Manual Hand Grinder Buying Guide

How do I make the right choice for what I want in a Hand grinder? You want to buy a manual grinder, great! This is not a blog about price. It is a blog about Hand Grinders you can readily purchase online and how you can make a decision on what is the best hand grinder for you. There are so many options out there and frankly I find it a little confusing myself. If this were just a blog about price, then I’d say go out there a buy the most expensive grinder you can find. This is because it’s likely to give you the best results. That being said, it’s a difficult argument to have with yourself that you need a hand grinder that’s worth 5x that of the rest of your brew gear.

Additionally, I would say that there’s not one single hand grinder out there that offers you everything you need. See hand grinders aim to be as good as the bigger sibling, the Automatic Grinder, but there will always be a trade off when it comes to Hand grinders with what you may gain in portability you could lose in grind catcher capacity; or what you may gain in quality of grind produced you may lose in overall design or materials used. 

The ideal place to start thinking about hand grinders is what you eventually want to be grinding for. 

There’s really only three options here. This should be your first concern because the burrs in which grind the beans in your hand grinder are either made from Ceramic or Steel. So what will you be grinding for?

    • ≤ Espresso / Turkish grind
    • ≥ Stovetop & all other filter options including pour overs, drips and immersions
    • Both / All of the above.   

Cue the first controvertible statement: Ceramic Burrs will not grind for espresso. Not that they fail to try, it’s that there’s no reward in the flavour after the vigorous pursuits to grind to that very small particle size thats required from espresso brewing. Ceramic Burrs produce good quality grind, as good as their Steel counterparts, in that slightly fine to slightly more than coarse range – perfect for most of your pour over, immersion and cold brew styles of brewing. Rhinowares, Porlex or Hario range of hand grinders are excellent examples of these.

If your not intending to brew for espresso ceramic burrs are a great option to consider. You’ll find ceramic burr grinders to be lightweight and will last a very long time so long as you take care of them. They are the more common type of hand grinder on the market. Longevity on ceramic burrs is about the same as metal, and is almost negligible if your grinding around 40g-60g/day. The one thing you want to avoid with ceramic burrs is dropping them, they will shatter to pieces. Thankfully the are readily available replacement ceramic burrs.

Metal Burr grinders will produce a much better quality grind overall. The consistency in the grind size of any one grind setting is super important and metal burrs outperform ceramic in this category. They tend to be a little heavier of a grinder and that’s the trade-off there. Grinding with metal burrs will feel like easy work compared to the ceramic. I’ve found ceramic burrs often grab and jam whilst grinding and you have to stop and start to get through all the beans. My preferred option is metal burrs as they are the better grinders overall and there’s good reasons why they’re in automatic grinders. See Orphans LIDO range, the Helor 101 and the ever popular Comandante.

Hand grinders are built to be portable tools for coffee brewing. 

Being portable means something different to everyone depending on how you travel and pack for the journey. If you’re in a campervan perhaps you’re not too worried about the weight of a hand grinder, but if you’re backpacking it’ll be a priority. Portability comes in all different shapes and sizes. Here’s a look at some criteria for portability:

There are some Hand grinders that have identical compact versions.

The weight of the grinder. The weight of the grinder comes down to how much can you manage to carry. For me the ceiling for this is quite generously 800g. This will give you some indication to the build quality too.

The length of the grinder. Think storage mainly. Does it fit in your coffee kit bag okay, or in the cupboard? The length will also provide you some information on the capacity of the grinder and how comfortable it is hold whilst grinding. You ideally want your grinder to be longer than the width of your palm. For me that’s around 10cm or 4”inches.

The width or circumference of the grinder. The width of the hand grinder lets you know how comfortable the grinder is to hold in your grasp whilst grinding. It may also provide you some information on the size of the burrs being used, more on that later. There is a grinder out there that slides away easily in to the aeropress making it quite a handy space saver. For reference, the AeroPress has a circumference of 15.2cm.

Material used in the build of the hand grinder. This can be an important one for travelling. Glass is something you want to avoid if you’re throwing that hand grinder in to a full bag of gear. Metal maybe a material you avoid if you want don’t want to keep checking your bags in at the airport. Some metals tarnish whilst others create a lot of static. Some people are shunning away use of too many plastics, yet another one to consider.

The morning ritual requires a hand grinder that is easy to use and feels comfortable to grind with.

It’s your morning ritual. There is a relaxing and therapeutic flow going on when you grind your coffee by hand. It shouldn’t be hard or uncomfortable to do. I usually incorporate it into going for a walk out into the backyard and catch a glimpse of the sunrise. Certainly the weight, length and width of the hand grinder will feature in your choice of how the grinder feels in the hand. These parameters will inevitably allow you to feel comfortable in the grinding action. 

Is this the ultimate hand grinder for you?
The Commandante C40 MK3 Nitro Blade

Another metric that assists us in grinding the beans efficiently is the Burr size. There really is a very narrow set of sizes – though you’ll be amazed at how a small difference in the burr size helps. So what is burr size? It is the diameter of the cutting blades. Essentially the bigger the burrs the quicker you’ll grind the coffee and the more coffee can be ground at once, as a caveat this may however make it harder to crank the handle. Smaller burrs take more time to grind the same amount of coffee. Equally though, it can feel like a chore with really small burrs. You’ll be there forever grinding out a 20g dose.

Grind size will also have a hand to play in how long you’ll be grinding for ofcourse not matter what the burr size. Finer the grind, the more time it takes to grind. So when thinking burr sizes, there’s no right or wrong. I’d just consider that if you were looking for an espresso hand grinder, you’d sway towards the larger burr sizes to make quick work of it, and smaller burrs may be perfect for those who grind one or two doses on the road making filter coffee without too many limitations.

Beyond the general notes of a grinders intricacies there are two more criteria I like to base my purchase for a hand grinder from. They are:

    • Capacity of the Grinder. Specifically the Grind Catcher Capacity in grams.
    • Method of changing the Grind; Stepped vs. Stepless / Locking Nut vs. Locking Ring

To the first point. The capacity of the grinder is really only a concern if you want to be brewing large pots of coffee. Most hand grinders will hold at least 25g, more than enough for any single cup. Perhaps you’re using a cold brewer or Moccamaster, than anywhere from 40g – 80g is a dose you’ll possibly be aiming for and this is going to quickly get tedious if you have to empty and refill the grinder 3-4 times. At the larger end of the grinder capacities you’ll begin to see the design of the grinder getting bigger and that’s the trade off. I’d suggest if you were planning on grinding more than 100-150g of coffee at a time than perhaps a review towards buying an automatic grinder could be examined. That’s for another blog. So capacity is important, but you’re not seeing large variants in capacities either and usually it will coincide with how the grinder has been intended to be used: size vs. portability arrangements.

Grind Adjustment is certainly not a last priority on this list, it fits in there somewhere around the discussions of usability and quality build. 

There are two design approaches around adjusting the grind. The first is Stepped grind adjustments. What this means is that there are a definite number of steps you can make from full coarse to fine grinding. As you adjust the setting the grind burrs will move until the setting clicks and it’s locked in the next setting. Stepped grind adjustments are handy as you’ll always know where you are when you begin changing the grind setting, “three clicks from my previous setting’. The downside from stepped grind setting is the limitations to the grind size. The best stepped grinders have been designed for optimal use at a variety of brewing methods but the hand grinders that get it wrong and you’ll feel stuck unable to tweak your grind any further left or right without making huge differences to the grind size.

The Hario Slim Mill Pro (middle) and the Hario Skerton Ceramic

The second way to adjust your grind is stepless. This suggests that there are an indefinite amount of settings you can use. Essentially you are able to slowly adjust the grind size, even fractionally and then lock the setting in again. This surely helps for when dialling in espresso extractions to time. Making small adjustments allow you to hone in on the perfect espresso shots. Stepless grind adjustments at best can be tracked using a gauge on the side of the grinder, but some hand grinders fail at adding a gauge and that’s when stepped grinders become a more attractive way of knowing where your grind setting is at. 

The final part of changing the grind is the method; How you do it.

That is how you adjust the burrs to be either closer together or further away and lock it in. Some hand grinders rely on a locking nut underneath and attached to the drive shaft & inner burrs. When this nut is tightened, it screws the inner burr upwards and closes the gap to create a fine grind and vice versa when going coarse. Locking nuts can only be accessed by removing the grind catcher and then adjusting the screw on the bottom. Occasionally these styles of locking in the grind will slip and un-tighten mid grind. Not your perfect design but this does not detract fromLocking nuts being the more adopted way of adjusting the grind setting.

Locking Nut vs. Locking Ring

The other less regarded way that hand grinders use is with a locking ring. In this fashion you have part of the body of the grinder you are able to adjust to be extended away from the rest of the hand grinder or closer together and this controls the distance between the burrs. Between the adjustment that you make is a secondary ring that screws up tight against the body of the grinder so as to stop the adjustment you made from slipping. The benefits of this is that you don’t have to remove the catcher to change the grind. You can always see what setting you may be on. The downside is that I have found occasionally the locking ring can become so tight it becomes impossible to unlock from a setting without using a tool like a wrench to loosen the setting.

With all that in mind, finding the right hand grinder for you will make that morning ritual so much more enjoyable. It is custom to discuss other important factors like grind retention/bounce out, the medium particle size and extraction percentages as other ways to hold grinders up under scrutiny. Rightly so if these are also the focus of your morning brew. For me having a Hand Grinder that allows me the easiest and most functional path towards a great cup of coffee no matter where I am or what I am doing hopefully says as much about the choice of grinder I bought as it does about how important that first cup of coffee really is. Included here in this article I have compiled all the metrics I hope you find helpful to finding the right hand grinder for you, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. ENJOY!

Hand Grinder Length (cm) Circumference Weight (g) Burr Size Steel or Ceramic Catcher Volume Stepped/Stepless Materials
Espresso or Filter
Rhinowares Compact 15 | 14.5 | 260 35mm ceramic 25g Stepped steel Filter
Rhinowares Grinder 18 | 16 | 313 35mm ceramic 45g Stepped steel Filter
Porlex Tall 18 | 16 | 278 35mm ceramic 45g Stepped steel Filter
Porlex Mini 15 | 14.5 | 242 35mm ceramic 30g Stepped steel Filter
Hario Skerton Ceramic 20 | 29 | 460 35mm ceramic 140g Stepped plastic, glass Filter
Hario Mill Smart 15 | 17 | 227 35mm ceramic 40g Stepped clear Plastic Filter
Hario Skerton Pro 18 | 20 | 482 35mm ceramic 140g Stepped plastic, glass Filter
Comandante C40 MK3 15.5 | 20 | 628 35mm steel 40g Stepped metal, glass Both
Lido 2 35 | 23 | 1400 45mm steel 70g Stepless metal, plastic Espresso
Lido 3 35 | 24 | 1095 45mm steel 80g Stepless metal, plastic Both
Helor 101 15.5 | 17 | 596 35mm steel 35g Stepless metal Both
ROK 28 | 21 | 2.7kg 45mm steel 65g Steeped Aluminium Both

 

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