My experiences with a KafaTek MC4 and Niche Zero

Grinders are one of the keys to exceptional espresso. Discuss them here.
Brooksie
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#1: Post by Brooksie »

Hi folks! I've had a Niche Zero since April, and at the beginning of July I got my new KafaTek MC4. I've gotten some requests to compare the grinders, so that's what I'll be doing here.

First, some background.

At the beginning of this year I decided to dive into the deep end of espresso. Before this year, I've had a Breville Dual Boiler and a Baratza Sette 270wi for the last 10 years (and a Baratza Preciso before the Sette came out). I was quite happy pulling mediocre shots, and honestly didn't understand much about espresso, or what it could be. Since I was home more due to the pandemic, I started looking into coffee more. In February of this year I bought a Decent DE1+, and immediately my coffee experience was elevated; I was hooked! I started hearing about single-dose grinders, and how the Sette really wasn't doing me any favors for making good, repeatable espresso. I went all-in and decided to catch the next pre-order for the MC4. Funny enough, there was also a pre-order for the Niche Zero at basically the same time. I ordered both, and figured I could sell off one of them no problem considering the demand. When the Niche came in, again it was a night-and-day difference. Every single shot was immediately better, and more consistent. I was counting down the days until the MC4 came in...

So now the fun part! I've had the MC4 for about a month. How does it compare?



Grinding

How do they sound? Here's videos of them both grinding. It's the same bean, but not the same amount, sorry about that...

Niche: https://streamable.com/txyjoi
MC4: https://streamable.com/wszman

In the videos it may not sound like much difference, but it's quite noticeable in person. The MC4 is quieter, likely because the pitch is much lower. In either case, both are quiet enough to use while everyone in the house is sleeping.

What do the grounds look like? Again same bean.

Niche: https://streamable.com/7vwt3k
MC4: https://streamable.com/2h7ynv

One thing that's important to note is that I've done RDT with the MC4 but not the Niche. You can see that the Niche grinds much faster, and sprays with more static. In practice this wasn't much issue though; with the Niche I did not use the dosing cup, and kept my portafilter with the funnel quite close to the exit chute. But geez, the MC4 is just a joy. I really just love the results, they are so incredibly fluffy. It's hard to overstate this, especially never having used such an amazing grinder before. Until the MC4, I thought the Niche's grounds were as fluffy as it could get, but I was wrong.

Here's a close-up of the Niche:


And here's a close-up of the MC4:


The grind sizes are not identical, FWIW. I'm not able to tell much difference in the distribution just by eyeballing it, but the MC4 is fluffier to the touch.

What does it look like in the portafilter? Here's what it looks like after grinding 18 grams into the portafilter

Niche in the portafilter:


MC4 in the portafilter:


Again, RDT with the MC4 and not with the Niche. And again, super fluffy with the MC4.

Taste

All of comparisons so far are great and all, but how about the taste?

Well, so far I'm not making better espresso with the MC4. In fact, I'd say that as of right now, across almost all the beans and styles I have, I produce better in-cup results with the Niche Zero.

The process is really surprisingly different between the two grinders, and the graphs on the Decent really cannot be used to make apples-to-apples comparisons, which I now am learning after a month... Some high-level thoughts:
  • Comparable graphs on the Decent do *not* produce comparable cups. I find the Niche shows a much higher flow rate than the MC4 for comparable cups.
  • Puck prep seems to matter more with the MC4. I thought I had OK puck prep, but with the MC4 I'm seeing more spurting and uneven streams from the bottom of the portafilter
  • I haven't been able to get a gooey/syrupy/thick shot with the MC4 yet. I think I just need to go much finer, but it's interesting to me.
  • Blooming shots are *better* on the MC4. For the most part, my blooming shots on the Niche all were pretty meh at best. With the MC4 I've gotten some good tasting shots.
  • I haven't tried any Allonge/Turbo shots with the MC4 yet, but I'm hoping I'll have better results than with the Niche. The Niche shots for me were never good.
Bottom Line

I guess what's my final verdict? I think there's some buyer's remorse and sunken cost fallacy at work here, but I still would rather have the MC4. Do I _need_ it over the Niche? No. In fact my coffee is better with the Niche. My hope is that in time I'll eventually be able to make better coffee with the MC4, and be able to explore more styles with the MC4 that I wasn't able to with the Niche.

Hopefully this is helpful for someone. Both grinders are wonderful, and am very happy with them both! This is not meant to be an exhaustive comparison, just a random person's thoughts who's early in their coffee journey.

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another_jim
Team HB

#2: Post by another_jim »

Although I'm happy you like the Niche (I use it myself, and have a had a real liking for the Kony burrs ever since we used one in the Titan grinder comparisons), I think you need to adjust the grinders so you get the same flow for the same dose weight. I've never done a formal comparison, but at our meetups, I've found the two grinders to be pretty much interchangeable when dialed in equally.

To do this, you will need to Ignore the optics, and especially ignore the marked espresso range for the Niche (the fineness range is too coarse, OK for back in the 1990s, bit not anymore -- you can recalibrate the zero to get the espresso range markings back in line -- for me, I set the dial so the zero dot is at around 11 o'clock, not the at the 2 o'clock marker).
Jim Schulman

Jerry

#3: Post by Jerry »

Bottom Line is that you need to give yourself more time to experiment and adjust the MC4. I don't know about its seasoning time. Be patient and continue playing.

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cafeIKE
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#4: Post by cafeIKE »

Hi Jim...
another_jim wrote:To do this, you will need to Ignore the optics, and especially ignore the marked espresso range for the Niche (the fineness range is too coarse, OK for back in the 1990s, bit not anymore -- you can recalibrate the zero to get the espresso range markings back in line -- for me, I set the dial so the zero dot is at around 11 o'clock, not the at the 2 o'clock marker).
¿Que?
From the front, my Zero zero is right on the Zero cal dot @ about 0945. The grinder is never out of the Espresso word.
[It is one of the initial Indiegogo units]
Capital Letter is approx point - I have finer notes not included here
esprEsso - Wandering Goat Chupacabra* & Level Ground Honduran SO 18.5g in double LM style basket
esprEsso - Cafe Feminina Peru 60% / Yrg Gotiti 40% 20g Synesso triple basket
espressO - Guatemala Huehuetango 60% / Yrg Gedeb 40% 18.5g double LM style basket
esprESso - Columbia River Jonny Tsumami 18.7g double LM style basket
Espresso - Columbia River Highwater [Very Dark] 20.5g Synesso triple

Shots are about 67% in 25-30s from first drop.

100% agree on getting the identical flow. I use the supplied cup for the Niche. Tried grinding in the PF, but don't like holding the PF. I've had a few grinders and the Niche ticks all the boxes. [No need for WDT or RDT - I live on the Oregon Coast]

* I've been drinking Chupacabra for over 15 years across a chorus line of grinders and machines. It's an amazingly stable reference.

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another_jim
Team HB

#5: Post by another_jim »

cafeIKE wrote:From the front, my Zero zero is right on the Zero cal dot @ about 0945.[It is one of the initial GoFundMe units]
On mine the zero-cal dot is at around 1:30 to 2. I didn't know that they had changed between production versions. It may be due to a threading change ( or the initial developers liked really fine grinds)
Jim Schulman

McPickle

#6: Post by McPickle »

How many niche zero can you buy for the cost of the MC4, 3 or 4? If you can't taste a difference that points to buyers remorse and sunk cost fallacy. Perhaps the niche is already beyond the point of diminishing returns on taste?

sethde

#7: Post by sethde »

I also have these grinders side by side right now, with a Decent and 18g VST baskets. I prefer lighter roasts (Per La, TW, Vibrant, Passenger, SQM filter roasts, that kind of thing).

I'll be doing blind testing soon, but in non-blind testing so far the shots from the MC4 seem much less harsh even when not dialed in (rounder and smoother, like Michael Fabian said in his video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuJV2KLwrDI). The biggest difference I've noticed so far, though, is that MC4 shots have much less texture than Niche shots, which is fine by me. So far I've enjoyed MC4 shots more than Niche shots, but like I said will be doing fully blind taste tests soonish (hopefully this weekend).

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Quester

#8: Post by Quester »

Brooksie wrote: How do they sound? Here's videos of them both grinding. It's the same bean, but not the same amount, sorry about that...

Niche: https://streamable.com/txyjoi
MC4: https://streamable.com/wszman

In the videos it may not sound like much difference, but it's quite noticeable in person. The MC4 is quieter, likely because the pitch is much lower. In either case, both are quiet enough to use while everyone in the house is sleeping.
I used the dB Meter app on an iPhone 12 Mini and held the phone 12" from the grinders below.

Noise running with no beans
KafaTek MAX SLM--30dB
KafaTek MC4 Duo--40dB
Versalab M4--25dB
Forté--75dB
Niche--48dB

Noise grinding
KafaTek MAX SLM--42dB
KafaTek MC4 Duo--42dB
Versalab M4--75dB
Forté--80dB
Niche--70dB

Because it's a low rumble, I prefer the sound of the MC4-Duo.

Bluenoser
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#9: Post by Bluenoser »

McPickle wrote:How many niche zero can you buy for the cost of the MC4, 3 or 4? If you can't taste a difference that points to buyers remorse and sunk cost fallacy. Perhaps the niche is already beyond the point of diminishing returns on taste?
Well, the whole home espresso industry suffers from this by that rationale. Many would not be able to discern a well extracted shot from a Robot over any 9 bar machine (wo flow) costing upwards of 3k. Yes there's the milk thingy but is that worth 2k? I know my MC3 will last 20 years with virtually zero maintenance other than yearly cleaning. My Sette 270 had a great grind, although it waked the neighbours and died in two years.

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cafeIKE
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#10: Post by cafeIKE »

As a retired sound engineer, smartphone apps are somewhat suspect unless they are calibrated.
Very few places today have a 30dB ambient noise level. 50 is pretty darned quiet.

Frequency spectrum has a lot to do with apparent level. The Niche did itself no favors sonically with the clear plastic lid. The feed disk improved the Niche grind and reduced the racket slightly. [With all previous grinders I was torn between better espresso with a partially filled hopper and fresher coffee from single dosing. The mini-hopper was an improvement but not a 100% solution as timed grinding is not close enough.
Someday, I hope I get the free lunch :? ]

The Niche is the first grinder I owned over which I could carry on a conversation while grinding, always get the perfect dose and no staling. :D

That being said, the MC4 seems impressively quiet. It's unlikely I'll get one, but if I did, I might try to fabricate up a feed plate ala Niche.