Which is Best: Manual Burr or Electric Coffee Grinders?

Which is Best: Manual Burr or Electric Coffee Grinders?

One super common question we run into all the time has to do with customers trying to decide between an electric burr coffee grinder or a manual burr model. Although this seems simple enough it is actually a bit complex especially when most customers have competing goals.

Competing, you say?

Yes, when you are in the market for a coffee grinder of any kind you can easily make the assumption that the customer is looking to buy whole bean coffee typically for freshness sake and for the purpose of making better tasting coffee at home.

Considering this it would make sense that the same person would want to make the best coffee possible at home and this would mean spending a fortune on a top of the line burr grinder that could run anywhere for $250 to $500… or even more for the people with more money than they know what to do with!

For mere mortals however the competing goals become buying the grinder than will help them make the best coffee possible vs the grinder than isn’t going to bankrupt them.

In the lower end grinder market where the vast majority of customers reside the typical electric grinder sells for anywhere from $50 to $150 and the difference in quality from a $50 unit and a $150 unit is quite large. The more expensive models give a more consistent grind size and shape which will lead to a better flavored cup of coffee and they tend to be a little more quiet when running.

Other features can be easier to execute too – changing grind size for instance is a lot easier on many grinders priced above $50 and you tend to see grinders that are easier to maintain and clean as the price goes up.

As a parent of small kids I can say whole-heartedly that the main reason I don’t like electric burr grinders has nothing to do with the coffee grind at all – it has everything to do with the noise!

I never want to wake my kids before they need to get up and the sound of an electric bean grinder can be extremely loud in a quiet house at the crack of dawn.

When customers are faced with the decision on what grinder to get we here at 1710Coffee almost always advise budget sensitive consumers to go for manual burr grinders such as those sold by Hario and Porlex which can sell for less than $50. They can actually grind coffee better than most budget model electric grinders and in many cases the grind is better than some grinders priced upwards of $150 to $200!

The catch – manual grinders require elbow grease to work. You actually have to turn the crank to get the job done. You also have to manually change the distance between the burrs when you want to go back and form making espresso, drip, and French press coffee.

In my kitchen my Hario Skerton must be cranked 200 times to make a fine grit moka pot grind compared to only 40-50 times for a coarse grit French press grind. It’s a bit of an effort first thing in the morning and it definitely slows down the process.

Is it worth it though? I think it is. The quality of the coffee grind produced by may Hario Skerton is fantastic and on par with much more expensive electric units. Of course if I am even considering anything priced over $200 then the electric models might be better especially when taking ease of use into consideration.

Ironically the manual grinders have typically been much better at making espresso grind than coarse grind but this can mean 4-6 times the effort. In recent years though upgrade kits have become available for the Hario models which have improved their ability to make uniform coarse coffee grind so we cannot even hesitate is recommending our customers buy manual (with upgrade kit) when they expect to be making a lot of drip and french press coffee in the kitchen.

Which is better?

Electric burr models which are priced in excess of $200 tend to be better than the best manual grinders. There are some exceptions to this rule of thumb but when you look at the average consumer and the average budget the manuals tend to be best for your money spent… you know, unless you just can’t stand spending two minutes cranking a wheel every morning for good coffee.

If you are looking to spend more than a couple hundred bucks then we recommend the following grinders which are designed for home use. The Breville BDC650BSS or the OXO On Conical Burr Coffee Grinder.

If you just can’t be bothered cranking a wheel for two minutes every morning then this electric model is a good middle ground option balancing both budget and performance.

For those just looking for the best grinder for the lowest cost then definitely look to the Hario Skerton which is usually priced between $40 and $60 depending on where you shop and what time of year you are looking.