and learning curve it’s a great option.
If you’re into specialty coffee, you’ve probably heard the name Hario. They’re a Japanese glass company that has expanded into all types of coffee equipment.
While I’ve never used the Skerton, I can tell you it’s highly recommended as an entry level manual coffee grinder. They recently did a full upgrade to the grinder and added a pro version to the mix. This has addressed most of the issues that people have had over the years and reviews so far are very good.
Like I mentioned above, I have mixed feelings about the Handground.
It claims to match the performance of high-end grinders for a much lower price, but it underwhelmed me. The design was cool, but the materials felt cheap and it ground less consistently than the Panama. Plus, it ground much slower.
That said, grind quality was pretty close to the Zassenhaus and there aren’t many large capacity grinders in this price range. They updated it and lowered the price recently, too. If it was my first grinder and I got one of the updated ones I might have a better impression.
So, if you want something bigger than a travel grinder in this price range, I’d say compare it to the Hario Skerton Pro.
A lot of coffee shops and travelers recommend the Porlex mini. I haven’t used it, but strongly considered it before getting the Zassenhaus Panama. It’s very small and fits inside of an Aeropress, making it great for travel.
It’s similar to the Zassenhaus, but uses a ceramic burr, rather than steel, and has a different handle. A lot of people love this grinder and it’s noticeably cheaper. Based on what I’ve read, you should expect grind quality that’s a little lower than the Zassenhaus and a slower grinding process.
A warning about cheap hand grinders
There are an overwhelming number of cheap hand grinders on Amazon that look nearly identical. Most of them wildly exaggerate to make you think they’re just as good as a quality grinder, but at a much better price. They’re not.
Look for one that’s been around a while, has a high rating, and a lot of reviews. Go through the reviews and you’ll probably find a mix of high reviews from people who just got it and really low reviews from people who actually compared it to other grinders.
You can try one for yourself, but I’ve had bad experiences with them and I’ve read hundreds of bad reviews from other disappointed customers.
What to choose…
Choosing a good manual coffee grinder can be overwhelming. There are so many options and you really won’t know how well each will perform until you use it.
I’ve tried to keep my recommendations short to simplify the process as much as possible. A good coffee grinder can take your home brewing to a whole other level.
If you need help with the brewing part, here’s something to get you started.