La Marzocco Swift Mini Review

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
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HB
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#1: Post by HB » Oct 19, 2019, 3:50 pm

The Tips & Techniques forum is filled with new and experienced home baristas alike asking questions about dosing, tamping, and grind adjustments. Posters asking for help with diagnosing espresso extraction problems come up frequently, too; often the recommendations include referring them to well-accepted methods of improving consistency (e.g., WDT and Stockfleths Move for Dummies) as well as employing tools like leveling tampers, calibrated tampers, and distribution aids.

In a commercial cafe setting, La Marzocco has offered the Swift for many years as a solution to simplify operation and improve consistency. You probably saw one in Starbucks before they switched to super-automatic espresso machines. The commercial Swift has two hoppers and grinders in one housing; it's fast, consistent... and huge. At 26" tall and 55 pounds, it's clearly designed for cafe-only use. What about the home barista who would like an idiot-proof espresso prep workflow?

At HOST 2019, they have introduced a home-friendly version, the La Marzocco Swift Mini:

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According to La Marzocco:
La Marzocco wrote:The Swift Mini grinds, doses, and tamps, with the push of a single button. Grinding, dosing and tamping have long been regarded as difficult steps in espresso preparation. This eliminates the need for additional tools and prevents wasting coffee. With the Swift Mini cafè quality espresso can now be achieved anywhere by anyone.
Based on the last few weeks of use, I agree with most of the above. I look forward to testing the bounds of their claim, "anywhere by anyone". :wink:

Over the coming weeks, we'll report on the Swift Mini. The review will include an overview of usage, side-by-side comparisons with other popular grinders, and taste tests in a group setting. Since the Swift Mini is a natural fit for serving a crowd, I'll also take it on the road for an espresso/cappuccino event.

To keep the review commentary together, this thread will be closed for comments. To ask questions or comment, please post to the existing thread La Marzocco Swift Mini with Etzinger grind mechanism.
Dan Kehn

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#2: Post by HB » Oct 21, 2019, 6:25 pm

Here's a short video showing how ridiculously quick and easy it is to pull a shot with the Swift Mini.
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#3: Post by HB » Oct 23, 2019, 8:28 pm

In the video above, I mentioned the Swift Mini's impeller and how it distributes, doses, and compresses (tamps) at the same time. Below is a photo of the business end of this impeller:

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A puck's view of the the Swift Mini

It's mounted on an axle that moves upward as the coffee grounds build from the bottom of the basket. As the basket fills, the impeller rises, eventually switching off the drive to the grinder burrs, but the motor continues to run for a few more seconds so the impeller can put a polishing finish on the puck. If you listen carefully, you can hear the motor pitch change as the burrs stop spinning but the impeller continues to spin.

In order for the impeller to effectively distribute/compress the coffee grounds, the basket's inner sides must be a matte finish so there's ever-so-slight friction between the puck and basket. It's not easy to see the difference in this photo, but the left basket is a (shiny) stock La Marzocco Strada basket and the right basket is a (matte) Swift Mini basket:

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Stock basket (left) and Swift Mini basket (right)

The evaluation Swift Mini came with three basket sizes: 21 grams, 17 grams, and 14 grams. I tried other baskets in my drawer and those with matte interiors worked as expected, but the "precision" type baskets with highly polished interiors wouldn't dose/compress correctly since the impeller will spin the entire puck on the slick surface of the basket. The telltale result is show in the photo below:

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Left puck shows what happens if the basket's interior is too slick

I haven't tried making a precision basket "Swift Mini compatible" by roughing it up; my guess is that it'd work. I'll confirm before wrapping up the review.
Dan Kehn

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#4: Post by HB » Oct 27, 2019, 8:27 pm

For many years, I've traveled for Friday mornings at Counter Culture Coffee HQ when they open their doors to the public. The espresso enthusiasts wander in around 8:30am and the main cupping begins at 10am. We've held group taste tests of various espresso equipment there, thought it's been awhile! This Friday, I brought the Swift Mini for a test run with the help of Counter Culture Coffee's Ecommerce Customer Support lead extraordinaire, Penelope Hearne:

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We started by dialing in Baroida, a single origin espresso that was so fresh, it was barely cooled (!). I worked on the Swift Mini and she worked with the training center grinder, a Nuova Simonelli Mythos. It turned out to take more attempts than expected, each of us futzing with grind settings through four or more espressos. While I was able to dial in the other coffees I've tried at home with ease, I think the unusual freshness may have come into play.

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Eventually, even though the Swift Mini has detents, I ended up with a grind setting between detents (for reference, a single detent appears to represent a change in pour time of a couple seconds, though I'll need to double-check that before the review ends). For this espresso, the tricky part was capturing the fruit-forward notes without veering into an astringent, orange peel finish. The final dose/beverage weight was 17 grams in, 34 grams out.

Employees and visitors were queuing up as we fussed over the espresso. Finally, Penelope turned to their requests, setting out "mini cappuccinos" in pairs:

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Because of the cup size, it's challenging to pour espresso art. She managed some nice looking hearts; I'll save you the pain of looking at my attempts. I left the La Marzocco Swift Mini at the training center so the staff can give it a try. Since this was just a trial run, we didn't directly compare the espressos from the two grinders. We'll do that next Friday starting at 8:15am. If you live in the Triangle area and can make it, you're welcome to join us!
Dan Kehn

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#5: Post by HB » Nov 03, 2019, 4:12 pm

This past Friday, Counter Culture Coffee once again hosted a group taste test.

Blind taste testing can be a humbling experience as it sometimes reveals confirmation bias, sometimes it just shows that teasing out tiny differences in top-end equipment is difficult. For this installment, Penelope and I arrived early to dial in the Apollo single origin espresso, an Ethiopian coffee described as "always clean and bright". We settled on Apollo as it's not too difficult (and not too easy) to dial in; we also agreed on a basic recipe of 17 grams in, 34 grams out. Since the La Marzocco Swift Mini uses specialized matte-finished baskets, we standardized on them.

The Linea PB has a nifty built-in scale and auto-timing, which really simplifies the process. It didn't take many test shots before we were ready:

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Espresso pour from La Marzocco Swift Mini on Linea PB

Local regulars Bob and Ian couldn't make it, but Counter Culture employees showed up in force and were enthusiastic about the test. The setup is simple: Cups are marked on the bottom with an "S" (Swift Mini) or "P" (Mahlkonig Peak). Penelope and I prepared two espressos (split double), randomized them, then handed them to the participant.

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Snap of some of the participants who came and went during the test

They were instructed to mark their preferred cup with their initials and set it down on the counter, the "winner" on one side of the divider, the "loser" on the other. As an interesting aside, I realized that the speed advantage of the La Marzocco Swift Mini was significant, as I needed to wait on Penelope to be in the final steps of her preparation before starting, otherwise my doubles would sit cooling while hers would still be pouring.

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Dan paying attention to the shot time/weight for the Swift Mini espressos

I'll put this observation to the test this week when I bring it on the road, serving a large group of my colleagues at my real job. :wink: After 10 pairings, we dumped the dregs of the cups and then counted the win/losses:

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And the winner is... neither

What, a tie?!?

We've had other really close shootouts, but I don't recall any exact ties. As we puzzled over this unexpected result, a couple other Counter Culture employees filtered in. Since it was still early, we pulled 2 pairs as a "bonus round" tie-breaker. And yet the result was the same: An exact tie. :lol:

While the participants' thoughts were fresh, I asked for a short recap of why they picked one over the other:
  • Adrian: I preferred the slightly mellowed Swift Mini espressos; the others had a bit more "bite".
  • Brian: I tried several rounds; to my taste, the Peak was notably sweeter.
  • Penelope: The Peak espressos were slightly more complex, more sweet and higher acidity.
  • Dan: I preferred the balance of the Swift Mini, though I thought I was picking the Peak espressos. Go figure.
  • Brett: I don't even like coffee (*).
So there you go! Another blinded taste test and again unexpected (?) results. Huge thanks to Counter Culture Coffee for sponsoring the test, Penelope for her barista skills, and all the participants for their comments. Next up, I'll pair the Swift Mini with two popular espresso grinders, the Compak K10 and Monolith Flat, for another side-by-side comparison. Once that's complete, the Swift Mini will go on the road to one of the Team HB moderators.

(*) It's an inside joke... Brett Smith is the CCC co-founder. :)

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Penelope Hearne, the bright smiling barista working with the Mahlkonig Peak
Dan Kehn