Best Coffee Bean Grinder for French Press, Drip and Espresso?

Blade, bur or conical bur grinder?
Blade, bur or conical bur grinder?

Making great, fresh coffee is all about getting the best combination of coffee beans, coffee bean grinder and coffee maker. For most of us, there are also cost issues to think about. Do you really need to spend big on a grinder or coffee maker to get the results you are looking for?

The more you understand how the various kinds of grinder work and the way that coffee makers extract flavor, the better you can decide what you need for the coffee you most enjoy.

The best grinder for a French press coffee maker is a conical bur grinder, for example, for reasons explained below. If you are using a drip coffee maker you can can get good results using a simple and inexpensive blade grinder.

Blade Grinders

A fast spinning blade pulverizes the beans.
A fast spinning blade pulverizes the beans.

Blade grinders are the small, inexpensive grinders that we are all most familiar with. A blunt metal blade turns at high speed and literally smashes the coffee beans to pieces. The disadvantage is that the coffee grounds are of all different sizes, ranging from a fine dust to large chunks.

The dust gives problems during filtration- it can clog filters or pass right through, producing muddy coffee. It also makes extraction of the coffee flavors unpredictable.

A final problem is that blade grinders can overheat the coffee and your coffee will have a burnt taste when it is brewed. Some machines offer 'pulse' grinding so that the blades don't spin too fast for too long. Alternatively, you can just take care not to run a grinder for too long on manual control.

For Drip Coffee

I don't want to overstate the case against blade grinders here. If you are making drip coffee you can use a blade grinder successfully. A paper filter will help remove bitter oils. Practice with the grinder can ensure you don't burn the coffee before it is brewed.

It will certainly taste a lot better than instant coffee!

For Espresso

If you are making espresso you need as much flavor to be extracted as quickly as possible from your ground coffee. This means a fine grind. Too many 'boulders' left in the grind by an inefficient machine will work against the best efforts of your coffee maker.

For a French Press

A blade grinder is never a good idea. Any dust sized coffee grounds will pass through the metal filter and result in cloudy, foul-tasting coffee.

KRUPS F203 Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder with Stainless Steel Blades, 3-Ounce, Black
KRUPS F203 Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder with Stainless Steel Blades, 3-Ounce, Black

Stainless steel blades and easy clean chamber. Recommended for drip coffee makers only.


Burr Grinders

Brewing a great cup of coffee is a delicate balance. You need to extract as many of the flavorful oils as possible.

If you over-brew, though, the bitter tasting, heavier oils will also be extracted and ruin the result.

Coffee grounds of uniform size make brewing coffee less of a shot in the dark. Burr grinders are a big step up from a blade grinder.

Bodum Bistro
Bodum Bistro

Burr grinders have wheels that spin at high speed. They get their name from the burred wheels that crush the coffee beans and produce a consistent particle size.

They can overheat the coffee and many people have a timer that limits the grinding to thirty seconds. You might need to experiment with a new machine to get the ground coffee that you want.

These are big machines and take up more counter space than a blade grinder. They can also be noisy compared to a conical burr grinder (discussed below). This might be important in an office or shared space, but most families cope just fine with the occasional thirty second operation.

One of the most popular burr grinders is the Bodum Bistro, pictured above.

Conical Burr Grinders

Conical burr grinders work at a slower speed than simple burr grinders. The blades grind the coffee against a long, flat surface to produce carefully graded coffee of even particle size.

These machines are often (but not necessarily) the most expensive grinders but offer a lot of advantages. They are especially good at grinding oily, full flavored gourmet coffees of all kinds without the grinder clogging. They are quiet and will allow you to produce even the finest grinds without burning.

One inexpensive model that consistently delivers good results is the Capresso 560 Infinity.

When You Really do Need to Invest in a Conical Burr Grinder

  • If you need complete control of the grinding process to produce great coffee every time.
  • If you want to use gourmet coffee beans which are sensitive to heat
  • If you are intending to use a French press. Any coffee 'dust' will pass though the mesh of the plunge pot clouding the coffee No one likes muddy coffee.
  • If you like espresso coffee- only beans from a handful of coffee tree varieties are used to make good espresso and these tend to be oily beans that need a conical burr grinder. If you use any other kind of grinder, the mill will clog, leading to a lot of frustration.
  • Any coffee that needs to be ground to a very fine and even consistency benefits from a conical burr grinder. If you are making Turkish coffee, for instance, a conical burr grinder is probably the only mill that will produce the right consistency without burning.

A French Press Coffee Maker.
A French Press Coffee Maker.

You Don't Need an Automatic Coffee Maker to Make Great Coffee- just a good Grinder.

If you like a lot of coffee in the morning- several cups- or you are making coffee for a lot of people an automatic drip coffee maker or a large French press can save a lot of time. If you are only making one or two cups of coffee, a simple cone and filter will make coffee just fine. In fact, a simple cone is better than many coffee makers in terms of the coffee it produces and the time it takes.

Why is Manual Coffee Making often better?

One reason is that any coffee maker that uses a hot plate, is a coffee maker that can burn your coffee, giving it that 'worst diner in town taste'.

Another reason is that many automatic drip coffee makers are terrible at controlling the flow of water through the coffee. The water might be added too quickly which results in poor extraction of flavors. The water might not be spread around the coffee leaving dry spots (or at least under-extracted areas) again producing poor coffee.

Many machines just don't keep the water at the right temperature (around 200 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect) If the water is be too hot or too cold you won't get the right taste.

Only a very good automatic machine can get everything right. Unlike you, a machine cannot learn from its mistakes, so if it is second rate when it leaves the factory it will be second rate for ever.

Best Way to Make Coffee?

  • Pour over
  • French press
  • Percolator
  • Aeorpress
  • Stove Top Espresso
  • Machine Espresso
  • Drip Coffeemaker
  • Other
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Comments 3 comments

Nicolas Simons profile image

Nicolas Simons 4 years ago from San Francisco

After reading your excellent hub, all I can do now is to have an aromatic cup of my favorite coffee.

Youssef 5 years ago

Fantastic! Thank you.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Great information - I did not know a lot of this stuff, and as a fanatical coffee lover I now have better insight. Thanks for sharing.

Love and peace


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