La Marzocco Swift Mini Review

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

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 »

Here's a short video showing how ridiculously quick and easy it is to pull a shot with the Swift Mini.
Dan Kehn

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#3: Post by HB »

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 shown 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.
Dan Kehn

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#4: Post by HB »

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!
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#5: Post by HB »

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

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#6: Post by HB »

With the rush of the holidays and other obligations behind me, finally a long overdue update! As part of many reviews, we schedule a "stress test" serving a larger than typical crowd. In this case, the arrival of the La Marzocco Swift Mini corresponded with a holiday party at work, so why not try the Swift Mini with a group of 60+ coffee lovers?

Given the expected crowd, I enlisted a volunteer barista assistant, Samantha. She has several years of prior experience at a local cafe and was excited about the opportunity to try out some unique equipment (her cafe has a Linea Mini). I considered asking if I could borrow a La Marzocco Linea Mini or GS/3 from Counter Culture Coffee :), but instead opted for a lever espresso machine that would boost the "coffee theatre" effect, the Profitec Pro 800:

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Swift Mini has finished the dose/tamp, ready to lock and pull

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Steaming and pouring

With Sam's help, we maintained a brisk pace, putting down an average of one drink every two minutes for three hours(!). She was in charge of steaming/serving and I worked the Swift Mini / Pro 800. Honestly, I think that I got the easier job as the Swift Mini streamlines the preparation to short rote motion; I spent a fair amount of time just watching the espresso pour while Sam caught up:

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We restricted service to 10 ounce cups; no "big gulp" lattes here!

My laughably bad latte art skills are legendary; Samantha, fortunately, is much better and consistent, eliciting many ohhh and ahhhs:

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It's tricky pouring decent latte art in narrow cups

It's worth noting that our floor regularly has around 120 people working. We worked out a system where the cups were pre-numbered and my colleagues simply wrote what they wanted on the cup and added it to the queue. At one point, the line was 15+ deep, which meant a potentially 30 minute wait. :shock: I could have used a two-group for this crowd! Because our pacing was predictable, I was able to offer those who couldn't hang out in the cafe a fairly accurate time they should swing by.

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Yowza, good thing the patrons are patient and the drinks are free!

This coffee event was actually the third time I've catered at my "real" job. Despite the larger turnout, it went much easier. As pro baristas will surely attest, when there's a line, seconds add up quickly. The La Marzocco Swift Mini doses and tamps in less than 10 seconds; it's no-fuss consistency at its very best. Some home baristas will surely appreciate the ease of pull-after-pull simplicity, especially if they have a significant other who doesn't want to deal with precise, multi-step espresso preparation.

But this excursion really drove home another market for the Swift Mini: Small offices with espresso, cappuccino, and latte lovers. Paired with an easy to use espresso machine, I could imagine a guy like me tutoring the team on the basics a few times, then letting everyone else serve themselves the rest of the day.

By the way, Samantha and I heard many times "This is the BEST coffee I've ever had!" followed by asking when the next one would be. I didn't have the heart to tell them that while I appreciated the compliment, what we served that day, while very good, is typical of what most HB members enjoy on a given day. :wink:
Dan Kehn

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#7: Post by HB »

One of my colleagues snapped a bunch of photos during our holiday celebration / La Marzocco Swift Mini stress test. Due to a misunderstanding on my part, they were not included in the initial writeup. :oops: Thanks Dave for the great snaps!

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Sam and Dan wrapping up - over 80 cups served in less than 3 hours

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We had a KEEP IT SIMPLE menu

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Shameless product placement

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Dan preps and pulls espressos, Sam steams milk for latte and cappuccino lovers

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Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference?

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Fortunately one of us knows how to pour latte art...

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Counter Culture Coffee's BIG TROUBLE was a crowd pleaser

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Georginia shows the tip jar. Excellent! All tips went to our volunteer barista, Samantha :D
Dan Kehn

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#8: Post by HB »

Here's the obligatory bottomless portafilter pour of Caffe Lusso's
Gran Miscela Carmo Espresso Blend
; I'll add commentary in the next post.
Dan Kehn

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#9: Post by HB »

One of the site's first how-to articles is Perfecting the Naked Extraction, prompted by the proliferation of bottomless portfilters. Verifying that an extraction looked even became the first step in problem diagnose (similarly, the how-to article Weiss Distribution Technique (WDT) became the de facto way of assuring even distribution!).

As part of the review process, every writeup includes photos of a few bottomless pours. Most of them are "barista eye candy", but I thought for this review, I'd take a more critical look to see if it revealed a difference between the no-fuss, automatic La Marzocco Swift Mini and the other end of the grinder spectrum, the Kafatek Monolith Flat, which is a single-dose grinder known for consistent performance.

The prior post shows the video from the two extractions, first from the Swift Mini and then from the Monolith. Apologies in advance for the unevenness of the lighting; I recorded the Monolith extraction later in the day and the sun was setting. I had a bright studio light illuminating the business end of the portafilter, but the background wasn't illuminated, hence the exposure and color tone differences.

For this closer look, I captured a few key frames from the video above and eliminated the color differences, since for this comparison, I'm only interested in the evenness.

Below are the extraction parameters:
  • La Marzocco 17 gram basket, dosed accordingly
  • 9 seconds of preinfusion at 3 bar, then 9 bar for total of approximately 34 seconds
  • Brew ratio of 50% (17 grams in, 34 grams out)
  • Coffee: Caffe Lusso's Gran Miscela Carmo Espresso Blend
The Swift Mini was dialed in by adjusting the dose/grind with the top dial for grind setting and bottom dial for dose. After that, it was as simple as lock in the portafilter, press a button, go. Since I wanted to double-check the weight, I used a second portafilter for the grinder and removed the basket retention clips. That way, I could prepare the basket and confirm the Swift Mini's dose weight.

The Monolith was dialed in with a manual movement of the grind chamber barrel after loosening the grind clamp; the coffee dose was pre-weighed and the grinder run until empty. To prepare an evenly distributed coffee bed, I followed dosing with the WDT. As an extra precaution, I followed that by a quick leveling with a coffee distribution tool (adjusted to the correct puck depth), then a final tamp.

Initial beading - how even does the extraction appear?

While nearly all "espresso porn" photos feature the fully formed cone of the extraction, I believe the initial beading is far more indicative of evenness. If the initial beading is slightly off, puck compression may close off early fissures, but if the beading is significantly uneven, channeling is almost certain to follow.

The two photos below capture the point at which approximately half the basket's holes have shown signs of beading and half have not:

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La Marzocco Swift Mini - initial beading

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Kafatek Monolith Flat - initial beading

While these are not perfect evenness, they're both very good. The Swift Mini does appear to have less initial beading directly beneath the center hub of the distribution "fan" (see A puck's view of the the Swift Mini photo earlier in this thread). Despite my careful attention to distribution, the initial beading depicted in the second photo of the Monolith extraction shows an ever-so-tiny sign of unevenness.

That said, we're looking at fleeting moment very early in the extraction. Minor differences like this can (and arguably often do) mean nothing.

Fully formed stream - now how even does the extraction appear?

Given the inconclusive results above, the next two photos move to later in the extractions. This time, I captured the frame where the first formed stream falls. Presumably any initial fissures have closed (or not) by this point and the signs of channeling, if it's to occur later, should present themselves.

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La Marzocco Swift Mini - initial stream

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Kafatek Monolith Flat - initial stream

Whoa boy, that's really, really close. It's worth noting that the location of the stream can be misleading; it's just as likely to indicate the level of the grouphead as channeling (i.e., in this case, the stream is closer to the camera and slightly to the right, suggesting the grouphead may be tilted in that direction). I haven't bothered checking the level, but maybe I should?

Past the midway point - now how even does the extraction appear?

Most of the "showoff" photos of espresso extractions are snapped around the midpoint where most signs of unevenness are hidden under a large single cone-shaped stream and the so-called striping is at its peak. These photos were captured around the 10 second mark before the pump was turned off. It's slightly after the favored showoff point, but before the extraction has entered the timeframe where the pour speed increases.

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La Marzocco Swift Mini - final moments of coherent stream

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Kafatek Monolith Flat - final moments of coherent stream

These last two photos demonstrate my earlier point about the diagnostic value of early versus late observations of espresso extraction pours: Basing comparisons on the last half of the extraction is likely to end in a photo finish; if not, it's likely a case of gross distribution errors that led to significant channeling (i.e., the provenance of beginner baristas).

Conclusion?

Presented with the two videos above, I would judge the second one from the Monolith every-so-slightly more even based on some signs of the first video from the Swift Mini initially favoring the perimeter. This is consistent with my observation that with careful attention to puck preparation, the WDT/Monolith combined with gentle preinfusion from the La Marzocco Strada is unbeatable, if your goal is producing brag-worthy looking espresso pours. Of course, if your goal is producing the best tasting espresso, as our group blind taste tests demonstrated, it's a lot harder to choose a winner.

I've had the La Marzocco Swift Mini for a little over three months, testing it day-to-day, in a small group taste test, and a large espresso-loving crowd. Before packing it up and forwarding it to the next reviewer, I would like to compare the same two grinders, this time with a light(er) roasted coffee versus my usual medium roasted coffee selections.
Dan Kehn

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#10: Post by HB »

Unlike grinders like the Baratza Sette that dose by weighing the coffee, the La Marzocco Swift Mini doses by volume, using the rise of the impeller shown earlier to disengage the drive to the burrs (the impeller continues to spin for a few moments longer as a finishing tamp and polish).

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Thanks to Caffe Lusso for sponsoring the coffee used in this review

To judge the accuracy of its dosing, I recorded the weights of a dozen sequential doses:
  1. 14.8
  2. 14.5
  3. 14.6
  4. 14.2
  5. 14.3
  6. 14.3
  7. 13.9
  8. 13.9
  9. 14.5
  10. 14.0
  11. 14.1
  12. 14.0
The standard deviation is 0.28 and the mean is 14.3.

While the above is acceptable consistency, a home barista willing to measure each dose with a 0.1 gram accuracy scale can obviously do better, albeit with more time and fussing. That said, to get consistent results with the Swift Mini, keep in mind these usage tips:
  • There must be beans in the hopper to weigh down the coffee being ground, otherwise the dose will be light, the grind setting will tend coarser, and the finishing polish on the puck will be uneven
  • A couple grams of coffee grounds from the prior dose remain on the upper side of the impeller; if you haven't used the grinder in awhile, plan to run the motor for a brief instant to clear out stale coffee
  • Adjusting the grind setting changes the compactness of the puck and thus changes the dose amount. To retain the same weight when grinding finer, the dose setting must be increased slightly (conversely, when grinding coarser, the dose setting should be decreased)
The first point effectively disqualifies this grinder as a single doser: If the hopper runs empty, the impeller won't polish the top of the puck evenly, instead leaving several untamped sections. Ideally, the hopper should contain at least several double espressos' worth of coffee beans. Although the upper grinding section of the Swift Mini can be swung out to the side for single dosing, bypassing the dose/tamp chamber, that usage eliminates the advantage of automatic dosing/tamping, so I haven't spent much time on that scenario.
Dan Kehn