If you are reading this then you are probably looking to buy a coffee grinder at some point and wondering if the small and inexpensive hand crank grinders are worth it.
As you no doubt understand a $500 Baratza grinder is going to be a great grinder and a $10 no-name, no-brand blade grinder is going to be a piece of garbage.
It’s not weird at all however to wonder if the inexpensive manual coffee grinders are any good though.
I own a small coffee based business and have done so for a number of years now. I understand a lot about coffee, the grinding process, and the value proposition in some equipment over others so let me shed a bit of light.
Manual hand crank grinders are usually two holding chambers (one on top and one on bottom) separated by two burrs that grind whole beans from the top into grounds on the bottom.
Electric grinders relay on electricity to turn the burrs whereas manual grinders rely on human muscle to get the same job done.
Basically a manual grinder is no different at all from an electric model.
They are good and worth buying.
If you plan on taking your grinder camping or hiking or to some place with no electricity then they are invaluable.
For regular places like your kitchen though they are much better for grinding coffee than blade grinders because the burr mechanism is much better at making consistent grind without excessive fines than electric blade grinders.
They are also able to duplicate the quality of coffee grind than many electric burr grinders achieve at a fraction of the cost.
Unfortunately they are only so good.
Even the best manual coffee grinder is not going to come close to the quality level of a Rancillio or top-of-the-line Baratza.
The reason for this is because the movable burr in a manual grinder is less stable than larger counter top machines.
Manual grinders also move around a lot in your hand or on the counter as you crank making it harder to get a consistent grind.
Electric versions will generate more heat which is an advantage that hand powered models will always have but for people looking to grind lots of coffee the ease of using an electric model is unparalleled.
When my customers ask me if they should get a manual coffee grinder I always tell them that the best quality manual grinders are worth buying because they are better at making consistent sized and shaped grind particles and the cheaper manual options.
The price differential from top of the line manual to cheapest manual is not that great so it’s worth buying at the high end.
If you plan on making fine grind at home for moka or espresso then the added effort of a manual grinder may not be worth it.
For people like that I usually say it’s only worth buying a manual if you want an option for travel or camping.
Espresso and moka will take an enormous amount of hand cranking to get the amount of grind necessary.
Manual grinders are usually good at making fine coffee grounds but the effort level is a big barrier to overcome.
Over on our website we have a detailed article comparing manual grinders good for French press. Please take a look at that if you are looking to make a purchase anytime in the near future.
I would also like to invite you to see this post comparing the popular box-style manual grinders that sit on your counter top.
I feel they are worth owning but I also am a huge advocate for using a high quality electric version if you want to make the best quality coffee possible.