Are you wondering if any coffee grinder is suitable for grinding coffee beans to make espresso grounds? Here’s what you want to know.
Coffee grinders that are not specifically made for grinding coffee beans for espresso often lack the adjustability, fine grind settings, and grind uniformity to be used for proper espresso. Grounds from normal grinders can be used with pressurized baskets but that won’t brew the best espresso.
Let’s dive in a little deeper into why espresso requires different grinders and what grinders are good options for you.
Can Any Coffee Grinder Grind For Espresso?
Most normal coffee grinders are not capable of grinding finely and evenly enough to be used for brewing good espresso. They also lack the adjustability to change the grind size for your specific taste and coffee beans.
Espresso is made by pushing hot water through a bed of finely and evenly ground coffee. Most ‘normal’ coffee grinders cannot grind coffee beans as finely and evenly as is necessary for making good espresso.
Espresso grounds are much finer than for pour-over coffee or something like a French press. It’s also necessary to have very fine control over the grind size since a small difference in size can make a big difference in taste. Most grinders that aren’t specifically made for grinding espresso grounds could maybe grind finely enough to get in the espresso ballpark but they don’t have enough adjustability to really get the right size for your coffee and taste.
That means you might be able to brew ‘OK’ espresso but not good espresso. And you won’t be able to adjust the grind size in small enough steps to dial in the size for different tastes and coffees. Different coffee beans require slightly different grind sizes to brew properly and a normal non-espresso grinder is just not capable of those fine adjustments.
And finally, espresso grounds have to be uniform. There shouldn’t be much variation in the size of the coffee particles after grinding. Higher uniformity requires higher quality and better-engineered grinders and components.
It’s also important that a coffee grinder keeps the same settings. Some grinders can ‘wander’ a little bit in the adjustments because of tolerances in components, vibrations during grinding, and overall design. This might seem like a minor problem but if the setting changes slightly after grinding, you might keep chasing your tail on trying to find the perfect setting. If it changed during grinding, the starting point you think you have to adjust from has already changed and it will drive you crazy.
Are you a little confused about espresso machines and grinders and if they shouldn’t do both, click here to find out.
Espresso machines aren’t cheap but the espresso machine alone isn’t going to be enough to brew good espresso. You need a suitable grinder as well as an espresso machine to get good results.
Kind Of Espresso Machine
It does depend on what kind of espresso machine you’re using. Actual espresso machines do require very finely ground beans. However, low-end espresso machines and espresso machine alternatives like Moka pots are meant to be used with slightly coarser grounds which can usually be achieved with a normal coffee grinder.
The reason lower-end (and some mid-range) espresso machines work with slightly coarser grounds is because most people don’t have the proper grinder for the ‘real deal’. The way this is accomplished is by using so-called; ‘pressurized baskets’. Baskets are the little filter cups that click into the portafilter. Normal baskets have a lot of holes in the bottom that let coffee through easily but keeps grounds out. Pressurized baskets only have one hole in the bottom. That creates a resistance which keeps the pressure in the basket higher even though the grounds are coarser.
In normal baskets, the resistance is created by the very finely ground coffee. If you use the coarser ground coffee with a normal basket, you’ll have very little resistance and therefore weak espresso.
If you want the best espresso, normal filter baskets with fine grounds are the way to go. Pressurized baskets are a bandaid solution that does make coarser grounds work but doesn’t produce high-quality espresso. It’s often possible to replace a pressurized basket with a normal basket. However, be aware that some very low-end espresso machines just don’t create enough pressure to deal with the fine grounds you need for a normal basket.
Which Coffee Grinders Are Good For Espresso?
If not all grinders are good for grinding espresso, which ones are? There are a few requirements for a good espresso grinder;
- Can grind very finely
- Can grind evenly (narrow distribution of particle sizes)
- Has fine adjustments
Here are some recommended grinders that work well for espresso and are good value for money.
The hand grinders provide a lot of value for money. You get very high-quality grinders for what you pay compared to an electric grinder. Of course, hand grinders require some input of effort. I personally like the process of hand grinding but others despise it. Also, if you brew a lot of espresso every day, hand grinding will get old quickly.
Are Espresso Grinders Good For All Coffee Types?
Most espresso grinders can also grind for other types of coffee although they aren’t necessarily optimized for those other types. There are exceptions; some espresso grinders are only for grinding espresso and can’t do coarser grinds. If you need the functionality, make sure to check before buying.
If ‘normal’ coffee grinders aren’t really suitable for espresso, are espresso grinders OK for other brew methods? It’s a fair question.
So if you buy a coffee grinder that is good for grinding espresso, does that mean you can use that for all other types of coffee? Things like French presses and pour-over coffees require much coarser grind settings. Are you good with one of the grinders above?
Grinders tend to be focused on espresso or other types of coffee. Most of the grinders in the list above will do both except the Rancilio. The Rancilio just does espresso.
It’s important to be careful when you buy a grinder. Many grinders that can do espresso can also do other types of grinds but they will be focused more towards espresso. Grinders that are focused on other types of coffee will usually not do espresso properly.
That’s a long way of saying; it depends. Most espresso grinders can grind for other coffee types but not all.
Recommended Espresso Equipment
Besides an espresso machine, there are a few other tools that can make your espresso better. Here are my favorites:
- Espresso Machine: The Breville Barista Express (Amazon) is the sweet spot in price and quality for most casual home baristas. It comes with a built in grinder and most tools you need to brew espresso.
- Tamper: A nice tamper helps you tamp your grounds in the filter for the best result. Any correctly sized tamper can do the job but a nice heavy one just feels so much better in your hand than a plastic model. This Luxhaus one (Amazon) has a nice trick up it’s sleeve to make tamping very consistent.
- Beans: Good espresso starts with good beans. Using fresh beans is a big improvement over pre-ground coffee.
- Scales: Getting consistently good espresso means you have to know how much grounds is going into the machine and how much is coming out and how long this takes. A coffee scale is going to make your espresso much more consistent and also makes adjustments a lot easier. The Apexstone coffee scale (Amazon) is cheap and doesn’t look too sleek but is just as accurate as more expensive scales. The TimeMore scales (Amazon) look and feel a lot nicer but cost a bit more.
- Grinder: To make the best of your fresh beans, a good grinder is necessary. Espresso requires a good grinder to get the best results. The Baratza Sette 30 (Amazon) is a good espresso grinder that can also be used for other brewing methods and while not cheap, is good value for money. If you prefer hand grinders, the 1ZPresso JX-PRO is one of the best options (Amazon)
- Distribution tool: After grinding you can get some clumps in the coffee grounds. Those clumps should be broken up so the water can extract all the coffee grounds equally. Distribution tools are very simple things but this one (Amazon) is beautifully made and will look good in your kitchen.