Domestic Grinder Review
So you love great espresso?
We do too – that’s the whole reason for Crema Magazine’s existence. So is it all about spending $2,000 + on a fancy espresso machine? Well it may be, but before you go shelling out all that money on a fancy espresso machine, think about your grinder. In fact, one of Australia’s leading espresso authorities maintains that you should spend almost as much on a grinder as you do on your espresso machine – it’s that important.
Why is this most important piece of equipment so often overlooked and its importance underestimated? Well, it’s just not sexy, is it!
The grinder is often the thing that you buy as an after-thought, once you have done all your research and finally fallen in love with the perfect, shiny new espresso machine sitting proudly on your kitchen benchtop. But the fact is, your beautiful espresso machine is nothing without the hard-working services of a grinder – one that is capable of grinding those magic beans finely enough for the espresso machine to extract the sweet flavours of the coffee.
There are many variables that must come together to produce a great espresso coffee. From the beginning, to the end product in your cup, coffee travels through a journey which is intimately influenced by nature, machines and the human hand. At all stages in the process, the coffee must be treated with care to preserve the rich aromas and oils which constitute the distinctive flavours of the bean.
So much has been researched and written about the espresso machine – its history well documented – with its progression coming to rest with the range of beautifully designed and desirable machines we have available today. So too, Australia has seen a significant increase in recognition of the skill of the barista, particularly in the light our successes on coffee’s world stage. Which beans to buy and from where, which tamper to buy, what shape (and colour) and how to master its use, which milk is best and how to master the technique of texturising milk – all are integral elements of the journey of discovery that goes into producing a great espresso coffee – and how good is it when you start to get it all happening for you?
So if it’s that important, what’s on the market? Which features should you look for? How much will you use it and where will it sit – one thing is for sure, you probably don’t want a massive commercial grinder sitting on your kitchen bench! How much are you prepared to spend? Again, there are many variables and decisions that need to be made based on your individual needs.
The good news it that there is certainly a wide range of grinders suitable for the domestic market – some are compact and specifically designed for home use, while others are smaller versions of their bigger commercial brethren. Whatever you are looking for, we hope our review can shed some light on what you might be looking for to suit your individual espresso needs. This is not a complete list by any means, there are many more grinders on the market. But it is a comprehensive side-by-side look at some of the available range of grinders that have the capacity to work alongside a high-end home espresso machine. Whether you are starting out or planning to upgrade, this review is designed to highlight the features and functions that you should be taking into consideration before buying your new grinder – and yes, it is that important.
The Mazzer Mini hails from an impeccable commercial pedigree and has the look, feel and internal componentry of one of its ‘big brothers’. And at an imposing 45cm in height and weighing in at 10kg, you’d expect it to take its job very seriously.
The Mazzer Mini is a flat blade, stepless unit with a dosing chamber. The dosing chamber has industrial, hardened plastic windows, which resist discolouration and scratching. The conical bean hopper has a ‘hopper-stopper’ to allow for tidy detachment of the hopper from the grinder and consequently, easy removal of beans (without having to tip the whole unit over sideways). The grind adjustment collar, as with bigger commercial grinders, is stiff to shift and requires its pin to provide leverage to help turn the collar, to make the fine adjustments that are the inherent benefit of a micrometrical mechanism. Operation was impressively quiet, fast and cool, the grind showed good consistency on visual inspection and the resulting espresso shots were excellent with a consistent flavour profile.
Overall, our reviewers were impressed with the build-quality and smooth, commercial-style operation of the MM, and at the high price [RRP $820] you’d expect nothing less. We found it performed extremely well and certainly deserves its place up there ‘with-the-best’ for serious home espresso enthusiasts. It showed an excellent consistency of grind and of dose, but the most interesting attribute was the temperature performance. It delivered the lowest temperature increase of all the grinders. The only word of warning is that it’s quite a substantial unit, so make sure you check where it is likely to sit in the kitchen, to make sure it will fit underneath overhead cupboards.
VERDICT: Top of the range grinder with commercial-level performance. Recommended for the serious ‘prosumer’ who needs a grinder to handle medium-high volume with absolute confidence. Also suitable for mid-volume commercial use (ie: second grinder for a café).
Consistency of Dose: Max variation range of 0.2gm (average dose was 5.4gm)
Speed of operation: 25.3gm in 30 sec
Temp of grinder blades at end of test: 29°C
This unit has the look and build quality of a commercial grinder but with significantly smaller dimensions, which lends itself to the domestic kitchen setting. With its polished alloy exterior and weighing only 8kg, it’s slim and stylish with pretty much all the benefits of a larger, heavier commercial unit. Standing at 38cm tall, it has 500gm bean hopper with a hopper-stopper. It has tempered steel flat burr blades, a dosing chamber and utilises a stepped grind adjustment mechanism.
The Best performed very well and our reviewers were particularly impressed with the speed of operation, even when lined up against the bigger semi-commercial grinders. It showed an excellent consistency of grind and dose. The resulting espressos were excellent, with a consistent flavour profile.
There were a couple of minor niggles which were picked up by the reviewers, the main one being that the increments on the stepping collar were quite big – therefore not allowing for ultra fine adjustments to the grind setting, but in practice, this did not present a problem in setting an accurate grind for espresso. The only other main issue was that the tamping disc on the front of the unit gets in the way – in fact, it is often unscrewed and left off by operators ‘in-the-know’!
The build quality and performance make it an excellent grinder to compliment a high-end home espresso machine while its smaller dimensions make it a stylish and reliable grinder for the home espresso setting.
VERDICT: High performance unit for the serious ‘prosumer’. Recommended for the home espresso enthusiast who needs a grinder to handle a moderate to high volume. Also suitable for low volume commercial use (ie: back-up/decaf grinder).
Flat Burr (tempered steel)
Consistency of Dose: Max variation range of 0.1gm (average dose was 5.0gm)
Speed of operation: 39.2gm in 30 sec
Temp of grinder blades at end of test: 31°C
Very smart looking and obviously appealing to the domestic market, the BB04 was set to impress from the start. However, standing at only 35cm high and weighing a mere 6kg it had its work cut out for it trying to compete with the ‘big boys’ of the domestic range in terms of function.
This is a stepped, flat burr grinder with a dosing chamber. One of its features, which was immediately obvious, was the blue tinting on the dosing chamber glass and hopper perspex – this is designed to minimise the negative effects that exposure to light can have on the beans/grinds. While excellent in theory, in practical terms, the beans should not be in the hopper, nor the grinds in the dosing chamber long enough for this negative exposure to occur.
This unit has no ‘hopper-stopper’, although because it is light and does not have a great capacity, tipping it over for emptying/cleaning out is no great hindrance. However, one slight niggle is that the only way the hopper can be removed is if all the beans are spent (or tipped out) and the hopper is released from the inside!
Our reviewers were impressed by its quiet operation and the fine adjustment steps available to set the grind. The motor seemed to have no trouble grinding fine enough for espresso, although the blades did heat up (40°C) more than the bigger units. It showed good consistency of grind and dosing was consistent. The resulting espresso shots were clean with a consistent flavour profile.
It showed itself to be capable of servicing a high-end domestic espresso machine from a fineness of grind point-of-view, but we were disappointed with its temperature performance.
VERDICT: A smart and stylish unit, whose use should probably be limited to lower volumes to avoid overheating of the beans in the grinding process. Recommended for the home espresso enthusiast for low volume use.
Consistency of Dose: Max variation range of 0.1gm (average dose was 6.4gm)
Speed of operation: 26.9gm in 30 sec
Temp of grinder blades at end of test: 40°C
This unit from Wega is a ‘re-branded’ Compak K3 Touch so this grinder comes from an impressive heritage of commercial grinders.
It is a flat burr blade, stepless/micrometrical unit without a dosing chamber – ie a‘grind-on-demand’ unit. An imposing machine – standing at a little over 49cm – it was the tallest in our line-up for review (although there is a mini-hopper option, bringing the height down to just under 42cm), so it’s not for the faint-hearted in terms of kitchen space.
Our reviewers were impressed with the smooth performance, speed of dispensing and particularly with what we deemed its ‘sexy’ chute, which ensured minimum of waste/mess. Its operation was smooth, fast and professional, although it did warm up more than the others in this bracket (36°C). . It showed an excellent consistency of grind and the resulting espresso shots were good with a consistent flavour profile.
In summary, it’s a serious machine but with ‘kitchen-friendly’ features like a hopper-stopper, tidy dispensing chute, easy-clean exterior and an optional timer for dispensing doses for 1 or 2 cups. However, as with the Mazzer Mini, make sure you check where it is likely to sit in the kitchen to make sure it will fit underneath overhead cupboards.
VERDICT: A performance unit for the home espresso enthusiast, at a competitive price. Recommended for the serious home user who needs a grinder to handle moderate to high volume. Also low volume commercial use (ie back-up/decaf grinder)
Height: 49cm (42cm with optional mini-hopper)
Speed of operation: 30.8gm in 30 sec
Temp of grinder blades at end of test: 36°C
The KS is ECA’s doserless offering and again is well-targeted to the home espresso market. It is slim, weighs only 5kg and stands at 38cm high, making it easily assimilated into the kitchen setting. It houses tempered stainless steel flat burr grinding blades and has a similar stepped adjustment to the Best, with somewhat large increments, although again we experienced no problem in setting the grinder to an accurate grind for espresso.
While a little noisier than its counterpart and not quite as fast, the dispensing chute was very tidy, ensuring a minimum of mess/waste. Targeted a little more towards the mid-range of the domestic grinder market, the KS performed well and certainly had the power and finesse to grind finely enough to service a high-end domestic espresso machine without any hesitation.
Our reviewers were impressed by the capacity of this unit to do the job with a minimum of fuss. Even though it’s nudging into the light-weight category, it kept its cool at a maximum grinder blade temp reading of 31°C through pretty rigorous testing. The consistency of grind showed in the resulting shots of espresso being very good with a clean flavour profile.
VERDICT: a well-performing and stylish domestic unit. Recommended for the home espresso enthusiast for moderate volume.
Flat Burr (tempered steel)
Speed of operation: 27.4gm in 30 sec
Temp of grinder blades at end of test: 31°C
This is a very compact and attractive stainless steel unit. It doesn’t have a hopper-stopper but weighing in at only 4kg and with a much smaller 300gm capacity hopper, it is easy to tip over and clean. It has conical blades, is stepped and doserless.
The stepping collar had small incremental steps for making fine changes to the grind but our reviewers did have to spend quite a bit of time with the hopper off adjusting a screw through the collar, which is in place to restrict major alterations to the collar position. Presumably this is to limit the available adjustment to within mid-range for the novice user, but this was not fine enough for a good espresso. Whilst not a fault as such, it did require the knowledge and know-how of our expert panel to make this adjustment and a more inexperienced user might reasonably think that the adjustment collar was faulty. Once set to the appropriate fineness, the grinder worked well and surprisingly fast, although it did heat up with the robust use during the review. The dispensing chute has a wide mouth and caused some mess, but this to a certain degree is unavoidable with a doserless system.
Our reviewers were impressed by the fine adjustment steps available to set the grind and its compact body. The small 100W motor made surprisingly quick work of pushing out the fine grind for espresso although again, the blades did heat up more than the bigger units. In spite of this, the resulting espresso shots were good with a reasonably clean flavour profile. It is certainly capable of working alongside a high-end domestic espresso machine, but its use should be limited to low volume to avoid overheating of the beans in the process.
VERDICT: A stylish unit, ideal for the home setting. Recommended for the home espresso enthusiast who needs a good-quality grinder for low volume.
Conical Burr (stainless steel)
Speed of operation: 27.4gm in 30 sec
Temp of grinder blades at end of test: 41°C
Part of the Sunbeam range designed in consultation with 2003 World Barista Champ, Paul Bassett, this grinder was intended to partner the Café Series of espresso machines but certainly stands well, and sells well, on its own merits. A very stylish unit of brushed die-cast aluminium, it is light and slim and thoughtfully designed with features to make it all but fool-proof. It has conical blades, is stepped and doserless, which as we have previously mentioned, does entail some mess.
The Sunbeam Café Series grinder has a self-closing mechanism built into the hopper and clicks in/out of the base with relative ease. It also has a safety lock which prevents the unit from operating when the hopper is off and the blades exposed. Whilst having quite big increments, the adjustment collar is easy to shift and was easily dialled to the fineness for an espresso grind.
It did run quite hot, with the outer body feeling warm as well as the blades heating up to a maximum of 44°C, after our robust use during testing. It was noted by the review panel that it is best used in low volume to avoid over-heating.
Ideal for the home setting, it is a smartly designed and attractive unit. There is no doubt that this grinder is excellent value-for-money and our reviewers were impressed with its performance despite being at the lower end of the cost spectrum.
VERDICT: This is an excellent value-for-money option. Recommended for the novice to intermediate espresso enthusiast who needs a good, reasonably-priced grinder for lower volumes.
Speed of operation: 25.1gm in 30 sec
Temp of grinder blades at end of test: 44°C
Thanks to our coffee experts, Scottie Callaghan (World Latte Art Champion 2006 & Australian Barista Champion 2007) and Emily Oak (Former Director on the WBC Board) for their time, expertise and commitment to excellence. Thanks also to Australian Independent Roaster (AIR) in Sydney, for the kind use of their premises.
Grinder supplied for the testing by:-
ECA – www.espressocompany.com (ECA Best and KS)
Coffee Works Express – www.coffeeworksexpress.com.au (Wega Mini Instant 5.8 and Isomac Granmachinino)
Sunbeam Corporation – www.sunbeam.com.au (Sunbeam Café Series Conical Burr)
Di Bartoli Home Barista Centre – www.dibartoli.com.au ( Mazzer Mini and Bezzera BB04)
Final Note: There were a couple of key grinders that were unavailable at the time of our test including the popular Rancilio Rocky.