Multi-functional appliances are a great way to save space in the kitchen while getting the benefits of several devices within the single one.
A coffee machine with a built-in grinder is an essential thing for someone who loves coffee but has limited space.
If that sounds like you, we’re ready to help you choose the best device for your budget and needs.
All you have to do is to read this guide further.
Types of Espresso Machines with a Grinder
As you probably already know, shopping is much easier when you are informed about the product you’re interested in. So, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the common types of grind and brew espresso machines you can come across.
Now, the first two large groups we can divide them into are based on the integrated milk frother (or a steam wand). There are many espresso machines that allow users to make lattes and cappuccinos too, thanks to an adjustable steam wand that typically comes attached to the unit on the right side, next to the portafilter. However, if you drink espressos only, you can get a model that comes without a steam wand (it might even be less expensive).
If you want to test your barista skills or love those creamy cappuccinos, you might want to consider a model with a built-in steam wand. In this case, you will also have two options: espresso machines with a single or a dual boiler. Now, single-boiler models use one heating system for both brewing and steaming. Naturally, double-boiler espresso machines have separate heating systems for these two processes. Such a design offers quite a few benefits. It allows users to make multiple beverages simultaneously, as you can brew and steam the milk at the same time. Such coffee machines typically work faster overall and make a good choice for couples or families of coffee lovers. A single-boiler model will simply require more time to brew and steam, especially if you want to make a few cappuccinos or lattes at once. Such espresso machines are ideal for solo uses or couples who don’t mind waiting for a bit when making more than one beverage at a time.
Finally, espresso machines with a grinder come with different grinder types, and it’s important to understand what sets them apart. There are two common ones: blade and burr grinders (1). A blade grinder looks like a propeller and uses metal blades to crush the beans. This type is much more affordable. However, blade grinders have more weak sides than advantages, I’m afraid. When using this type, it can be hard to achieve an even grind. Some bits may be bigger, others can be smaller, and such an inconsistent grind may affect the quality of your beverage. Additionally, when the blades work, they rotate very fast and, consequently, heat up. This may also affect the beans. As a result, you might get a completely different flavor than you were expecting due to the overheated beans.
If you do give your preference to a cheaper machine with a blade grinder, it’s important to grind your beans in small batches. You might also want to pause the grinder during the process to prevent the blades from overheating.
Now, keep in mind that for espressos, you need a very fine grind. That’s when burr grinders can come in handy.
Such grinders typically use either steel or ceramic burrs. These days, ceramic ones are more common for home espresso machines, and there are many reasons for that. Ceramic burrs are durable and reliable. They do not conduct heat when grinding, so the beans remain unaffected. Even though ceramic burrs aren’t typically as sharp as the steel ones, they retain their sharpness and show consistent results even after long-term use. However, keep in mind that ceramic burr models tend to be more expensive.
Now, steel burrs usually start off sharper and allow for more precision, but they might lose their sharpness with time and the coarseness can become less consistent after regular use. However, this grinder type is more affordable. Steel burrs can retain heat when grinding, which might burn some of the precious coffee oils. Nonetheless, as steel burrs run hotter than ceramic ones, most manufacturers try to make sure to optimize the steel grinders to run at their ideal speed, without overheating critically.
Finally, burr grinders can be conical or flat. And here’s what you should know right away: both types achieve a uniform grind. The only main difference between them is the amount of grounds they can retain. Flat plate grinders generally trap more grounds, but this may vary depending on each specific model. This aspect will not affect your espressos in any way though. It may just influence the amount of coffee beans you go through.
Also read: Best Espresso Machines Under $1,000
Grinder Calibration: Things You Need to Know
Regardless of the type of your built-in grinder, the calibration process would be the same as with a standalone grinder.
If your coffee machine has an adjustable grinder, it will probably have a dial or knob somewhere on a control panel. Moving the knob or rotating the dial left or right causes the grinder blades to move closer or farther from each other.
When they move closer — you get the finer grind, which will give you a drink with a richer taste and aroma, but it will take longer to make it. On the contrary, if the blades move apart, the grind becomes coarser, which reduces the brewing time and makes for a lighter and less bitter flavor.
Typically, the size of the grind is marked with numbers starting from 1 (extra fine, almost dust-like grind) to 9 (extra coarse, might not result in a good brew at all). Most coffee machines work well with grinds 4 through 7, but it’s better to try different grinds to find out which works for you.
Generally, you should recalibrate a grinder in the following situations:
- changing the coffee blend;
- trying a different roast;
- experimenting with specialty coffee — those might have a drastic difference in taste depending on the grind.
Things to Consider when Looking for the Best Espresso Machine with a Grinder
Trying to navigate among all the top-rated espresso machines with a grinder can be overwhelming at times. There are so many cool models to choose from, but how do you make the wisest choice?
Well, an informed choice is always the best one. You should understand what you need exactly and pick accordingly. And to help you with that, I’ve gathered the main factors you might want to consider when shopping:
- Size. Espresso machines with a grinder tend to be slightly bulkier and a bit taller than regular coffee makers. You should take this factor into consideration if your kitchen has limited counter space. Additionally, keep in mind that most coffee makers emit steam when brewing (and even more when steaming milk), so you might not be able to keep your espresso machine under wooden cabinets.
- Purpose. Do you want espressos and nothing else? Or would you like to experiment with milk coffee-based beverages, such as lattes, cappuccinos, and more? If you want more than just espressos, you should pick a model that has an integrated steam wand or a milk frother. If not, you might even save a buck or two, as some espresso machines cost less when there’s no steam wand included.
- Bar pressure. Experts agree that you need 9 bars of pressure to pull a good espresso shot (2). However, many coffee connoisseurs believe that 15 bars produce the most flavorful, richest espressos. Whoever you agree with, your new espresso machine has to maintain at least 9 bars of pressure. Anything lower than that would not make a full-bodied beverage that tastes like an authentic espresso.
- Budget. A coffee machine with a built-in grinder can be a great money-saving choice. See for yourself: if you purchase a coffee machine and a grinder, you might spend up to $1000. On the other hand, a high-end coffee brewer with a grinder will cost you $500-700 tops and will save a lot of space compared to 2 separate devices.
- Ease of maintenance. This is the factor that worries many shoppers as espresso makers can be quite finicky to clean. Keep in mind that you will have to descale yours regularly, plus clean the grinder quite often to avoid clogging. If you are willing to splurge a little more, some models come with a self-cleaning mode (which does not apply to the grinder though). The easiest ones to maintain are Nespresso machines. And while those don’t technically brew espressos, you can still try one of them if you absolutely can’t stand cumbersome cleaning.
- Grinder type. As you already know, there are two main grinder types – blade and burr. Of course, for great-tasting espressos, a burr grinder is recommended. However, models with such grinders tend to be more expensive. If your budget is limited and you have to settle with a blade grinder, make sure you pause it a couple of times when grinding the beans to prevent them from heating up.
- Water reservoir capacity. Espresso machines with a grinder can have different water tank capacities depending on their size and design. If you are an avid coffee drinker and don’t want to be bothered with frequent refills, you should consider a larger model with around a 50-oz water reservoir (at least). However, if you only drink a couple of beverages per day (or, for instance, will share your espresso maker with your significant other), a smaller machine would suffice. A quick note: some espresso machines are compatible with plumbing kits that allow users to connect their brewers directly to the water supply. While that may seem like a good time-saving solution (as you won’t have to deal with water refills), it isn’t recommended. Tap water can be harsh and may lead to calcium build-up inside the machine. Plus, it can affect the flavor of your espressos. Therefore, it might be a better idea to stick to the good old water tank and to use filtered water for your coffee.
- Reviews. If you have a specific machine in mind, check what other users have to say about it. Reading the reviews can give you a general idea of the device’s durability and the potential malfunctions you might face when using it. Additionally, some users often share handy lifehacks on how to get the most out of the coffee machine based on their experience. This might be helpful for a beginner coffee enthusiast.
- Durability. Models with an integrated grinder (also known as super-automatic espresso machines, as you know) tend to be more durable than the majority of other coffee makers. Still, it’s important to check the materials when shopping. Naturally, stainless steel or brass models are much more durable than plastic ones. And keep your eyes open for an extended warranty. It might be a good indication of the machine’s build quality.
- Manual or automatic work. You can control the amount of work you do for brewing your coffee, and choose between manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic coffee machines. Manual coffee makers require the most presence and control from you, but they also can produce your perfect cup of coffee thanks to customizable settings. Semi-automatic coffee makers typically have a lot of programmable settings, such as cleaning features, delayed start, or different sound and light indications. You still will have to grind coffee manually, but the rest of the work the brewer does by itself. Finally, the fully automatic coffee machines give you a one-touch experience, but they typically operate on presets and don’t allow you to control the brewing process.
- Adjustable settings. The perfect coffee machine is the one that can brew your favorite drink. And to make this process easier, opt for the devices with programmable settings, such as automatic start, pre-set recipes, and brew strength selector.
- Accessible customer service. Make sure you choose a brewer from a reliable brand with easy-to-reach customer service. This will minimize any inconveniences in case if you will need to replace a part of your device or refund a purchase.
- Extra features. If you plan to brew different beverages, you might need a coffee maker with a steam wand to froth the milk, or with a water dispenser to brew tea and hot cocoa.
Why are espresso machines with a built-in grinder so expensive?
Most of these machines use high-quality materials and commercial-grade parts. Additionally, such espresso makers do most of the work, which is another reason why they tend to cost more.
Do you need a special grinder for espressos?
Not necessarily, but your grinder needs to be adjustable. For espressos, you need really fine grounds. A good burr grinder can achieve that coarseness.
Does a burr grinder really make that much of a difference?
Yes. Burr grinders give users more control over the coarseness of their coffee grounds. Additionally, a burr grinder is able to achieve a uniformly even grind, while blade models often make differently sized bits of coffee beans.
How important is a good grinder for a flavorful espresso cup?
The quality of the coffee grind directly influences the taste of your cup. Uneven grind will result in inconsistent taste, either bitter or too bland. That’s why you should pay attention to the quality of the grind: it should be fine and even.
Do all espresso machines feature a steam wand?
No. Lots of espresso machines don’t have steam wands and can only pull shots. However, some models on the more expensive side do have a steam wand and allow you to expand your barista experience with a lot of espresso-based drinks.
A good coffee maker can easily upgrade your mornings and save kitchen space. The essential features of a good coffee maker include adjustable settings, brew strength control, and a heated cup tray, especially if you love to make a large pot of coffee.
Plus, it’s best to get a coffee maker with a steam wand to froth the milk or its plant-based alternatives. This small addition allows you to expand your choice of beverages and experiment with flavors.
- Anna Brones (June 09, 2014). What’s the Difference Between a Burr Grinder and Blade Grinder? Retrieved from https://www.thekitchn.com/coffee-tools-what-kind-of-grinder-should-i-use-204496
- William Grimes (May 15, 2002). Critic’s Notebook; New York’s Best Espresso? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/15/dining/critic-s-notebook-new-york-s-best-espresso.html%20-%20link%20trusted
- Michael Hession (May 24, 2013). Espresso 101: The Methods and Machines Behind the Perfect Shot. Retrieved from https://gizmodo.com/espresso-101-the-methods-and-machines-behind-the-perfe-484457706
My name is Yurii Brown. I am a passionate coffee geek and, concurrently, a certified coffee specialist.
I’ve been learning about coffee for a long time, testing various devices and practicing in home coffee brewing. I like to share my experience and insights with fellow coffee lovers so that my readers could enjoy the real taste of quality-brewed beverages.