I’ve used both types of grinders a lot over the years so it feels like about time to show you the key differences between the two. With this information, you’ll be able to work out which one is best for you.
We’ll be exploring the following points throughout this article:
Shall we begin?
- Electric coffee grinders are easier to use and more accurate
- Manual coffee grinders are great for portability
- Manual coffee grinders are often better for the finest grinds
- The difference between the two often comes down to the model of the manual/electrical grinder itself
Manual vs. Electric Coffee Grinders: The Showdown
You’ll need to decide whether you want to grind your coffee by hand with a manual grinder or use power with an electric grinder. There are a few key benefits to both.
One of the most significant pros of using a manual coffee grinder is that you can take them wherever you go as they never need to be plugged into the mains.
They can also last for longer as they don’t move as fast and are often very durable. Plus, they’re usually the best option for the finest grinds, e.g. for Turkish coffee.
But then again, an electric coffee grinder is a lot easier to use as you don’t need to physically turn them by hand. Plus, they can be more accurate as computer settings allow them to grind coffee to the perfect degree for whichever type of coffee drink you’re trying to make.
Furthermore, electric coffee grinders will deliver your ground coffee a whole lot faster. This means they’ll be better suited to those working in cafes, at least.
I’ve broken down what areas manual or electric coffee grinders are better at. You can see the winners for each of them in the table below.
|Ease of Use||X|
|Maintenance and Durability||X|
|Fine Grind (Espresso)||X||X|
So there we have the winners for each category. Now, let’s find out why I made those decisions and how important each of them is.
Taste – Manual grinder is the winner
Manual grinders don’t generate heat as no power comes from the motor. Electric coffee grinders do generate heat as they have a motor. Some people believe this affects the difference in quality.
That’s because the movement is so slow that very little kinetic energy is generated. Plus, the actual mechanics of an electric grinder will warm up due to the power being put through them a lot of the time.
I have noted before that slower electric grinders generate more heat as they grind for longer. But manual grinders are an exception to this as they are particularly slow and no heat is generated at all .
Does heat really affect the taste? Only very minorly in my experience. I don’t think you’ll notice much of a difference. But, as this is the only factor impacting this category, manual coffee grinders just about edge it here.
Price – It’s a tie
You might have thought that manual coffee grinders would be more affordable because there’s no electronically moving parts. But this actually isn’t the case most of the time.
Manual and electric coffee grinders actually both start at a similar price point. Although you can spend a whole lot more on an electric grinder if you want to go for the high top end.
Top end electric grinders can cost several thousand dollars, but you’ll never spend more than a few hundred on a manual grinder.
The cheapest way to get an electric coffee grinder is by opting for a blade grinder. You can pick one of these up for well under $50.
I personally wouldn’t recommend it as I don’t think the grind quality is that good. But if it is of interest to you then you can read about blade coffee grinders and how they differ from burrs in this article.
Either way, it’s a tie for this category!
Consistency – It’s a tie
A lot of people praise manual grinders as they are able to achieve a very consistent grind. But the same can actually be said of high quality electric coffee grinders as well.
Good quality manual grinders will be able to deliver a fine and even enough grind for even Turkish coffee.
But on the flip side, a high end electric coffee grinder will also be able to deliver perfect consistency. And it will do so a lot more quickly!
This is great news for finer grinds (e.g. for espresso and aeropress coffee) as they’re better suited to more even coffee particles.
Be warned though. A low quality electric grinder is highly unlikely to be able to deliver a consistent grind. You can get a more consistent grind for a lower price with a manual coffee grinder.
But we’re not talking about the price for this category. So based on consistency alone, I’ve elected for a tie here.
Low Noise – Manual grinder is the winner
As you might have expected, an electric coffee grinder is going to make a lot more noise than a manual grinder. That’s because power is being put through it. And, the grind speed will be faster which makes more noise as well.
The noise level of electric grinders varies a lot though. A lot of factors influence it, such as the build quality of the grinder, the grind speed and a few other things.
But they’re never going to be quieter than a manual grinder. All you’re going to be able to hear from one of these is the crunch of the beans.
And that’s why manual coffee grinders win the quietness category.
Grind speed – Electric grinder is the winner
Unless you’re able to turn a manual coffee grinder at 10,000 times in a minute, I think it’s pretty obvious which of the two grinder types is going to be the winner for this category!
What’s the benefit of a fast grind? Well, time saving is one thing. You can grind up a whole lot of coffee in a very short space of time with some electric coffee grinders. It’s going to take a lot longer to do it by hand.
But a fast grind speed is also good for achieving a very consistent grind as we’re about to find out in the next section.
Either way, electric grinders are the best pick if you want a quick grind.
Retention – It’s a tie
It doesn’t really matter which type of coffee grinder you use. The retention is going to be the same for both.
The only variable here is that manual coffee grinders tend to be smaller so technically would retain less. But because this is more to do with size than power, I’ve decided to give a tie to this category.
There are specially made, niche electric coffee grinders that have very low retention but these are rare and costly.
Ease of use – Electric grinder is the winner
The simple fact of the matter is that an electric coffee grinder is going to be a lot easier to use. All you need to do most of the time is power the grinder on, fill it with beans and tailor the settings before hitting a button to start the grind.
Manual grinders require more work because you have to physically turn them with your hands. That physical effort means that they lose this category. Electric grinders are much better for those looking to save some effort.
Cleaning – Manual grinder is the winner
The only real variable for this category is that manual grinders are smaller than electric ones so there’s less area to clean. The shape is a little less complex too, so it will take you less time to clean a manual grinder than an electric one overall.
There’s not a lot in it, but I’ve chosen the manual grinder as the winner for this category.
Maintenance and durability – Manual grinder is the winner
Because manual grinders are a lot slower, they’re less likely to get damaged. As a result, manual grinders are going to be more durable in most cases.
There are less working parts in a manual grinder as well. So, there’s less that could technically go wrong. The lack of working parts also means they’re going to be easier to maintain during their lifespan.
They’re designed for travel a lot of the time as well, so they need to be durable. I’ve found that most manual grinders are very robust, so they win this round for me.
Best for a fine grind (espresso) – It’s a tie
Both grinders are equally good in grinding espresso grind (or any fine grind).
A lot of people swear by manual grinders if they’re looking to achieve the finest and most even of coffee grinds.
This is why you’ll often only see Turkish coffee being ground with a manual grinder. People don’t trust electric grinders to be able to achieve the same level of grind finesse just yet.
However, I’m very confident that electric grinders are good for fine and even grinds these days as well.
Modern technology has allowed electric grinders to achieve an exquisite, finesse grind to the same degree as a manual grinder. So the overall quality of the output is pretty indistinguishable.
Sure, you’ll have to pay a lot more for an electric grinder that can do this. But it will be able to process a lot more coffee a lot more quickly. So, this category has to be a tie.
Best for a medium grind – Electric grinder is the winner
If you want to achieve a medium grind (for the likes of cold brew and pour over coffee) with a manual grinder, you’re going to need to check the grind level quite regularly.
Electric grinders can often be pre-set to achieve this grind level so you won’t have to worry about visually checking the grind.
Based on this, the electric grinder is going to be better for medium grinds. With the right skill, either could achieve the same result but electric grinders edge for me in this category.
Best for a coarse grind – Electric grinder is the winner
Some electric grinders can be slowed down, meaning the coffee beans and ground particles are distributed more randomly. This results in more random particle sizes at a coarse grind level. That’s perfect for coffee drinks like filter coffee and French press.
You can get a decent coarse grind with a manual grinder but it’s more complicated. For this reason, the electric grinder is going to be better for coarse grinds.
Manual Coffee Grinders: Who Are They Best For?
First and foremost, manual coffee grinders are going to be better for those who like to travel. The fact that you don’t need power to operate them means you have fresh coffee everywhere you go.
They’re also a great option for anyone looking to make fine grind coffee drinks (especially Turkish coffee) on a budget. It’s much more affordable to achieve this grind level with a manual grinder.
If you want a coffee grinder for life, manual coffee grinders are going to be the better option for that as well. They tend to last longer than their electric counterparts.
Like the sound of all that? Check out some of the best manual coffee grinders here.
Electric Coffee Grinders: Who Are They Best For?
Electric coffee grinders are much better for convenience. They’re a whole lot easier to use, and that’s going to appeal to a lot of people.
Professional baristas will likely need an electric coffee grinder for two reasons: they’re more versatile in terms of the coffee drinks they can produce, and they can grind up a lot more coffee in a shorter space of time.
The same could be said for a lot of home users as well though. If you like to make drip coffee, pour over, French press or a few others, an electric coffee grinder will be the best investment.
If you’re thinking that an electric coffee grinder is going to be your best bet, check out the best ones.
FAQ: Manual vs Electric Coffee Grinders
Make sure to check out these extra pieces of information on manual and electric coffee grinders.
Do I need to clean manual and electric coffee grinders as frequently as each other?
If you use your coffee grinder every day, you should give it a deep clean every couple of weeks. That’s regardless of whether it’s a manual or an electric grinder.
If you can, try to wipe the coffee grinder down after each use as well. It will stop the buildup of stale coffee residue.
Find out more about cleaning a coffee grinder here.
Which burr material should I use for my electric or manual grinder?
I’d typically recommend stainless steel for all electric coffee grinders but ceramic or steel are both good for manual ones. You can read more about that in this article.
Last Thoughts on Manual and Electric Coffee Grinders
Electric coffee grinders are probably going to be better suited to most people overall. They’re more convenient, faster and easier to use to name just a few key benefits.
But perhaps you’d prefer the portability or the durability of a manual coffee grinder? I can certainly see the appeal of buying one of these as well.
The ball’s in your court now! Consider what your priorities are and you’ll make the right call.
Once you’ve picked up your new coffee grinder, it might be time to think about which coffee to buy for it. I’ve curated the best coffee to help with that.