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Entry Level Grinders

If you’re reading this, welcome to espresso! This rabbithole can be as deep or shallow as you want it, but it’s always nice to make educated choices about the equipment you’ve chosen. If you’ve been on the subreddit seeing the endless equipment questions, you’ve probably seen the following phrase - “The grinder is just as important as the machine”. I’ll just go ahead and confirm right now, this is true. The grinder is more important than the machine once you hit a certain basic capability of machine (Around the unpressurized Bambino / Gaggia Classic mark).

Marketing

You’ll find cheaper grinders advertising they can grind for espresso; they can’t. There is a distinction to be made between pressurized and unpressurized espresso, as in an unpressurized basket there is no grinder under $100 new that will grind fine or consistently enough to provide adequate resistance to flow. Pressurized baskets are also referred to as “dual wall” baskets.

Adjustment

In order to change extraction and flow rate in espresso, it is required to make grind size changes. The finer you grind, the slower the shot (most of the time). Small changes in grind can have a drastic effect on extraction time, in the range of 5-10 seconds on, say a Baratza Encore. Capable espresso grinders have “microsteps” or “stepless grind adjustment” in order to allow for minute adjustment.

Grind Quality

In these price ranges, you’re not going to get a perfectly even grind. However, in this case I am referring to grind consistency in being able to produce the same grind distribution multiple times in a row. Cheaper grinders will sometimes make great shots, and if you keep the same setting it will suddenly clog or run very fast. Consistency is being able to make the same shot, for multiple days in a row.

How to work with stepped grinders

If you bought an Encore with the intention of using it for espresso, you can still make things work. It won’t be easy or pretty, but you can make it work while you either shop for another grinder, save up, or maybe just decide it’s not for you (pourover is amazing). Encores (and the Virtuoso) do not come calibrated to grind fine enough for espresso from the factory, so you can calibrate the grinder to grind finer. Once you do that, if you find yourself in between two steps, you can grind until the machine is clogged, and then you can reduce the dose by 0.5g steps until the shot flows. It’s not ideal, but it’s doable.

Encore/Virtuoso Espresso Calibration Video

These will all do a great job and compete above their weight-class in terms of grind quality.

Eureka Mignon Manuale: $266 from EspressoCoffeeShop

  • 50mm Flat burr
  • no timer
  • stepless
  • ~1g retention

Pros: quiet, reliable, switchable from brew to espresso

Cons: no timer, eureka adjustment is hard to switch from espresso to brew, if bought from EspressoCoffeeShop outside Europe this is a grey market unit and may have warranty challenges.

1zpresso JX Pro: $159 direct from 1zpresso

  • 48mm Conical burr
  • Manual
  • Near zero retention
  • small steps
  • 45 seconds to 1 minute for a 14-18g dose

Pros: Quiet, reliable, switchable from brew to espresso

Cons: Hand-grinding can be too much for some

Baratza Sette 270: $300 refurb from Baratza

  • 40mm Etzinger Conical Burr
  • Timer
  • Microstepped
  • ~1g retention

Pros: Fast af, good grind quality, precise timer, doesn’t popcorn much

Cons: Gearbox issues, ear-destroyer, shims needed over lifespan

Baratza Vario: $300 refurb from Baratza

  • 54mm Mahlkonig Flat burr
  • Timer
  • Stepped
  • ~2g retention

Pros: best grind quality when modded/aligned, available steel burrs + Forte parts

Cons: kinda loud, mediocre w/o mods, ugly af, grinds very slow with steels, ugly af

Honorable Mentions

  • Used Mazzers
  • Other handgrinders (Remi, Apollo, Comandante, Lido)

Wild Cards (Unknown performance)

  • Bezzera BB05
  • 1st Line Sonny
  • Lelit Fred
  • Baratza Virtuoso/Encore
  • Baratza Sette 30
  • Delonghi Dedica
  • Rancilio Rocky
  • Breville Sage Smart Grinder Pro
  • Gaggia MDF