Coffee is a daily fixture for many of us. It’s how we start our day. It fuels work. It fuels adventure. It’s a ritual. The art of making coffee in the backcountry and on road trips takes many forms. Regardless of how you make your coffee on the road, freshly ground beans definitely add to the quality. In my perpetual pursuit of the best possible coffee experience, I tested a couple of portable hand coffee grinders. Just think, fresh ground beans with every cup, even when you’re traveling.
It goes against my minimalist sensibilities to think I’m actually going to pack a coffee grinder on a multi-day backcountry adventure, but making one part of my road trip and car camping kit is seems perfectly reasonable.
I narrowed in on two small hand coffee grinders that are travel friendly. Whether they deserve a spot in your overnight pack is up to you.
GSI Java Mill
The GSI Java Mill is made specifically for travel and backcountry use. It is the smaller of the two units and features a true conical burr grinder – that’s coffee geek speak for the preferred grinding mechanism. The handle pulls out for easy travel storage and the full unit weighs in at about 10 ounces (280 grams). The grind is easily adjustable and it made a fine grind that worked well with the Handpresso portable espresso maker and the Aeropress coffee maker.
It depends a little on your brewing methods, but the GSI Java Mill is designed to grind enough coffee for a single cup of coffee. Using the Handpresso, you can actually get two shots worth of coffee. Still, this essentially makes a single cup.
The coffee grinder features a simple mechanism with a positive connection to the hand crank. It’s durable and provides a very consistent grind. The grind is set by simply turning an adjuster in the bottom of the hopper to reach your desired setting. It takes a couple tests to reach your desired coarseness but, once set, it does not change.
The grinding process is a bit slow. It’s not really a mark against the unit; it’s simply a function of the small grinding surface. A small grinder equals small surface area, and it takes a few minutes to grind a full hopper. How many minutes, depends a little on how fine a grind you are after; the finer the grind, the slower the process. Think of it as embracing the slow food movement. Quality takes time. Nonetheless, this a great portable coffee grinder unit that’s designed to be packable, durable and gets the job done to serve up a fresh cup of coffee. GSI Java Mill coffee grinder
Hario Mini Mill Slim
Hario makes a wide variety of home coffee brewing supplies. The Hario Mini Mill is a small hand crank ceramic burr grinder for coffee that is designed for home use. However, its lightweight, compact size transitions well to travel or backcountry use. The unit is an inch taller and a little bigger in diameter than the GSI but it’s a couple ounces lighter (weight = 8 oz) and holds a bit more coffee.
Like the GSI, the grind coarseness is easily set by turning a small adjuster in the bottom of the hopper and it made a great espresso grind. The Hario Mini Mill handles enough beans for two cups at a time. The crank is easily removed for packing purposes, but the unit is not designed specifically for travel use. Though not noticeably flimsy, it does lack the clean and simple durability of the GSI Java Mill. That said, it will likely grind coffee for years to come provided you are reasonably careful should you choose to take it into the backcountry. It’s easy to clean and service.
The grinding process is slow like the GSI unit. Again, it’s simply a function of the small grinding surface area of a handheld grinder. It takes several minutes to grind enough for a cup and the finer the grind, the slower the process.
The Hario Mini Mill is a little bigger and less backcountry specific/durable in its design, but it serves up a nice consistent grind for the coffee connoisseur. Hario Mini Mill Coffee Grinder
Check out our reviews of backcountry coffee tools