La Marzocco Swift Mini Review - Page 2

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
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HB
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#11: Post by HB »

The Swift Mini has already been shipped to the next reviewer, Dave Stephens (cannonfodder), so this will be my last entry as reviewer.

My final taste test

An earlier entry documented the results of the group taste test at Counter Culture Coffee's training center using their Apollo single origin espresso. For this final comparison, I chose a lighter roasted coffee that's well-known among the HB membership, Dragonfly Coffee's Leam Hammer Espresso Blend:
Dragonfly Coffee wrote:Fruit-forward, chocolaty, intricately structured. Blood orange, dark chocolate, saffron, lavender in aroma and small cup. Plump, silky mouthfeel; citrus, lavender and chocolate notes carry into a long, rich, expansive finish.
I'm not sure what "plump" means applied to mouthfeel, but I'll go along with the rest (especially sweet orange, chocolate, and florals). :D

Since it's a lot easier to pick a winner in a side-by-side comparison, I pitted the La Marzocco Swift Mini against the Monolith Flat, a grinder known for consistency and friendly single-dosing. To avoid taste overload, I spread the testing over a week in a simple one-person format: Prepare two baskets with one discreetly marked, have a helper randomly place one in the portafilter, lock it in, and start the extraction. Since the first espressos of the day can be inconsistent (I blame espresso gremlins :roll:), the first pair was tasted but no "winner" selected. The next pair would be compared and a winner selected -- only then I'd retrieve the baskets to check for the marked one and correlate with its corresponding cup. Over the course of seven days, I kept a win/loss tally sheet.

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Dragonfly Coffee's Leam Hamm Espresso Blend from La Marzocco Swift Mini and Kafatek Monolith Flat (pictured)

After four days, the Monolith Flat had logged three wins and one tie. But as the week ended, it was a lot closer, ending 5-3 with the Kafatek overall winner. I didn't score the espressos individually, instead I just picked the "best" based on overall taste balance, body, and sweetness. Despite what seems like ending in a near-tie, my impression was that for one or two days that the Monolith won, the Swift Mini's performance was the same as before, but the Monolith's was better than its other days, with sweeter, more balanced espressos leading to a win by a large margin. Perhaps the Monolith exploited the freshness of the coffee earlier in week? That said, on most days, the difference was slight; I would have had a lot more ties if the espressos were not immediately comparable.

Who should buy it

It's a shame how many would-be home baristas are disappointed by their everyday espressos because they haven't mastered the basics. It's nearly a crime how many small offices and small businesses with fancy, expensive espresso setups are pouring out bitter, overextracted drek only rendered drinkable under milk and flavorings.

For the latter group, the La Marzocco Swift Mini is a dream: It's easy to dial in, consistent, and nearly idiot proof.

For home baristas, the case for the Swift Mini is less clear-cut. Its design doesn't lend itself to the low volume typical in homes (i.e., 2-3 espressos a day) versus offices/small businesses that may have 10x that volume. But if you're the type that doesn't change coffees frequently, you have "low skill" family members who wish to make espresso beverages easily, and you'd welcome fuss-free espresso preparation, the Swift Mini is definitely worth considering.

Credit: I borrowed the idea of this last section from Jim Schulman's review writeups.

PS: Some videos from La Marzocco that may be of interest, though they're dialog-free with looping background music. I recommend turning off the sound and changing the playback to 1.5x normal.
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
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#12: Post by cannonfodder »

Walk up, insert portafilter, push button, put portafilter in espresso machine, make espresso. That is it. First coffee of the day, no worries, in a semi vegetative state at 5 in the morning; the mere fact that you made it to the machine means you are awake enough to make espresso.

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Dave Stephens

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#13: Post by cannonfodder »

The La Marzocco Swift Mini is a flashback to an odd period in the coffee world. Coffee shops were popping up everywhere, most of which were horrible and simply looking to make a quick dollar. The world was awash in multi group espresso machines and massive grinders. The mass arrival of the super automatic 'press here for coffee' machines had not fully arrived.

The original Swift was unique, having two hoppers that fed twin ceramic burr sets, and it dosed and tamped for you. That was black magic back in the day. This allowed the coffee shop to remove the preparation variable from the process. You just needed someone to push a couple buttons. Eventually the super automatic moved into the environment and the Swift became an endangered species.

First impressions:
Having used the towering original Swift (and the Mazzer Major, Robur, Kony), I was expecting something larger and heavier. La Marzocco did a good job right sizing it for the home. The case of the machine is plastic; from the photos, I was expecting a cast pot metal, but the heavy gauge plastic is less expensive to produce and trims several pounds off the weight. The adjustment rings and base wrap are metal. It uses a proprietary 32mm conical burr set. Where most conical grinders spin the center burr, the Swift Mini spins the outer burr and the center is stationary.

Size:
The machine is 13 inches deep, 6-1/2 wide and 17-5/8 tall -- it will fit under kitchen cabinets. Those are my eyeball measurements with a tape measure not the La Marzocco official measurements. Width is deceptive. You need working room plus the width of the grinder. The portafilter locks in from the left side of the grinder. You need adequate space to insert your portafilter and rotate it into place in the grinders locking lugs. Add another 5-6 inches to the left of the grinder. You will be close to 12 inches from the right of the case to the end of your portafilter handle when inserting it in to the grinder.

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Prepare to use:
The bean hopper simply snaps down onto the grinder. The bean hopper lid slides open to the rear of the grinder and the hopper holds a half pound of coffee. The hopper lid is not removable but does fit very tightly. There is no handle on the lid, you have to grasp the sides or palm on the top and apply pressure and push back. You can turn on/off the bean feed by rotating a key-like lever and removal of the hopper is a simple tug up to unsnap. Nine ounces of coffee fills the hopper to the top. I will note that time has started to catchup to me I have developed quite a bit of arthritis in my one hand. Some days I had a little trouble sliding the tight fitted lid back to refill the hopper. If it were my machine I would drill a small hole in the front of the lid and install a simple knob to make opening it easier.

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Use:
Walk up, insert portafilter, push button, put portafilter in espresso machine, make espresso. That is it. First coffee of the day, no worries, in a semi vegetative state at 5 in the morning, the mere fact that you made it to the machine means you are awake enough to make espresso.

It took me around 10 shots to get the grind and dose settings dialed in. Both the grind adjustment and dose adjustment are stepped although they are very small steps. I had no issue getting both dialed in. If you end up with a grind adjustment that is between steps you can compensate with a combination of dose adjustment and grind adjustment.

There is a drift in the grind as the hopper empties. I did not have any issues until the hopper is down to one or two shots worth of beans. Then the grind appears to get coarser as the shots start to run fast. Knowing that you either keep the hopper half full or make the appropriate grind adjustment at the end of your beans.

The Swift Mini has low grounds retention, but as with most grinders, a quick purge before the first shot of the day is helpful. To do a quick one second purge, you must either hold your portafilter up into the locking lugs to disengage the interlock (green light illuminates on the start button) then press the start button and pull the portafilter out of the raceway to stop the grinder. The second option is unlocking the top and swivel it to the side as if single dosing. The interlock is overridden and the grinder will run as long as you hold the start button in. I have my knock box to the left side of the grinder so in the morning I swivel the top over the knock box, do a one second purge into it then move back to the normal position. It sounds like more of a hassle than it actually is. You can also use the side grinding function to grind into a container or other basket, i.e. I feel like a triple this morning but do not want to re adjust everything. Simply swivel the grind head to the side, make your grind size adjustment for the basket and grind right into it.

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As Dan noted in his review the accuracy of the dose is acceptable. There is a small variance from dose to dose. Dosing with a scale is more accurate since the Swift Mini doses volumetrically. There will be small variances but hardly noticeable in a normal use scenario.

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The shots are quite nice. They trend toward the brighter flavors versus the deep chocolate and spice notes you get from a large flat burr grinder. The grinder is basket particular. Since the tamping is done with a small impeller, the basket needs to provide enough friction to hold the puck in place. A standard basket or high polished basket will not work. I would occasionally have a puck spin or have a slight offset tamp even with the supplied LM baskets when using a light roasted hard bean. If you have a special basket that you want to use, you will need to wipe the inside with some 400 or 600 grit sandpaper to scuff the surface. I also noticed that a slightly humid basket would prevent the puck from spinning in the basket. Eventually I simply scuffed the inside of the basket with some 400 grit sandpaper to give it a little mechanical bond and quit being obsessive about having the basket dry as a bone before I dose. If the thought of scuffing the inside of your portafilter basket shocks and horrifies you. You may want to seek out a more sterile hobby than coffee.

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One thing I did notice was with a darker roasted coffee. I was getting fines through the bottom of the basket. I started to notice a lot of sediment in the bottom of my cup. I switched to a bottomless and noted quite lot of fines that had pushed through the holes in the basket. On more northern Italian style roasts the issue went away.

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I have been using the grinder as my daily driver for 2 months now and have grown quite fond of its simplicity. No fuss, no stirring grounds, no weighing out beans, no tamping voodoo. Just insert portafilter, push button and then make espresso. I am going to miss it when I send it away.

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Dave Stephens