Apollo Hand Grinder Review
In this review we will cover the BPlus Apollo Hand grinder.
Before we dive into the review however, I'd like to address a question I commonly see when discussing grinder purchases:
Why use a hand grinder at all?
With a veritable plethora of electric grinders of all shapes and prices, what reasons could one possibly have to buy and use a hand grinder?
As it turns out, hand grinders have their niche, and they are a very good option for a number of folks:
Hand grinders are in many senses the best bang for your buck. When comparing raw grind quality, a modern hand grinder will generally be at least a few hundred dollars cheaper than any electric counterparts sporting the same burrset. Hand grinders are also a bit simpler machines, no electronics or motors, and will last for decades, with little maintenance required.
Other than a few exceptions, hand grinders are smaller than their electric counterparts and will travel more easily. This reason alone is enough for many people to get one. I have flown with a hand grinder more times than I can remember.
Function Without Electricity
When you find yourself in the middle of the woods with no electricity and you need to pull espresso shots for thirty people, you are going to need a good hand grinder. This scenario may seem absurd to you, but I've found myself in this position 3 times in the last year alone. Want to make exceptional coffee in the mountains? A hand grinder is a key component.
I also have a hand grinder at my office, where there is a "no personal appliances" rule. Since it doesn't plug in, it doesn't count as an "appliance." Being portable, I can also stash it in my desk drawer and out of the way.
Sure, there are quite a few electric grinders whose motors are essentially silent, but there are quite a few that are extremely loud as well. Bean grinding is not a quiet noise either, but at least with a hand grinder there is no motor noise to worry about. My Apollo Grinder is definitely quieter than my Baratza Sette.
This one is of course subjective, personal. Hand grinders provide a tactile experience to the grinding of the beans in much the same way that lever machines provide a tactile experience to pulling an espresso shot. Some people enjoy the "zen" of the routine as much as they do the the coffee they are making.
About the Apollo Grinder
I was provided with the opportunity by the folks at BPlus to test out the Apollo hand grinder and write a review on it. I was provided a grinder free of charge in exchange for testing it out for a few months (and I have thoroughly put it through its paces) and write my unfiltered experiences on it. BPlus does not get to read the review before I post it, they get to read it at the same time as everyone else.
Many of the observations I make in this review will be in comparison to the Lido ET, which has been my main travel / hand grinder for the last few years.
The Apollo Grinder comes in a well made carrier box, with a magnetic hatch.
The instructions are a single page printout.
Remove those to find precision cut foam inserts which encase the Apollo grinder and detachable handle.
The box also serves as the "travel case" for the grinder. While adequate it takes up a bit more space than I would like for a travel case compared to the size of the grinder, and the exterior of the box can get dinged up rather easily and will lose its "like new" aesthetic quickly if you use it frequently.
Handle "assembly" is extremely easy ans self explanatory. Just unscrew the thumbnut on top with your hands, insert the handle, and screw it back in finger tight.
BPlus's Relationship with La Pavoni
One of the first things you notice about the Apollo when you see it is that it looks like a Roman column. The second thing you notice is that there is a La Pavoni logo on the handle, despite not being manufactured by La Pavoni. BPlus has rights to use the La Pavoni logo on their products; they are making products geared toward users of the La Pavoni home levers, including a grounds stirrer and the Apollo Hand Grinder, which is why you see the La Pavoni logo on the grinder handle.
The Apollo grinder weighs about 2 and a quarter lbs (1030g), just a hair lighter than the Lido ET, but significantly shorter.
The grinder uses 48mm Italmill burrs.
It has an anodized and milled aluminum body housed over a stainless steel frame.
Build quality of the Apollo is very good, and the grinder itself is beautiful to behold. This is because the body is made of anodized aluminum, which means they could machine that beautiful Roman column look and reduce the weight a bit. It tapers which means it stands up on a counter with more resistance to toppling. One potential drawback is that the aluminum is more prone to dings and dents than steel or plastic would be.
The "Roman column" texturing on the Apollo makes it easier to grip while grinding.
Even though the body is aluminum, the stainless steel frame keeps the alignment secure. My Apollo already took a dive off of the counter and onto our hardwood floor; it continues to function flawlessly.
The base / catch cup of the Apollo is precision milled so that the seam is almost invisible when the base is fully screwed in. Unscrewing the base reveals the catch cup / coffee grounds, where the diameter of the catch cup is designed to perfectly dose into a La Pavoni basket, or any basket between 49 to 51mm. I found precision milling rather impressive for how finely threaded it is.
The Apollo Grinder currently comes in a variety of colors including red, black, gold and silver.
This is a premium hand grinder, the quality of the grinds is on par with the Lido E, which uses Etzinger burrs. Once both grinders were dialed in it was difficult for me to tell the difference in taste between the two. The Lido E has itself been matched with other grinders in its class: (list other grinders here) so you really can't go wrong with any one of them when it comes to grinding for espresso. At a Home Barista get together recently we did some informal comparisons with a few of the hand grinders in the same class; we found the cup quality between the grinders to be pretty much the same.
First shot on the President
The grind adjustment mechanism is very nice. It is easy to adjust and return to previous adjustments consistently. It is "stepped", but the steps are fine enough you really shouldn't find yourself caught between steps, especially if you are using a lever machine.
Milled texturing makes gripping when grinding easier, if you prefer it also comes with silicone bands to aid in gripping. There is also a padded base so you can hold the Apollo against a counter to grind if you prefer.
The Apollo grinder comes with two silicone bands you can add to the grinder for extra grip. I found the feedback on the bands mixed. I prefer not to use them at all; others said that they felt the bands made the grinder easier to use.
After trying multiple methods my preferred grinding method is to grip near the neck where the grinder is thinnest, and do the "bicycle" motion with the grinder tilted about 30 degrees or so. I prefer not to use the silicone bands although a few others who have used my Apollo said they preferred to grind with them.
Italmill Aggression and Grind Speed
Versus the Lido E the Apollo is able to grind the same dose more "quickly", with less revolutions. This is because the burrs are more aggressive feeders than the Lido E burrs are. The Apollo compensates for this by using a longer handle to increase leverage, thereby reducing the effort to be similar to that of the Lido E. It takes more effort to grind the Apollo grinder than the Helor 101, but less revolutions.
Grounds Retention - with a .3g spritz of RDT
While road trips are fine, I have found that air travel with the Apollo might pose a bit of a challenge.
It does not come with a convenient carry case other than its original packaging. While the original packaging will definitely protect it well during travel, it is rather bulky compared to the rest of the grinder and would take up unnecessary space in your luggage. For road trips this is not a problem, I have taken it on a few car trips already. I have avoided taking it on flights however; with packaging it takes up more space than my Lido E does.
The Aluminum body is not as robust as ABS plastic or stainless steel would be to being knocked around in your luggage without its carrying case, so for this reason alone when flying I grab for the Lido E, which comes with a very convenient neoprene carrying case. I spoke with Arthur at BPlus about this; they are looking at potential carrying case designs, which may include a case which allows you to travel with your Pavoni and Apollo grinder in the same case.
HB Meetup and Feedback
At the HB meetup a few home baristas got the chance to take the Apollo Grinder for a spin. Feedback was very positive and reflects essentially everything written in the review. The Apollo grinder held its own against a few other grinders in its class and definitely had an edge in aesthetics.
As mentioned before I find myself in the woods a lot. Since quality espresso is absolutely essential to wilderness survival I always have a hand grinder along with me. This time I brought the Apollo to see how it would hold up to a high volume camping scenario. For this trip I paired it with the Flair Signature Pro 2.0. I had a couple different coffees on tap: a traditional Italian blend and a more lightly roasted Guatemala Huehuetenango. I was able to dial in both rather quickly and switch between the two settings effortlessly.
The catch cup on the Apollo is designed to dump perfectly into a la Pavoni basket, but it worked will in the Flair basket as well with the dosing funnel provided by Flair attached. After grinding and pulling about 20 shots in a row it held up well. The grind setting didn't drift, my hand didn't cramp from gripping the grinder (although to be fair I had a helper to whom I was able to delegate dose / grind responsibilities for a while) and it didn't build up stray grind retention. The only thing I wound up dealing with because we pulled so many back to back shots in a row is that I didn't have time to wipe the threads. Coffee grounds would get stuck in the threads and cause some extra resistance when screwing and unscrewing the catch cup. A brush down of the threads and things returned as good as before. Another credit to the ergonomics of the Apollo is that my helper, who was until that day completely inexperienced with hand grinders, was able to get the hang of grinding and keep pace during his "shift". While some were inexperienced with hand grinders, many of the folks there were very familiar with mechanical things, and the superb fit and finish of the grinder was frequently noted.
The Apollo Grinder is a premium hand grinder that is well worth its reasonable price tag. It is arguably the prettiest hand grinder currently being manufactured, BPLUS has made some good choices as far as user experience are concerned, and it has the grind quality to match any other grinder using a 48mm burrset.
In short it is a well executed design.
Is the Apollo Grinder right for you?
If you want a grinder that will also serve as functional art while sitting next to your machine on your counter or office, then go with the Apollo.
If you have a La Pavoni lever machine and you are looking for a hand grinder to match it, then go with the Apollo.
If you are looking for a "travel grinder" that might get bumped around a lot or you travel primarily by air, then perhaps go with one of the grinders that are less visually complex, but might not scratch or dent as easily as aluminum.
One last factor to consider is the La Pavoni Logo: it may be a deal maker or deal breaker for you.
It may not matter to you either way if the logo is there or not, however if you are "logo averse" then it could be a turn off.
If you plan on using it with a La Pavoni machine then the logo is a great accent, providing you with essentially a matching set.