About two years ago, I had the opportunity to try the Helor Stance prototype
(also known as Helor 102 at the time). If you are not familar with the Helor Stance, it is a manual hand grinder with gear reduction mechanism to reduce the effort required to drive the massive/titan (83mm) conical burrs.
Image: Helor Stance manual
Despite the reduced effort, hand grinding may still not be for everyone as the gear reduction does mean a longer cranking time. Perhaps for that reason, Helor had partnered up with Option-O to develop a retrofitable kit to motorize the Helor Stance. Thanks to my geographical advantage
, I managed to get my hands on a pre-production unit for a review.
What is a Helor Stance Motor?
The Helor Stance Motor is basically available in two 'configurations' - an upgrade kit if you already have a Helor Stance, or a complete pre-assembled motorized Stance (which is what I received for the review). The idea of motorizing an existing hand grinder is not new. In fact, some of us had tried to motorize the HG-1 (another impressive titan hand grinder) but found that the cost can be prohibitive
. And of course, some level of mechanical/engineering proficiency will be required, which makes it inaccessible for many of us. Helor/Option-O basically took the same concept by developing a motor kit that can be retrofitted by end users.
With the electric motor upgrade, the Stance essentially becomes a domestic-sized electric grinder designed purposefully for single dosing, offering yet another option for us home barista to choose from.
Image: Helor Stance Motor on the bench
Construction of Helor Stance Motor
The Helor Stance Motor is basically of three main parts -
(i) The main body to house the necessary components (an AC motor, electrics/wiring components, a portafilter fork and a power switch),
(ii) The support and coupling to drive the Helor Stance,
(ii) The Stance grinding mechanism (which should look familiar if you compare to the manual version of Stance in the first picture).
My impression of the motor body is just like the Stance (which by the way was entirely machined out of stainless steel!) - everything seems to be solidly built. The entire grinder is super hefty, rated at 19kg on the website! The support mechanism of the grinding chamber is also impressively solid - there's no wobble anywhere.
Using the Helor Stance Motor
So how does it feel like to use the Helor Stance Motor? Basically, there is no surprise except that it is surprisingly easy to use! From the get go, it is obvious that this is a grinder designed for single dosing. As a home barista who single-dose most of the time, using the Stance Motor is a second nature.
To use the Stance Motor, you would measure out each dose before grinding. The beans are loaded through the top by removing the lid. To work neatly (i.e. no stray ground), RDT* is recommended/required to minimize the static especially during the dry winter here in Melbourne. While I found that the Stance Motor is usable without a dosing funnel, it is much tidier with one. In fact, I suspect the Stance/portafilter fork was designed with one in mind (see pictures below).
* RDT = a common procedure in single dosing where you basically add a few drops of water or by spraying the coffee beans with some water from an atomizer prior to grinding
Images : The fork will basically accommodate any 58mm-basket portafilter whether it's a bottomless or a spouted portafilter, with or without dosing funnel.
Here's how the ground looked like by grinding directly into portafilter (with dosing funnel removed) and then shaked to level. Beautiful fluffy ground with no clumps.
To get the very last grain of your coffee (or sometimes a bit more than a few grain), you can detach the magnetically attached funnel (which by the way was also machined out of stainless steel! Talk about overbuilt...).
Coming from Monolith Conical, the transitioning to using the Stance was very natural and I found the workflow to be clean/seamless. Both the grinders (Monolith and Stance) are easy to use for single dosing and I especially like the detachable funnel on the Stance (even slightly over the magnetic chute of Monolith or the palming method to eliminate the last few minor retention).
Here's a short video of it in operation:
Some notable points:
Noise factor (or lack thereof):
The Stance Motor is no doubt one of the quieter grinders I've used (it might not appear super quiet in the video probably due to the microphone/camera placement - it also varies based on the roast level, darker roasts will be quieter than light roasts which I used in the video). On the Stance Motor, this bean-crushing noise is attenuated significantly by the stainless steel grinding mechanism. The attenuation resulted in a gentle (low-pitched) grinding sound which is much less intrusive in the morning. On top of that, there is no vibration from the motor that is transmitted onto the bench (one minor fault which my Monolith can be sometimes guilty of). Note that both the grinders are easily the quietest grinders I have owned and I am just being extremely nitpicky here.
The review unit I received has a prototype portafilter fork (made from some kind of hard plastic). I was informed that fine tuning to the fork is still being made and that's why the fork was not shown on the website. The production version will have the fork made out of metal with the same finish as the body.
I found the portafilter fork design (even if it's just a prototype fork) to be brilliant - it's definitely one of the more ergonomic portafilter forks I've used. On first glance, you may be perplexed by the asymmetric upper and lower fork arms. It was explained to me that the intention was to allow the user to easily insert the portafilter from most angle when standing in front of the grinder (instead of trying to aim for a narrow slot). In practice, I did find it to work extremely well and insertion of portafilter requires no effort at all.
Image: Portafilter fork up close
A single dosing grinder by definition should have negligible retention (especially shot to shot retention). In this aspect, I found the Stance to be excellent with virtually no ground retention. This is not surprising given that the Stance has a straight through design (similar to HG-1) with a magnetically attached funnel that can be removed/cleaned easily. Attached images are how the lower assembly looked after being tested for a week with about 1-1.5 kg beans through (with no cleaning in between). There was almost nothing there - certainly not enough to register on a 0.1g weighing scale.
Image: Exit funnel and lower burr assembly of the Helor Stance Motor
The Stance uses a stepless and threaded adjustment mechanism for setting the grind size. To set the grind size, one just moves the adjustment ring to the desired direction (left finer, right coarser). Despite being extremely easy to turn, the Stance's grind adjustment ring holds its grind setting well and does not slip even with light roasts.
In addition, the diameter of the adjustment ring is large and the burr carrier has a fine 0.5mm thread pitch. This works together to allow easy fine and fine adjustment of the grind setting. This really shines in use as I often change the grind setting by about 5 small notches (or between two big notches) to get into the range, and then microtuning from there. I found that anywhere within the 5 notches seems to give you a reasonable result. Plenty of adjustment latitude and it's no fuss system to get the perfect grind size.
Image: This is the distance of '5 small notches', which is typically the range that allows you to be in the about-right extraction zone - it's not a subtle range for sure!
Ability to grind light (hard) roasts
One of the initial concerns when testing the Helor Stance was whether the motor is strong enough to grind hard light roasts. To test that, I roasted a batch of high-grown Burundi Mutsinda to much lighter roast level than what I'd normally drink. In the bean cooler, the beans appeared light brown, mottled and not fully expanded - perhaps slightly lighter than a typical 'light roast'. In the cup, it tasted pretty grassy and acidic (tell tale of underdevelopment) - not something I'd like in espresso. However the Stance Motor was able to grind it with no sign of straining. So it should be able to handle most roasted coffees thrown at it.
Image: A washed high-grown coffee Burundi Mutsida dropped when about to enter rolling first crack. A rather light roast and was not fully developed, yet the Stance motor was able to grind it easily.
This is perhaps the feature of the Stance Motor that stood out the most during my testing. Perhaps due to the forgiving nature of the 83mm conical burrs or the large diameter of the grind setting adjustment ring or the excellent alignment/precision, I find that the sweetspot for achieving the right extraction is extremely wide. As you'd expect from a large conical burrs, minimal adjustment is needed even as the beans are aging. In addition, every shot ground using the same setting yielded consistent results as you'd expect from a high-quality grinder (similar flow rate and extraction yield as demonstrated later).
Comparison to another single-dosing grinder
I know that some of you are interested in a head-on comparison with the Monolith (also because that's the only other comparable grinder that I have at the moment). However, I just realize after the fact that there's a big caveat - my Monolith had received a new burrs recently (due to user error...) and it has only about 3-4 kg beans through - certainly not seasoned enough. As a result, this is possibly reflected in the result and thus may not represents its full potential.
With that caveat aside - In the tests, both the Monolith and Helor Stance Motor did perform admirably and similarly. In terms of work flow, the Monolith and the Helor Stance Motor are unique in their own way with different advantages.
-Firstly, the design aesthetic are obviously different - the Monolith feels like a case of form follows function (industrial vibe which also looks good in its own right) whereas the Stance has a minimalist look with Apple-esque feel to it.
-The Monolith grinds a bit faster (a couple seconds faster), but it occasionally vibrates and resonates a bit more. The Stance grinds slower but appears to be slightly more gentle (low-pitched sound) and does not have the vibration issue at all.
-Getting the last grain from the Monolith (if you're an OCD like me and if your grinder is not fully seasoned) requires palming the bean funnel or removing the magnetic chute, whereas the Stance requires removal/pushing of the funnel (see the video above).
Overall, slightly different workflow, but equally easy to use. The Monolith has received iterations of improvement from Denis/Kafatek but the Stance is no slouch either, most of the designs/components appeared to be thought out well. In terms of end results, the Stance has proven itself to be at least as consistent as the Monolith if not more (in this particular case where the Monolith is probably not fully seasoned).
Now onto the tests:
The procedure: I use a 18g VST basket with 18g dose and dial in the shots to a similar flow rate that tends to give me best results. To eliminate the roast variability, I purchased a kilo of medium-light commercial roast (Brazil Natural) for the test instead of using my home roasts. Tamping was done via a levelling tamper. Distribution of the coffee ground was done by grinding directly into a stainless steel cup, side-to-side shake, and poured into the basket. This is the method that I found to be most consistent on the Monolith (I found WDT via stirring needle sometimes introduces more inconsistency). All shots are pulled with 2 bar preinfusion for 10 seconds, and the shot was cut at 33 sec (by time instead of by weight). The espresso was stirred thoroughly, and a drop of the coffee was dropped directly onto an Atago refractometer (i.e. samples were not filtered). At least 3-4 minutes were allowed in between each shot to allow the lever group head to get back to its baseline temp. Shots are pulled alternating between the Stance and Monolith grinders (though the results are grouped by grinder below for ease of view).
Here're the results (given that using a spring lever still involves some manual maneuver, I was quite surprised how consistent the results were - the years of practicing pulling the lever must have paid off
Both the extraction yields are very close when measured using refractometer. You might note that I tried to change the grind setting on the Monolith to match the flow rate on Stance and that the Monolith fluctuates a bit more (as mentioned it is likely due to the burrs not being fully seasoned). At the end of the tests, I also tried grinding finer to see what impact it has on the TDS and the extraction easily went slightly over 20%.
If there's any conclusion to be drawn, it's that both of them are very similar/capable and the Stance can at least be as consistent as a Monolith Conical which is arguably the gold standard of a single dosing grinder.
Numbers aside, how does it taste? Obviously the choice of beans/roasts is the most important factor (so choose the right coffee for your prefered taste profile) and I don't claim to be a good taste descriptor (if at all!). I typically prefer medium/light roasts, and my favourites are usually fruity Ethiopians dropped just after first crack ends (City roast). With the Stance, I have no issue getting shots that have soft/smooth acidity (with no sharp edges/harshness), abundant of clarity, sweetness and lingering intense aftertaste. Definitely worthy of a titan-class grinder. Due to the forgiveness factor mentioned above, I can also hit the sweetspot very easily - it's one of the reasons people love these big burrs.
WDT/redistribution or not?
As with most single dosing grinders (probably including most grinders as well), WDT typically can and will improve the quality and the evenness of the bottomless/naked pour. On both the Monolith and Helor Stance, I find that it works better if I grind into a stainless steel cup and then slowly pour into the portafilter. Without any sort of redistribution (i.e. grind into portafilter directly and no WDT), the pour would start from the edges and then slowly coalescing through mid pour (applicable to Monolith Conical as well). Interestingly, when I did a refractometer reading, the resulted EY% are quite similar (between WDT and no-WDT), albeit the shot runs a bit faster.
Image: Extraction yield of the shots without performing redistribution (i.e. grind directly into portafilter and tamp). The result was extremely close to the results when redistribution is performed (19.6+/-0.2% EY). Goes to show that refractometry numbers don't always tell you the full story
Bottom line is, if you want a guaranteed result every time, it's worth redistributing the coffee either by stirring with a needle or grinding directly into a separate cup (my preferred method). If you don't feel like doing the redistribution, the result is most probably acceptable as well.
Of course, as with any product, there is always something that could be improved upon. These are by no mean deal-breakers but they're something that is nice to have. Of course, they almost always add cost to the manufacturing (and the retail price)...
Improved grind setting marker
When I received the Stance, one of the first thing I did was to add some sort of markings onto the scale. The stock scales look clean and works fine most of the time as the burrs don't require day-to-day or much adjustment at all. However, if you're switching between very different beans (like low-density and high density beans), you will likely find yourself wishing for a labelled scale. As this shouldn't cost significantly more to incorporate, I have feedback this strongly to Option-O and they mentioned they will come up with a solution for the production units. As for what I did on the review unit, a black electric tape cut to an arrow shape (picture number 11 counted from top) and marking one of the big notch as reference 'zero' (picture number 5 from top) works wonderfully (ala Monolith but without numbers to taint the minimalist look).
This is more for the sake of those who are using non-standard portafilters. The current fork design works fantastic for 58mm portafilter. However the downside is any other non-standard-sized portafilters will require grinding into a separate container or holding the portafilter manually. Adjustable fork height would be a nice plus too.
This is more of a wish list than an actual need. During the testing, I was curious what effect the low RPM of the Stance has on the taste profile (i.e. would it improve even more with slower RPM or higher RPM) and so thought maybe it'd be nice to have an adjustable speed.
After about a week of testing and using the Stance as my main daily grinder, I am pleasantly surprised and impressed by what I saw. I do see the Stance Motor coming forth as a strong contender in the realm of electric single dosing grinders. In terms of overall experience, it was extremely consistent and easy to use. It offered everything I'd expect from a high end single-dosing grinder. Lastly, it's incredibly impressive that the Helor Stance can fit and drive the massive 83mm Mazzer Robur conical burrs, originally meant to be driven by a 3-phase motor, in a reasonably small compact footprint!
Summarized bullet points:
* The grind results are very consistent and repeatable
* Easy to use for single dosing (no pulsing/brushing chute or thwacking doser anymore)
* Great in-the-cup results
* Quiet in use
* Solidly built
* 83mm conical burrs grinder in a compact footprint
* Can only be used for single dosing
* RDT is recommended for best results, WDT is kinda optional
* Non-58mm basket users may not be able to use the portafilter fork to grind directly into portafilter