Who this is for
If you consider your morning (or afternoon, or anytime) coffee a serious matter, you've likely already heard that the most important item in your brewing setup is a quality burr grinder. Unevenly ground coffee will brew unevenly, yielding a muddied or overly bitter cup. So a good grinder is integral to keeping the most essential part of your brewing technique—the coffee itself—at its most flavorful, and it will ensure the consistency required to produce, and reproduce, that flavor.
How we picked and tested
A quality burr grinder will cost at least $100, which is one reason so many coffee lovers linger in the purgatory of affordable, substandard blade-grinder land. But a good grinder should justify the price: It will last for years with proper maintenance and be easy to clean. It will grind more consistently than a blade grinder, which is the most important aspect of brewing an even, balanced cup of coffee. It should have high-quality, conical burrs made from a hard material like steel or ceramic, and adjusting the grind settings should be straightforward. We also like to see features for controlling dosage, like a timer or a built-in scale, but we don't think these features are 100 percent necessary.
For this year's tests, we looked at eight electric models. And because someone will always chime in with the question, "Can't I just buy a much more affordable hand-grinder?" we also tested a couple of those.
We brought the grinders to the Counter Culture Coffee lab in Manhattan, where Matt Banbury and Ryan Ludwig helped us grind, brew, and taste one of their staple coffees, the Fast Forward blend. They also helped us measure how well the coffee extracted from the grounds, using professional tools such as a refractometer.
Later, we tested our favorite machines in a home setting, to learn about real-world conditions like footprint, noise, ease of use, and speed. Please see our full guide for details about our testing process.
The slim and trim Baratza Encore is lower priced than most of the competition—currently at about $140 versus about $200 for anything else in its echelon—and it performs as well as or better than any home grinder we tried. Baratza offers a range of similar grinders with different features and prices, but we found the entry-level Encore to be the best grinder with the best features for most people. It grinds beans quickly and evenly, it's simple to use, and adjusting the settings is a breeze. It's also easy enough to clean and maintain that you'll use it for years to come. Baratza has a great reputation for durability and customer service.
Absent the bells and whistles of nearly all the competitors we tested, the Encore boasts only a modest on/off toggle dial on the side and push-down pulse button on the front of the machine. We don't see its simplicity as a real drawback, but the inclusion of a timer would have been nice.
Upgrade pick: Baratza Virtuoso
If you're willing to pay more, the Baratza Virtuoso is a nearly identical grinder to the Encore, but it has a slightly speedier burr set, a timer switch on the side, and a heavier base that helps the grinder stay in calibration. We also think it's a little better-looking than the Encore. In previous years, the Virtuoso was our top pick, but in our recent tests, we found the grind consistency comparable with that of the Encore. So, because you're paying more for the features rather than the performance, we think it's only worth the investment for serious coffee lovers.
Budget pick: Capresso Infinity
If you really don't want to spend more than $100 on a coffee grinder, the Capresso Infinity is a great choice. The Infinity did well in our tests, though it's better at grinding coffee into very fine particles than into coarse ones, and we found the usability a bit arbitrary, with the numbers on its timer switch indicating some duration of time that isn't seconds. But we liked it for consistency—not as good as our top picks, but better than all the rest—and for the ease of cleaning and maintenance. We also thought it felt sturdier and significantly more durable than any other machine in that price range.
For those in the market for a truly portable hand-grinder—or a nice forearm workout—we recommend the Porlex Mini. Compared with the other hand-grinder we tested, the Porlex was easier to hold, with smoother and faster hand-cranking action. It's also made of durable stainless, and fits perfectly inside the chamber of an AeroPress brewer for compact packing. It's great for travelers or people living off-grid, but because the grind speeds feel glacial, don't expect to use it as an affordable alternative to an electric grinder, especially if you want to brew more than one cup of coffee at a time.
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