If you are interested in grinding your own coffee beans at home, you may be wondering whether you should buy a manual grinder or an electric one. Here we investigate which is the better option of the two.
Why do you need to grind your own coffee?
Before we talk about the relative merits of manual grinders and electric grinders, let’s consider why you would want to grind your own coffee. After all, it’s much easier to just buy pre-ground coffee, and there can’t be that much difference, right? Wrong!
When coffee beans are roasted, they become filled with carbon dioxide, which they proceed to give off in large quantities in the days immediately after roasting.
After the first few days, the rate of dissipation slows, and oxidization begins. From this point, the clock is ticking. Oxidization is what causes beans to go stale, and within only a matter of two weeks or so, the beans will begin to deteriorate – and it is very little you can do to slow the process.
However, when coffee beans are ground, their surface area increases exponentially and far more CO2 is released. The rate of oxidization increases enormously, and ground coffee begins to go stale within only minutes of being ground.
This means that if you want the freshest and most flavorsome coffee at home, you have to buy beans and grind them yourself. Buying ground coffee is the same as settling for an inferior brew.
Why is grind important?
If you want great coffee, it is not only vital to grind beans freshly but also to use the correct grind for the type of coffee you want to make.
Coffee beans are full of flavors, some good and some bad. When you brew coffee, the desirable flavors are the first to be released, but if you over-extract, the undesirable flavors are quick to follow.
The grind of coffee is one of the most important ways we control extraction. If you are using a brewing method where the water is in contact with the grounds for a longer period of time, like pour-over or French Press, you should use a coarser grind to prevent over-extraction.
If, on the other hand, the contact time is brief, as with espresso, you should use a fine grind to allow enough of the desirable flavors to be extracted.
For this reason, a uniform grind is of the utmost importance. If you want the best possible tasting coffee from your beans, you need to control the extraction precisely, and this is simply not possible with irregularly-ground coffee.
Put simply, if your coffee is not ground consistently, the flavor will be inferior since you can’t control the extraction process accurately.
Manual grinder vs electric grinder
Now we know why we should grind coffee at home and why we need to do so precisely, let’s look at which is best, manual or electric.
1. Ease of use
Both types of grinder are easy to use. With both, you simply pop the beans in the top, choose the setting and start grinding, either by hand or by pressing the “on” button.
However, that said, with a manual grinder, since the power is coming from your arm, it takes some effort to grind your beans – this is especially true when making coffee that requires a finer grind. If you aren’t used to it, grinding for espresso will give you a sore arm!
This is one area where an electric grinder has a clear advantage. While a manual grinder can produce coarser grinds relatively quickly, if you want a finer grind, it will take some time.
This is especially true if you are making coffee for more than just one person. In respect, an electric grinder is the better choice.
As we discussed, the consistency of ground coffee is one of the most important factors determining the quality of the final brew. If the coffee is not ground uniformly, it is hard to control the extraction and you may end up with bad-tasting coffee.
To achieve a consistent grind of coffee, you need to choose a high-end model, either manual or electric. If you have a good-quality grinder, you can achieve excellent results with either – although the very best electric models probably beat the top manual grinders.
Note that blade grinders do not produce consistently ground coffee – for this, you need to choose a burr grinder.
Precision is distinct from consistency; precision means how finely you can choose the coarseness of your grind. While manual grinders allow you to adjust them to change the coarseness, a top-end electric model will probably offer you the ability to fine-tune much more.
If the size is a consideration, a manual grinder might be the best option. Electric grinders are normally about the size of a blender – not huge, but still considerably larger than a manual version. If you have a small kitchen or even need a portable grinder, a manual one is probably better.
Due to their simplicity, a good-quality manual grinder should last a very long time. There are very few moving parts, none of which should break easily, so a decent manual grinder is an investment that will serve you for years to come.
Well-made electric grinders are also durable if you look after them. However, as with any electrical appliance, they only have a limited lifespan, and eventually, you will need to replace it.
Being a very simple device, a manual grinder is also very easy to clean and maintain. An electrical device, by its nature, is more complex and so more difficult to disassemble and clean – although, for most models, this difficulty shouldn’t be exaggerated.
In the noise stakes, the manual grinder wins hands down. Top electric grinders effortlessly produce consistently ground coffee in hardly any time at all – but this comes at the price of the noise of the burrs grinding. Some models make less noise than others, but you shouldn’t expect it to be silent.
For many, this final consideration could be the deciding factor in whether you go for a manual grinder or an electric one.
With an electric grinder, you get what you pay for. You can probably pick up a blade grinder for a few tens of dollars and an entry-level burr grinder for not much more than about $50. However, be warned – at this price, you will not be buying a grinder capable of grinding consistently.
If you really want to make the best cup of coffee possible – and we have discussed why consistently ground coffee is vital for this – you should expect to be paying in the range of at least $150-$200. Anything less will not give you the level of precision required.
With a manual grinder, as with an electric grinder, you also need to invest in a top-end model for the best performance. The difference is that very few high-quality manual grinders will set you back more than $30-$50.
This means if you have a limited budget or are unwilling to spend quite so much on a device just for grinding coffee beans, a manual grinder might be the obvious choice. It would certainly be better to go for a high-quality manual grinder than a poor-quality electric one.
Some things to consider
To summarize, here are some of the things you need to consider when deciding which is the better type for you.
Which kind of coffee do you usually drink?
If you generally brew coffee using a French press or using the pour-over method, these brewing techniques require a coarser grind and you could consider using a manual grinder, especially if you usually only brew for one person.
If, on the other hand, you are a die-hard espresso lover, the money you spend on an electric grinder will save you a lot of time in the long run – unless, of course, you want to work on your arm muscles!
How highly do you value efficiency and speed?
If you need to brew your coffee on the run in the morning before rushing off to work, you might not want to waste valuable minutes laboriously grinding coffee by hand.
Also, most of us know what it’s like to wake in the morning desperate for our first brew. Nobody wants their caffeine hit postponed by the need to grind coffee by hand.
In this case, an electric grinder would be the logical choice. For those with more time, a manual grinder might be sufficient.
How much are you willing to spend?
We are only talking about making a hot beverage here. Yes, we realize how important coffee is to you – is important to us too, we get it – but are you really willing to spend that much money just on a machine that grinds beans? There are cheaper ways to do things.
Ultimately, you need to weigh up the financial cost compared to all of the other advantages offered by an electric grinder.
One thing is for sure, though – we definitely recommend opting for a top-of-the-range manual grinder than a cheap electric one. Believe us, you will taste it in every cup.
Both have their merits – but which is best for you?
As you can see, both manual and electric burr grinders have their merits. The main factors to consider are price vs convenience and speed. Now you understand both, it should be easy to decide which is most appropriate for you.