Titan Grinder Project

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
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HB
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Postby HB » May 26, 2007, 8:03 pm

For the last few years, flat burr grinders like the Mazzer Mini define the pinnacle of equipment for the home espresso aficionado. More recently, conical burr espresso grinders have gained attention. However, no particular grinder model or manufacturer has earned universal acclaim among home baristas, largely because many in this class of grinder are exclusive to cafe environments due to their cost and size.

But we're not going to let a matter of size or money deter our pursuit of exceptional espresso, are we? Team HB is clearing plenty of countertop space and preparing for a caffeine onslaught for this site's most extensive equipment review to-date, sponsored by 1st-line Equipment. Planning of this work has been ongoing since the beginning of 2007, an effort known as the...

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UPDATED: Also see these related threads:


PS: Thanks to Dave W from Espresso Parts for help with the TGP graphic!
Dan Kehn

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Postby HB » Jun 01, 2007, 11:15 pm

In early January, we began discussing HB projects for 2007. Noting the increased interest in conical grinders and their merits compared to flat burr favorites like the Mazzer Mini and Super Jolly, Dave suggested a top-end conical grinder match up. Looking over the potential contenders, we accepted that today's definition of "top-end conical" sometimes meant a grinder larger and more expensive than those traditionally destined for the home.

It was tempting to scale back the requirement to include only those grinders with home kitchen (under cabinet) friendly dimensions. The list of candidates fitting that description was short, and in the end, we decided to allow some cafe-sized grinders into the mix. Well, once the doors were opened to one Titan grinder, you can guess where it led us. From smallest to largest, the Titan Grinder Project contenders are:

  • Macap MXK: conical 63mm burrs (link)
  • Cimbali Max: conical / flat 64mm burr combo
  • Mazzer Kony: conical 63mm burrs (single phase model, link)
  • Mazzer Robur: conical 71mm burrs (single phase model, link)
The Robur was included in the line up for "shock value" and to answer the implied question, "What am I missing from a more modestly sized home unit, if anything, compared to big commercial grinders in use at the best cafes?" Finally, to provide a comparison against a well known and representative flat burr grinder:

  • Mazzer Super Jolly: flat 64mm burrs (link).
The goal of the Titan Grinder Project is to not only provide information about the grinders themselves, but the quality of grind and differences, if any, in the cup.

Dave, John, Jim and I will receive these grinders on a rotating basis, each evaluation period lasting 3-4 weeks. Our notes will be documented here and at the end of the project, summarized into a single review, including a general guide with bullet points from each reviewer to summarize their personal experience and opinion about the grinder. We're investigating alternative evaluation metrics too, such as particle size analysis. By spreading out the review over multiple testers, we hope to create a more rounded review.

Because of the logistics of this grinder roadtrip, we plan to ship paired grinders to the participants rather than try to get all grinders at one time to each. The pairs are intentionally chosen to demonstrate (or not?) key differences. Specifically:

  • The Extremes: Mazzer Super Jolly versus Mazzer Robur
  • The Contenders: Macap MXK versus Mazzer Kony
  • The Hybrid: Cimbali Max versus one of the first round contenders above.
This list will likely change as the evaluation progresses. More details to follow...
Dan Kehn

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Postby cannonfodder » Jun 02, 2007, 2:45 pm

The Mazzer twins arrived safe and sound. I can remember when I was this excited, maybe Christmas long ago when I was a child. The packing is sturdy but simple.

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A few quick photos and notes.

How big is a Kony? Big, very big. I hate to say it, but almost too big for me. Here is a photo of it sitting on the floor with my 7 year old son standing beside it for reference. It is substantially larger than the Super Jolly and makes the Mini, well, look mini.

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Mazzer lists the Kony's dimensions (with the hopper and catch tray) at 9 ½ inches wide, 16 ½ inches deep and 25 ½ inches tall.

As much as I hate to admit it, I am having mixed feelings about the Kony. I don't care for how the doser feels. Maybe it is just stiff from being new, but I prefer the feel and large horizontal handle on my Cimbali Jr over the handle on the Kony. It feels small in comparison to the grinders size. The doser and handle are the standard size Mazzer uses on all their grinders. The switch is a little clunky but that may just be an issue of getting use to it. Again, I like the power switch on my Cimbali better. It is under the doser and you can hit it with your thumb as you dose. With the Kony, you have to let go of the doser handle and twist the power switch.

The switch has three positions, off, on, manual on. In the on position the grinder activates every 12 pulls of the doser handle. It grinds until the doser is full and a pressure plate switches it back off until the next 12 pulls. To manually turn it on for a single dose grind, you turn the switch to the on position, then rotate it back one more stop. When the appropriate amount of coffee has been ground you twist the switch forward to the off position.

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The standard Mazzer finger guard is in the doser. Two screws and it comes off. Here is where I find the Kony's largest annoyance. Under the finger guard is another plate over the grind chute. That is attached to a large black shelf that sits over the chute. That is the doser full switch. When the doser fills, the grinds lift that plate which trips the switch in the black plastic housing shutting off the grind. That thing makes cleaning out the grind chute a bit of a pain. You have to work from either side of it to sweep it out. I am sure that can be removed and the switch wires crimped and capped so the grinder is in perpetual grind mode. Since this is a loaner for the review, it will remain as is with the finger guard off.

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Now, onto the good stuff. Does this puppy grind! I can see a difference in the grind over what I get from the Cimbali Jr and Mini. It looks much more uniform and light although it still has some clumps. Vigorous thwacking of the doser breaks them up and gives you a nice dose with minimal clumps.

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Usually the grind is very close to the start here sticker Mazzer puts on its grinders. However, I had to loosen up the grind by nearly a quarter turn of the adjustment ring. Once I stopped choking the Elektra and got some espresso to flow I could tell there was a difference without even tasting. The shots flow much thicker and syrupy than either my Cimbali or Mini. I know the shot should flow like warm honey, and until now I thought that was what I was getting.

«Google video "-754422103277107107" missing»

The shots flow much thicker, syrupier and creamier than anything I have used (although I have not used the Super Jolly yet). So I am somewhat torn. The grinder is very big, I think the doser, switch, and pressure plate could use some work, but damn, are the shots good. I am just starting and I already taste flavors I have not noticed before. The grind speed is not bad. I would not say it is fast by commercial standards, but it appears to be just as fast as my Cimbali and faster than the Mini.

I will have to see if I get use to the grinder controls over the next few weeks as things break in.

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Mazzer Kony, Mazzer Super Jolly, Elektra A3, Cimbali Junior

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Down the belly of the beast.

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Dave Stephens

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Postby RapidCoffee » Jun 02, 2007, 7:29 pm

Twas a dark and rainy afternoon when UPS finally delivered the two large boxes I'd been expecting.
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Mazzer Robur and Macap MXK conical grinders arrive!

I unpacked the Mazzer Robur first. Here's what greeted me:
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I'm not worthy...

As Dave noted, the packaging was simple, but sturdy enough to withstand shipping abuse:
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Hmm, it doesn't look so big in the box.

The Robur is indeed a Titan:
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In the gray trunks, weighing in at 62 pounds...

No way this baby will fit under the cabinets.
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At least not with the gigantic bean hopper attached.

The view from above, showing the massive conical burrs on the left and the doser on the right:
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Another perspective of the Robur:
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The size really hits home when you set the Robur next to a more familiar Mazzer grinder.
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And I thought my Mazzer Super Jolly was big.

Next up: the Macap MXK.
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The MXK is still large for a home grinder, but much more reasonably sized than the Robur:
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Macap MXK and doserless Mazzer Super Jolly

This top view shows the conical burrs and worm drive on the Macap MXK.
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Macap MXK and Quick Mill Vetrano:
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Four grinders and only one espresso machine? I really should get another espresso machine to balance things out. :wink:
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Robur, Bunn ES-1G (hidden in back corner), MXK, Super Jolly and Vetrano
John

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Postby RapidCoffee » Jun 02, 2007, 7:34 pm

That evening I gave the Macap MXK a trial run. Unlike the Robur, it can easily be run without the bean hopper:
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The factory grind setting was far too fine, and the first two pulls choked my Vetrano. The third pull was pretty good:
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I could easily detect differences from my standard Super Jolly shots. Preliminary impressions: the MXK grinder produces more sharply defined individual flavors that emphasize the fruitiness in my espresso blend. The SJ produces smoother, more muted, and better blended flavors, tending towards chocolate.

Even dosered conicals have clumping issues. If you don't thwack-thwack-thwack you get this:
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It's not easy to get a good picture inside the doser, but you can see extruded grinds clumping in the horizontal exit chute from the burrs:
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The doser is a pleasure to use. Nice easy pull, positive click at the end, plenty of room underneath, and it sweeps clean:
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Like Dave, I'm gonna be pulling a lot of shots in the next couple of weeks...
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And I haven't even fired up the Robur yet!
John

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Postby RapidCoffee » Jun 02, 2007, 7:42 pm

The next day I took the Mazzer Robur out for a test drive. Allow me to preface this by stating that I did not want to like this grinder. It's far too big and pricey for home use. The bean hopper is ridiculously large, but due to a grind lock tab, it must be installed in order to operate the machine. Or must it? Not if you've got a pair of scissors and an old credit card:
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Hopperless Robur operation. Where there's a will... don't try this at home

Clumping is present but relatively minor, even straight out of the chute:
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Once again the factory setting was far too fine, and it took two choked shots before I got it dialed in:
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A very nice blend of flavors in the pour, lying pleasantly between the fruity sharpness of the MXK and the chocolatey smoothness of the Super Jolly.

Here's a naked extraction video. The reduced video quality makes it hard to tell, but this was a classic normale double pour: 60ml, cut off 30 seconds from the first appearance of espresso droplets.
«Google video "5520876009857415434" missing»

Both conicals were very easy to dial in. The Robur was effortless.

Sigh. I like this grinder.
John

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Postby RapidCoffee » Jun 02, 2007, 8:03 pm

Measurements of grinding speed and grinds retention:

Robur: ground 20.0g in 8-9 seconds, yielding 19.6g grinds
MXK: ground 20.0g in 20-22 seconds, yielding 19.2g grinds
Super Jolly: ground 20.0g in 10-11 seconds, yielding 20.0g grinds (using my doserless mod :) )

I made no attempt to disassemble and clean the grinders before making these measurements. I just pulsed them empty and thwacked stray grounds from the doser.

Beans were preweighed and dumped directly into the grinder throats. I weighed down the beans with a tamper in the Robur. Unfortunately the tamper trick does not work on the MXK for two reasons: 1) the throat diameter is too large and 2) the bolt that fastens down the inner burrs protrudes up into the throat - and rotates. So I simply covered the grinder throat with a PVC endcap.

The grind was adjusted to yield a 30 second, 50ml double shot from 19g of grinds on my Vetrano, using a ridgeless "LM" double basket.

After grinding, I emptied the doser by thwacking the lever, but again made no special effort to extract every last bit of grinds. Both grinders yielded almost the entire whole bean weight of grinds. But since I didn't disassemble the burrs for cleaning, there's no way of knowing how much was exchanged with old grinds packed in the grinding chamber.

Neither the Robur nor the MXK are speed demons. The Robur grinds more than twice as fast as the MXK, but only slightly faster than the flat burr Super Jolly. Timings are inexact because of minor popcorning coupled with my inability to see the beans while grinding.

My first impressions about taste are still holding up. There's a sharpness, edginess, almost a bitter quality to the MXK shots, whereas the Robur shots are slightly smoother, with more blended flavors. Compared to the clarity of the conical shots, flavors are definitely muted on the flat burr Super Jolly (but in a good way). I've probably ground 150-200 pounds on the SJ since replacing the burrs, which could impact the flavor profile as well.

Thus far I've been using a home roasted espresso blend of my own design. It's likely that my espresso blend and roasting style have evolved to take best advantage of my equipment, and are somewhat optimized for the flat burr Super Jolly grinder. But thanks to the generosity of Caffe Fresco, I'll be doing informal taste testing next week with two commercial roasts, a single origin Brazil Daterra and the lovely Ambrosia espresso blend.
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John

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Postby BrianG » Jun 02, 2007, 8:25 pm

Day 1 and my mind is already blown. Better start planting the seeds for spousal approval now :D .

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Postby cannonfodder » Jun 02, 2007, 9:58 pm

Have you ever wondered what our kitchens look like after a short test run?

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I have a very loving wife, who happens to be out of town this weekend.
Dave Stephens

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Postby luca » Jun 02, 2007, 10:04 pm

RapidCoffee wrote:Sigh. I like this grinder.



One small suggestion; whatever you do, don't try out the three-phase version ;P

Cheers,

Luca

PS. It would be interesting to see some comparisons using french press, or even just old-school cupping.
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