Monolith Flat early impressions

Grinders are one of the keys to exceptional espresso. Discuss them here.
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Postby Nate42 » Feb 12, 2017, 7:15 pm

Not that I think I'm super special or anything, but I'm not a fan of megathreads, so here's a new one with my thoughts on my new Monolith Flat. Had it for about a week, since last monday.

Service: Denis personally tests each grinder, first dialing in with Caffe Lusso Gran Miscela Carmo by taste and then providing a refractometer extraction analysis. My extraction came in at 20.1%. Note that he is not making any attempt to maximize this number, rather going by what tastes good with that particular blend. Questions are answered quickly by email, and a free bag of the Caffe Lusso is included. Not to mention all the great accessories (see below). You are just not going to get that level of attention from a larger company.

Looks: Aesthetic matters are not my strong suit or primary concern (otherwise I probably wouldn't have stuck with a Pharos for multiple years :) ) but the Monolith looks great. Nice modern appearance, finish on each individual component is perfect to my eyes, and the red top and wooden hopper cover are all nice touches that give it a unique look. People often asked me if I put the Pharos together myself, no one is going to make that mistake with the Monolith. Most importantly for my kitchen and low cabinets, it is small, roughly the same height as a Baratza Preciso (I currently have them side by side). A full size Titan just wasn't going to happen in my kitchen, but with the Monolith I have plenty of room.

Accessories: The accessories provided with the Monolith are second to none, you get everything the obsessive HBer needs for great espresso. Glass RDT spray bottle, metal portafilter funnel, and a metal WDT tool. Not sure if this is always going to be standard, but this batch also came with a snazzy red distribution tool similar to the OCD tool. Set it on top of your portafilter and give it a spin before tamping for a nicely groomed coffee bed. This solves the age old problem of how you level your coffee if it is below the lip of the basket. I don't see them on the kafatek website but I imagine at some point they will be available separately.

Retention: No measurable retention on my 0.1g scale. You can have a few bean fragments stick themselves to the hopper funnel if you get overzealous with the water (one spray from the included bottle is enough) but barring that there is only the tiniest bit of coffee retained in and behind the grinds chute. One of the more ingenious aspects of the design is the magnetically attached grind chute. So if you truly must have every last milligram, you can remove the chute to brush out those grinds. I would recommend leaving this be and just cleaning it out at the end of a session, its not enough to be worried about. This tiny bit of retention would be out of sight and out of mind on most other grinders, and again it is too small to even register on most scales. But thanks to the magnetic attachment its easily accessible if you want.

Pours: I've been sticking with my 18g VST basket thus far. I did a few no WDT shots, and while not picture perfect they were acceptable. I expect this may get even better as burrs break in further. Spend the extra few seconds to stir the grinds and you get perfect pours every time. I had gotten out of the habit of using WDT with my Pharos (getting the grinds out took long enough as it is without any extra steps) and although I never had serious issues the occasional quick spritzer was not uncommon. Haven't experienced a single spritzer yet with the Monolith, but in fairness to the Pharos I have almost always used WDT.

Adjustment: this is one of the few areas where I have (minor!) quibbles. The direction of adjustment is opposite to the "righty tighty lefty loosey" convention the is intuitive to most people. I'm sure there is a good design reason for this, but if I could wave my magic wand I would change it. Adjustment in the espresso range is silky smooth and repeatible. Don't forget to tighten the collar though, or the act of grinding will loosen it. Only made that mistake once so far. :) I've had good results with pourover and cold brew, but the appropriate settings for this are off the scale for the adjustment range, which is geared toward espresso. I could always put another arrow sticker on it to identify another range. When making a large adjustment from coarse back to fine, it is best to run the motor (as is true of all grinders). I believe tiny bits of bean fragments are sometimes binding between the burrs, causing it to not turn easily if the motor is not running. Be sure to grip the hopper firmly so it doesn't turn away from you when adjusting. In a perfect world would be nice if the hopper had some feature to hold onto for better grip when adjusting. Again though, in the espresso range adjustment is smooth and easy.

Taste: "But how does it taste?" is a phrase you see oft repeated here at HB. Well, it tastes great, thanks for asking. :) Every shot I've had has been good so far, even ones that weren't quite dialed in. After running through a bag of cheap grocery store coffee, I tried a shot of the Lusso at the same setting Denis left it. This flowed way too fast on my setup, but I've paid good money for worse. Tightened the grind up several notches, and next shot was smooth rich chocolaty bliss. In addition to the Lusso I've been drinking Blue Bottle Kenya Nyeri Kamunyaka, Sweet Marias New Classic Espresso, and some Panama Esmerelda Gesha roasted to not quite the end of 1st crack. Its all been great. Gesha shot this morning was phenomenally floral, with pleasant but not overpowering acidity. All of these required different settings, and returning to where I came from has always been repeatible. Tried both Kenya and Gesha as pourover as well, (setting adjustment arrow somewhere between 10 and 11 o'clock). What I have not done is any side by side comparison with my Pharos or Preciso. I've been enjoying my shots so much, I haven't wanted to. I know confirmation bias is a thing, and without blind testing (easier said than done) its hard to make definitive statements on quality. But I will say that I really like my Pharos, and I believe it is capable of making similar quality shots. But the process of grinding, and ease of adjustment is just so much more enjoyable that it is easier to dial in and hard to want to go back.

Conclusion: I'd say this is about the best espresso grinder a home user could ask for. You have to hunt to find something bad to say about it. If you are on the fence, get off it and buy one. You won't regret it. Its easy to use, remarkably quiet, pulls fantastic shots, and looks like it will probably outlive me. Its a pretty good brew grinder as well, although ergonomically speaking its obviously designed primarily as an espresso grinder. I will be keeping the Pharos, but its going to mostly live in my office at work from now on. I've been happy enough with pourover results that I may move the preciso to work as well, although wife (who is out of town for the moment) gets veto power on that. She uses the preciso for her daily drip pot, and while she'd be happy to free up the counter space, she'll be less happy with having to adjust the monolith every day.

Well, I think that's long enough. If you have questions feel free to ask, and other owners please post your impressions as well.

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Postby Shenrei » Feb 12, 2017, 8:54 pm

Please show a picture of the red distribution tool :D

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Postby Nate42 » Feb 12, 2017, 9:20 pm

Sure thing. My photography skills, camera, and lighting are all not great. But here's some pics.



You hold it by the red bit, and the silvery bit is sized to just fit inside your basket. The depth that it drops into the basket is adjustable.

And for good measure, here's the grinder itself next to some of my other toys. Please forgive the dirty counter. :)


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Postby Shenrei » Feb 12, 2017, 9:29 pm

Now that is awesome. You are truly given everything to make perfect, consistent espresso.

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Postby Sideshow » Feb 12, 2017, 11:15 pm

Useful review. Thanks.

Have you tweaked with the burr revolution adjustment feature?

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Postby Peppersass » Feb 13, 2017, 12:44 am

I've had my Flat since October:

After grinding, always remove the wooden cover to inspect inside the funnel. It's true that a single spray of water is usually the perfect amount for RDT, but every now and then a bean or two or some unground fragments will adhere to the funnel walls. You want to make sure to push those down into the burr chamber, replace the top and grind until they're gone.

Yes, the retention is tiny, but it's not zero. I think most people are forgetting to add the weight of the water used for RDT. Even so, the actual retention is probably on the order of 0.1g or less. if you pulse the motor once (and maybe reverse direction and set it forward again), and tap lightly on the open funnel with the flat of your palm to push air through the burr chamber, and remove and tap out the chute, and brush out the hole behind the chute, you'll get most of that. But it's really not necessary unless you're OCD like me :D . The only buildup inside the grinder is very fine dust on the sharp edges of the burrs and tiny piles in front of the wipers. Again, a very small amount. I can't imagine that any grinder could have less retention.

The direction of adjustment is the same as every other grinder I've used: clockwise coarser, counter-clockwise finer. This is certainly true of Mazzer and Compak grinders. If the Pharos goes the other way, it's the odd one. My guess is that Denis went with backwards threading so people used to standard grinders wouldn't get confused.

Yes, the brew setting is way off the espresso scale, maybe 135 degrees counter clockwise. I put a small piece of adhesive label in the sweet spot for my vac pot.

I also feel a bit of crunching when adjusting from espresso to brew. I think it's small coffee particles that adhere to the exposed funnel threads in the finer position and get drawn up into the mesh area when the setting is made coarser (not finer!) I asked Denis about this and whether I should open the grinder and brush off the threads before adjusting coarser. He said the fine coffee particles can't damage the threads and that I shouldn't bother to brush them off before changing the setting.

Your issue with gripping the funnel only applies when running the grinder while adjusting the setting. I don't see how running the grinder while adjusting can prevent fine grounds from getting into the threads. Before advising people to run the grinder while changing the setting, it would be best to ask Denis for his recommendation and report back here.

I get tiny spritzes now and then, usually more with light roasts. It's likely related to distribution. I've had some success pulling the PF slightly toward me so that the chute empties directly in the middle of the basket (I have the forks about 1.5 inches below the minimum distance, which is probably lower than most have it.) I've also found that pushing all the excess coffee around the edges to fill in the channel left by the funnel is better than scraping any of it over the middle. I should point out that I had virtually no experience with WDT before getting the Flat, so it could also be a matter of practice. I'd like to try that spiffy distribution tool!

You didn't mention how easy it is to clean the burrs, which is one of the best aspects of the design. Not many grinders let you access the entire burr surface area without changing the grind setting. Actually, a touch with my handheld shop vac hose to the hole behind the chute cleans most of the very small amount of retention, so it's not necessary to open the grinder at all. But when I want to do a deep clean, it's a piece of cake.

After seasoning with about 10-15 lbs of beans the Flat has less static and less retention. It's also more consistent.

I reset the RPM to 450 from the default of 600 because some posters said less static is generated (not that it's a problem.) I had to change the grind setting slightly, but I can't recall whether it was coarser or finer. People have reported opposite results on this. I need to do some rigorous testing on RPM, but haven't had the time.
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Postby spressomon » Feb 13, 2017, 1:53 am

I suspect one reason for clockwise to loosen: If the collar lock is loose and the grinder is running then the burrs will move away from each other ... rather than come together. Just a guess, but as a "safety" it makes sense.
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Postby chipman » Feb 13, 2017, 3:14 am

I'm pretty sure you don't have to have the grinder running when adjusting even finer. My EG-1 would be impossible to adjust that way. Just checked My instructions. LynWebber specifically says not to run the grinder while adjusting the grind.

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Postby namelessone » Feb 13, 2017, 4:51 am

How does the Monolith Flat perform for coarser grinds? Is it comparable / superior to EK43?

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Postby Nate42 » Feb 13, 2017, 10:24 am

Re: RPM adjustment - haven't touched it yet. Burrs aren't fully broken in yet and I'm still getting used to it, so didn't want to introduce another variable.

Coarse/fine direction - My Baratza and Pharos are definitely counterclockwise = coarse, clockwise = fine. Its been a few years since I've owned one but I thought my Mazzer was that was as well. Maybe I misremember. Not a huge issue regardless.

Grinding while adjusting - I have no issues moving from fine to coarse. And if I move straight back to fine without actually grinding, no issue there either. If I do grind though I feel some resistance when moving back to fine. So presumably coffee particles are getting somewhere and binding up when I try to go back to fine. Running grinder seems to solve this, but maybe that's not a good idea. I will ping Denis on this.

Vs. EK43 - I can't compare myself since don't have access to EK43. You can see some discussion here: Mahlkonig EK43, Monolith Flat, Lyn Weber EG-1? . The coarsest I've gone is setting it to about 12 noon for cold brew, which I thought worked out quite nicely. Its primarily an espresso grinder though, not a bulk grinder, so I wouldn't expect it to be equivalent to an EK.

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