If you’re looking to buy an espresso machine, you’ve probably seen ones that come with a bean grinder built-in and some that don’t have one. Are the ones with built-in grinder any good and should you get one? Here’s what you want to know.
Espresso machines with built-in grinders allow you to brew much tastier coffee if you would use pre-ground coffee otherwise. The quality of the grinders is average so a good stand-alone coffee grinder could give better results, however, this also costs more, takes up more space, and is less convenient.
Let’s go into the details, what the pros and cons are of a built-in grinder and what’s the best choice for you.
Is An Espresso Machine With a Built-In Grinder A Good Idea?
Any coffee is better when brewed with freshly ground beans. Espresso is no different. If you buy pre-ground coffee from a supermarket, it’s likely not very fresh. Even though it’s vacuum-packed, who knows how long it’s been on the shelf? And when you open the package, the deterioration of the coffee grounds happens very quickly. Buying freshly ground from a coffee shop will be better but still degrades fast.
Whole beans stay good for longer because there is simply less surface area exposed to oxygen. However, to use whole beans to brew coffee, you need a grinder. And since not everyone has a coffee grinder in their kitchen, an espresso machine with one built-in is a great solution for many people.
You only have to buy one appliance and it’s set up to be used with the espresso machine so you can be sure it works reasonably well. Having an espresso machine with a built-in grinder will produce significantly better coffee than if you’re using pre-ground coffee.
The grinders in these combination machines are of average quality. They are definitely not the worst but they’re also not high-end grinders. They are good enough to produce reasonable espresso but a high-quality separate grinder will give even better results. However, that means buying another appliance and setting it up correctly.
High-end espresso grinders are quite pricey and you need some time to set them up. There are often a lot of grind settings so you can find the perfect setting for your specific coffee but it also means there is a lot of room for error.
Espresso machines with built-in grinders are for people who want one appliance that does everything and wants better coffee than you would get by using pre-ground coffee. It’s not for people who like to experiment to get the absolute best espresso humanly possible.
Pros And Cons Of An Espresso Machine With Built In Grinder
Of course, like almost everything in life, there are pros and cons to things. A built-in grinder is no different. Let’s go over them to see what they are so you can make the right decision for your situation.
- Only one appliance in your kitchen: To get good espresso, freshly ground beans are a must. For that, you need a grinder. If it’s built into the espresso machine, that means you only need one appliance.
- Much improved espresso over using pre-ground coffee: Freshly ground beans make tastier coffee.
- Cheaper than buying both an espresso machine and grinder separately: Good espresso grinders are not cheap. By getting both the grind and the brew part in one box, you can save some money.
- Very simple set-up: The built-in grinders have very limited adjustment. Separate grinders have a lot. That means the built-in grinder is easier to set up because it’s made to work with your espresso machine and there aren’t many settings.
- Convenient: The grinder and brew head are right next to each other which makes the workflow easy.
- Adds cost if you already have a grinder:
- Average quality grinders: Most machines have built-in grinders that aren’t the highest quality. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with them, they’re just not the part that’s spent the most engineering time and money on. You can get better grinders if you buy separate although you can also get worse ones. They are usually perfectly fine for the job at hand.
- No room for experimentation/fine-tuning: A built-in grinder has very few adjustment options so you get what you get.
- More things to go wrong: More parts means more things that can break. With a good brand and good warranty, this isn’t necessarily a problem but it can still be a pain if you have to wait a week to get something fixed since the whole machine will be out of order.
- Bigger machine: The built-in grinder does make the espresso machine bigger. If space is at a premium in your kitchen. Consider an espresso machine without a grinder and then use a compact hand grinder that works well for espresso like the 1Zpresso JX-PRO
Espresso machines with built-in grinders are for people who want convenience and an upgrade from the standard pre-ground coffee. They cost a bit more but it’s worth the money because of the better taste and you can save money because it’s not necessary to buy a separate grinder.
Built-in grinders are also good for people who want to keep their kitchen tidy and don’t want too many appliances that create clutter.
For people who want the absolute best espresso and know how to dial in a high-end grinder, a separate espresso machine and grinder is a better option since it allows you to choose/exchange both when needed. Separates also tend to have more adjustment options which means you can really fine-tune the espresso to your needs. However, that takes time, effort, and skill which most people don’t have/want to invest.
Automatic Vs. Super Automatic Espresso Machines
You should know there are two different types of espresso machines that have grinders built-in;
- (Semi) Automatic
- Super Automatic
A Semi-automatic or Automatic espresso machine can have a built-in grinder but you’ll still have to fill the filter basket and distribute the grounds in the basket yourself. So the grinder is on one side of the machine. You catch the grounds in the basket and then lock the portafilter into the other side of the machine.
Super Automatic machines do everything for you. Just put beans and water in it and push the button. The machine grinds the beans and fills the filter for you.
The first type leaves you with more control but also more to do. You could still get a separate grinder if you feel the need to upgrade after a while. With the super-automatic, you’re stuck with the grinder that comes in the machine.
On the other hand, the super automatics are much more convenient. Most people don’t want to think about their coffee, especially first thing in the morning. On the other hand, if you like brewing coffee and want to have control over what’s going on, the (semi)-automatic ones are better for you.
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.