Every once in a while amidst the multitudes of shiny coffee gadgets, a piece of equipment will capture our attention.
Handground was the brainchild of Daniel Vitiello and Brandon Warman’s desire to design a manual grinder that met the needs of professional and at-home baristas everywhere.
The crowd-funded product debuted on Kickstarter and the continued soaring popularity is a testament to their success. Here is a breakdown of what made the Handground such a stand-out product and what we think of its performance.
ceramic typically maintains its performance longer
the price fairly matches its reputation in the industry
our rating, based on our sound and impartial assessment
Handground is a beautifully designed piece of equipment whose main advantage is how easy it is to use. Everything about the Handground was designed with the coffee professional in mind.
There are a few features that separate the Handground from other manual grinders. Most of these were not happy accidents, but intentional design goals of the team that put Handground together.
The founders designed and tested prototypes of their grinder based on reviews and feedback from coffee enthusiasts. Their ambitious goal was to create a product that overcame the challenges of other grinders and met the needs of the people who would be using a manual grinder the most. Here is what you can expect to find on this grinder:
Most manual grinders have a small, open chamber to funnel beans into the grinding mechanism. This presents two problems: 1) you can’t grind a large number of beans at once, and 2) beans risk flying out of the top of the chamber while you grind. Handground has a locked lid that keeps the beans inside the glass chamber and increases the capacity to around 100g. Besides the obvious practicality of not having coffee beans hitting you in the face, the added space in the chamber makes multiple servings of coffee or espresso attainable without multiple grinding sessions.
There are tick marks on the side of the bean chamber that measure roughly 10 grams of coffee beans. While not precise, this feature adds convenience in situations where a scale is not readily available. Considering that customers often opt for a manual grinder specifically for traveling or camping purposes, this is a thoughtful feature.
Perhaps the best ergonomic feature of the Handground is the placement of the handle on the side of the machine rather than on the top. This allows for a more natural movement while grinding and is one of our favorite features.
Whether automatic or manual, quality grinders utilize either ceramic or stainless steel burrs. There's a never ending debate over which is better, but in our opinion, ceramic burrs typically maintain their performance longer, so we were quite pleased with the Handground's ceramic conical burr mill.
According to the company, the shape of the burrs are specifically designed to match the speed and torque you will be using manually, thereby accounting for the slower speed of hand grinding in an attempt to maintain consistency.
This feature addresses grind consistency issues by stabilizing the grinding mechanism on a triple axle to prevent wobble while grinding.
On the bottom of the Handground is a rubber pad that minimizes the amount of strength you need to keep the grinder stable. It should adhere fairly well to any surface you use for grinding. The increased stability also maintains consistency in grind size.
All parts of the Handground disassemble easily for simple cleaning. You should be able to completely clean the grinder with just warm water and a brush: no fancy tools necessary.
All grinders come packaged with an included brew chart displaying the grind size required for each different type of brew. It’s a handy feature to have nearby, even if you are an expert and don’t need the reminder.
So do all of these features really make Handground a better manual grinder? Here’s our assessment.
The real question here is whether the triple axle feature does its job well enough to actually result in a consistent grind. Unfortunately, I think that’s up for debate. Handground claims to produce SCAA-approved particle distribution. The key to good coffee and espresso is a consistent grind size for an even distribution of water over the grounds.
The main issue with hand grinders is an inability to achieve that result, especially when compared to the automatic burr grinders on the market that sit on the shelves of your local coffee shop.
For the most part, Handground performs well compared to other grinders in its class. Unfortunately, the same might not be true when you compare Handground to automatic grinders that are much more likely to deliver on this key component.
Specifically, the consistency of the Handground becomes questionable as you move up in grind size. This is a common story for manual grinders because as you move up in grind size, the burrs start to separate enough to allow more room for error. This issue is not totally remedied with the Handground, as much as that was the intention of the designers.
That being said, this proves to still be a more consistent grinder than other manual devices on the market. If you are going to go the manual route, this is one of your best options.
Most manual grinders operate with an “infinite” grind setting that requires you to take part of the machine off to expose the grinding mechanism and slowly turn the gears to achieve your desired result. The process can be tiresome and frustrating, especially if you plan on switching brewing methods regularly. Finding the perfect grind size and then losing it the next time you switch from espresso to french press is exhausting.
Handground tried to account for this by having visibly marked numbers on the side of the grinder that represent grind size. You can twist the grinder to your desired setting without having to take anything apart. There are eight grind sizes and a half size in between each number for a total of 15 grind settings.
This is a much easier way to manage switching between brewing methods and saves time and energy. The drawbacks are that you don’t have much customization beyond what is already set in place. So if the “6” is just a little smaller than you want but the “6.5” just a little too big, you’re stuck.
Most baristas don’t mind that and specifically asked for it during the crowdfunding campaign because we were all tired of spending valuable time adjusting our grinders micro-steps at a time. However, the result is a loss of complete customization. The pros and cons balance themselves out on this one since this feature depends entirely on personal preference and what is most important to you.
In this category, the Handground far exceeds its competitors. The side crank, the gripping pad on the bottom, and the enclosed bean hopper all make this machine simple and straightforward to use.
Compared to other hand grinders, with their top-cranks and open hoppers, the Handground definitely comes out on top. Everything about the grinder was designed to be intuitive and efficient: changing grind sizes is easy; loading the hopper is easy; grinding is easy. Even the added measurements on the side of the grinder add a quick, user-friendly component to the grinding experience.
The build quality of the Handground hits the mark as well. Most components are made of stainless steel, aluminum, glass, and ceramic. These materials are high quality and built to last through years of use.
While two versions of the Handground come with plastic white and black design covers, that is mostly to keep the cost down where functionality is not at stake. There is an option for a totally plastic-free grinder built with brushed nickel if you are strongly opposed to the addition of plastic design pieces.
Overall, the quality of building materials makes the grinder stable, durable, and aesthetically pleasing.
Despite the anticipation of the Handground’s debut, we found it to be…okay. It’s better than most hand grinders but doesn’t live up to the standards of electric burr grinders. We want to love it, and Hanground’s heart was certainly in the right place, but we found the inconsistency of the grind a letdown after all of the crowdfunding excitement.
However, as far as manual grinders go, the Handground still outperforms its competitors.
Let’s compare Handground to two other popular manual grinders: the JavaPresse and the Hario Skerton.
One of the main benefits of using a manual grinder lies in its portability. When you don’t require electricity, you can take your grinder on campouts and vacations without needing to worry about what resources you are going to have at your destination.
On that front, the JavaPresse beats the Handground for being easy to transport. The Hario is fairly bulky, so it lags behind both other machines meaning the Handground falls somewhere in the middle. It’s easy to transport, but its size and weight don’t make it the best.
Both the JavaPresse and the Hario suffer from common ergonomic flaws of manual grinders: the crank is on the side of the machine and they’re awkward to grip while grinding. While the JavaPresse makes switching grind size fairly simple, the Hario requires users to remove several pieces before they have access to the dial that controls grind size.
Handground hits the mark here, outperforming nearly every other grinder on the market in terms of easy and comfortable use.
Handground also beats competitors for the quality of materials: both the JavaPresse and the Hario utilize plastic components more frequently than the Handground. That increases the odds that these machines will fail or break before the sturdy aluminum and steel of the Handground gives out.
As far as ease of use, material quality, and general design, Handground proves superior. The ultimate test for coffee grinders, however, is performance. All three of these machines are popular products and utilize innovative designs in an attempt to create an improved grinder.
Unfortunately, all three suffer from a similar problem: smaller grind settings are fine but larger grind settings lack the uniformity that results in good coffee extraction.
We found that despite Handground’s SCAA certification and claim to solve this problem with their triple axle system, it also suffered from inconsistent ground size. It may produce slightly better grounds than the Hario or JavaPresse, but it certainly isn’t perfect.
While the Handground is incredibly user-friendly and simple to operate, some may find that it falls short of delivering ground consistency. Unfortunately, this is the end goal for all grinders: to provide a consistent grind thereby producing mouth-watering coffee. However, we're confident that you can get it working nicely with a little bit of practice.
We still think it is one of the best options out there for a manual grinder, but be aware that it will not compete with an electronic conical burr grinder.