Freshly ground beans really are the key to great coffee. The single, most effective way to get a better cup is to invest your hard-earned cash into a good grinder. The market is currently awash with coffee grinders of all description, but here we want to look at manually operated coffee machines.
Manual machines have several nice benefits that may make them preferable to an electric machine. They are more portable, don’t need to be positioned next to a mains socket, less likely to break down and they offer a much more tactile experience of making coffee.
Obviously, if you have a ton of beans you need to grind each day or reason why you may physically struggle to grind your own beans then this article is not for you. Instead, you will want to check out our list of best electric grinders.
This article will look at some of the best and most popular hand coffee grinders out there. It will also explain what you should look for in a manual coffee grinder.
Why should I get a hand coffee grinder?
If you normally buy a bag of ground coffee which it takes you a couple of weeks to get through, you are losing so much flavour! Once coffee is ground it reacts with the air via a process known as oxidization which changes some of the compounds that keep coffee tasty.
Coffee beans also contain a lot of CO2 – this escapes from the beans after grinding. When you use freshly ground coffee, contact with water will cause this CO2 to escape from the bean. You will notice that brewing with freshly ground coffee makes the coffee more “bubbly” when it mixes with water. This is the CO2 leaching out of the grinds – as it leaches out it carries extra oils and flavour compounds with it making for a tastier cup!
Finally, a good grinder will let you crush beans to different sizes to suit different brewing methods. Generally, you want a coarser grind setting for the “full immersion” brewing methods such as a cafetiere and a fine powdery grind for an espresso machine. This allows you to tailor your coffee grounds to the method so that you extract the coffee just right each time for a cup that is full-bodied but not bitter.
What should I look for in a good manual coffee grinder?
The key thing to look for in all coffee grinders is that they are capable of producing uniform grounds. The best types of grinders for this are known as “burr” grinders, which gently crush your beans rather than pulverizing them to bits with say a blade as this results in an uneven grain size.
Uneven grains will affect the quality of your brew leaving you with way too many “fines” that will give you a bitter and silty cuppa. The good news is that manual grinders are almost exclusively burr grinders.
It is also worth considering how adjustable the settings of the grinder are to ensure it can create a wide spectrum of grind sizes best suited to everything from cafetiere, pour-over, espresso, and cold brew. It’s also worth considering the operability of machines. Nobody wants to have to expend 10 mins of elbow grease just to get a decent brew!
This unit is one of several offered by leading German hand-mill purveyor’s Zassenhaus. The company has a reputation for quality and has been in business since 1867 This mill is one of the more expensive out there but is made to a high quality.
It is made from varnished beechwood and stainless steel and features conical shaped steel burrs that do a great job of crushing your beans even down to a find espresso-grind. The grinder can be adjusted via a screw on the handle. The screw is responsive to minor tweaks and can give you a good range of different coarseness settings.
You need to play around with it as it does not give you any immediate feedback as to what setting you are on. It looks great but is a hefty 883g so not really designed for travel. Even with its weight, you still need to hold the unit steady as you grind, and it is not the easiest to grip.
Minor gripes aside, the machine does an excellent job creating very even grinds in several different coarseness settings even down to a fine espresso powder. The hopper and grinds tray can hold around 30G of beans and the machine is quick and smooth and will take around one minute to grind around 10g of coffee. Its burrs are of high quality and last forever.
The machine comes with a 25-year warranty, but there are plenty of antique versions of these grinders out there, so this will last longer if well looked after.
4.5/5Check price at Amazon »
This unit from coffee start-up Eparé is priced like a budget unit but offers excellent build quality and the functionality of a much more expensive machine.
The machine is compact and measures 17cm tall, but weighs in at 600g thanks to its stainless steel chassis.
It features as easy to read sliding wheel across the wheel that can quickly and easily set the coarseness to any one of 15 pre-sets that will produce anything from a coarse cafetiere brew to a fine espresso grind.
Consistency is good across all sizes and the machine is good for grinding up to 60g at a time – which is enough to make coffee for eight or nine people.
It is not as fast as some units out there taking three or four mins to get enough for a medium-sized cafetiere.While it boasts 15 settings, that is perhaps a bit ambitious as there was not really a clear difference between some of them and the machine is perhaps less convincing on the finer settings.
Overall it is an excellent machine at the price, and a limited lifetime warranty is offered with each machine.
4/5Check price at Amazon »
This nifty little mill comes from Japanese coffee outfit Hariro and is at the cheaper end of the market.
They make lots of great brewing accessories and work a lot with Glass (Hariro means ‘king of glass’ in Japanese). That’s why we have chosen this model, as we prefer it to the similarly priced but plastic mini-mills they also offer. If you are a fan of plastic you can check that out here.
Glass does make it a bit heavy, but it is durable enough to get thrown in a suitcase or rucksack if you want to use it as a travel coffee-making accessory. It weighs in at 544g, so slightly more than your standard bag of dry pasta from the supermarket.
Aside from its robust build quality the unit has a smooth action, and its ceramic burrs can mill (depending on the setting) around 20g of coffee in a couple of minutes, which is enough to make 3 cups of coffee.
The grind chamber holds 100g of coffee so it has a high workability in terms of volume. It also does a good job of creating uniform size grinds.
There are a couple of drawbacks. You must use trial and error to set the grind size via tightening and loosening a screw. While we love the glass on the base, the upper section has a yukky silicone feel and the whole thing is a difficult size to grip while grinding, especially for people with small hands.
3.5/5Check price at Amazon »
Another machine at the cheaper end of the market here. This unit from Italian coffee outfit Bialetti is made from plastic and silicone and looks great thanks to its elegant design. It does feel a bit plasticky, but weighs in at just 27g so is a great choice for anyone looking for something to take travelling.
It does a good job of grinding the coffee and is quick enough out of the traps to crush two cups worth of beans in the time it takes to boil a full kettle. It can cover a range of sizes and is nice to grip during operation.
As with other units at this price range, setting the grid size is tricky and involves twisting a regulator, so there is no immediate clarity as to what setting you are on. Some users have reported issues with the grinding arm breaking over time.
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La Cafetière has come up with this rustic looking hand mill made in stainless steel.
The all-steel unit grinds coffee into a vacuum-sealed chamber which keeps your grinds fresh, while the funnel-shaped hopper at the top holds your beans and helps funnel them into the crushers.
It is not the quickest unit out there and works best on coarser settings, taking a lot longer on the finer grinds and struggling to make a true espresso powder ground. For all its handsome looks the unit is not that practical for travel as it is a bit of a behemoth, weighing in at 600g.
3/5Check price at Amazon »