Paul's passion for making and consuming coffee extends back over thirty years. An extensive traveler, he currently lives in Florida.
Once you discover that nothing can beat the aroma and taste of freshly ground coffee, there is not going back! I have been grinding my own beans for over twenty-five years and would never dream of returning to buying ready ground.
Grinding your own coffee beans ensures that you capture the maximum amount of flavor. You also have much more flexibility and control when it comes to obtaining the specific grade of fineness/coarseness that you require.
Unlike electric grinders which are powered by a motor, manual grinders typically use a crank that is powered by hand. Although this means more work, these mills have a lot going for them in terms of convenience, functionality, versatility, and appearance.
Below are my suggestions for the best manual grinders, based on personal experience.
The Top 3 Manually Operated Coffee Mills
- Beautiful Juglans Nigra Mill With Stainless Steel Burr
- Best Vintage Style Mill: The Zassenhaus
- Sleek, Robust, and Reliable: The JavaPresse
I explain my choices and give my experiences below.
Beautiful Juglans Nigra Mill With Stainless Steel Burr
My personal favorite from the list is this beautiful Juglans Nigra manual grinder that features a stainless steel burr. This mill is robust, high quality and easy to use. I've used it on my travels for almost a year and I love it.
- Unlike most manual grinders, this unit lets you choose the coarseness of the grounds, there's a built-in adjustable grind selector on the bottom that you can tighten or loosen
- It's travel friendly, you can use it anywhere, on the road or in the office
- I love the classy look and feel of this product
- The stainless steel burr is built to last, I'm not worried about this product expiring prematurely
- I've bought a couple as gifts and both recipients loved it!
- This mill is compact, it may be too small for some people (great for travelers though!)
Best Vintage Style Mill: The Zassenhaus
Zassenhaus have an excellent reputation as a maker of grinders, deservedly so in my experience. Their mills are much sought after. This Zassenhaus coffee grinder is superior product with a tried and tested, classic design, the mill has a hardened metal grinding mechanism, which is durable, as well as precise.
I bought mine online and it arrived in a slightly dented box but the grinder inside was in pristine condition. There's a knurled adjusting nut that sets the level of fineness/coarseness of the grind. I would advise that you make sure that this nut is loosened before you use the mill for the first time and then gradually tighten it as you grind to get the setting you want.
As with all manual mills, it is very quiet to use, but requires a certain amount of time and effort.
This grinder doesn't come cheap, they typically sell for around $100, but they have a classic build and work well.
- More precise than most cheaper manual grinders
- Sturdy construction
- Grinding mechanism has a 25 year guarantee
- Nice talking point for when we have guests
- Great for a few cups of coffee, but hard work for larger amounts
Sleek, Robust, and Reliable: The JavaPresse
The JavaPresse is the manual mill that I always take with me when I travel. It's easy to store inside a suitcase or carry-on bag. As with all hand-cranked grinders, there is no need to worry about cords or batteries or power supply.
Grinding enough coffee for one cup is very quick, it generally takes less than a couple of minutes. If you require enough coffee for two, you will need to fill it up with beans and it will take you around five minutes.
The unit can be easily disassembled into its component parts making it very straightforward to clean. Seeing all the parts also enables you to understand how a manual mill works, if you didn't already know!
As with all manual grinders, the grounds produced are never 100% precise, but grinding your own is always a much better alternative than buying ready ground beans, as the flavor is superior. For sure, it does take a little experimentation before you get the grind you want, but you can see what's happening through the viewing window.
My Main Pros
- Minimal effort required to grind
- Easy to clean
- Attractive appearance
- Compact design makes it easy to transport and store
My Main Cons
- This hasn't happened to me, but I've read a few reviews where people complained that the plastic piece that sits inside the conical burr has broken after only a few months of wear and tear.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Manual Coffee Grinder Vs Electric
5 Advantages of Hand-Cranked Burr Mills
- Manual mills are very quiet, especially when compared with electric grinders. This is especially useful if you are making coffee in the morning when other family members are sleeping and you don't want to awaken them.
- You effectively have full control over the grinding process. There are no switches, settings, or computer programs. The finer that you want the grounds to be, the longer you work the crank.
- Manuals use burrs to crush the beans, widely considered to be the best way to grind. Many electrical machines, especially the more affordable ones, use blades.
- They often look more attractive - you can put them on full display in your kitchen, rather than having to shut them away and hide them when not in use. Some of the more exotic designs can even serve as talking points at social events.
- As you don’t need a power supply, you can do your grinding wherever you wish. You can take them traveling, or use them outdoors. Even if you use an electric as your main grinder, it is also worth having a manual grinder just for this reason.
2 Disadvantages of Hand-Cranked Burr Mills
- They require more work. Some people don't want to put in the time and energy needed to grind their beans, especially if they are in a rush and it's early in the morning.
- You typically have no settings as you do with many electric grinders. It takes time to learn how long you need to work the mill in order to produce the desired coarseness of grounds.
To me, the smell of fresh-made coffee is one of the greatest inventions.
— Hugh Jackman
A Very Brief History of Coffee
According to legend, coffee was originally discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder, who saw the energizing effect that the berries had on his animals. It was the Arabs of Yemen who first cultivated it as a crop in the 15th Century. By the 16th Century, coffee drinking had spread to the wider Middle East and North Africa. Coffee spread to Western Europe via Italy, and then to Indonesia. After the Boston Tea Party, lots of Americans switched to drinking coffee, as tea was seen as unpatriotic.
Tips on Storing Coffee
To maintain flavor for as long as possible, coffee should be stored correctly. Below are some useful tips for keeping your brews tasty.
- Buys beans whenever possible, rather than ready ground, and grind them just before brewing to get maximum flavor.
- Store your coffee in an airtight container. Good construction materials are glass, ceramic, stainless steel. Moisture is bad for the beans and needs to be minimized.
- Keep the beans away from sources of heat (such as a stove) and direct sunlight, if possible. A fairly cool and dark place is ideal.
- Do not freeze the beans, or refrigerate them, as very cold temperatures can also damage the taste.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Paul Goodman
sattara on March 09, 2019:
I have used a Song Mill for near on 50 years; there is none better!
rlichter on August 24, 2018:
Heard of the Pharos? Puts the Zassenhaus (the only one of the three you include with which I am familiar) to shame.
Samantha Shoo on March 21, 2018:
Thank you for posting this review, I was looking for that information! You should look into the ceramic burr coffee grinder from Human Brother. I've used it for more than six months now. It's easy to use and manage, besides the price in much lower than other advertised brands.
Amanda W from Pittsburgh on January 16, 2015:
I've gone way too long without a coffee grinder in my life, and when I went to buy one, I had no idea what to get. This guide was really helpful, thank you!
a.doyle on November 28, 2012:
the greatest is a vintage model called spong coffee grinder.
it looks like it is a part off an old steam train from the 1860s
it comes in numbers 0,1,2,3,4 and has a design that did not change for 140 years.
the company does not exist now but these vintage beasts once you clean them up help make the best tasting coffee ever.
spong,spong,spong,spong lovely spong.
they have a burr grinder in them that is pure iron and big which is the key.
ebay is the place number 2 is easier to find.revamping these gems is easy soak the burrs in molasses or vinegar wash off with baking soda and toothbrush.put a little veg oil on the iron parts once you have dried off.
it will last another 100 years use the power of victorian england to grind your coffee.
Paul Goodman from Florida USA on June 26, 2012:
Thanks for posting, this is just what I was looking for! The thing that I like about manual coffee grinders is that you can take them with you when you travel or go camping!
jelliott88 on June 11, 2012:
Great hub! You should look into the Camano Coffee Mill made by the Red Rooster Trading Company. I've used it for almost a year now. It is easy to use, so smooth, and handmade. It's gorgeous.
Paul on December 13, 2011:
I've got a Macap electric grinder. Good, but not perfect, especially de doser attachment (made for large volumes of coffee) irked me, who grinds just 2-3 cups of coffee (too much loss, really). In came the hand grinder. As a kid, we each "had" to take turns grinding the handle of that wooden box and, well, it wasn't our hobby. I have an old Zassenhaus, which I esthetically restored, not the burrs. But it grinds great. For christmas, I'm being offered a new "ecological" (German) grinder from Kornkraft, with flat burrs made from stone. Wonder how that will be...I understand the new Zassenhaus (and other) grinders are very disappointing. So I just "won" a very good looking "old" Dienes PE DE grinder, built before 1962 that's clear, and I hope the burrs are good. My coffee is espresso, so the grinding has to be very fine, not as fine as Turkish/Greek, but fine anyway. Happy Christmas to you, Paul
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on October 28, 2011:
Thanks for your comment, Ardie. It's difficult to think of a better aroma than that of freshly ground coffee!
Sondra from Neverland on October 25, 2011:
After I read this I closed my eyes and smelled coffee, mmmm. I don't drink it but the smell reminds me of my childhood. My Mom had a pot brewing on the stove from dawn to midnight while I was growing up.