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A Comparison of Premium Hand Grinders for Coffee and Espresso
The ascension of the grinder to its status as the most crucial piece of brewing gear is well deserved. More than anything else the grinder has the potential to make, or severely limit the flavor quality of brewed coffee. It’s natural then for this movement to extend across new territory -- the world of mobile brewing. The hand grinder, once considered a compromise for convenience sake, has been reinvented to contend with some of the best electric home grinders on the market. Whether you’re sitting around a campfire, summiting a mountain, riding economy class, recharging in the office break room, or trying to keep it quiet in the kitchen at 6:00 AM, hand grinders have made it possible to brew excellent coffee, anywhere.
Over the last few years, several premium hand grinders have been introduced to the market. These grinders share a few defining characteristics, including precision-cut steel burrs, a secure center shaft riding on bearings, and an overall build quality that promises durability and a long lifetime. These features are considered standard for a quality hand grinder and, in essence, are all that’s needed for a uniform grind. That being said, the rather straight-forward requirements can make it somewhat difficult to determine which grinders stand in front of the rest. But there’s good news -- we’ve done the work for you. We've sourced four of the most popular premium hand grinders on the market and put them to the test, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each. Features are what truly distinguish these grinders from one another and this blog is intended to help you find the grinder with features most relevant to your needs.
Orphan Espresso Lido 3 - $195.00
Prices here reflect current listings as of August, 2017.
Possibly the most well-known of all premium hand grinders, the Lido was one of the first to gain the attention of the specialty coffee community. Over time, Orphan Espresso developed a few iterations, evolving the Lido 1 from a very basic looking tool into the highly refined Lido 3.
Fit and Finish
The Lido 3 is comprised of aluminum, stainless steel, silicone, and BPA-free plastics. Unlike previous versions of the Lido, the Lido 3 is made to be very lightweight relative to its size. The slim Aeropress-like hopper, made of a BPA-free medical grade plastic, is easy to hold for long periods of time and is semi transparent, allowing you to see the beans as they fall into the burrs. The grounds container, made of RTP PermaStat ABS plastic, is a highly durable static-resistant BPA-free plastic engineered to be tough, lightweight, and to keep grounds from sticking to the inside. The Lido 3 is the biggest of the hand grinders, at 13.5" in height, about 3" in diameter at the base, and 2" in diameter at the hopper. It weighs about 2.4 lbs, making it the heaviest hand grinder as well.
The Lido features a stepless grind adjustment with dual threaded rings. Loosen the top ring, then twist the bottom ring to select a grind size. Tighten the top ring back down to lock in your setting. Two blue lines serve as reference points for recalling settings. The top line, painted on the body of the grinder, remains stationary. The bottom blue line on the bottom grind adjustment ring indicates the distance from the stationary line.
The Lido E, which is an iteration geared towards espresso grinding, features a finer thread pitch in the adjustment ring. A lateral inch of movement of the Lido 3’s adjustment ring will produce a more substantial change in grind size than the same movement of the Lido E’s adjustment ring. This makes it easier to dial in the grinder for espresso, where tiny changes are sometimes necessary.
- 48mm hardened steel burrs mean quick grinding. Combined with a 70 g capacity hopper the Lido 3 is well fit for those who brew several cups at once.
- The Lido features a folding handle and includes a neoprene carrying case, making it easy to stow and bring along on trips.
- A full grind range, covering everything from Turkish to a 10 cup Chemex, means the Lido 3 can be used for any brew method.
- Although the reference lines are sufficient to recall grind settings with fair precision, the process of unlocking the top ring, adjusting the bottom ring, then tightening the top ring, is a bit difficult and more involved than other grinders.
- The Lido has a relatively short handle and tall body. Especially when grinding for espresso, the grinder can begin to wobble because the bottom half of the grinder is unstabilized by your hand. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to place the grinder between your knees while grinding.
Helor 101 - $259
It looks to be straight out of Cupertino, and sort of is. The Helor is a stunning hand grinder crafted from 6000 Series aluminium -- the same aluminum used for the iPhone 6. As elegant as it is precise, the Helor is comprised of the highest quality materials and offers uniformity of grind on par with the best hand grinders.
Fit and Finish
The Helor features a single-piece body cut out of a block of aluminum. The body, both roller bearing holders, and the outer burr holders are a seamless, solitary chunk of aluminum. Ceramic bearings are used instead of steel or brass bearings because they require no oil and can be washed with water. The wooden handle provides plenty of surface to hold while grinding, and the arm of the handle seems to be the perfect length to provide leverage for even the finest settings. The body and grounds chamber hold about 30-40 g of coffee. The diameter is approximately 2.1", height is 6.6", and weight is 1.28 lbs. Disassembly is extremely straight forward, thanks to the Helor's clean and minimalist design.
The Helor’s three point grind adjustment knob, located on the underside of the body, is familiar to those who’ve used the Porlex or Hario Mini Mill. 11 circles and one solid dot are etched onto the underside of the center burr. A small hole in one of the adjustment knob’s arms serves as a reference to the solid dot on the burr.
- Perhaps the most unique feature of the Helor is its inclusion of dual 38 mm burr sets. The first set, known as “Conventional burrs” are cut specifically for filter coffee grinding. These burrs, made from Martensitic Steel, shine at coarser grinds -- like what would be necessary for single-cup to full capacity Chemex brews or French Press. The second set included with the Helor are the “Contemporary Burrs”, which are the same burr set found in the Feldgrind. The contemporary burrs excel with finer grinds -- like espresso or V60 grinds -- and offer a more uniform grind at finer settings than the conventional burr set. The option of installing different burrs for different brewing applications gives the Helor an advantage over other grinders because its optimal range is more broad.
- Excellent materials and construction, promising an extremely long lifetime.
- Elegant, minimalist, and modern aesthetic.
- Compared to most other options, the Helor is very expensive. This is partly due to the dual burr sets.
- Although the grinder is highly durable, the aluminum body is very easily scratched. The outer body will display the grinder’s history of bumps and falls.
- Because it’s so smooth, the outer body can get a bit slippery during longer grinding sessions where sweat may develop on your palms.
Knock Feldgrind - $175
Meticulously crafted in the UK, the Feldgrind is an increasingly popular hand grinder at a remarkably affordable price. The relatively lower price tag aside, this grinder is no compromise. Fantastic grind uniformity, versatility, and a design aesthetic reminiscent of a Swiss watch make the Feldgrind one of our favorite coffee tools.
Fit and Finish
The Feldgrind consists of an aluminum body, stainless steel parts, a silicone grip, rubber, and some plastic on the handle. Its 38 mm burrs are coated with a ceramic material Knock calls “Nerost”. The coating is rustproof and harder than steel, ensuring the edges of the burrs stay sharper longer. The Feldgrind has a diameter of just under 2", a height of 7.8", and weighs about 1.3 lbs. The center shaft, like the other grinders on our list, ride on internal bearings for incredibly smooth grinding and burr stabilization. The body and grounds chamber have a capacity of about 35-40 g.
The stepless numerical grind adjustment located on top of the grinder is extremely user-friendly and is the hallmark of the Feldgrind’s distinctive design. The adjustment features clearly labeled numbers (0-12) and a hole at the base of the handle which indicates the current setting. Remove the handle and lid, place the handle back over the center shaft, then adjust the grind setting in either direction. Remove the handle, replace the lid, put the handle back in place, and you’re locked in and ready to grind.
- Communicating and recalling grind settings is made much easier with numerical reference. For example, starting from zero (burrs completely together) settings 1-12 can be recalled with precision. Recalling or communicating multiple revolutions is easy, too -- (1.6) or (3.11). (full revolutions/number to settle on after the revolution). Targeting numbers is faster and easier than counting dots, lines, or clicks.
- The Feldgrind is the slimmest of the grinders on our list. The combination of the Feldgrind’s diameter and handle length make it the most comfortable to hold.
- Relatively low price compared to other premium options.
- Full range of grind sizes, from Turkish to big Chemex brews and French Press.
- Burrs have slightly more play (wobble) than other premium options.
- Handle is less comfortable to hold than other options.
Comandante Mk.III - $250
Some of the best equipment used in specialty coffee shops around the world comes out of Germany and, from the beginning, the expectations of the Comandante C40 were high. Although it’s rumored some of the first production models had performance issues, the latest grinders appear to be well built and offer grind quality that’s roughly equivalent to that of the other grinders on our list. Comandante promotes their grinder with strong marketing and buzz words like, "Nitro Blade", but at the core the Comandante is a grinder that performs as well as others for a much higher price.
Fit and Finish
The Comandante sports a stainless steel body wrapped in a thin wood veneer treated with a natural wax oil, high-nitrogen martensitic steel burrs, an oak wood handle sourced from the Black Forest, stainless steel bearings, crank and axle, a BPA-free internal plastic frame, a glass grounds container, and a plastic lid attached to the end of the handle. The Comandante has a diameter of about 2.4", a height of 6.3", and a weight of 1.63 lbs. Its hopper and grounds container can hold about 40-45 g of coffee.
One unique feature of the Comandante is its stepped grind adjustment. A plastic knob on the underside of the unit controls grind size in ‘clicks’. Part of the benefit of stepped grinding is that it allows the user to replicate the exact same setting over and over. By zeroing out the burrs then counting clicks, specific settings can be referenced.
- Transparent lid and grounds container shows what’s left and what’s been ground.
- Full range of grind sizes.
- Unique wood veneer styling.
- Stepped adjustment is sufficient for small changes to espresso.
- Glass grounds container.
- Consists of many plastic parts.
- Performance is comparable to grinders that are quite a bit less.
From size to style, price and application -- there are several things to consider when buying a hand grinder. Our approach here at Prima is to curate a condensed selection of equipment through first-hand experience and judgement of quality, value, and features, then present the best to you. Although each of these grinders produces largely similar uniformity of grind (so similar we didn’t feel it was worth comparing), there are plenty of distinguishing features. There’s a grinder for everyone, and we hope this comparison guide was useful in choosing a hand grinder most relevant to your brewing needs.