Fresh beans, freshly ground. That’s the key to consistently great coffee at home. Here’s four hand grinders to help you on that journey. Photo : Gary Smith.
The one piece of advice we would give anyone aiming to take their home coffee brewing to the next level is to buy a grinder. Fresh beans, freshly ground is the key to consistently great coffee at home.
All coffee deterioates. Whole roast coffee beans will begin to lose flavour after a few weeks, while ground coffee begins to lose its flavour after as little as 15 minutes. So buying pre-ground is always going to be the quicket way to a flat dull cup of coffee. For the same price as a few bags of beans, you can transform your daily cup from a tasteless brew to something fresh bouncy and bright.
We’ve pulled together a variety of hand grinders to help you make that next jump in your coffee preparation.
For many years, the king of the budget grinder was the Porlex. A truly portable and beautiful piece of design, fitted with ceramic burrs it was as effective as it was beautiful. It even fitted into an Aeropress, making your coffee kit compact and perfect for the daily commute.
However, the Porlex isn’t without its problems and while they have been resting on their laurels the guys at CoffeeHit have been behind the scenes perfecting their own, refining and addressing those issues to bring you the Rhino hand grinder.
One of the main problems with the Porlex is the handle. Here, its simplicity is also its downfall as although the removable arm neatly slips straight on the grinder, a lack of a catch or clasp results in it flying off mid-grind. This issue is replicated with the lid, which has no means of staying in place except for the flyaway handle and gravity, and is just as likely to fly off in the middle of a frantic grinding session.
A popular hack with the Porlex is to file down the top so you can fit an electric screwdriver to it and effectively turn the hand grinder into an electric one. However, doing this just exacerbates the problems when reverting to the handle.
The Rhino fixes both these problems by having a narrower top – meaning no hacking needed – while the handle has a plastic bobble to stay attached to the barrel of the grinder. Where this type of grinder shines is in its portability – it’s light, around 300g, comes with its own carrycase and is the kind of thing you can throw in your bag and take to work and back each day. It has a large 40g capacity, double that of the mini Porlex.
Our only gripe with the Rhino is its width. One of the neatest thing about the Porlex is that it can slot directly onto an empty Aeropress making your kit super-portable. Unfortunately, the Rhino is a bit too fat to do that, although we understand that version two is already on the way with further improvements resulting from customer feedback.
Being a budget grinder, this will only grind for filter, Aeropress and French press. It can’t go fine enough for espresso. But at £35 it’s a similar price and far better than any of its contemporaries.
Pick up the Knock Hausgrind for the first time and you are struck by its weight. There is a real solidity here, a weight of engineering that creates trust. But tipping the scales at 1.5kg, this isn’t the lightest hand grinder on the market. It does pack a set of 38mm steel burrs, good for around 650kg of coffee over its lifetime.
Where the Knock does come into its own is grinding a lot of coffee quickly and consistently. Many times I’ve heard complaints from friends who have been asked to make a round of coffee for visiting friends and family and are left grinding 60g with their hand grinder. Here, the Knock excels, breaking down the beans in double-quick time, although it does sound like you’re dragging your nails down a blackboard.
The Knock’s other great selling point is its ability to grind fine enough for espresso. It’s not easy, especially with lightly roasted coffee which has a greater density than darker roasts and takes a fair amount of arm power, but it is possible and probably the cheapest way to achieve a consistent espresso grind.
Visually, the Knock Hausgrind is a beautiful beast in sleek anodised aluminium, and it is also available in beech or walnut. We found that the weight of the aluminium grinder and lack of a grip might make it difficult to use, especially for anyone with weaker wrists.
What we were very impressed with, though, was the fineness of the grind. It can grind fine enough for Turkish and very easily chocked our espresso machine until we got it dialed in properly.
Our only grumbles with the Knock were that the instructions of how to assemble and use the dial weren’t the clearest. They could do with being rewritten. However, like most men, we decided against looking at the instructions until we’d spent more than 20 minutes faffing around.
Initially, we found the adjustability of the Knock a bit fiddly, too, although once we got to grips with the clock-face concept we liked the adjustment isn’t stepped or hidden out of the way. Overall, the Knock felt professionally built and the kind of thing you could pass down to your first born and our pick of the crop.
The Flying Lumberyard
On first impression, this grinder is not going to win any beauty contests. What is refreshing, is that it doesn’t look like any existing design we’ve seen before.
This version is one of five 65 Editions made. It has the feel of the hipster about it, using what looks like a small jam jar to catch the grinds. It also looks like it’s been knocked up using bits and pieces found in the shed – very Heath Robinson. The finish on this model is a bit rough around the edges. We hope that when the next batch comes out it will have a higher level of finish. We’d also like to see a range of more interesting wooden fronts.
Dialing in is performed via a stepped dial utilising a linchpin to lock in the desired grind setting. Settings can easily be returned to by counting the steps from the finest setting (zero). The Flying Lumberyard has a 38mm steel burr similar to the Knock and, like that grinder, can also grind fine enough for espresso.
Of all the grinders we had on long-term test, we used this the most as being mounted to the work surface, it takes a lot of the effort out of the grind. However, the time and effort saved by its design, is thwarted by the time taken to re-attach it to a worktop each time and we found the knob on the handle unscrewed itself during operation on a few too many times.Our biggest problem with the Flying Lumberyard however was where to put it. Most kitchen worktops have drawers or cupboards underneath and attaching the grinder meant that you couldn’t use the drawer or cupboard below.
The next edition of 20 will shortly be made available for pre-order from the website priced at £250 each.
This behemoth is hand-built in the USA with a massive 83mm burr-set more commonly found in commercial electric grinders. Without a doubt, this is for the serious home enthusiast who wants the very best espresso grind.
With such massive burrs and only your arm to power it, there is little chance of any real heat build-up. You’d also hope that with something so massive, grinding would be a walk in the park. However, it takes time to master the technique and requires effort and patience to successfully operate. We found the trick was to apply an even and steady force to the flywheel.
Just shy of £600, you have to really buy into the concept rather than opting for an electric grinder which you could get for the same price. So, why would you buy this grinder? For the same reason you’d buy an Eames chair over the IKEA one, or the same reason you’d buy a mechanical Rolex over a battery-powered Swatch. You’re buying quality and buying once. There is no motor to burn out and it’s so simple that any servicing can be done by the user.
The creators of the HG-One make a lot of their green credentials, with the point that they are “trying to tread softly”. We feel all this rhetoric is aimed at a public deciding between this and an electric grinder and so distancing themselves from the more traditional hand grinder market.
We must admit that we didn’t have as much time to really get to grips with the HG-One as we did with the other grinders. Our inner coffee geek has fallen head over heels for it. It is a beautifully engineered machine delivering unparalleled espresso grind. However, there feels like a huge amount of over-engineering at play, and at 12kg it’s a hefty beast and takes up a lot of counter-top space. We imagine this will have a market, however small, and is probably for the person who has everything, including a Victoria Arduino Athena Leva on their home worktop.