Coffee grinders put to the test

Hand mill: Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton.
Hand mill: Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton. Photo: Supplied

We can't all be baristas. But you can make good coffee at home; you just need a grinder. But what kind of grinder? That depends on what sort of coffee-brewing equipment you're using.

We decided that grinding coffee to make decent espresso on a mid-range home machine was a good benchmark. We aimed to extract 30ml in 30 seconds as a home barista's rule of thumb. We tried hand mills, blade grinders, conical burr and flat burr grinders to get  a sense of what's out there. This is what we found.

Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton, $65, 

Compact and affordable: Bodum Bistro blade grinder.
Compact and affordable: Bodum Bistro blade grinder. Photo: Supplied

The Hario has ceramic conical burrs and a nice glass and steel build. It grinds efficiently for a hand mill, though you have to remove the handle to adjust the grind. These are made for filter brewing of the artisan variety (think pourover), but you can grind for espresso: we got a 28ml pour in 30 seconds that tasted like a bought one.

For hand-made coffee people.

Bodum Bistro blade grinder, $43.95

Lightweight: Bodum Bistro electric grinder.
Lightweight: Bodum Bistro electric grinder. Photo: Supplied

Blade grinders chop rather than grind the beans: not good, according to the experts. We tried to get an espresso grind, with ordinary results: after chopping the beans to what looked right, we extracted 85ml of coffee in 30 seconds. It works for stovetop and filter brewing, though serious coffee people pooh-pooh the uneven particle size the blade grinders produce.

For plunger fans.

Bodum Bistro, $145


A low-end conical burr grinder with a lightweight plastic build, though the rubberised styling is pretty. It has an espresso setting, but the grind wasn't fine enough for our machine: we poured 155ml of espresso in 30 seconds, and it didn't taste good. The espresso setting works with a stovetop, while the coarse setting is made for a plunger, and this would be fine for other filter methods.

For quick and easy plunger brewers.

Breville Smart Grinder, $299

Easy to use: Breville Smart Grinder.
Easy to use: Breville Smart Grinder. Photo: Supplied

The Breville's LED display and buttons for cup and grind time make it easy to use – set the grind to espresso with the dial, choose how many shots, slide the portafilter into the cradle, and away it goes. We were extracting tasty espressos after a couple of adjustments, pouring about 30ml in 30 seconds. When you set for different brew styles – percolator, filter, plunger – the Smart Grinder adjusts the grind time depending on the number of cups you select. Removing and cleaning the burrs is easy.

For all-round easy home coffee brewing.

Sunbeam Precision Conical Burr Grinder, $319

Versatile: Sunbeam Precision Conical Burr Grinder.
Versatile: Sunbeam Precision Conical Burr Grinder. Photo: Supplied

The Sunbeam lacks the electronic interface of the Breville – it's a question of beans in top, grounds out the bottom, so you need to weigh to get your dose right. With a bit of experimenting we were soon extracting just over 30ml in 30 seconds. You adjust the grind by turning a stepped collar; there's plenty of room for espresso (and finer) and for coarse grinds for filter brews up to plunger. Getting the grind cassette off to clean the burrs isn't as simple as the manual makes it look. Solid build and smooth, simple operation.

For versatile home brewing.

K3 Push, $495,

High-end option: Baratza Forte.
High-end option: Baratza Forte. Photo: Supplied

Of the grinders we tested, this is the most like a commercial machine, with a powder-coated finish, smooth styling, and cafe-style operation. This flat-burr machine has stepless grind adjustment, and we struggled to find the sweet spot – small moves seemed to produce a big difference in espresso pour. Once you get the grind right, you can set the dose with a knob on the front. Then operation is as simple as tapping a portafilter against the grind lever and letting it run: one tap for one shot, two taps for two.

For baristas who want to make coffee at home.

Baratza Forte, $990,

This high-end grinder features micro and macro grind settings – one lever with positions A to Z, the other 1 to 10. The trick is to get the number-letter combination right. The espresso sweet spot is somewhere around 1Q. Operation is by touch screen, with options to dose by time (with the portafilter cassette inserted) or weight using the built-in scales. If you're paying a grand you'll want the degree of control 200-odd grind settings offers. Comes with steel and ceramic burr sets for espresso and filter grinding, and a very robust build.

For serious home coffee labs.