Grinding coffee properly is one of the most crucial steps in the preparation of truly great coffee. The grinding process can be done using either manual grinders operated by hand or electrically powered grinders.
Manual grinders are small, efficient and cost effective machines which have been around since the 18th century, but they’re making a comeback! If you’re someone like me who loves quality artisanal coffee and appreciates the nostalgic ritual of hand grinding coffee, or simply want a grinder that you can take with you on the road, you should seriously consider getting a manual coffee grinder.
After rigorous hands-on on grinding and plenty of research, I’ve rounded up 5 of the best manual grinders available on the market. In this guide, I’ll walk you through my favorite picks and highlight several important points about manual grinders, to help you decide which one of these little hand-crank gems are the perfect fit you.
1. Handground Precision Coffee Grinder
The Handground Precision Coffee Grinder, which originally started as a Kickstarter campaign, is in my opinion the best manual coffee grinder. What I like most about this grinder is the sidewise-placed handle that rotates vertically, making grinding feel easier and more natural than horizontal handles on most grinders.
The grinder also excels at producing very uniform and consistent grinds such that every cup of coffee I made from it tasted incredibly good. In addition, the Handground is beautifully crafted using high quality aluminum and glass which makes it look cool and feel sturdy on your kitchen countertop.
This grinder has 15 grind settings, intuitively placed on a numbered ring that can be easily turned to configure the grind size. It also comes with a large glass hopper, with anti-static properties, that can hold enough beans to grind for 3-4 cups of coffee at a go. It took me barely a minute to disassemble the Handground grinder, and even though I couldn’t use a dishwasher, cleaning was quite easy to do.
Best suited for
This is the best option if you’re looking for a hand grinder that is durable, stylish and makes great coffee. It also would make a perfect gift for someone who loves manually grinding their coffee at home. You can use it while travelling, but it will take up a little more space than the average manual grinder.
2. JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder
The JavaPresse grinder is small, functional and perhaps the most effective manual grinder that you can get for a really low price. While it lacks an aesthetically pleasing design, this little grinder boasts of a durable stainless steel build and is equipped with ceramic burr sets, which create reasonably consistent grinds.
The manufacturers thoughtfully included a small transparent window on the side of the catcher so that you can monitor the level of ground coffee. They didn’t include a window in the bean hopper though, so it’s not easy to tell how many whole coffee beans are remaining without opening it.
With 18 grinds settings to choose from, this hand grinder gives you very precise control over how fine or course your grinds are, so that you can make a decent cup of Espresso or French Press. The grind selection knob is located externally which is a big plus because you won’t need to take the grinder apart everytime you want to adjust the setting. The biggest selling point of this grinder though, is its small size which makes it really easy and convenient to hold, pack, carry and clean.
Best suited for
This grinder is ideal for travelling, hiking, camping or other outdoor activities because of its slim cylindrical design and stainless steel body which makes it easy to pack and less likely to break even when bumped around. You can also get it for regular everyday use as long as you don’t plan on making more than 1-2 cups of coffee at a time.
3. Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill “Skerton”
The Japanese-made Hario Skerton has been around for several years but it still one of the most recognizable hand grinders today. What stood out for me about this grinder was the large 100g hopper that allows you to grind for up to 9 cups, very precise ceramic grinding burrs and its anti-slip rubber base. I also liked the fact that it is shorter in stature than the Handground, lightweight and easy to clean.
One major disadvantage about this grinder is that it is fairly complicated to change the grind setting. To do this you need to disassemble the top portion of the grinder and remove the nut, crank, and locking bracket in order to reach the grind adjustment ring. Once you get the hang of it though, you will be impressed by the incredible range of grind settings and grinding precision that the Skerton has.
Best suited for
Its large capacity hopper makes it suitable for grinding coffee for several people at home. You can also take it along with you while travelling, as long as care is taken not to break the glass. If you want a low cost grinder without sacrificing coffee quality, give this grinder some serious thought.
4. Porlex Mini Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder
This small portable hand coffee grinder shares a similar cylindrical stainless steel design to the Javapress Grinder, but is a much higher quality product from a more established company. It has a rubber clasp around the middle to provide a better and firmer grip and the grinding handle is more reliably built so that it doesn’t slip or detach while you grind. This grinder has high quality Porlex burrs that are laser etched to help distinguish it from lookalikes on the market. The hopper can hold enough beans to grind coffee for two cups.
The Porlex Mini has a total 13 grind options, selected by means of a grind adjustment knob located inside the unit. The sharp burrs cope well with everything you throw at it, enabling you to grind for every coffee type. Once you get it dialed in, the grind consistency is incredible. All in all, this little grinder is amazing and I have to admit I didn’t expect I would like it so much.
Best suited for
The Mini is regarded by many as the perfect travel/outdoor grinder for several reasons including its small size, durability and great coffee. If you need an easy to use, well-constructed coffee mill in your kitchen that grinds for a single mug, you will love this little gem.
5. Zassenhaus Santiago Coffee Mill Grinder
Expertly crafted by a German company founded in the 19th century, the Zassenhaus Santiago is a beautiful wooden grinder that is perfect for coffee lovers who not only love tasty coffee, but also appreciate the authentic and nostalgic experience that comes with vintage-style grinders. It is made from solid beech wood which makes it strong and durable, and adorned with a stunning mahogany finish. The design incorporates a wooden drawer underneath to catch the coffee ground.
The Santiago uses high quality carbon steel burrs, to crush your coffee beans and produce your desired grind size. The grinding mechanism is so good that it has an astounding 25 year guarantee from the makers.
Best suited for
This grinder is perfect for coffee lovers who are looking for beautiful design and quality workmanship. It does a pretty good job grinding coffee and would make a great gift.
Choosing a Great Manual Grinder – Buying Guide
How a Manual Coffee Grinder Works
As the name implies, manual grinders are operated by hand, as opposed to electric grinders which rely on electricity. Manual grinders utilize abrasive surfaces, called burrs, to crush the coffee beans into a uniform size. By continuously turning the swivel arm, you provide the power required to rotate the burrs and grind up the beans.
Burrs are made using either steel or ceramic material, but ceramic burrs are more preferable because they grind much finer and are more durable. Coarse grinds require less time and effort on a manual grinder but if you want fine grinds will be spinning away for a while.
Factors to Consider Before Buying a Hand Grinder
The 3 main considerations that you should examine before you purchase a manual grinder include:
Because it requires both effort and time to grind coffee manually, I generally would not advise you to get a hand-crank grinder if you need to make several cups of coffee. If however, you insist on using manual grinder, check that it has a reasonable capacity to supply your coffee needs. If you want to travel or go camping with your grinder, it might be best to get a small to medium size grinder which can be conveniently packed in a bag and carried around.
Lightweight stainless steel grinders are the most suitable for travelling because they are durable and versatile enough to withstand the perils of outdoor use, while hand grinders made using glass or other brittle materials should be used at home. Manual grinders made from high quality materials tend to last longer than those made using cheap materials.
3) Customer Reviews
Always check the comments and feedback left by other users about a particular manual grinder to establish whether it reasonably meets your expectations with regards to grind quality, durability, and ease of use. Just because a grinder looks good on paper doesn’t always mean it will perform well in the real world.
Advantages of Manual over Electric Coffee Grinders
While electric coffee grinders are arguably faster, more convenient and offer better grind quality, there are still several reasons why you should give serious thought to buying a manual grinder instead. Some of these include:
1) Cost Effective
Manual coffee grinders are generally cheaper than electric grinders. Even the fanciest manual grinders cost only a fraction of the cost of high-end electric grinders. For less than $70, you can usually purchase a great quality manual grinder that will last for several years. If you want reasonably high quality coffee brews on a budget, manual grinders are the only practical choice.
Because most manual coffee grinders are small in size and lightweight, they can be easily packed and transported, allowing you to enjoy fresh coffee away from home. In addition, the fact that they don’t require electricity comes in handy for lovers of outdoor adventures like camping and hiking.
Electric coffee grinders, especially the cheaper models are notorious for producing a lot of noise during operation which make them unbearable to some. Noise can a particularly challenging problem if you need to grind coffee early in the morning without waking up everyone else in the house or flat. Manual grinders are quiet, so you are virtually guaranteed to be able to grind coffee at ease, without running the risk of creating a noise disturbance.
Many coffee aficionados report having a deeper feeling of satisfaction with the coffee making process when it is done manually. For others, using a vintage manual grinder is a source of joyful nostalgia.
Manual grinders tend to last longer than their electric counterparts, mainly due to their simplistic nature. They don’t have electrical components, like motors and as such they do not spoil easily. In case they develop a fault, it is usually easy to troubleshoot and fix them. It is not unheard of for a manual grinder to last 50 or more years.
Disadvantages of using a Manual Coffee Grinder
Even the best manual coffee grinders have some drawbacks that I thought you should be aware of before deciding whether to purchase one. These include:
1) Lower Grind Quality
Electric burr grinders are superior to Manual Grinders when it comes to the quality of the ground coffee. One reason for this is that manual grinders take a longer time to grind, allowing flavors and aromas from the freshly ground beans to be lost. Another common complaint is that manual grinders lack grind consistency, which means that it is difficult to achieve the same taste in every cup of coffee.
Some manual coffee grinders perform poorly at certain grind settings, for example a grinder may be very good at making fine grounds for Espresso but cannot produce grinds coarse enough for your French Press.
2) Time consuming
Manual grinders take longer to grind coffee than the average electric grinder. This is especially true for fine grinds, which could take several minutes depending on the volume of beans and your turning speed. If you’re always in a rush to get to work in the morning, the extra time needed to grind your coffee beans manually might be a deal breaker.
3) More effort
Needless to say, manual coffee grinders require you put in considerable effort and energy in the grinding process, especially if you want fine grinds. Electric coffee grinders, on the other hand simply require the push of a button.
4) Less Volume of Coffee
Manual coffee grinders are not the best choice if you want to grind for many cups of coffee, because this would take up too much of your time and effort. Manual grinders should typically be used to grind for a maximum of 3-4 people.
Why shouldn’t I simply use pre-ground coffee?
Coffee tends to lose its delicious flavor fairly quickly after being ground. For this reason, freshly ground coffee makes a much better tasting cup of coffee than pre-ground coffee.
What are the benefits of hand grinding coffee?
Using manual coffee grinders comes with several benefits including portability, cost savings, less noise production and a more satisfying grinding experience.
How long does it take to grind coffee using a manual coffee grinder?
Depending on the fineness of coffee you want to achieve, grinding using a manual grinder can take anywhere between 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Can manual coffee grinders grind for espresso?
Yes. Most manual grinders are capable of grinding coffee fine enough for Espresso, although it will generally require more time and effort.
How long will the burrs last?
Grinder burrs can usually withstand 5 years of daily grinding before becoming dull and ineffective.
How do I know if my grinder’s burrs are worn out?
A classic symptom that the burrs in your manual coffee grinder are dull and need replacement is when the grinder is unable to produce coarse grinds. Having noticeably poor uniformity of your grinds over time could also mean that the burrs are worn out and need to be changed.
How do I clean my Manual Grinder?
Oils and other residues from previous grinds tend to accumulate inside the grinder which could negatively affect the flavor of coffee produced. For this reason, it is necessary that you clean your grinder every so often and especially when you switch roasts. Follow the specific instructions for cleaning your manual grinder contained in the instruction manual.
Can I grind anything else besides coffee using a manual grinder?
While it is possible to use your manual coffee grinder to grind pepper, spices and nuts, I would highly advise against doing this because the taste of your coffee could be compromised. Cleaning your manual grinder thoroughly could mitigate this, but I feel that this is an unnecessary hassle.
Can I grind coffee manually if I have weak hands?
Though it may seem like a daunting task to some people, hand grinding coffee is not difficult and can be done with minimal effort. Plus most manual coffee grinders are ergonomically designed with long arms and good handles, making the work even easier.
There’s no reason why you can’t make great coffee at home or wherever you are, for a low affordable cost without compromising on quality, with the help of a hand grinder.
My top pick for the best manual coffee grinder was the Handground Precision Grinder because I felt that it had most of the features a good hand grinder should have, including consistent grind quality, ergonomic and stylish design and durability. However, it boils down to your personal taste and requirements so always consider your options carefully.