Our Top Pick for 2018: Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
Read our full review.
According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, 54% of Americans (that is, over 172 million people) drink at least on cup of coffee on a daily basis. This number alone may seem staggering, until you begin to consider how many two- or three-cup coffee drinkers you know. Perhaps you are one of those who reaches for an extra cup during lunch or a late day at work. If you are, coffee is not just a luxury to you – it is a necessary part of a successful day. In order to help you get the most out of every cup, we’ve reviewed the most celebrated coffee grinders that will help you brew consistent and delicious cups.
#1. Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
What mainly sets the Virtuoso apart as the best on the list is the consistency of its grind. The precisely calibrated conical burrs provide an even grind each time. There are settings to adjust the grind speed. Coffee beans ground in a Virtuoso precise enough to be used in a regular coffee maker (drip machine), cappuccino machine, or a French press. A consistent grind ensures each subsequent cup has the same flavor, kick, and aroma as the first.
The slow-turning burrs of the Virtuoso maintain the grounds at a cool, even temperature. Slow turning helps reduce the static electricity that causes grounds to stick together and get left in the grinder. Coolness is also important for brewing, because the slow heating process of your drip machine is essential for extracting the caffeine, flavor, and aroma. If your grounds for your regular brewer are too fine, your coffee comes out bitter. If your grounds are too course, you lose both flavor and caffeine. The Virtuoso helps prevent this. Once you have your perfect brewing settings, the consistency of this machine allows you to replicate that ideal grind each time you use it.
The Gearbox 2.0 motor keeps an even speed and features a self-regulating thermal kill switch to keep your grinder from overheating. This increases the longevity of your machine by reducing friction and preventing the motor from burning out. The Gearbox 2.0 runs quieter than motors from earlier generation machines, meaning you have a chance to escape the jarring sound found in most low-end grinders. Glass-filled thermoplastic is vital to this design, keeping the machine cool while being tactile and sensitive enough to stop the motor in the event of any obstructions. Baratza claims to have tested this stopping feature by throwing stainless steel screws into the motors (http://www.baratza.com/grinder/virtuoso/).
Grinding increases the surface area with which the water has to work. The finer the grounds, the greater the dissolution of essential oils, caffeine, and other soluble compounds (collectively called “flavoring materials” by experts) into the water. Between a whole coffee bean and the grind necessary for an espresso machine, the latter allows roughly 10,000 times more soluble particles to make their way into your coffee cup! The Virtuoso accomplishes this fine grinding with ease.
One of the best features of this grinder is the number of close, precise adjustments you can make. You have the option of a quick, course grind for your French press, a medium grind for a drip machine, or a fine grind for your espresso maker. 40 separate settings allow a grind of between 250 (at the finest) and 1200 (at the coarsest) microns. The speed range can be set at maximum (500 rpm), or can be adjusted to between 495 rpm and 405 rpm. Settings also allow you to measure in a different way, allowing you to grind at a rate of between 1.5 to 2.4 grams per second. What is more, you can also adjust your Virtuoso for automatic grind times of up to 60 seconds.
You also have the option of using the Virtuoso’s front-loading espresso grounds basket, which fits into most standard espresso machines. This reduces the grinding-to-machine process from three steps to two. It is also less messy, making cleaning and maintenance of the machine far easier, especially when working with the extremely fine espresso grounds. Accessories like this are usually sold separately.
The aesthetics of this machine cannot be questioned. And at 14.5 by 7.5 by 7 inches (and just under 9 pounds in weight), it is something that is going to look good on your counter. The Virtuoso’s design, while not sleek, is uncluttered. Aside from the Virtuoso logo, a single button, and a side dial, you are looking at little more than black and steel. Measuring units right below the bean holder guarantee proper amounts. Aside from that, the machine is compact, with few outward frills. Even at its size, it is designed not to get in your way.
The Virtuoso gives you more control than any of the other grinders on this list. The only drawback is that you may not want that much control in your coffee-making. If you are someone who is looking for simplicity over options, look to some of the other grinders on this list. The lack of labeling on the side dial may prove a bit frustrating at first. However, if you thrive on caffeinated variety, or if you have more than one type of coffee-making appliance in your kitchen, this may just be your perfect coffee grinder. Just remember, there is a bit of a learning curve with this machine.
Testers have assessed this grinder as a true all-purpose appliance. Heavy-duty users will tell you it stands up, even under regular office use (www.coffeecrew.com). Several testers also indicated that, while the lack of numerations on the dials is a little intimidating at first, it is a great machine, once you get used to it. This means people looking for quality who are not necessarily coffee aficionados and have patience, stand to benefit from this versatile, long-lasting appliance. The list price for the Virtuoso is $399, though some websites sell it for around $100 less.
#2. Breville BCG820BSSXL The Smart Grinder Pro
Options combined with ease of use define the Breville. With far more buttons and adjustments than the Virtuoso, plus a digital display panel, you have a better grasp of what you are doing out of the box. The Breville gives you have 60 separate grind settings, assisted by an electronic timer. The digital timer allows you to make .2 second adjustments to your grind time. This is another conical burr grinder, meaning you can generally grind your beans as coarsely or finely as you want with this machine. While there is not as much evidence for consumer or factory testing on the web, many reviewers applaud this machine’s consistency.
Aside from the digital settings, the upper conical burr is adjustable, allowing you to adjust your grind further through trial and error. The upper hopper hold 16 ounces worth of beans. It is lockable, meaning beans can be stored, transported, or moved without worrying about spills.
A magnetic catch ensures your lower hopper (which holds the grounds) does not slip during grinding. The lower half of the machine, including this container, is open to the air. While this makes messes a little more likely (especially if you move the container during grinding), it also makes for easier, safer cleaning. It also allows you switch out containers, whether you want an espresso hopper, plastic or paper filter, or storage container. You can use your own container. Breville does recommend you use their accessories, though, since they are properly sized for this machine. As with the Virtuoso, accessories are usually sold separately.
This particular machine sits on the high end of home variety grinders. It comes in black or brushed stainless steel, fitting in with either homier or high-tech style kitchens. It’s classic shape lets everyone know what it is. Its bright, easy-to-read digital console allows even new users to begin their coffee experimentation the moment it arrives at the door. Be careful, though; digital displays tend to be very susceptible to damage and moisture.
The dimensions of the Breville are 15.2 by 8.5 by 6.2 inches, meaning it takes up slightly more counter space than the Virtuoso. At just under 6.5 pounds, it is substantially lighter. It can be moved easily to the side during heavy cooking. The handle of the alternate grounds container, while convenient, has a tendency to get in the way at times.
What ultimately separates the Breville from the first place Virtuoso are the online reviews. The Breville offers far more options than the Virtuoso, but it does not have the precision. There have been complaints about motor problems. The motor clutches tend to slow the burrs too much or make noise on lowersettings. Some reviewers have brought up serious concerns about the amchine’s longevity (thecoffeeconcierge.net/). Still, they note this is an excellent machine (with the Pro being a significant and cheap step up from the standard model). It possesses a great deal of versatility in the speed of the grind, the array of separate accessories, and the abundance of other easy-to-read settings. The Breville grinder retails at around $350, but some websites offer it for only a little over $200.
#3. KitchenAid BCG211OB Blade Coffee Grinder
KitchenAid has been known for decades for being one of the earliest among cutting-edge appliance manufacturers. While that star has dimmed somewhat over the years, they still provide a highly acceptable level of quality and longevity, especially for the prices they offer. In the Bronze pick, this review switches gears from the conical grinder to the blade grinder.
What are the drawbacks of the blade grinder? Admittedly, there are a few. There is less consistency in the grind. You cannot always get the espresso fineness you want without repeated grindings. However, there are some distinct advantages that are belied by the substantial lower price of this model. Blade grinders often have blades that are open to the air once the top is taken off. This makes them easier to clean, maintenance, sharpen, and replace if necessary. While many of the lowest-end grinders do not offer replacement blades (or even recommend replacing them before the whole grinder gives out), you can certainly do all these things with the KitchenAid model described here.
The next benefit is what sets blade grinders apart from conical grinders. You can easily grind other things (such as spices) with your blade model. You can even do some very low-impact food processing (dry foods only). This versatility is something that you simply cannot get with a conical grinder model, which is meant for coffee beans and only coffee beans. You do have to be careful, however. Without proper cleaning, you may end up with coffee-flavored spice (or spice-flavored coffee). You must also consider the smaller motor, and how additional duties will impact the life of your grinder. Still, it is a versatile machine.
Size is yet another difference that carries both an advantage and a drawback. With the vast majority of blade grinders, you are looking at something much smaller (or at least thinner) than the conical models. At 8.8 by 3.3 by 3.3 inches, the KitchenAid is about half the size of the Virtuoso or Breville. At only 2 pounds, it is far lighter. The dimensions and weight mean it can be easily stored in a corner or inside a cupboard when other jobs need to be done. However, a lighter weight leads to more vibration during operation. This can damage both the machine and your counter top if you are not careful.
At the same time that the KitchenAid is versatile, it is also specific. If you are on a budget but still want quality out of your drip-brewed coffee, this is the appliance you want to go with. You have the 4 ounce bowl on the inside, with measuring increments that are useful when dealing with both beans and grounds. You also have the lid, which is a container unto itself. If you are willing to turn the machine upside down (an easy but admittedly potentially messy undertaking), you can easily transport your grounds in this container. It also allows you to simplify clean up by shaking the last of the grounds out of the blade configuration.
It is also, simply put, an attractive little machine. The stainless steel and black onyx color, along with a simple but sleek design, mean it settles right in with your kitchen milieu while looking modern. While the blade grinder is not for everyone (especially choosy caffeine experts), it is among the top entry-level products among its kind (www.letsgrindsomecoffee.com). One advantage it has over the others is that it comes with two additional, sealing cups for coffee or spice storage.
The KitcehnAid is best when used to brew coffee in increments of 4, 8, 10, and 12 cups. This is because the same bean measurement does not always produce the same amount of grounds (due to dispersal, evaporation, and inconsistency). If you have just one type of coffee-making appliance in your home (preferably a multi-cup brewer), the KitchenAid combines reliability (including a one-year warranty on both machine and parts) with ease. There are no frills to this machine. You just fill it with beans, connect the top and bottom, and press a button. If you have an espresso machine or are more exacting in your coffee requirements, look to the higher-end grinders in this article. However, if you want something durable, fast, and simple, the KitchenAid is your best bet.
#4. Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind
The Cuiniart offers a little bit of everything, and at the lowest price on the list.
Like KitchenAid, Cuisinart has been a household name in kitchenware for decades. However, when a company releases a video along with the product to help you work through troubleshooting issues, you know there may be some problems out of the gate. However, don’t discount this little machine right away. When it works, it offers you your money’s worth and more.
While it does not give you precise or digital measurements, the Cuisinart has an 18-setting dial for fineness, allowing you to grind your beans to espresso, drip machine, single cup, or French press consistency. You can grind between 4 and 18 cups worth at a time, or release a designated amount into the lower hopper, where it will stay fresh and usable for up to 24 hours.
You have 6 timer options for your grind, which go up to 55 seconds. Combine this with the coarse, medium, fine, and manual consistency options, and you have 24 separate settings. What is more, you will enjoy more consistency in your grinding; the Cuisinart uses the burr configurations over blades.
The dimensions are 10.75 by 7.13 by 6 inches. It is probably too big for your pantry, but small enough to push aside when you have other work to do. Weighing just 4.5 pounds, it is the lightest grinder on the list, which may account for some of the problems that occur with long-term use.
This machine, like the KitchenAid model, is stylish yet understated. Many reviewers (such as knowyourgrinder.com/) have chalked the release of the troubleshooting video up to good customer service. At this price ($50, with no significant discounts out there), combined with some very positive reviews, this one has generated a good deal of attention. If you are just starting on your journey to brewed perfection, this may just be your ideal machine.
Since the coffee grinder is a machine often overlooked by consumers, you may not know exactly what you are looking for, let alone what you need in this sort of appliance. The considerations below will be especially helpful for the first-time grinder buyer.
Size and Weight
Why does size matter? Aesthetics, for one thing, are an important part of your kitchen. Do you want your grinder to accent your kitchen, or would you rather tuck it away when company comes? The KitchenAid is the only model that really fits into this latter category, or your cupboard.
Weight is about both convenience and functionality. A machine that is too heavy becomes cumbersome, if you have to move it around your kitchen or bring it in and out of storage. But this is not the only factor. A heavier machine has a tendency to work for a longer period of time. This is because the parts in the heavier products are metal alloys. They are less likely to stain, get chipped, or break during use. Heavy machines vibrate less. The Virtuoso and Breville definitely have an advantage over the KitchenAid and Cuisinart in this regard.
Do you own more than one coffee making machine? Do you sometimes need a stronger cup, something like an espresso or extra-strength brew? If so, you should consider the more expensive (but ultimately more versatile) machines on this list. This is especially true if you are the type of person who wants quick coffee in the morning but a leisurely cup in the afternoon.
Unless you are able to spend at least $200, you may have to consider balancing versatility with longevity, especially if you are a regular coffee drinker. For those of you with the means and experience, the Virtuoso and Breville will give you both. For those just starting to experiment with different types of coffee making, the Cuisinart is an excellent starter grinder.
As your experience with brewing and pressing grows, precision will become more important. Consider your grinder in the long-term, and whether you are a budding aficionado or just a casual drinker. Are you planning on adding any coffee accouterments to your life? The more you like your coffee, and the more adventurous you are with it, the more important precision is. The most precise machine by far is the Virtuoso, though both the Breville and the Cuisinart are also surprisingly multipurpose. If you want to grind both coffee beans and spices, however, the KitchenAid is by far your best (and only real) bet.
Ease of Use
Ideally, you want both precision and ease of use in the same machine. However, precision comes with a cost: with such exacting measurements, it is hard for the budding coffee gourmand to find the right fineness and grinding times except through trial and error.
Cost is a measure of quality, but only to a point. Some argue that the Virtuoso is overpriced (though deals that can be found on sites like amazon.com reduce the price by at least $100). Others argue that Cuisinart is a hidden gem, priced very reasonably. In these cases, quality cannot always be determined simply by a glance at a price tag, especially with the variety of brands and online savings.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
The coffee market is a gigantic industry. In the US alone, the average drinker has 3.1 cups per day, while the industry takes in $18 billion a year (according to e-importz.com). Coffee companies utilize sources from all over the world, keeping production largely out of the individual consumer’s control. However, there are aspects you can control, and they are often the difference between a rejuvenatingly fresh cup and one that doesn’t quite do the job.
Why is this particular item so important to making a good cup? Because it empowers you to become the perfect quality control expert, one who not only knows how to make a quality pot of coffee, but also knows your specific tastes and needs when it comes to that pot.