A phrase that people who know a thing or two about coffee like to throw around is this:
“The grinder is more important than the coffee maker.”
And while it sounds a little bit extreme, it’s undoubtedly true.
Unfortunately, the best burr coffee grinders tend to be prohibitively expensive.
Luckily, manual coffee grinders offer stellar performance at a far lower price point than the typical electric counterparts.
If you want to get the maximum bang for your coffee-allocated buck, going for a hand grinder is a surefire way to do it.
I have been using manual grinders for several years, and either owned or tried most of the top models available today. Below you see my current top pick among them all.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A SERIOUS HAND GRINDER?
Manual grinders are more simple to buy than normal burr coffee grinders. Why is that?
Well, there are just fewer types, technologies, and use-cases, which means there are fewer things to consider altogether.
However, there are 3 main considerations:
- Travel: Go for something smaller and more portable, if you want to bring the grinder on trips.
- Espresso or filter? Most grinders excel at one thing only, but a few work well for both styles of coffee.
- Budget: Today, hand grinders are available at all price levels. I’d suggest setting a budget with a bit of leg room.Remember; you get what you pay for. And with hand grinders it can be especially annoying to realize that you should have gone for something better, since you’ll be spending a lot of time grinding in that cranky, pre-caffeinated state.
Of course there are also a various features that you should consider.
Don’t listen to the manufacturers and their marketing BS. Let me break down the features for you here, so you know what to go for in a grinder.
- Ceramic or steel burrs? The burrs are on of the most important aspects of a grinder. All hand grinders have conical burrs. They come in either ceramic or steel. Steel is a LOT sharper (and better). It’s bother faster and more consistent than ceramic. If you have the budget, I definitely recommend a grinder with steel burrs even though they tend to be more expensive.
- Handle length: The handle can make or break a hand grinder. If it’s too short, you have to spend a lot more energy grinding the same amount of beans. See the picture below for some different types.
- Bearings? The premium models usually have bearings, which makes grinding a lot smoother and easier. If you choose a model without bearings, you’ll have to expend a lot of unnecessary energy.
- Size & Portability? If you want to bring your grinder on a trip, size is important to consider. Also, if you have smaller hands, you don’t want something that’s difficult to hold.
- Grind adjustment: This is an important one. Choose a grinder, where you can easily switch back and forth between different settings from French press, filter, and Aeropress. The step-less models can be a pain.
HOW LONG DOES A MANUAL COFFEE GRINDER TAKE?
In general, manual coffee grinders take around one minute to grind enough for a big cup. It does take some effort to grind by hand — I’m not going to sugarcoat it.
However, flagship models such as the 1Zpresso Jx can grind rather fast. Typically, you’ll be able to grind for 2-3 cups in less than 45 seconds. The cheaper entry-level models with ceramic burrs are a lot slower; it will typically take 2-3 minutes to grind 3 scoops of coffee.
Keep in mind: The finer you grind, the more times you’ll have to turn the crank. For that reason alone I suggest people who want a grinder for espresso to opt for an electric one.
1: 1ZPRESSO JX, 48 MM STEEL BURR GRINDER
1Zpresso has a lot of momentum in the coffee world at this moment. It’s a rather new company, but it has quickly gained a reputation as being one of the best’ bang for buck‘ brands when it comes to non-automatic coffee grinders.
I know the company by chance, as I bumped into their booth at the annual Coffee Expo in Taiwan two years ago.
I was instantly mesmerized by how fast and well-crafted their entire line-up of grinders is. The founder of the company, whom I talked to briefly, is Taiwanese, but the production is based in China. Back then, they hadn’t entered the Western market, but now it has finally happened.
The English of 1Zpresso’s sales material isn’t quite up to Oxford standards but don’t let that fool you. It’s not a brand you should underestimate.
Jx is my favorite hand grinder
I have tried several of the company’s models, also the more expensive ones from the “E” and “K”-range.
However, it’s the mid-ranger called ‘Jx‘ I’d recommend to most people. At its current price point, it’s a steal. It easily beats rival grinders that cost 2-4 times more!
The consistency of the grinder is impressive. You can use it for everything from Turkish coffee and espresso to pour over and French press.
Because the grinder has big and aggressive 48 mm steel burrs, it’s also an incredibly speedy grinder. It’s a lot faster than any of the other models in this article. You should be able to grind 25 grams of coffee in around 35 seconds.
The only drawback to the grinder is that it’s on the larger side, so if you’re traveling a lot and portability is important to you, you should probably consider its smaller sibling; the 1Zpresso Mini Q, which I’ll review below.
Also, if your hands are on the smaller side, it might be easier to use the Mini Q as it requires less grip strength.
Over the last couple of months, I have received several emails and comments on Instagram from readers who have purchased the Jx after reading my review, and they all agree that it’s an epic hand grinder.
1Zpresso Jx looks terrific, and it grinds swift and consistently. It’s my top pick among all hand grinders (and will probably remain so for many years.)
(Bonus-info: If you want to use the grinder for espresso, you should opt for the Pro-model, since it has more granular adjustment).
2: 1ZPRESSO MINI Q TRAVEL BURR GRINDER
This is the smallest model from 1Zpresso. It’s an ideal companion for the frequent traveller, since it fits inside an Aeropress.
Even though the grinder is tiny it still does a great allround-job, and could be used as an everyday workhorse. (However, I’d recommend most people to get the Jx-model from 1Zpresso instead, since it’s faster and more consistent).
Like the other models from the brand, The Mini Q has an aluminum unibody with no room for misalignment while the shaft and burrs are made of stainless steel.
The grinding action is helped by two super smooth bearings. In practice this makes grinding incredibly fast – at least double the speed compared to the no-bearing ceramic burr grinders in this article. In fact, it’s even on par with the much more bulky Lido 3 speedwise.
The burr set is made from sharp stainless steel, and it goes through medium roasted beans like a knife through butter. This grinder is suitable for manual brewing but the company doesn’t recommend it for espresso (they have a few bigger models such as the E Pro and the Jx that are more suitable for that).
There’s a bunch of nifty features on the Mini Q. For instance, the wooden handle-knob is magnetic, so it can be taken off for more comfortable transportation.
The adjustment is more simple than many of its competitors due to using a numbered adjustment.
The main argument for getting the grinder though is that the combination of build quality, size, consistency, usability AND price is just phenomenal.
If portability and quality are your top priorities then go for the Mini Q. It’s built to last, compact, and capable of grinding very well. The only slight drawback is that the capacity of the hopper is maximum at 24 grams of light roasted beans. If that’s no concern, then I highly recommend this grinder.
3: PORLEX MINI PORTABLE HAND GRINDER
The Porlex Mini has long been one of the most popular travel sized grinders. The Mini is indeed minuscule. But it still manages to produce great coffee.
If your primary use case for a manual grinder is traveling, then look no further. Porlex Mini is one of the smallest grinders out there and even fits inside an Aeropress – a powerful combination when on the road.
The device is made of stainless steel. Meaning: It’s virtually indestructible!
The Porlex has a small set of ceramic burrs that produce a pretty consistent grind at the medium-fine setting and then becomes less and less uniform as it gets coarser. That means that it’s great for pour over or Aeropress, but less so for French press. It does grind fine enough for espresso but expect it to take 2-3 minutes for a dose of 15 grams.
A few years ago a common complaint about the Porlex Mini was that the handle was made of a softer metal than the body. With extensive use that resulted in a loose fit.
Luckily the company has listened to the disgruntled customers and made a new and improved handle that will continue to fit snugly on the grinder.
This grinder is pretty much the perfect travel companion. You could even use it for your everyday coffee mill at home if you only brew one or two cups at a time. The only drawback is that it’s small and as such takes longer to grind than, for example, the Lido 3 or the 1Zgrinder E-Pro.
This grinder is great value for money – especially if you are looking for a travel companion. The Porlex Mini is a classic for a good reason!
4: ORPHAN ESPRESSO LIDO 3 SWISS BURR GRINDER
The Lido 3 manual grinder has been popular in the specialty coffee community for a while now. It’s made by the tiny company Orphan Espresso, which mainly produce various hand grinders as well as espresso accessories.
The Lido 3 is a big and bulky grinder. Pictures don’t do it justice. In hand, you can feel how heavy and well-crafted it model is. The irony is that it’s marketed as a travel grinder due to being lighter than its predecessor, the Lido 2. But weighing in a 2 lbs or just above 1 kilo, you’d have to be a hardcore coffee geek to bring it on a trip.
The Lido 3 sports Swiss made 48 mm conical steel burrs and has an enormous capacity compared to its rivals.
It grinds fast enough but in fact, other high-end grinders such as those from 1Zgrinder beats it comfortably when it comes to speed. The is probably due to the Lido’s shorter handle, and less smooth bearings.
The Lido 3 has many fans in cyberspace singing its praises – only a few people ever say anything negative about this grinder. However, I have had this grinder for more than a year and have come to notice some severe flaws.
- The grind adjustment is awkward with the so-called ‘locking ring.’ It’s just too complicated and cumbersome to change grind setting compared to what other brands offer today.
- The antistatic plastic of the grounds bin is made out of a very soft kind of plastic. Within a year the screw thread had gotten so loose that the jar would no longer fit.
- It can’t grind fine enough for espresso (I know some people disagree but I have never managed to find a propers setting due to burr rub)
- Grinders half the size are still faster and more consistent.
The Lido 3 is certainly a capable grinder, and its rugged and industrial look makes it stand out from the typical cute hand grinders. But it is not really the engineering masterpiece that it’s been cracked up to be. There are quite a few competitors at the same price point; I’d pick over this.
5: HARIO SKERTON PRO CERAMIC BURR HAND MILL
Hario Skerton is one of the most iconic hand grinders. This is the new and improved “pro” version of the classic model.
In many ways, Hario is synonymous with the third wave movement. The Japanese brand just oozes ‘slow coffee.’
I wasn’t a big fan of the old version of the Skerton. The new version, which was released in 2017, however, has upped its game significantly.
The revamped Skerton with the ‘pro’ moniker, sports a completely new burr design. These burrs have less wobble than the old ones due to improved construction, and as a bonus it’s way easier to adjust the grind now.
Being able to tweak the grind setting easily is really an essential factor when it comes to the user experience. The setting is based on ‘clicks’ now. That makes it easy to reproduce a particular grind. The old Skerton used a step-less system, which made it a pain to go back and find a previous setting.
Another nice feature on the upgraded “Pro” is the new handle. Before the handle was somewhat flimsy and a little on the short side. The new handle gives you a nice solid feeling when grinding and uses the force better. Simple laws of physics right there.
The Skerton Pro has the general Hario aesthetics, which means understated, beautiful and soft. It’s hard not to be enamored with this grinder.
Despite all the substantial upgrades the price still places the Skerton firmly within the budget spectrum of things.
A little drawback is that the ground receptacle is made out of glass. It does have some protection from the silicone on the bottom, but it’s still more fragile than plastic or steel. The grinder is also a bit more bulky than some of its competitors, so it’s not the best one for travel.
The Hario Skerton Pro delivers a lot of bang for the buck. Most beginners and casual coffee drinkers would love this device. The true coffee geek or frequent traveler might be better suited with other options offering more in terms of either speed consistency, or portability.
6: HANDGROUND PRECISION GRINDER
The Handground is one of those Kickstarter success stories. The project began on the crowdfunding site back in 2015 and was very successful in getting funding. A lot of manual grinder enthusiasts backed this one in the hopes of getting a new top model.
I tried it briefly when it was first launched and was only moderately skeptical. Now a few years later, I have had the opportunity to test it in-depth, and I can say that it simply doesn’t stack up against the competition.
The Handground is quite unusual in the sense that the handle turns vertically and not horizontally. The aim is to make it more ergonomic to operate.
While this is a good idea, in theory, it doesn’t work well in daily use. The handle is on the shorter side, and the weight and shape of the grinder make it challenging to hold it steady on the counter.
Personally, I prefer the feeling of being able to hold the grinder, instead of having to steady it on a table, but this is also difficult due to it being rather broad.
The Handground has 40 mm burrs. In theory, that should make it a faster grinder than the Porlex and the Hario models with their 28 mm ceramic burrs, but in reality, they are about the same speed. The Handground is not a fast manual grinder. The dull burrs especially have problems when it comes to lighter roasts.
Due to the unusual design with a gearbox and a side-mounted handle, you also have more weak points that could potentially break. The build quality doesn’t feel particularly robust in hand, so this is something that would worry me.
The Handground is based on an intriguing idea, but too many flaws and a high price point makes it hard to recommend. If you’re keen on the concept of ‘forward-motion’ grinding, then the Rok grinder below is a better option.
7: ROK HAND CRANK COFFEE GRINDER, STATIONARY
The Rok coffee grinder looks pretty awesome. The manual espresso maker from the same company is a great gadget, so it’s easy to assume that its grinding sibling is equally impressive. That’s not the case, unfortunately.
The Rok is entirely different from the other hand grounds out there. It’s not handheld. It’s a colossal device meant to be placed on a counter. It looks impressive and would stand out in a good way in most home baristas’ setup.
Also when grinding you don’t rotate clockwise horizontally, but vertically.
Things to improve
I love to see new concepts out there. But I think there are a few things that need to be addressed before the Rok Coffee Grinder can be a top competitor.
For the price, it’s reasonable to expect a top product. But the burrs aren’t really high end and do produce a lot of fines. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m also not really a fan of this kind of forward-motion grinding. But then again, perhaps it’s just because I’m more used to the traditional hand grinding.
Also, the grinder is top heavy. That means that you need to use one hand to hold it steady. The whole idea of the Rok grinder is to make it easier to hand grind, but to me, it’s just ‘a new kind’ of difficult.
The Rok Hand Grinder has some killer looks, and it’s a fascinating device. It’s more than capable of grinding, but at the price point, you can find better grinders that are also portable.
8: HARIO MINI SLIM MANUAL GRINDER
I have used the Hario Mini-Slim extensively over the last couple of years, and yet again it’s another great budget option. This is the slightly modified 2017 version, which comes with a better handle and a cool and mysterious, dark-transparent color.
Good for travel
The Hario Mini-Slim has a lot in common with the Porlex Mini. They both have very similar ceramic burrs, and both are small and lightweight.
The Porlex Mini is just that bit smaller though. If traveling is the main reason for buying a grinder, I would say that it has an edge. The Hario Slim is still very lightweight though, and at 8.7 oz it’s hardly anything you’d notice in a rucksack.
The Hario Mini-Slim is made of a very durable plastic material. I would go as far as to say that it’s more or less impossible to destroy with regular use.
The ceramic burrs do a pretty good job around a medium grind size. There is a little bit of wobble, but the burrs can easily be ‘modded,’ so they become more stable. The adjustment is based on ‘clicks’ – a huge plus.
The burr set is still quite small though, so you’d have to do a lot of work. Also, I’d wish that the handle was just a tiny bit longer. That would make it so much easier to grind.
The Hario Mini-Slim does have its shortcomings, but for the insanely low price point, you can’t expect it to be the best grinder in the world. That being said it’s probably the best ‘bang for buck’ grinder in the world.
9: ZASSENHAUS SANTIAGO COFFEE MILL, MAHOGANY
What would a review of manual coffee grinders be without at least a mention of one of the ancient German classics?
This kind of grinder has stood the test of time so to speak. Zassenhaus has been making grinders for more than 100 years, so I guess they have learned a thing or two.
This model is one of the most iconic ones out there. When you say “coffee mill” there’s a good chance that older people would think of this specific model.
The Zassenhaus Santiago is made out of quality materials, and it comes with a 25 years guarantee. That’s pretty insane when you think about it.
This kind of grinder appeals to the same people who love vintage watches and cars. Sure, there are more modern and efficient designs out there, but this one gets the job done.
For travel, it’s not that practical due to its bulky design. But you already know that.
Users claim that the grind is great for stuff like pour over and Aeropress; on some occasions even espresso. And on Amazon, the ratings are consistently high.
I have to admit that I’m personally not that crazy about this kind of grandpa grinder. That being said Zassenhaus seems to have a lot of fans out there, and if you like the look and the tactile feedback of this wooden grinder, why not give it a go? With a 25 years warranty, it’s hard to go wrong.