La Marzocco Pico Grinder Review

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#1: Post by HB »

The market for home-friendly espresso grinders has improved immensely over the years.

In the past, major grinder manufacturers focused almost exclusively on their commercial grinders destined for cafes, but now home baristas have many espresso grinder choices specifically designed for them. Gone are the huge hoppers that needed to be cut down by DIYers to fit under cabinets! In addition to adaptations of commercial on-demand grinders, boutique grinder makers offer single-dosing models that cater to the home user (albeit some at eye-watering prices :lol:).

Not surprisingly, La Marzocco Home has been paying attention to this development. The La Marzocco Pico grinder is the result:

We have two evaluation units to pass around for a thorough group-style review

Styled in the same fashion as the Linea line of espresso machines, the La Marzocco Pico grinder has simple lines to complement a home kitchen environment next to the Linea Micra or Linea Mini. It has a small hopper optimized for on-demand delivery to a portafilter with just a lock-n-tap that starts the motor. It can also be used in a single-dose manner by emptying the hopper/dosing/running the motor until empty with limited retention.

Coffee is dosed for a double espresso in less than 10 seconds; the barista can tweak the grind/dose time quickly and easily. In this review, the Pico will be compared with other conical grinders as well as large flat burr grinders. Since the Pico seems well suited for modestly-sized crowds, we'll also try out the Pico in a more demanding group setting -- serving drinks for a cars and coffee event.

To keep the reviewer feedback together, this thread will be closed until the review is complete. If you wish to ask questions, feel free to post in the La Marzocco Pico and a reviewer will respond.
Dan Kehn

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#2: Post by another_jim »

BUILD: The Pico, belying its name, is quite a large grinder, with a case design that matches the Mini and Micra. It is not very high, but quite deep. This is because like the Baratza Sette and the Etzinger grinders, the beans move straight down through the burrs to the exit, with the outer burr rotating.
The outer burr is driven by geared motor in the rear. This portion is far larger than the Etzinger or Sette, with the payoff being a far more silent DC motor and gears.

Build quality is good. The case looks like a domestic appliance; but is constructed of powder coated metal. The burrs, burr carrier, grind chamber and motor are very solid, reminiscent of commercial grinders. The build decisions and style for the Pico are similar to those of the Micra; it is made to look at home in a kitchen, but built much more solidly than most countertop appliances.

OPERATION: There are three rocker switches. The left and central ones are for on-demand grinding, and can be programmed for timed dosing down to 0.05 seconds. The right button is for single dosing and turns the burrs on or off. Activating the grinder turns on LED lights at the grind exit.

On demand grinding is done by pressing the one of the dosing rocker switches, in order to select the grind time, and inserting the portafilter in the fork. A push hits the actuator button. The portafilter rests securely and does not need to be held.

The outer rotating burr and the very direct grind path combine to shoot the ground coffee in a narrow stream into the basket for pleasingly mess free operation.
As can be seen when removing the burrs, this is because there is no grind chamber, and the grinds exit straight down from the burrs:

Single dosing is done by replacing the portafilter fork with a simple positioning bracket, and pushing the supplied 58mm blind shaker cup against it. When I first saw the large gap between the cup and the grind exit, I was expecting a royal mess. But the grinds shoot into the cup beautifully. The ergonomics is as good as the Niche Zero's, which is saying something.

Less good is that about 1.5 to 1.75 grams of coffee are retained in the burrs and grinder exit.

Here are the burrs again, but with the grinds that are retained after normal use:

Coffee retention of 1.5 to 1.75 grams is very low for an on-demand grinder, but doesn't match grinders designed specifically for single dosing. The hopper cannot be removed without disabling the grinder; so adding a bellows to blow out every last gram off coffee will require a 3D printer to create the same interlock on the bellows base as on the hopper. It would be a nice improvement for LM to offer this along with the tumbler and single dosing fork as part of the grinder package.

TASTE: I did not test for French Press or pour over coffee. Adjusting the grinder to the coarsest setting yields a mochapot or very tight pourover grind. You can go coarser by doing several rotations; but my sense was that this was designed as an espresso-only grinder.

For espresso, repeated side-by-side blind comparisons of various roast levels and styles of coffee against the Niche Zero were a dead tie. If we liked one shot more than the other, a slight tweak to the grind setting of the losing grinder got a more desirable shot.

This is an important point. The Baratza Sette and Etzinger have enormous sweet spots; but no matter where you set the grind, the taste is always laid back, with an emphasis on body and caramels, and subdued acidity and origin flavors. So I was expecting this to be true for the Pico as well. But the Pico's burrs, while looking like the standard Etzingers, are a distinct improvement -- grinding coarser, and if necessary dosing higher, will get more origin flavors and acidic shots, just like on commercial conical burrs like the Niche's Kony burrs.

CONCLUSION: The Pico takes the breakthrough ideas of the Sette and Etzinger burrs, and improves on them substantially, in terms of ergonomics, grind quality, and noise. It pairs really well with the Mini and Micra Lineas, both in style and capability, especially with the package discount. At around $1000, it competes with the on demand Eureka 65 and 75 grinders in price, quality, and taste. However, it costs more than the Niche Zero for the equivalent single dosing ergonomics and it also has more grind retention.

WHO SHOULD BUY IT: Anyone buying a Mini or Micra should give it a close look. For people who will use their espresso grinders for both on-demand and single dosing, this grinder is a standout, with far better single dosing ergonomics and somewhat better retention than any other on-demand grinder.
Jim Schulman

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#3: Post by HB (original poster) »

If you're serving a crowd, the La Marzocco Linea Mini / La Marzocco Pico combo is a real treat to use, especially if you have the Brew by Weight option. It enables the barista to pick the beverage weight and the brewing stops automatically. Along with the Pico's timed on-demand grinding directly into the portafilter, the barista saves precious seconds that can be put to other tasks like wiping down the countertop/driptray, rinsing pitchers, and just interacting with customers.

This video was recorded at the last Cars and Coffee event at Leith Porsche. The turnout was pretty good, around 60 people over 2.5 hours. That's enough of a crowd that you need to focus on prep, but not so many that you have no time to chat.
The average prep time per drink was a leisurely 1.5 minutes. The Linea Mini could certainly go faster without problem. Its only limitation, if any, is drawing water for Americanos, as it starts sputtering after ~8 ounces.
Dan Kehn