Manual vs. Automatic Coffee Grinders: Pros and Cons
Confused about what type of coffee grinder to buy? Well, the good news is, we’re here to help. The even better news is, the only thing you need to know already is … you!
You know your budget, you know what coffee you like, and you know how you like to prepare it. You know your lifestyle, how much time you have on your hands, and you know how much effort you want to put in. Below, we’ll give you all the information you’ll need to make the right choice of grinder.
What are your coffee needs?
Coffee drinkers tend to be pretty specific. You probably know already what type of bean and roast you prefer. Certainly, you know whether you take milk, cream or drink your coffee as black as night. Of course, by now you know how you prefer to brew.
Almost certainly, you have already invested in your home setup. Maybe you’ve started small and have an Aeropress, or maybe you have a big old espresso machine dominating your kitchen. Or you just prefer a pour over, french press or a syphon. Whatever it is, there is one crucial factor no matter the method; and that is the grind. To get the best results, just how you should grind, and what you choose to grind with will vary depending on the method you use.
You also have to think about your lifestyle and the environment you live in. Not to mention how much of an investment you are willing to make. We don’t mean just money either. How much time you have on your hands, and how much effort you are willing to put in will affect your decision.
So: which way to go? Let’s just rewind a second.
OK, so why is the grind so important? Depending on the method you utilise, you want more or less surface area of the bean exposed to the water, for the perfect ‘extraction’; the process by which the water picks up compounds from your coffee which affect the flavour. To get the good compounds, and the right amount of them, you need to properly extract your coffee.
Badly-ground grains will extract badly and ruin your coffee. It’s that simple.
A different coarseness of grind is required depending on how you brew. This cute infographic helps explain this. Whatever you’re aiming for though, you want the grains to be of equal size; consistency is key.
Blade vs Burr
Sounds like a Marvel spin off where Blade fights some guy called ‘Burr’ right? Well, that’s apt: Round One is a death match.
Grinders use two systems; burr, or blade. Blade ‘grinders’ don’t actually grind at all - they chop the beans with blades, leaving lumps of all sizes. This can really affect the extraction and damage the flavour of your coffee
Burr grinders, however, use a set of rotating burrs to grind the coffee. This produces more consistent grains, enhancing the flavour. So, even though Blade sounds way, way tougher than Burr (awww), there is only one winner in this fight.
Manual vs Automatic
A less-worthy title for a comic book duel. That’s fine though because we’re not looking for a winner here: just what’s right for you.
Manual Burr Grinders
Manual burr coffee grinders have a swivel arm attached which you crank to turn the burrs and grind the beans. There are many reasons why you might consider one. First, grinding your own beans can be fun! It provides an opportunity to get hands-on. Don’t underestimate how good it can feel to know you really made that coffee. Some people fix their own car, or build their own table, and making that same connection with your coffee can be just as rewarding.
If you share your house or if you have a baby, then consider that a hand grinder will definitely be quieter. Also, if your budget is tight, these guys are always cheaper. Hand grinders are smaller and weigh less so if you travel a lot you can always have great coffee on the road and avoid the expense and disappointment of store-bought coffee.
Many experts say that hand-ground coffee tastes better - as automatic grinders work much faster than your arms will, they generate heat, which can affect the flavour of the bean. So you may want to hand-grind simply to elevate the flavours.
Automatic Burr Grinders
Of course, automatic or electric grinders have their place too. Maybe you don’t have the time to be burning an extra 10 minutes just to get your morning brew? Or maybe you don’t want to be working up a sweat producing the grains each morning. The finer the grind, the greater the effort, so if you drink espresso-style coffee, then manually grinding the beans can be hard work. There is no doubt that an automatic grinder will be quicker, more convenient, and more consistent. Not only that, if you tend to drink a lot of coffee, this will increase the effort involved multiplied by the number of cups you drink.
If money is an issue, automatic coffee grinders definitely cost more. A good quality hand grinder is going to work out cheaper. If money’s no object however, if you don’t have the time or inclination to hand-grind or you need a particularly fine grind, then an automatic grinder could be the right choice for you.
|Lighter and more portable||Easier to get a more consistent grind|
|Better for those on a budget||May affect flavour slightly|
|Can elevate flavours||Loud|
|Lighter and more portable|
As we covered earlier, the coarseness of grind required varies by brew, so here’s a table to help you decide. Perfectionists may not mind the effort for a finer grind though, so it’s 100% up to you.
|Coarse||Cold Brew Coffee, Cowboy Coffee||Manual|
|Medium-coarse||Chemex, clever dripper, cafe solo brewer||Manual|
|Medium||Cone-shaped pour over brewers, flat bottom||Manual / Automatic|
|Medium||Fine cone-shaped pour over brewers, Aeropress (with 2-3 minute brew time)||Manual / Automatic|
|Fine||Espresso, Moka pot, Aeropress (with 1 minute brew time)||Automatic|
So what have we learned? Of course, the type of brew you make is going to have a pretty big impact on your thinking. Clearly there are pros and cons to both. If noise is an issue or you are on a budget, then a manual grinder may work, especially if you press, drip or syphon your coffee. If you travel and you want great coffee all of the time, then a hand grinder makes sense. Or if you have young children you might just need to roll up your sleeves for that espresso (or buy a French Press for now).
If you drink espresso or moka pot your coffee, if you’re busy in the mornings or you want to know your grind is always on point, then an automatic grinder might make more sense. Especially if you live alone and noise is no problem.
Ultimately, deciding which is best for you is going to depend a lot on your preference and your lifestyle. Freshly-ground coffee is worth the extra effort. Armed with all the information above, and knowing what you know about you, you should be able to form a pretty clear idea of what’s best. So why wait? With the right grinder you could be drinking your perfect brew every day, and safe in the knowledge that you did it your way!