As I became more of an espresso connoisseur, it became apparent that electric grinders for espresso often cost more than my entry-level espresso machine. I became curious about whether a more affordable manual coffee grinder could effectively produce a fine espresso grind.
I experimented with dozens of coffee grinders. A hand grinder can be a physical challenge and it also consumes precious time, but for the purist who relishes the meditative discipline of traditional grinding, it can be sheer joy to generate your own deep brew. It is possible to do this with the right choice of grinder and technique.
An unexpected result was that some hand coffee grinders produce even better espresso grinds than electric grinders.
A Hand Grinder for Espresso?
Absolutely! A hand grinder can grind coffee beans for espresso, but it’s crucial to find the right manual grinder and make the necessary adjustments for a consistent, fine grind.
You will need a hand grinder with a high-quality burr set that can grind the coffee beans into fine grinds between 200 to 500 microns in size. Additionally, the manual grinder needs to provide enough grind settings with step adjustments smaller than 30 microns per step.
Here is our video review of the K-Ultra, which offers 20 microns per step. I can pull decent espresso shots consistently with the espresso grinds it produces.
It is not surprising that some hand grinders will struggle for espresso success. The purpose of my quest was to discover the perfect hand-ground espresso, to save you the trouble.
Be aware that anything worthwhile often takes more time for satisfaction. If you want to delegate your electric coffee grinder to the back of the cupboard, be prepared to give your grind some loving care.
As someone who enjoys the hands-on approach of manual coffee grinders, I don’t mind putting in the extra effort, but I understand that it may not be ideal for everyone.
Now that it’s been established that you can use a hand grinder for espresso, I will explain how the grind affects the espresso quality.
What’s Special About Espresso Grind?
Espresso requires finer ground coffee than most other coffee drinks. Unlike other brew methods, espresso is very particular about grind size.
When brewing espresso, you need to extract the flavors and aromas evenly, within 30 seconds, under high pressure.
If the grind size is not correct when making espresso, it can lead to several unfavorable outcomes:
- Under-extraction: When the grind is too coarse, the shot will be diluted, leaving too much water and a soured flavor, and it will lack the rich espresso body. This happens when the water flows through the coffee grounds too quickly without extracting enough flavors.
- Over-extraction: A grind that is too fine will hold the water too long and slow the extraction process. This will release the bitter taste of tannins, a compound in the bean that will pucker your mouth.
However, most cheaper hand grinders can only produce coarse grinds that are not suitable for espresso.
What Is Dialing in Espresso?
Dialing in espresso refers to the process of finding the perfect balance of flavors, acidity, sweetness, bitterness and body, when extracting coffee.
This intricate process involves making small adjustments to the brewing variables, such as grind size, dose and extraction time, to achieve the desired taste profile. Grind size is an essential factor when dialing in.
It is common and reasonable that many hand grinders classify themselves as “espresso possible”. Unfortunately, the dozen grind settings they possess have steps larger than 30 microns, which do not allow you to dial in for the perfect espresso shot.
As I’ve learned through my coffee journey, a good espresso grinder should not only grind fine enough, but also needs to provide enough room for dialing in. I detailed the instruction for dialing in espresso in another post.
Choosing the Right Hand Grinder for Espresso
In this section, I’ll discuss some essential factors to consider when selecting a hand coffee grinder for espresso.
Conical and flat burrs are the two main types used in espresso grinders. You will only find conical burr sets in manual coffee grinders, while many electric espresso grinders use larger flat burrs for efficiency and higher uniformity. By the way, no matter which burr type you choose, they will be much better than blade grinders.
The materials used for the burrs, such as ceramic or stainless steel, can influence grind consistency and efficiency. Ceramic burrs are often found in cheaper hand grinders, but you’ll have to work hard for your shot. If you grind for espresso, opt for steel burrs.
Microns per step
When grinding coffee for espresso, the grinder’s ability to make fine adjustments is essential for achieving optimal extraction. The smaller the adjustment increments, the more precise the grind size control.
It is regretful that most hand grinders are stepped grinders, meaning you can only change a fixed distance between the conical cone burr and the outer ring burr.
As a rule of thumb, I like to look for grinders that can adjust in increments of around 30 microns per step or smaller. Of course, the smaller, the better. For example, 1Zpresso J Max can achieve 8 microns per step, which is very close to a high-end stepless electric burr grinder. And their JX Pro offers 12.5 microns per step, which works great for espresso too.
When choosing a hand grinder for espresso, grinding speed matters. Efficient grinders can save you time and energy, making the grinding procedure less tiring.
A sharp and large steel burr can grind espresso beans much faster than a small ceramic burr.
For example, the Kinu M47 takes 40 seconds or so to grind 18 grams. Its 47mm steel burr breaks down coffee beans in half the time of competing models.
Stepless adjustment systems enable infinite grind size adjustments, while stepped adjustments have a limited number of predefined settings.
If your aim is to get the grind finished and get on with your day, you’ll want to make the grinding job quicker. Some hand grinders require removing the catch cup to access the dial ring under the burr, which is inconvenient. More practical grinders have external dial rings for quick adjustment of grind size. I prefer to avoid frustration with external adjustments so that I can easily switch grind sizes back and forth, thus saving time and energy.
Pressurized or non-pressurized portafilter?
A pressurized filter basket is much more forgiving of the grind size. It forces coffee through a small hole to create the crema. With an entry-level espresso machine that has this type of filter basket, you can make a good shot of espresso even when the grind size is a bit off. However, let’s look at non-pressurized baskets which produce a superior shot quality.
Non-pressurized baskets are very picky about grind sizes, although you can achieve an authentic espresso shot if the grounds are perfectly dialed in. With this type of portafilter, you need a higher quality hand grinder.
Check our guide to learn more about the difference between a non-pressurized and pressurized basket.
Here are my recommendations for buying a hand grinder for espresso:
- Large steel burrs
- External adjustments
- Increments of 20 microns per step or smaller
- More grind settings
Manual vs Electric Espresso Grinder
Here, you need to consider what you prefer for your coffee-time pleasure: a traditional olde-world, back-to-basics approach, or a quick and easy fix. Also, how much do you want to spend? Both types of grinders can produce the necessary fine grinds for making an espresso shot.
Electric coffee grinders are typically faster and more efficient than manual grinders. This is particularly helpful when you need freshly ground coffee for multiple espresso servings.
However, convenience can come with a higher price tag and electric grinders will vary significantly in quality. It might be a more satisfying experience to choose a manual grinder that will get you better results than you might achieve with a less expensive electric option that features lower-quality burrs.
Watching your budget? Premium manual grinders are less expensive than their entry-level electric counterparts. For example, the premium 1Zpresso J Max specially designed for espresso only costs $200 or so. You can’t find any electric coffee grinders that can produce the same quality espresso grinds in this price range.
Manual grinders don’t require any power outlets or cords to operate. This can also make manual grinders more portable and convenient for traveling or camping.
Conclusion – Can a hand grinder grind espresso?
A hand coffee grinder can be a realistic and viable option for espresso brewing, especially for those who appreciate the manual process and the satisfaction of creating a fine-tuned cup of coffee. The key is to invest in a quality hand grinder that meets your espresso grinding needs.
While I’ve trekked through coffee land, I’ve run across some of the best hand grinders for espresso.
1Zpresso JX-PRO is praised for its large, powerful 48mm burr grinders that can break down coffee beans efficiently. 12.5 microns per step provide the ability for minor adjustments. If you are looking for even more control over the grind size, the newer 1Zpresso J Max is my recommendation. With 8 microns per step, you have a much wider window for dialing in for optimal espresso brewing. No matter which one you choose, both cost only a fraction of those electric burr grinders.
While I acknowledge that an electric grinder can save time and effort, using a hand grinder for espresso can still deliver a satisfying and delicious shot of espresso, if you’re willing to put in the necessary work.