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Hand Grinder Roadshow

Postby HB on Sun Jul 01, 2012 3:31 pm

Manual grinders have regained popularity over the past few years. Older grinders from Zassenhaus have had to make room for new hand grinders like the Pharos and Lido hand mills from Orphan Espresso. The design and function has evolved and today's manual coffee grinders claim to produce a very respectable grind matching that of a $1000+ commercial grinder at a fraction of the cost. Their attractive price point combined with the portability of a manual coffee grinder makes them very attractive for those on a budget or the office cubical worker or traveler.

Team HB has acquired a Pharos, Lido and a Porlex tall Japanese ceramic grinder for a roadtrip review. Over the summer, these grinders will be shipped from reviewer to reviewer for hands-on evaluation. The first stop is Dave (cannonfodder) Stephens' home cafe:

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Orphan Espresso Pharos, LIDO, and Porlex TALL grinders

Note: The thread will be locked so the first few peer reviewers can post their comments together, then the thread will be opened for public comments.
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Postby cannonfodder on Mon Jul 02, 2012 10:51 pm

The grinders arrived from Orphan espresso nicely packed and ready for action. The Pharos is a monstrous beast. I have seen it many times in photos but that does not do the grinder justice. It is the size of a volley ball and as heavy as a bowling ball. For those that do not know, the Pharos uses a 68mm conical burr set which is monstrous for a hand mill. Burrs aside one of the unique traits of the Pharos is an upper and lower bronze axle bearing. All manual grinders have an upper bearing but Orphan Espresso added the lower bearing on the Pharos. This keeps the burrs aligned and addresses one of the major failings of a manual mill, burr wobble. This allows the burrs to turn true even at the finest settings to produce an even grind suitable for espresso.

The Pharos ships with a large rubber base to help steady the grinder on the table top, a Tommy bar which is used to help break the burr adjustment nuts loose for stepless grind adjustments, a large handle, and something that most grinders lack: A usable user manual which also details the disassembly of the grinder for cleaning and adjusting.

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The Lido is Orphan Espresso's newest entry into the manual mill market. They took the lessons learned from the Pharos and shrunk the package to make it more portable. The Lido uses a 38mm conical burr set which is still one of the largest I have seen on a manual grinder. While the girth of the grinder has been reduced to a more portable 3 inch diameter, it is nearly a foot tall which still makes it somewhat large for a traveling coffee kit. The grind catch tray is also made of glass which helps to cut down on static cling of the ground coffee but adds a breakage factor to the package. Something to keep in mind if you plan on packing the grinder for road trips.

The Lido ships with a neoprene case to carry the grinder, a grind lever with two mounting points so you can adjust the mechanical force needed to turn the burrs, a removable glass catch basin and a hand brush for cleaning off the bottom of the burr set after grinding. The Lido also advertises an upper and lower burr bearing but unlike the Pharos, the burr shaft does not extend past the lower burr which does allow for a little burr wobble but more on that later. The Lido also contains a usable owners manual.

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The Porlex grinder is the smallest form factor of the 3 grinders. It is manufactured in Japan and is constructed of all stainless steel which makes it much more resilient for travel use. The Porlex lacks the lower burr bushing but uses a spring loaded burr set to help minimize the burr wobble. The Porlex also uses a ceramic conical burr set although I am having difficulty finding what the burr size is. The big plus for ceramic burrs are longevity. The ceramic is harder than steel and stays sharp longer. The grinder is only 1-7/8 inches in diameter and 7 inches long which make it light and compact, easily packed in a bag for transport. The grinding handle simply slips over the burr shaft and can be lifted off for packing and storage. The Porlex does suffer from some burr wobble and the instructions all all but useless unless you can read Japanese.

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Postby cannonfodder on Sat Jul 07, 2012 9:35 pm

My original drive to try out hand mills was driven by a change in occupation. Where I use to work I had a regular office and had a LaCimbali MAX grinder and a VBM Domobar Super in my office. My new place of employment is a very large office and it is a big cubical farm. Even the managers have cubes. So having a big noisy espresso machine and grinder is not possible. So I have been living on press pot and grinding with a manual grinder for a year now. I wanted to see how far these old school mills have developed and can I really create a cafe in a desk drawer. Well, now that you have an idea what my motivation was let's move onto actually using these.

I decided to start with the Pharos. As mentioned earlier, this is a huge mill sporting a set of bean gulping conical burrs. It really is a wonder of engineering, an amazing contraption, but ergonomically a nightmare. Regardless of the quality of grind, I just found it to be a pain to use. Even with the large rubber base for it to sit in, trying to hold it and grind was awkward and I never really found a good position. The best I managed was to simply stand up, hold it by the body mounting screws, and torque away on the grind lever. It still wanted to tip and wobble but that was the best position for me.
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The grinder burr adjustment is made by unlocking two large kernelled nuts and then turning the lower nut to drift the grind. Initially I had some issues with the grind adjustment. The lack of any kind of indexing made adjusting a bit of a hit or miss prospect. After a while I got a feel for the amount of turn versus grind change. I kept dancing around between choking the espresso machine or gushing. A couple of times I was almost there. I would make a very small change, lock the nuts down, start grinding and the handle would suddenly free wheel like the handle came unscrewed. What happened was the locking nuts came loose while grinding and I just went from an almost there espresso grind to French press as the nuts spun while I was grinding away. That got very annoying and happened a few times. The adjustment screw is a heavy thread, while that makes the threads more robust it also makes a small adjustment difficult since a small turn translates to a big change.

Getting the grinds out of the grinder was another sore spot. You have a plug stuck in a small hole on the bottom of the grinder. After grinding, you have to pull out the plug and shake/shimmy/rattle and roll the grinder to get the grinds out. I would shake them out into a bowl, and then dump them from a bowl to a spouted container so I could then pour the grinds into a portafilter basket or other brewing device. That got old real fast.
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I know that is a lot of complaining, but again this is the good bad and ugly from a first time user experience. Now onto the good. Grind. This is a beast of a manual grinder and it produces a very nice grind. It easily outclasses the other manual grinders that I have used in addition to many introductory to mid grade powered grinders. I thought the brews it produced were better than those from a Mazzer Mini or even Super Jolly. It is a titan grade grinder in a sub $300 package. The grind appeared even and fluffy with few clumps but after all that shaking to get the grinds out of the grinder, I would imagine all the clumps have been shaken out.
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I did find that a large grind was not the bright spot for the grinder. My experience with espresso centric grinders is that once you get above a drip grind the cup quality suffers. You simply get too many fines in the grind, which makes for an unbalanced cup. While the Pharos may be good for espresso and a fine drip grind, I found it lacking for coarse grind uses. When using the grinder for the grind level it was designed for I got a nice clean cup with well defined separations in flavor. These are traits typical of the big titan conical grinders. Few adjustments were needed as the coffee aged or even changing coffees. Usually a very small adjustment was all it took.

As I mentioned earlier, the Pharos has an upper and lower brass sleeve bearing. One of the unique traits of the grinder is that the burr mounting shaft runs through the entire grinder, extending beyond the lower burr set. This keeps both burrs in alignment and addresses one of the manual grinders Achilles Heel -- burr wobble. As you torque on the grind lever, the burrs have a tendency to wander out of round giving you a lot of variation in partial size. That is what prevents many of the hand operated mills from producing an espresso grade grind. The unique design of the Pharos addresses that and it is capable of producing an espresso quality grind.
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Lower sleeve bearing and grind emptying plug
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Postby cannonfodder on Thu Jul 12, 2012 12:17 pm

The Lido is an interesting grinder. Orphan espresso advertises it as a cupping grinder but it uses what I would call 'normal' conical espresso burrs. Unlike the dedicated bulk grinders designed for non espresso grinding these burrs still have the 3 burr zones used on espresso grinders. Most bulk grinder have a large bean crushing zone and a large medium grinding zone and no fine grinding zone since the grinder is designed for brew methods that require a medium to large grind.

The grinder handle has tapped holes in it so you can pick your mounting point. At the near middle of handle hole you will need to use more force to grind your beans as the mechanical advantage is lower. In that position, you get an interesting bicycle peddle grinding effect. You can use both hands to grind, one turning the grinding handle the other the grinder body all twisting around the central axis. Difficult to explain but once you try it you will understand. For stationary grinding you are better off with the handle at the outer most mounting point to maximize the mechanical advantage which reduces the amount of force needed to work the grinder. As you can see in the photo, the Lido has a small handle on the grinding arm and your fingers can get fatigued holding onto it if you are doing a lot of grinding.
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If you plan or holding the grinder down on a table or use it like a knee mill that is the position you will want. One issue I have had multiple times, the beans simply stop feeding into the burr set. I will be grinding away and suddenly I am grinding air. I will have to shake/tap the grinder body to get the beans feeding into the burrs again. It often takes multiple shakes to get through a grinding job and it happens regardless of the grind setting.
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The grind adjustment on the Lido is simple and effective. I found it much easier to adjust than the Pharos. There is a simple wing nut that tightens against a metal block on the bottom of the grinder. The adjustment screw is fine pitched and has a tab at the end of the adjustment screw which gives you an indexing reference point for grind adjustments. The fine thread screw allows for easy fine tuning adjustments. The only concern I have with the adjustment mechanism is that the adjustment screw simply rides on the burr carrier shaft, which pushes the lower burr up or down for the adjustment. Over time, that metal on metal wear will wear down the adjustment screw or carrier but that kind of wear will take a very long time.
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The tall cylinder shape of the Lido hopper has plenty of room to hold enough beans for a press pot, drip cone or cupping cup. The long thin body is easy to grip while grinding. The grinds catch can is made of glass. While that will help to cut down on the static cling, it does give you a break point if you plan on traveling with the grinder. The thread for the catch basin is a common thread size and a small pint jelly jar will screw onto it and Orphan does carry replacement jars.

While the Pharos's big burrs gulp down beans, the Lido is a nibbler. The 38mm conical burrs nibble away at the beans but do it in an efficient way. The Lido has both an upper and lower bronze sleeve bearing but unlike the Pharos, the lower burr shaft bearing is actually above the burr set instead of below. That leaves the lower burr unsupported for about an inch and a half. That small amount of space does leave some room for wiggle in the burr set; albeit minor, it is still there. You can see the upper bearing just below the handle and the lower bearing at the bottom of the hopper sitting above the burr carrier.
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Postby cannonfodder on Mon Jul 16, 2012 12:04 pm

The Porlex is a simple grinder. Small, light weight, all stainless steel and easy to use. This is the quintessential travel grinder. There are no glass parts to break and the grinder would easily slip into an overnight bag or backpack for camping. It is essentially a stainless steel tube with some ceramic burrs at the bottom.

The handle on the Porlex is stamped steel, and while thin, it is adequate and should not bend unless you put undue force on the handle. The knob on the grinding handle is larger than the Lido and easier to grasp. The grinding handle simply slips over a hex shaped fitting on the burr shaft. This make the handle easy to remove for storage but if you apply upward pressure while grinding you can slip the handle off mid crank.
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The bean hopper is the upper body segment which has a small cap that goes over the burr shaft to keep the beans from popping out while grinding. The grinds catch container is the lower portion of the body and simply slips on over the body tube. A word of caution, this entire grinder is stamped and extruded from thin gauge stainless. The body is thin so it can be dented and the edges are sharp so you could cut your hand if you hit the right spot. While the Pharos and Lido are a craftsman's hand made product, the Porlex is factory mass production with little attention to the final details, but it is also a fraction of the cost.
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The burr set on the Porlex is a ceramic conical with a simple grind adjustment. It is similar to the Lido in that it uses a screw on the bottom of the burr carrier. You simply loosen or tighten the nut to adjust the grind. The adjustments are stepped but the stepping is small. Another interesting thing about the Porlex is that the outer burr is not mounted to the body of the grinder. It floats on springs that are supposed to keep it centred around the upper burr. Unlike the other two grinders there is only one bushing on the grind shaft so the burrs do wobble, quite a bit.
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It makes a nice little drip grinder or press pot if you use a finer grind setting than you would from a dedicated bulk grinder (fines issue), but it is not suitable for espresso. Most of the manual grinders I have used, including my Zassenhaus, work well for drip but due to the burr mounting arrangement they are not well suited for espresso grinding.
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Postby cannonfodder on Fri Jul 20, 2012 9:18 am

In the cup

Pharos

The Pharos produces a nice cup when you can get the grind dialed in correctly. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of indexing makes adjusting it a pain. For espresso, the smallest adjustment will have a big impact. I had fits getting it dialed in for shots. I was constantly too coarse or too fine, rarely hitting the sweet spot. When it was on, it produced a nice clean cup. The coffees had a nice separation in the flavors typical of most big conical burr grinders. The small hopper works good for espresso but if you are grinding for a press pot or drip pot you will have to refill it multiple times.

One of the curious things on the Pharos was grind retention. Weighing beans in and grinds out I was losing a half gram of coffee, and that was after clanking the burrs to make sure it was empty. The grind across the board was fluffy and light with next to no clumps but again after all of the shaking to empty out the grinds through the small hole in the bottom into a container then from the container into the basket most clumps would have been broken up.

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Most espresso-centric grinders do not do well with coarser grinds. They produce too many fines. The Pharos was not exempt from that. A coarse French press grind produced a lot of fines and dust leaving you with a lot of silt in the bottom of your cup. The brew itself was unbalanced with the fines being over extracted and the larger chunks being under extracted. There was a sweet spot between espresso grind and drip grind where everything appeared to balance out. It produced a nice vacuum pot but I had to reduce the steep time and stir the grounds during the draw down to prevent the finer grind from plugging up the filter. You can use a fine grind for a press pot as well, you just have to adjust your steep time accordingly and take care during the press or you may plug up your filter. In my vacuum pot the Pharos appeared to produce a very large bloom, nearly coming to the top of my vacuum pot.

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The Pharos ground 17 grams of coffee and an espresso grind in 40 seconds. I did not test the drip pot grind times because the hopper on the Pharos will only hold 23 grams of coffee filled to the very top of the hopper. You would have to stop and refill it multiple times so timing the grind is not very productive. One other note on the Pharos, it popcorns, a lot. You have to keep the rubber flapper over the charging hole or it will spit coffee bean chunks out and onto your table.

Lido

The Lido is, in my opinion, the easiest of all the grinders to use. The hopper is large enough to handle enough beans for a press/vacuum pot, but if you are grinding for something like a 12 cup drip pot you will have to add a few beans part way through the grind. The hopper is easy to empty, just unscrew it and dump the grinds into you basket or other brew method container.

For espresso, it pulled a good shot. The flavors are not quit as separated and clean as the Pharos, but frankly, the adjustment fits I had with the Pharos made the Lido even more attractive. Throughout the testing, I kept finding myself reaching for the Lido much more than the Pharos, especially if I needed to make grind adjustments like espresso to vacuum pot. The grind retention was next to zero and like the Pharos, it produced a nice fluffy grind with few to no clumps. The espressos were quick to dial in and still bested most flat burr grinders. While I never had a god shot from the grinder, I rarely had a sink shot. There is a very small amount of burr wobble due to the bushing arrangement but not enough to disqualify it as an espresso grinder and it is head and shoulders above any other manual grinder I have used, most of which are not suitable for espresso.

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It is interesting that they market the Lido as a cupping grinder. It appears to use a standard espresso grinder burr set, nothing unusual. Like most espresso grinders the Lido also suffers from fines when grinding for something as coarse as a press pot. That leaves you with an unbalanced up but like the Pharos, if you tighten the grind up to just a little finer then you would normally use for a drip pot the flavors balance back out.

With the Lido set for a comparable espresso grind I was able to grind the same test coffee with a 17 gram dose in 51 seconds. The large hopper on the Lido gives you enough room to charge it up for a drip or vacuum pot. I measured the hopper maximum capacity at 67 grams. I used a 45 gram dose with the Lido set for a vacuum pot grind. It took 2:15 to grind the coffee. As I mentioned earlier, the Lido stopped feeding the beans into the burrs multiple times and I had to stop and shake the grinder to get it feeding again which prolonged the grind time. The Lido also popcorns the beans but the tall hopper keeps the beans from popping out for the most part. I would occasional get a small chunk flying out the top of the grinder.

Porlex

Well, it does grind beans, but is no comparison to the Lido or Pharos. The burr arrangement prevents the Porlex from grinding fine enough or even enough for espresso. The steps are too large for fine adjusting and the wobbly burrs prevent you from getting a grind. Having said that, this grinder was never designed for espresso.

It is the smallest, lightest and most transportable of the three grinders making it nice option for those backpacking/camping where space and weight are a premium. The stainless construction and ceramic burrs also make it nearly rust proof if you happen to get caught in the rain while camping or take a dunk while canoeing. It is a serviceable grinder for drip and vacuum pot coffee, but like the other two grinders, when you adjust it for a heavy press pot grind, it produces a lot of fines making for a bitter unbalanced cup of coffee. It works best at what I would call a drip pot grind.

The cup it produces has an average flavor. You get a melding of flavors without the clear separation and clean crisp notes that the Pharos and Lido produce. It is on par with grinders like the Zassenhaus but comes in at quite a bit less expensive than a Zass. The grind was again clump free and relatively void of static.

The hopper will hold enough beans to grind for a smaller press or drip pot and the pull off catch basin makes emptying the grinds into the brewing container easy. If you were looking for drip pot backup grinder, the Porlex would do the job. If I were packing for a hunting trip, I would also reach for the Porlex due to its light weight, compact size and nearly unbreakable design. If I was trying to decide between a Zass at around $100 and the Porlex at $65, I would take the Porlex.
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Postby cannonfodder on Sun Aug 12, 2012 10:52 pm

As I mentioned at the beginning of the road show, part of the driving force behind this was a change in jobs and a lack of an espresso machine at work. At my old job I had a real office and had a VBM DomobarSuper and LaCimbali MAX grinder. In my new location it is a cubicle farm and we cannot have something like that in our offices. I managed to score a new Zass hand mill at a flea market for $5 about a year ago and have been using that in conjunction with a press pot for my office coffee and it does a decent job but I still miss having an espresso now and then. So I embarked on this project with the idea of seeing if you can really get a cafe in a desk drawer.

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One of my co workers is also a coffee head and has an espresso machine at home and home roasts as well. He happens to have a Mypressi Twist and was kind enough to loan it to me for a couple weeks. I found my Zass hand mill inadequate for espresso grinding. While it works for press pot it falls on its face when grinding fine for espresso. So enter the Lido and Pharos.

As I documented earlier either of these grinder works good for espresso but how will the combination work in an office with limited resources. At my disposal are a microwave and a filtered water dispenser in the pseudo break room.

It took a bit of trial and error to get the process down. The Mypressi needs to be heated prior to use. I found that if I boiled some water in the microwave, put that in the water dome of the Mypressi while I ground my espresso then go back to the break room, boil more water, dump the preheat water out of the water dome, fill it with the freshly boiled water then walk back to my office with my brewing water it was just about the right temperature. I would dose and tamp my coffee into the portafilter, dump the second preheat water out of the water dome, refill it with my brew water and pull my shot I would get a nice espresso. The shots were more like those from a lever machine, lighter in body but still a good espresso.

I used the Lido and Pharos extensively in the office. I would make a press pot in the morning and pull a shot in the evening most of the time. In an office I found the Pharos to simply be too much work to use. Making grind changes was a pain and just using the grinder was awkward. On the other hand the Lido was easy to adjust, easy to hold and use and did not take much room in a desk drawer. The grind adjustments were simple and repeatable. I simply made an index mark for my two grind settings. While I can do the same with the Pharos, again, I just simply found it awkward to use and it take a lot of room.

With all of this equipment at my disposal I found myself reaching for the Lido and the MyPressi Twist or press pot 90% of the time. It is a very impressive combination and produces a very good press pot and espresso.

While my time with the manual grinders is closing I found both the Lido and Pharos to be very good grinders and a quantum leap from the vintage hand mill of yesteryear. I can see adding a Mypressi Twist and Lido to my kit in the near future. Hopefully you have found this to be informative and entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the latest evolution of the hand mills.

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"AND if you want to really make a difference in the coffee world out HERE, kiss your job and security good-bye like I did and do something about it. Complaining is easy." --Mike McGinness, owner of Compass Coffee Roasting, Why Do Cafes with Great Machines Make Bad Espresso?


Postby drgary on Sun Aug 12, 2012 11:40 pm

Dave:

Thanks for a helpful and practical review. Although the Pharos in its stock setup is awkward in adjustment and grind removal, one of our innovative members, voodoodaddy, has created mods that turn the bottom of the Pharos into something more like the LIDO and makes the grind adjustment as trivial as turning the adjustment on a Mazzer -- but easier. The Pharos becomes a very different piece of gear with those mods. Here's what he's done. A number of us have adopted his mods. You can buy the parts and kit or he will do the mods for you.



Would the difference in grind quality change your preference over the LIDO?
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!
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Postby cannonfodder on Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:15 pm

Having add-on's is good, this is an out of the box user experience. While making mods to the grinder would improve its usability that is outside the scope of this roadshow. What is a here is a "what the first time user should expect" article. By the time I hack the Pharos and bolt on all of the extras I suspect you would be approaching the cost of a good electric grinder. At that point the grinder starts to lose some of it's appeal. A lot is also based on personal preference, I just enjoyed the Lido more and found it much easier to grab grind and go especially in an office environment where I do not have time to fiddle with making coffee.

While I enjoy twiddling with equipment, I also believe a product should just work out of box with no re-engineering needed by the user. While the Pharos works as is, I would be less than honest if I said it was perfect. It is simply not user friendly which plays a big part in my 'how will I feel about it in a month' thought process. Others will certainly have other opinions. One of my co-workers loved the Pharos but I only liked the Lido. Either grinder will do a fine job and if someone was giving me one I would be happy with either and they beat the pants off the older vintage grinders.
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Postby mariobarba on Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:31 pm

Thanks for the write up and reviews. How would the LIDO compare to an entry level consumer electric grinder (Preciso, tre spade, Ascaso) grinder in the cup? If someone had room for an electric grinder at the office but was on a budget and was looking for the best bang for the buck, which would you recommend?
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