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Titan Grinder Project: Can it Beat the Mazzer Robur?

Postby another_jim on Fri Jul 20, 2007 11:55 am

And now for the Entertainment Portion of this Review:

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The Robur is the biggest, baddest mother of all grinders. With a boatload of grinders coming through my place, why not put them in the ring with the heavyweight champ and see how they fare?

The ring in this case is two identically set up, PIDed and OPVed Silvias, pulling a home roasted blend of Biloya, Ismaili, Yellow Bourbon, Cenaproc, and Aged Sumatra. Each day, the contender and the Robur will go four rounds, twice at 16.5 gram doses, twice at 13.5 gram doses. I'll shuffle the baskets, taste blind, and score the shots relative to each other, -3 to +3, on crema appearance, crema depth, flavor and body. 0 is a tie, 1 is slightly better, 2 is distinctly better, 3 is a knockout.

Here's the fight schedule so far, look for the Mazzer Super Jolly and Kony also to throw their hats into the ring:

20th - Nemox Lux
21st - Mazzer Mini
22nd - Versalab M3
23rd - Macap MXK
24th - Macap M7K
25th - Fiorenzato Doge Conico
26th - Compak K-10 WBC
27th - Cimbali Max
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Postby peacecup on Fri Jul 20, 2007 2:55 pm

Jim,

Why not put a super-featherweight Zassenhaus or equivalent-quality hand grinder in the ring? We all remember David and Goliath...

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Postby another_jim on Fri Jul 20, 2007 4:39 pm

peacecup wrote:Jim,

Why not put a super-featherweight Zassenhaus or equivalent-quality hand grinder in the ring? We all remember David and Goliath...

PC


Send me one and I'll run it.
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Postby another_jim on Fri Jul 20, 2007 5:07 pm

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Tale of the Tape

Not much to look at, the Lux, along with the same burr toting Ascaso I-2 and Pavoni PG, is the least expensive grinder that works properly for commercial espresso machines. Most people who've owned one of these have upgraded. They are a PITA to use -- they sound like a jalopy about to explode, they produce a hard clumpy grind that needs a full beauty salon WDT fluffing to pull properly.

But nobody has ever complained about the shots these grinders produce. In fact, in terms of the extraction numbers, the Lux was the grinder that was closest in performance to the Robur. So will lightning strike? Can this little grinder knock out the Robur?


The Fight

(color commentary added later, the shots were blind tasted)

Round 1 -- 16.5 gram dose: The Lux poured well, the Robur was a bit loose. Nevertheless it had a slightly better crema appearance. The shots were equally good in flavor and body, although the Robur's was a hint more acidic. Robur squeaks a 1 point win.

Round 2 -- 16.5 gram dose: Both poured well. The Robur had a slightly thicker layer of crema. It's shot was also sweeter and slightly better flavored. With flavor and body points getting multiplied by 4, it wins the round comfortably by 7 points.

Round 3 -- 13.5 gram dose: The Lux poured a bit loose, the Robur tight. The Robur had a slightly deeper and distinctly better looking crema. But then came the shocker, the Lux tasted distinctly better, it was sweeter, and the Robur shot was excessively bitter. The Lux wins by 5 points. Is an upset in the air?

Round 4 -- 13.5 grams dose: Both shots pour well, and the crema and taste are identical, but the Robur lands a body punch, with a buttery mouthfeel and wins the round by 4 points.

Final result: The Robur takes 3 rounds of 4, but wins by only a narrow overall margin of 7 points (out of a possible 120)

Detailed Scores
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Grinder  Dose  Shot ExtG  ExtR  CPer  CApp  Flav  Body  Swee  Acid  Bitr  Total
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lux      16.5  1.2   20.8  21.4   0    -1     0     0      0    -1     1    -1
Lux      16.5  1.1   21.4  22.0  -1     0    -1.5   0     -1     0     1    -7
Lux      13.5  2.0   18.9  20.6  -1    -2     2     0      1     0    -2     5
Lux      13.5  1.1   20.6  21.9   0     0     0    -1      0     0     0    -4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Legend:
Shot: 0 is tight, 1 is good, 2 is loose, first figure is the test grinder, second the Robur. All shots run to 50mL with crema. If the time difference is more than 6 seconds, the test is redone. Tight/Loose mean differences of 4 to 5 seconds.
ExtG, ExtR: Percentage solubles extracted, G is the test grinder, R the robur
CPer, CApp: Crema persistence and appearance. Negative scores means the Robur wins, Positive means the Test grinder. These scores are added to the final tally
Flav, Bod: Flavor and Body. These scores are multiplied by four for the final tally.
Swee, Acid, Bitr: Sweetness, Acidity Bitterness: organoleptic categories NOT added to the score.
Total: The total score, CPer + CApp + 4*Flav + 4*Body


Will the Mini do better? Same time, same station, tomorrow.
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Postby another_jim on Sat Jul 21, 2007 6:15 pm

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Tale of the Tape

As Dan said when introducing the Titan Grinder Project, in many ways the whole thing is about the Mazzer Mini. It is the grinder of choice for most espresso amateurs. As the smallest sized commercial grinder, designed for catering, hotels, or decaf grinding, it is a sensible choice for the home. It is bullet proof reliable, serviceable, and not too big for the kitchen. The titan grinders being tested here, designed as main line grinders for multigroup machines in busy espresso bars, are not particularly sensible choices for home grinding. It is the prospect of finding a grinder that is distinctly better tasting than the Mini that's tempting enthusiasts.

Going from the Lux to the Mini was a quick lesson in why people want commercial gear for their home use. The Lux, despite its stellar performance in the taste department, is a complete PITA to use, whereas the Mini is a delight. The grinds are ready to use out of the doser, no sifting required, it operates silently, and relatively quickly. Obviously, the Robur is even quicker, and the grinds are even fluffier, the noise level is about the same. But the ergonomic improvement from Mini to Robur is a tiny step, whereas from the Lux to the Mini it is a monster journey. There is no need to upgrade if ergonomics is what you are looking for.

The Fight

This time there was no excitement at all. The Robur edged the Mini slightly in taste (1 point) in every round. The Robur's shots were a hair more aromatic, sweeter, and acidic (adding transparency and flavor) each time. The difference was slight even when going back and forth between the two shots; it would not have been detectable if one were tasting the shots separately. There were some crema points one way or the other, but the overall score was -15 to the Mini.

Detailed Scores
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Grinder  Dose  Shot ExtG  ExtR  CPer  CApp  Flav  Body   Swee  Acid  Bitr  Total
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mini     16.5  1.1   22.0  20.2   0     1    -1     0     -0.5  -0.5   0.5  -3
Mini     16.5  1.1   23.9  22.6   1     0    -1     0     -0.5  -0.5   0.5  -3
Mini     13.5  1.1   21.3  21.3   0    -1    -1     0      1    -1     0    -5
Mini     13.5  1.1   20.6  22.8   0     0    -1     0      0    -1     0    -4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Legend:
Shot: 0 is tight, 1 is good, 2 is loose, first figure is the test grinder, second the Robur. All shots run to 50mL with crema. If the time difference is more than 6 seconds, the test is redone. Tight/Loose mean differences of 4 to 5 seconds.
ExtG, ExtR: Percentage solubles extracted, G is the test grinder, R the robur
CPer, CApp: Crema persistence and appearance. Negative scores means the Robur wins, Positive means the Test grinder. These scores are added to the final tally
Flav, Bod: Flavor and Body. These scores are multiplied by four for the final tally.
Swee, Acid, Bitr: Sweetness, Acidity Bitterness: organoleptic categories NOT added to the score.
Total: The total score, CPer + CApp + 4*Flav + 4*Body


Running Score Sheet

This is a new section. The Robur is not just the fairground strongman taking on all comers. It is so consistent in its performance that it can be considered a measuring instrument for comparing grinders. So here's the tally so far:
Nemox Lux         -7
Mazzer Mini      -15

The Lux, at it's best, can produce a better cup than the Mini at its best. I still wouldn't want it, or any of the other current grinders using this burr set, as my home grinder, since it's such a PITA. But manufacturers should look at it in terms of using that burr set made by Trespade, mount and motor to produce a more ergonomic grinder.

Tomorrow, the Versalab.
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Postby another_jim on Sun Jul 22, 2007 9:11 pm

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Tale of the Tape

The Versalab M3 was built to be the ultimate grinder for home espresso enthusiasts. It costs as much as a Titan, but is optimized for generalized home use. The coffee drops straight through, and none is retained in the grind chamber. The grind wheel is easy to move from Turkish to Presspot, and is ultra fine adjustable to boot. It uses the legendary DRM Conical/Planar burr set which tops even the Robur for the size of its grind surfaces. A quiet DC motor allows for variable speed control. In terms of usability, there is no better cupping or all round lab grinder available. For espresso only use with limited blends, the design is not optimal.

Unfortunately, Versalab is more a design than manufacturing company, and this shows on the grinder's nitty gritty production engineering details. The drive system -- belt, drive shaft couplings, and bearings -- are undersized and failure prone. The company is unable to respond effectively to these problems. The belt tends to slip, as does the grind setting lock. All this means that around 10% of the time the grinds are unusable.

The raison d'etre of this grinder is great taste. The designer, John Bicht, claims it is analogous to an audiophile Hi-Fi system, bringing greater transparence and clarity to the cup. Does it fulfill this claim?

The Fight

The first thing that stood out was that the crema from the Robur was better in each round. The Robur tends to beat all grinders in this department, but in this case it was more marked than with the Lux and Mini. The Robur took a point on crema in each of the first three rounds.

The first round, at 16.5 grams, went to the Versalab on taste by 1 point. The M3's taste was a little more distinct, especially in reproducing the sherry notes of the aged sumatra in the blend. The second round went to the Versalab on body. In the third round, at 13.5 grams, the Versalab was a little too sweet and flat, and the Robur took the flavor category by a point.

So going into the final round, the grinders were even, and the claims of the Versalab were looking good. But in the final round, the sloppy production engineering came back to haunt it. Today was a "bad pour day" in my kitchen, and I had to adjust the grind settings, and burn through a lot of coffee in each round of the fight. Even with this, the pours were running slightly fast or slow in each round. The Silvia is an unforgiving machine, and the blend I put together is even more so -- if the pour is off, the loser will get clipped by 8 to 10 points. In the final round, despite having loosened the grind immediately before hand, the M3 produced a 5 seconds tight shot -- the inherent variability and slippages in the drive system had produced one of those inconsistent grinds. I decided to score it, since I'd given the grinder more tweaking than even the Lux up to this point. That ended its run, it got clobbered on crema and strongly beaten on taste, losing the round, and the contest, by 10.5 points. To its credit, it tied the Robur in the number of rounds it won.

Detailed Score
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Grinder  Dose  Shot ExtG  ExtR  CPer  CApp  Flav  Body   Swee  Acid  Bitr  Total
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VL M3    16.5  0.2   17.7  22.6   0    -1     1     0      0     0     0.5   3
VL M3    16.5  1.2   20.2  20.2   0    -1     0     0.5    0     0     0     1
VL M3    13.5  0.1   18.3  22.1   0    -1    -1     0      1    -1    -1    -5
VL M3    13.5  0.2   18.3   NA   -1.5  -2    -1.5   0      0    -1    -2    -9.5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Legend:
Shot: 0 is tight, 1 is good, 2 is loose, first figure is the test grinder, second the Robur. All shots run to 50mL with crema. If the time difference is more than 6 seconds, the test is redone. Tight/Loose mean differences of 4 to 5 seconds.
ExtG, ExtR: Percentage solubles extracted, G is the test grinder, R the robur
CPer, CApp: Crema persistence and appearance. Negative scores means the Robur wins, Positive means the Test grinder. These scores are added to the final tally
Flav, Bod: Flavor and Body. These scores are multiplied by four for the final tally.
Swee, Acid, Bitr: Sweetness, Acidity Bitterness: organoleptic categories NOT added to the score.
Total: The total score, CPer + CApp + 4*Flav + 4*Body


Running Score Sheet
Grinder          Score       Rounds Won-Tied-Lost
-------------------------------------------------
Nemox Lux         -7              1-0-3
Mazzer Mini      -15              0-0-4
Versalab M3      -10.5            2-0-2         



Tomorrow, the first of the Titans, the Macap MXK
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Postby luca on Mon Jul 23, 2007 7:54 am

Great work as always, Jim. You're just making me want that Robur more and more. Apparently mazzer are working on a doserless one.

Nice to see some good data to show that the lux is good value. Personally, I can't stand the lack of stepless adjustment on it, but it seems to be a great little grinder. I got to try out an Ascaso i2 mini on the weekend ... essentially the same grinder, but with stepless grind adjustment. Seemed a little quieter, too - a definite winner.

I'd like to ask for a small favour, though - could you post up the actual tasting results? My school of thought is that you optimise taste and body, then worry about crema, so I'd like to see how the grinders compare without crema as a criterion.

Cheers,

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Postby another_jim on Mon Jul 23, 2007 11:12 am

luca wrote:Nice to see some good data to show that the lux is good value. Personally, I can't stand the lack of stepless adjustment on it, but it seems to be a great little grinder. I got to try out an Ascaso i2 mini on the weekend ... essentially the same grinder, but with stepless grind adjustment. Seemed a little quieter, too - a definite winner.


The Lux is the least well finished of these Trespade grinders, but the step size is just about adequate. The switch from 13.5 to 16.5 grams took three notches, so I think a notch correction on a bad pour will usually be about right.

I'd like to ask for a small favour, though - could you post up the actual tasting results? My school of thought is that you optimise taste and body, then worry about crema, so I'd like to see how the grinders compare without crema as a criterion.


Done. It's edited into each "contest" post. There's extraneous information, since I was hoping to have an analytically worthwhile dataset when I'm done.
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Postby another_jim on Mon Jul 23, 2007 6:45 pm

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Tale of the Tape

68mm conical grinders have been around a long time, and every grinder manufacturer makes a model. These are rated at the same pounds per hour capacity as the ubiquitous 64mm flat burr grinders (like the Jolly). They are more expensive, but some cafes prefer them for their longer burr life and cooler operation. 62mm conicals are something new, and there are only two models, the Kony and Macap. These are rated at about the same grinding speed as 50mm - 60mm flat burr catering grinders (like the Mini), and have a size somewhat more suitable for home use than the regular size commercial conicals. For commercial use, they are too slow except as decaf grinders. The Macap MXK is, like all Macaps, built for economy; in this case as a competitor to the Mazzer Kony. But while the exterior may not be as fine as the Kony's, there's no skimping on the innards, which are solid.

The testing today was a breeze and a joy. Both grinders poured perfect each time, and the two pours looked like a synchronized swimming team. I turned on the machines simultaneously, 7 seconds later the pours clicked on and stayed rock steady till the end. There was no need to send the grinds to the WDT beauty parlor, since they emerge ready to use from the doser. The round with the Mini was close to this, but this is the first time where I feel I could reproduce the same results ad infinitum: both grinders were that rock solid consistent. I feel very comfortable saying that with this pair what I saw is exactly what any buyer will see.

Not surprisingly, I liked the MXK's ergonomics: the grinder is quiet, the chute is very wide and easy to clean, and the doser clears out as well as most. My only niggle is that the clackety-clack of the Macap dosers is too loud.


The Fight

The two 13.5 gram rounds came first. In the first round, the Macap surprised me with an intense shot that was balanced perfectly enough to beat the Robur's sweeter, laid back one. Score 4 points for the Macap. In the second round the extra intensity backfired; the Macap's shot was slightly unbalanced towards the bitter, and the Robur took the round by 1.5 points. The first 16.5 gram round was a repeat of the first 13.5, the Macap was more intense, and balanced enough to pull it off and win by 3 points. In the last round, the tables were turned, and the Macap's shot was a hair flatter, losing by 2.5 points.

Yes folks, we have our first Robur beater: the Macap MXK splits the rounds, but squeaks by with a 3 point win. In all fairness, the subjective element looms large here: the losing Robur shots were mellower and sweeter, but I thought the nigh perfect balance of the Macap shots more than compensated.

There is something immensely solid and consistent about the way shots from the Robur taste; this is not just a psychological carryover from the size of the grinder itself, but is totally apparent in the accumulated blind tasting. If this is what you want, you are probably not going to find anything cheaper that delivers it. But this cup profile has a built in margin of safety (although not as much as the Mini's), and it can be beaten by grinders that reproduce the flavors more cleanly and closer to the edge.

Obviously, grinders walking this tightrope aren't going to pull it off each time; but the MXK is a big league grinder, and works consistently enough to be this "edgy" and remain consistent. The Versalab, yesterday, also won rounds with clearer, more finely delineated tastes; but it didn't back this up with the consistency required to walk the tight rope of intense, perfectly balanced shots; so when it lost, it lost big. The Macap MXK does have the required consistency, it won its rounds clearly, and when it lost, it was by a hair. It impressed me in the previous tests, and this one seals the deal. It gets my first, big thumbs up, "you can buy it with confidence" recommendation, especially for people who want to get very clean and crisp tasting shots, while never having to run to the nearest sink to gargle. The Versalab promises consistent clean taste; the Macap delivered in the direst of test conditions, up against the Robur.

Detailed Scores
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Grinder  Dose  Shot ExtG  ExtR  CPer  CApp  Flav  Body   Swee  Acid  Bitr  Total
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
MXK      16.5  1.1   20.8  21.4   0.5   0.5   1    -0.5   -0.5   1     1     3
MXK      16.5  1.1   22.0  20.8  -0.5   0    -0.5   0      0.5  -1    -1    -2.5
MXK      13.5  1.1   20.6  21.3   0     0     1     0      0     1     1     4
MXK      13.5  1.1   22.8  22.8   0.5   0    -0.5   0     -1     0     2    -1.5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Legend:
Shot: 0 is tight, 1 is good, 2 is loose, first figure is the test grinder, second the Robur. All shots run to 50mL with crema. If the time difference is more than 6 seconds, the test is redone. Tight/Loose mean differences of 4 to 5 seconds.
ExtG, ExtR: Percentage solubles extracted, G is the test grinder, R the robur
CPer, CApp: Crema persistence and appearance. Negative scores means the Robur wins, Positive means the Test grinder. These scores are added to the final tally
Flav, Bod: Flavor and Body. These scores are multiplied by four for the final tally.
Swee, Acid, Bitr: Sweetness, Acidity Bitterness: organoleptic categories NOT added to the score.
Total: The total score, CPer + CApp + 4*Flav + 4*Body


Running Score Sheet
Grinder          Score       Rounds Won-Tied-Lost
-------------------------------------------------
Nemox Lux         -7              1-0-3
Mazzer Mini      -15              0-0-4
Versalab M3      -10.5            2-0-2     
Macap MXK         +3              2-0-2


Tomorrow, the MXK's big brother, the Macap M7KR.
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Postby RapidCoffee on Tue Jul 24, 2007 12:39 am

another_jim wrote:Yes folks, we have our first Robur beater: the Macap MXK splits the rounds, but squeaks by with a 3 point win. In all fairness, the subjective element looms large here: the losing Robur shots were mellower and sweeter, but I thought the nigh perfect balance of the Macap shots more than compensated.

Jim, thanks for your fine work. But I'm going to post a dissenting opinion. In my three weeks with these two Titans, I thought the Robur produced consistently better shots than the Macap MXK*. My reaction to the Macap was similar to Dave's reaction to the Kony: harsher, edgier pours that highlighted individual flavors, but were less balanced, and overall less pleasant to the palate. I clearly preferred the Robur.

From a private Titan grinder thread, at the start of June:
RapidCoffee wrote:A confession: I'm trying to be fair and rational about my evaluation, but it's been tough. The Robur is a strong contender for best espresso grinder on the planet. :shock: The Macap is a very good grinder, nice ergonomics, and a much better fit for the home user... but you know what? Conicals shmonicals, it's not exactly knocking my socks off. Maybe I just prefer Mazzers.

But take this with a grain of salt. For one thing, Jim is undoubtedly a far better cupper than me. For another, we may simply have different taste preferences.

* I'm pretty sure the "small Macap" is the MXK model, with 63mm burrs.
John
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