Best Cheap Coffee Grinders
- Published on
- By Maralyn Edid
If you enjoy a good cup of coffee, a small investment in a cheap coffee grinder is a small price to pay for fresh coffee at its best, brewed at home or in the office. Coffee is most flavorful when the beans are ground just before brewing; once exposed to oxidation through the grinding process, coffee beans begin to lose flavor. A coffee grinder lets you enjoy the rich fullness of coffee's natural essence. High-end coffee grinders can set you back a few hundred dollars, but we found several grinders costing $20 or less that are more than adequate for this simple task.
Cheap Coffee Grinders Buying Guide
Serious coffee aficionados may prefer a seriously expensive coffee grinder. High-priced models are typically burr grinders, which produce uniform grounds by grinding the beans between two wheels. With burr grinders you're guaranteed results that meet your specification: if you want a coarse grind, all the grounds will be coarse; if you want a fine grind, all the grounds will be fine. Expensive burr grinders also feature a range of settings that produce specific grinds for different types of coffee makers.
Cheap coffee grinders are blade grinders; that is, they chop the beans with stainless steel blades that rotate at high-speed. Blade grinders are less precise than burr grinders and often fail to grind beans to a consistent size. In particular, budget blade grinders struggle to deliver the coarser grinds that are preferred for French press coffee makers and percolators. That said, inexpensive coffee grinders effectively churn out the medium to fine grind required for drip coffee makers and espresso machines. (A fine grind is best for drip coffee makers with paper cone filters and for espresso machines; a medium grind is best for drip coffee makers with flat-bottomed filters.) Another common use for discount coffee grinders is grinding spices and nuts; most low price coffee grinders we reviewed work very well for this purpose.
The major manufacturers of coffee grinders are Krups, Mr. Coffee, Jura Capresso, Proctor Silex, Toastmaster, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, and Black & Decker. These companies offer a range of models at different prices, including some cheap coffee grinders that meet consumers' expectations for performance, ease of use, and durability.
Our research identified two cheap coffee grinders for our "best" category: the Krups Fast Touch 203-42 (starting at $19) is a simple, reliable, no-frills blade coffee grinder that's proven popular for years due to its solid performance; the Mr. Coffee IDS77 (starting at $18) offers some appealing frills, including three automated grind settings that time the grinding action so you don't have to. For the "good" category, we picked the Jura Capresso 501 Cool Grind (starting at $20), which grinds more slowly than other discount coffee grinders to prevent heat build-up, and the Toastmaster 1119 (starting at $12), which users say does a particularly fine job grinding seeds and nuts. We also found two cheap coffee grinders -- the Black & Decker CBG (starting at $20) and the Cuisinart DCG-20 (starting at $20) -- that garner complaints about design and malfunctions.
Operation.Cheap coffee grinders, like the Krups Fast Touch 203-42, Jura Capresso 501 Cool Grind, Toastmaster 1119, Black & Decker CBG100S, and Cuisinart DCG-20, are blade grinders. They're powered up with a simple push button that sets blades whirring inside a small chamber where the beans go. Grinding time varies from five to 15 seconds depending on the amount of beans you're grinding and how finely ground you wish them to be; the Capresso 501 Cool Touch may take a few seconds longer owing to the low-heat motor that's intended to minimize the loss of flavor during a slower grinding process. Most inexpensive coffee grinders feature a push-and-hold control button and clear plastic top (for viewing) that let you decide when to stop the machine. Directions for some discount coffee grinders, like the Capresso Cool Grind 501, Toastmaster 1119, and Black & Decker CBG 100S, recommend using a pulse action for the most even grind.
The Mr. Coffee IDS77 times the action electronically. Just choose from among three settings -- coarse, medium, and fine -- and the number of cups you'll be brewing, and this coffee grinder determines when to shut itself off. You have to keep your finger on the control button throughout, but you can short-circuit the action by letting go if you decide the grind is fine enough. The most sophisticated cheap coffee grinder we found is the Hamilton Beach 80365 (starting at $17), which provides hands-free operation: choose from among the five grind and four cup settings, push the start button, let go, and the coffee grinder stops when the grinding is complete.
Capacity.There's a noticeable difference in the stated capacity of the cheap coffee grinders that we researched. Some are designed to grind enough beans for a small crowd, while others can only handle enough for a few people. At the high-capacity end, the Capresso Cool Grind 501, with its oversize 3.5-ounce grinding chamber, and the Krups Fast Touch 203-42, with a three-ounce chamber, can theoretically grind beans for up to 15 cups of coffee at one go. The Mr. Coffee IDS77, Hamilton Beach 80365, and Black & Decker CBG100S claim to grind up to 12 cups worth of beans, although we didn't find information about the size of the grinding chambers. Moving down the capacity spectrum, the Cuisinart DCG-20 features a 2.5-ounce grinding chamber and the Toastmaster 1119 includes a two-ounce chamber; retailers' specifications for both say the container holds enough for 12 cups of coffee. We found discrepancies among vendors concerning the maximum number of cups advertised for several models, and users assert in discount coffee grinder reviews that the cup maximums are way overstated for all models.
If you expect to prepare just one or two cups of coffee in the morning, though, you might prefer one of the smaller cheap coffee grinders. Although the high-capacity coffee grinders may not specify a minimum number of cups, grinding beans for less than four cups (about two mugs) might produce unsatisfactory results. Despite the difference in capacity among low price coffee grinders, there's little difference in price and overall size.
Cleanup.Grinding coffee can be a messy business, so it's good to know how to keep your coffee grinder clean. The Mr. Coffee IDS77 and Hamilton Beach 80365 are the easiest to maintain. Both models have a removable grinding chamber that can be placed in the dishwasher. The Mr. Coffee IDS77 goes one step further by providing a proprietary semi-automatic cleaning system called the "chamber maid cleaning system" -- press a lever and three plastic bars move around the grinding chamber to remove residue. You can clean the other discount coffee grinders on our list with a damp cloth or dry brush (some users recommend a small paint or pastry brush).
Cord and Storage.If you have a cluttered counter or prefer to store your coffee grinder when not in use, the length of the cord and where it goes matter. The Mr. Coffee IDS77 provides recessed storage so you can easily tuck away the cord and move the coffee grinder out of sight. Other cheap coffee grinders with recessed cord storage include the Capresso Cool Grind 501, Toastmaster 1119, and Hamilton Beach 80365. The Krups Fast-touch 203-42 has a very short cord with no recessed storage, so you may need an extension cord for this model. The Proctor Silex E160B (starting at $12) features an unusual (for discount coffee grinders) retractable cord.
Coffee Grinders Performance
Coffee grinder reviews are fairly straightforward. Most comment on the evenness of the grind, the ease of cleaning, and the coffee grinder's durability. Coffee grinder reviews also reveal a surprising assortment of uses for these small appliances, from the obvious grinding of coffee beans to the more surprising grinding of flax seeds for chicken feed and crushing of medicine for horses. Grinding dried herbs, spices, and nuts is another function cheap coffee grinders handle often and with aplomb. Our reading of reviews indicates that the appeal of discount coffee grinders lies in the combination of low price, good performance, and reliability.
General Performance.The mark of a top-notch coffee grinder is its ability to produce uniformly-sized grounds so that each granule or powdery speck brews at the same rate, which in turn minimizes any bitter or burnt flavor. Cheap blade grinders do a more or less better job of even grinding, depending on the model, but never reach the standard set by pricey burr grinders.
Getting the optimal size grind for the beans you like and the coffee-making process you use, however, may involve some trial and error, according to coffee grinder reviews. For example, the Home Cooking in Montana blog reports that a pulse action involving short, quick bursts, as well as shaking the grinder, is the best way to get even grounds with the Capresso 501 Cool Grind. A review on Amazon suggests staging a few test runs with the Krups Fast Touch 203-42 (starting at $19), but notes that nine seconds seems right for the amount of beans needed for one flavorful cup. If you don't like the idea of guesswork, there's always the Mr. Coffee IDS77 (starting at $18); a coffee grinders review on Amazon claims the electronic grind and cup settings shut down the machine at just the right moment.
Based on the coffee grinders reviews we read, certain models are more adept at a given grind size than others. Fine grinds are the forte of the Krups Fast Touch 203-42, say reviews on Amazon, a strength that makes this the cheap coffee grinder of choice for consumers who brew coffee with paper cone-shaped filters. French press coffee makers need a coarser grind that users say is hard to get with the Krups Fast Touch 203-42; a review on Epinions notes that the fine grinds escape the netting of the French press and wind up in your cup. A review on Epinions says the Toastmaster 1119 (starting at $12) makes a fine, powdery grind out of a quarter cup of beans if you hold down the button for 15 seconds. HowStuffWorks disagrees, saying the Toastmaster 1119 is best suited to producing a coarse grind. But the real strength of Toastmaster 1119 may not be grinding coffee beans at all; reviews laud its prowess at grinding nuts and seeds, and one mom reports using the Toastmaster 1119 to grind grain for baby food.
Reviews report the Capresso 501 Cool Grind (starting at $20) stands out for its coarse grind, which is a good match for drip coffeemakers. And a user who conducted a comparative tasting asserts the cool grind technology delivers a better brew than regular blade grinders, according to a coffee grinder review on Amazon. The automatic controls on the Mr. Coffee IDS77 produce the desired fine, coarse, or medium grind, say reviews on Walmart, although other users report inconsistency in the grind between the beans at the bottom and those at the top of the chamber.
The Cuisinart DCG-20 does its thing well enough, say reviews on Amazon but requires some pulsing to yield the best result, which tends to be relatively coarse. Users like the pulse feature on the Black & Decker CBG100S, and a review on Home Depot says pulsing is the best way to ensure the size grind you want, be it fine, medium, or coarse. Other reviews warn that putting too many beans in the chamber of the Black & Decker CBG100S will leave you with a very uneven grind: too fine around the blades and too coarse in the rest of the chamber.
Ease of Use.Noise, mess, and clean up are the primary issues consumers raise in coffee grinders reviews. Most write that regardless of model, these little appliances are noisy -- but if you want to smell the coffee in the morning, you just have to deal. Stray grounds that fall to the counter as you open the top of the grinding chamber irk some users of most models we researched. Some also grumble about spills when scooping out or otherwise transferring the grinds to the cap before dumping (or measuring) them into the coffee maker. The most frequent complaints about excessive spills and stray grinds concern the Cuisinart DCG-20, in part because of its small 2.5-ounce size of the chamber, and the Black & Decker CBG100S, in part because some users find the top difficult to remove. Trying to pour the grounds directly from the motor unit into coffee-brewing equipment is an awkward alternative with blade grinders, says another review. Some users also report static cling in the grinding chambers of the Toastmaster 1119 and Cuisinart DCG-20.
Frequent cleaning of the coffee grinder prevents build up of rancid oils that mar the coffee flavor. Many users say clean up is a breeze with the Mr. Coffee IDS77 because the grinding chamber can be removed and put in the dishwasher. Mr. Coffee IDS77 also features a proprietary cleaning system that "sweeps" out coffee residue, although users' assessments of this contraption vary: some coffee grinders reviews on Walmart say it's useless while others say it's an effective cleaning aid.
Blade grinders can't be disassembled for cleaning, and coffee grinders reviews indicate this bothers some consumers. Other users report, however, that some quick work with a small brush or swipe with a damp towel suffices. One owner of the Krups Fast Touch 203-42 says in a review on Cooking.com that a burst of canned air does the trick. Because it may be hard to completely eliminate the coffee aroma or a few stray grounds, several consumers commenting in reviews about the Capresso 501 Cool Grind suggest keeping a second grinder for non-coffee uses. Several reports surfaced on Epinions about grounds that collect under the blades in the Toastmaster 1119.
Durability.With but a few exceptions, cheap coffee grinders seem to last. According to coffee grinders reviews on sites like Amazon and Viewpoints, the Krups Fast Touch 203-42 is especially durable; some users write about having used the same unit for more than 10 years. We found a few reports of early death for the Capresso 501 Cool Grind and the Mr. Coffee IDS77, and one consumer says the Toastmaster 1119 slows down as it ages; i.e., it takes longer to get the preferred grind.
The Cuisinart DCG-20 and Black & Decker CBG100S seem plagued by more mechanical problems than other models we researched. Several consumers posting reviews on Amazon and Macy's report the Cuisinart DCG-20 died shortly after purchase, even with minimal use, and one says it didn't work fresh out of the box. reviews of the Black & Decker CBG100S, also on Amazon, report blades that keep spinning even when the cap is off, which poses a safety hazard.
A final note: Your cheap coffee grinder will probably live longer if you don't overload it. Don't pack the grinding chamber with too many beans or grind too many batches in a row.