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Espresso Grinder Features
Shopping for espresso equipment from Internet sites can be
frustrating. There are lots of options to choose from and many
advertised performance metrics lack intuitive value (for example, motor
RPM). To make matters worse, semi-anonymous consumer reviews vary in
quality and objectivity, and it's not uncommon that some reviewers
"shill" by placing positive evaluations of products they
wish to promote. Although most fraudulent reviews are easily recognized
by their unqualified glowing assessment that is inconsistent with other
reviewers' experiences, it makes for tedious and time consuming
To round out this review and give you a defense against potential
market hype, I'll begin by defining some commonly advertised
distinctions between grinders; I've ordered them from the most
intuitive to the least obvious:
Doser — a doser is the large cylinder in the
front of the grinder that receives the grinds. At the bottom of the
cylinder is a circle of wedge-shaped vanes that fill with grinds. Each
flick of the handle advances the next wedge toward the bottom exit hole
at the front of the doser. The dose amount is adjusted by increasing or
decreasing the height of the rotating vane, thereby changing the
wedges' volume. To work properly, the doser must be at least ½
full so the weight of the grinds pushes hard enough to fill the wedge
from top to bottom. Metering shots using a doser is thus practical in a
busy café, but for home use the doser instead acts as a
"holding area" for a shot or two worth of grinds that are
then dispensed by pulling the handle a few times.
Doserless — as the name suggests, a doserless
model delivers the grinds directly into the portafilter or other
container. Home espresso aficionados regularly debate the merits of
doser and doserless grinders. I've owned two doserless grinders
and one doser grinder. As long as the doser efficiently sweeps the
chamber clean and the grinder is fast, I am content to work with either
design. It's true that a doser is more practical in some ways
because you are free to do other things while waiting for the grinder to
finish; with most doserless models, you must watch over the portafilter
while it fills. The Mazzer
Mini Electronic Doserless grinder, which includes a portafilter
cradle and timer-controlled measure, is a "hands free" exception.
Adjustment mechanism — five of the six grinders in this review have a stepless adjustment, or infinite adjustment as it
is sometimes called. The term "infinite" may give you the
impression there's a huge, practically unbounded level of
adjustment, but in practice, the range for espresso is relatively
narrow. Macap offers an incremental / stepped adjustment mechanism. A
pin locks into one of the closely-spaced holes on the underside of the
grinder's collar. For the six grinders under consideration, the
total range of practical movement for espresso grind is about one to 1½
inches of rotation of the grinders' adjustment collars. Typically
"dialing in" a grinder involves very small rotations of only
a few millimeters. The individual grinder sections will discuss their
respective adjustments in more detail.
Burr Size — in general, larger burrs and a
more powerful motor means greater grinding speed. The greater burr surface area
allows for more cutting edges, decreasing the time required to grind the
same amount of beans. Under load, larger burrs will also resist heating
up longer, hence why the Cimbali Junior with its 64mm burrs is deemed a
full-time grinder while the standard Mazzer Mini and Macap's 58mm burrs
make them more appropriate choices for a café's secondary
grinder. The Mazzer Mini E Doserless grinder has 64mm burrs and the same motor as the standard Mini (the manufacturer recommends 30 seconds of rest for each 20 seconds of use to avoid overheating the motor).
Weight — in a gross sense, weight can be
treated as a proxy to material quality and motor capacity. Consider the
weight of the Cimbali Junior (34 pounds) compared to the Mazzer Mini (standard Mini is 22
pounds, doserless is 20 pounds) and Macap (20 pounds). We can attribute a significant amount of
Junior's additional weight to its heavier motor and larger burr
assembly, again explaining why it's rated as a full-time
Motor Speed — the faster a grinder motor
spins, the more likely its burrs' action will generate enough heat
to damage the coffee's delicate oils, or worse, impart a burnt
flavor. Therefore the manufacturer chooses a balance between burr size,
motor speed, and desired grind time. The motors of all six of these
grinders operate at 1600 RPM. Some advertisers will point out the
benefit of a particular grinder's slower motor speed; keep in mind
that there's no "better" motor RPM, but rather the
appropriate ratio between burr design and motor speed.
The last three metrics may interest an engineer, but many consumers
struggle to relate them to anything meaningful. To make it easier for
you to navigate your selection between these six excellent
grinders— indeed, each of them is a great choice for different
reasons —the Conclusion presents a group of practical criteria for
your consideration beyond the list above.
Doser or Doserless?
Grinds from doser Mini (left) and doserless Mini E (right)
Home baristas regularly debate the merits of
doser and doserless grinders. Arguably a doser is never used for its intended purpose
in a home environment (i.e., measuring out a predetermined amount of coffee) because the chamber
must be at least half-full so the weight of the grinds is sufficient to accurately
fill the "pie wedges" formed by the doser vanes. Instead the doser
acts as a staging area for the grinds exiting the chute and the
vanes simply push them towards the drop hole at the front of the grinder
into your awaiting portafilter.
However, the doser isn't entirely superfluous. If you've ever attended a barista competition, the frenetic "thwack thwack thwack" of the doser handle almost blurs into a continuous buzz.
One explanation for the baristas' behavior, besides nervous energy and way too much caffeine,
is that the advancing of the doser vanes helps agitate the grinds exiting the chute.
Baristas using a doserless grinder cannot "mix things up"
until the grounds reach the portafilter.
As a quick comparison of the visual difference, see the two loosely filled baskets pictured above. The surface of the grinds dosed "competition style" on the left appear free of clumps compared to the grinds from the doserless model. However, whether this added mixing is consequential is questionable, and I didn't note an in-cup difference given a well-practiced
Ultimately the choice of doser versus doserless is a matter of preference and the
premium you place on convenience and neatness. In that regard, the Mini E Doserless is
Incremental or Stepless Adjustment?
Some espresso purists insist one should only change the grind to
correct a too fast or too slow pour. I believe you'll have better
results by watching the pour instead of a stopwatch. Regardless, given
the emphasis on precise 25 second pulls that dominates online discussion
it is worth noting several techniques for those who wish to compensate
for small differences in pour times between two of the Macap's
- My preferred technique—don't worry about it
This is the straightforward way of dealing with it: Put the timer in
the drawer, watch the stream color and cut off the shot when it blonds.
If it isn't widely off mark time-wise (i.e., less than 22 seconds
or greater than 32), it is close enough. In other words, let your taste
be the judge and "Trust the Force, Luke."
- Increase or decrease the tamp pressure
This suggestion may raise a howl in some quarters, but increasing
the tamp pressure by 10-15% adds about 2-3 seconds to pour time.
- Always tamp harder
If changing the tamp pressure from shot-to-shot offends, instead
increase the tamp pressure for all shots. The "hard
tamping" barista sees a smaller pour time change between two
increments than a "light tamping" barista.
- Tamp mid-way
Fill the basket a little over halfway, tamp lightly (say 5-10
pounds), finish filling, then tamp as usual. You'll add a couple
seconds of pour time.
- Add more grounds
A couple more grams of coffee adds around 2-4 seconds, depending on
the fineness of the grind and the moisture content of the beans.
- Shift the setting mid-way
Grind half of the shot, stop, move the increment up/down one notch,
The principle advantage of an incremental adjustment is the ease of re-finding widely spaced settings, which appeals to
those who frequently change between different types of coffee preparations.
The Mazzer Mini is certainly capable of moving quickly between espresso and French press grind settings, although
it requires a firm two-handed grip. The worm drives of the Cimbali Junior and Macap M4 Stepless are ideally suited
for minute adjustments of a dedicated espresso grinder.