There I was, completely ready to take the plunge and buy myself a coffee grinder.
I’d learned how to weigh out the coffee and the water, I’d been practicing the timings with my French press, and I was using coffee from a local roaster that they would grind and send out.
The next step…
Buying a coffee grinder.
So I started researching, as I’m sure you are now, and the consensus is that if you’re serious you should buy a burr grinder, and if you can’t afford the Baratza Encore you should buy a manual burr grinder.
And so muggins over here did just that, after researching and finding that my local roaster sold the Hario Skerton Plus Ceramic Coffee Mill (Amazon link if you’re curious what it looks like), I bought one.
Few purchases have left me more disappointed than I was after trying to grind my coffee as soon as it arrived.
No instructions about how to set the grind size, no indication or clear way to reset the grind size after you’ve used it. I started too coarse and would have quarters of the coffee bean slipping through!
Then I started looking up some advice on how to use it and all I found was grind a little coffee then look at the grounds and adjust accordingly, which is a pretty big problem if you’ve never ground coffee before.
What’s Wrong With A Hand Grinder
Perhaps I’m lacking this skill and everyone else in fact has this knowledge. But I personally could not look at some ground coffee and tell you whether it looks like ground pepper, sand, or coarse sand…
As I would try out the hand grinder all that would happen when I looked inside was I’d know for a fact that it was some coffee grounds. If I then went finer I could see it was finer but I had no reference for what the fineness meant relative to the coffee I wanted to make.
So why are these the recommendations to beginner coffee enthusiasts?
Because until you’ve ground a lot of coffee, you don’t know how ground coffee should look, and you can certainly get there with a hand grinder but it is going to take a lot of time, commitment, and wasted coffee before you get anywhere close to the flavor you expect from grinding your own coffee.
Not to mention a sore arm from endlessly grinding the thing.
And if you’re looking to get a hand grinder for your first foray into grinding your own coffee beans, you’re probably doing it to save some money. You might also travel and want to take it with you, in which case there is good reason to have one, but you should have one as well as an electric grinder, not instead of one.
Plus if you’re going sub $100 for a hand grinder, it’s going to be medium in quality and will require itself to be set manually.
Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with setting it manually, that’s the whole point for some people, it’s trying to get the consistency after you’ve taken it apart and want to reset it at the same position.
This is of course a budget hand grinder problem, once you’ve started going over $100 you get some exceptional hand grinders that can make wonderful coffee and have taken care of these annoyances.
But if you’re going over $100 then you’re better off getting a quality electric one. The Baratza encore (Amazon link), which I bought just two weeks after experimenting with my manual grinder, can grind circles around most hand grinders, and allows you to clearly adjust the grind setting so you can learn and see for yourself what the different grind settings look like.
And this is all without mentioning that standing there half-asleep in the morning desperate to have some caffeine slowly grinding coffee grinds for the next several minutes is not a hugely enjoyable experience.
Then What’s The Point In A Hand Grinder?
It’s true that if you travel, or you enjoy camping or hiking and want to be able to have truly fresh coffee then a hand grinder is exactly what you need.
But it should be used as an accessory, rather than your core grinding method. Because without the right knowledge the learning curve is steep and frustrating when ultimately you just want a damn cup of coffee that tastes good.
However, once you know, and get some experience grinding your own coffee then it can be an important tool in your arsenal, and there is something serene about the noise from a hand grinder on a quiet morning.
Don’t fall into the trap as I did, your hand grinder will sit there gathering dust and you’ll either go back to buying pre-ground coffee or you’re going to get yourself an electric grinder, trust me.
So What Should You Do Instead?
If you can’t afford the Baratza, or any other supposedly “entry-level” grinder, and I’ve just burst the bubble about getting a hand grinder, what’s left?
Well, I’m going to say something controversial compared to every other coffee expert and blog I’ve read.
You should buy a cheap burr grinder.
Those $50 ones that everyone in the coffee industry seems to shit on. Because they will improve your cup of coffee by grinding fresh compared to using pre-ground beans, and you will be able to use it, learn, adjust, and drink plenty of quality coffee that you notice tastes better.
So much of the coffee information gets lost because it’s professionals with decades of experience that are giving it.
Professionals with a refined coffee palate who use $3000 grinders, and to them I’m sure a $50 grinder will have a lot of problems, but for someone like us who’s only just beginning and wants a halfway good cup of coffee at home, your first cup of coffee properly made with beans you’ve ground yourself is going to taste heavenly.
It’s all about perspective, if you try out better and better equipment your baseline gets lifted, but it’s unfair of bloggers to also raise that expectation before you’ve even started.
So screw em’, don’t get caught up in the hype, if you can afford a Baratza Encore then great, if you can’t don’t buy one, get a different grinder instead. The Co-Author of this site Scott Deans gets on absolutely fine with his Krups GVX2 (review link) that he bought second hand, and he (pause for gasps) even makes espresso with it!
So don’t get caught up in the hype, if there are grinders in your price range then go ahead and buy one. If you want to upgrade it later then you can sell it on or donate it to a Good Will and then get the grinder of your dreams.
Don’t overthink it, just get yourself a grinder and get cracking.