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A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 (£180) grinder for espresso
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Buckley
Senior Member


Joined: 25 Jan 2011
Posts: 423
Location: Internet
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 9:46am
Subject: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 (£180) grinder for espresso
 

This should read "A quick but not entirely complete newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso" because I am pounding it out in an hour.
Maybe I will edit it later, and others are welcome to chime in with suggestions that I missed or omitted.
I have omitted many inexpensive coffee grinders that either cannot grind fine enough for espresso or have spotty reputations.
If someone adds a suggested grinder to this thread and I come back with a reason why I omitted it, it is only 'for the record' and is not meant to be disrespectful or fuel for a debate.

This is a guide for those who need to grind espresso, especially for a machine that requires a well-adjusted espresso grind, such as a La Pavoni Europiccola.  This is not a guide for drip coffee.
It is meant as a starting point for doing your own searching.  Since products change and go in and out of production, this post will advise you what you might look for rather than give you a 'buy list' for you to choose from.  If I mention an out of production model, it is because there is a secondary market on line for quite a bit of used equipment and many coffeegeeks prefer to buy well cared for (or fixer-upper) used machines.
In the first five items you choose among basic grinder architecture.  The second five items will help you avoid buyers remorse.

THE TOP 5 TO LOOK FOR:
  1. Some machines that can grind good espresso have a wide range and can be used for pourover, french press and the like.  If you want this, look for it, because...
  2. Machines described as 'espresso grinders' will not have the latitude to grind more coasely with satisfactory results.  They are for espresso only.
  3. If a machine is described as an espresso grinder or 'capable of espresso', look closer.  Not only do grinders have to grind fine enough, but to be useful they also have to have some adjustment latitude in the fine range to 'dial in' a particular roast to fit your dosing preference and particular machine. (Especially an Europiccola - my opinion.) Some machines described as espresso do not have this latitude.  For instance, a machine that can grind espresso, but only on setting '1'.  Where do you go from there?  Or a machine with too few steps: '4' may be close but '5' infuses too quickly (too coarse) while '3' chokes the machine (too fine).
  4. Adjustment type: Some machines have detente steps - they click into discrete grind settings and stay there.  Other machines are stepless - there is not detente and the user is free to make slight micoadjustments.  Stepless is preferred by most espresso lovers for its ability to get the infusion 'just right'.  The Baratza line uses hybrid design: microsteps.
  5. Doser or doserless: Some machines empty out of a chute right into a bin or into the portafilter (abbreviated PF) while others fill a catch container fitted with a lever and vanes and you Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! the lever to fill your PF below the doser.  Some like the doser because it breaks up clumps, is less messy and is less prone to static electricity.  Some like the doserless because it is more direct, less work and does not retain grounds to go stale.
    THE NEXT 5 TO CONSIDER:
  6. Height: Many grinders are tall, not usually the inexpensive ones but pay attention to the published height of any grinder that you are considering purchasing if you want it to fit under kitchen cabinets.  Some tall machines come with 'mini-hoppers' to diminish height, somewhat.
  7. Noise: Some grinders are very noisy.  Check the reviews.
  8. Static electricity: Some grinders have a lot of trouble with static electricity.  Some, but not all, are doserless with plastic chutes.  Static will scatter a portion of the fine grounds around the machine workspace while other grounds will stick to the machine.  If you live in a humid location and do not use a lot of A/C this is not likely to be a consideration.  Those who buy a machine and are surprised by an unacceptible amount of static just lightly spray the beans with a water spray bottle BEFORE putting them into the hopper.  This solves the problem and does not seem to deteriorate the grinding burrs.
  9. Retained grounds: Almost all machines retain grounds in the grinding output pathway, except for a few horizontally-oriented grinding disks like the Kitchen_Aid Pro-Line (not espresso grade) or the Mahlkonig K43 ($3,600).  If you grind only once or twice per day, retained grounds may or may not be acceptible to you and machines vary in how easy one can clear the pathway.
  10. Time: Believe it or not, one machine is reported to require six minutes to grind 15 grams of coffee (it did not make the list).  Most will grind a dose in 10 seconds to one minute.  Check the reviews.  The product of noise and time is a comfort issue (Comfort is inverse to (Loudness x Duration)).  You may not mind a quieter machine taking a minute to grind, others may not mind a noisy machine if it only takes 15 seconds, or so.  No, noise is not inversely related to time; the two are independent of each other and depend upon the machine.
    THE FOLLOWING 5 ISSUES USUALLY TAKE A BACK SEAT FOR THE BENEFIT OF LOW PRICE:
  11.  Weight: Inexpensive machines are light.  This is good because you can take them to parties to show off your skills or embarrass yourself and you can tip them to clear the output pathway of retained grounds.  Lightness, however, is not good because your machine may 'dance' and vibrate its way across the counter.  Most do not have trouble with this.
  12. Aesthetics: Inexpensive machines have more plastic than expensive machines.  Therefore, they are not as durable and many find them cheap-looking, or they do not feel solid.
  13. Burr architecture: (Conical versus Flat) For the sake of brevity, you will not be in a position to be interested in this issue if your goal is to buy an inexpensive machine.  You have enough on your plate, already.  If it really should matter to you, I would pontificate upon it.  Maybe when you get your upgrade...
  14. Heat: Ditto the above.
  15. You are not buying an heirloom machine.  When you want to upgrade your espresso machine you will want to upgrade your grinder.

HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE:
  1. Find a particular machine that looks interesting in your price range.
  2. Search for many mentions of it on Coffeegeek.com, on Home-Barista.com, on your other favorite web site, on web sites of merchants who sell it, and do a general web search.

To get you started, here are the popular under $300 machines at this time (prices many vary a lot; the more you search, the cheaper you may find):
I am not personally familiar with most of them
Ascaso i ($300) stepless (Thanks, Anthony)
Barzata virtuoso ($225)  Reviews vary widely.  It gets worse ratings in older review so it seems to be better than it was.
Barzata preciso  ($300) microstepped
Barzata vario  ($450 new, look for used) microstepped
Cunill Tranquilo ($200-275) (Thanks, Susan)
Gaggia MDF ($249) stepped. I own this machine and can recommend it as a good starter with the latitude to grind for pourover, press and for espresso.   I had to replace a fuse in it after two years which required taking it apart to reach the fuse, then recalibrating the burrs after putting them back.  Not difficult, just idiotic.  The fuse burnout was likely a transient gift from Indiana Power and Light, not the fault of the grinder.
Isomac Gran Macinino ($280) stepped
La Pavoni PGB or PGC  ($150-300) Noisy.
Le’Lit PL53 ($290) stepless doserless
Le’Lit PL 043 ($250) doserless
Macap M2 (£180 in Britain, more in N.A.) (Thanks, Anthony)
Rancilio rocky ($350-380) doser stepped
Iberital MC2 ($175 – 190) stepless worm gear fine adjustment makes going from espresso to coarse grind a PIA (100 turns from stop to stop) but is great for tweaking espresso grinds.  Plastic chute is reported to be very static-y.
Iberital MC5 (used may be within price rance)
Iberital Challenge ($230) Same worm gear as above.
Starbucks Barista ($120) Older models may require some tweaking to get grind fine enough.  Do not know about newer models.
Starbucks Dualit (avail. only in EU) is said to grind fine enough for espresso.
Nemox Lux ($200) stepped. It is loud but it has its fans.
Pasquini Lux ($300) stepless
HANDGRINDERS: (It is a lot more work to hand grind fine espresso than coarser drip coffee - you may get tired of this.  I know I did.)
Turkish mill ($20-50)
Hario Skerton ($40)
Hario Slim ($40)
Pharos (used only if you can find it - limited production or out of production)

How to search:
On coffeegeek, visit Coffeegeek Reviews, Consumer Reviews and read Dont Skimp on the Grinder here Click Here (coffeegeek.com) , which is valuable but somewhat dated.  Search this forum but most find the search engine too primitive.  Instead, search this forum by using Google with the following search term: site:coffeegeek.com and add to it the other search terms that you are looking for, like the name of your grinder, and Google will only search coffeegeek.com.  If you go to Home-Barista.com, they have a friendlier search engine, powered by Google and you can use that.  Also visit their Grinders section and their Reviews - Grinders section.  Visit retailer websites for information.  These are mentioned all over coffeegeek and home-barista, especially in the CG consumer reviews section.  Finally, just Google 'review' + [grinder name, model] to see what is on the web.  Most of the time you will be directed back here.
Good Luck,
B
(Thanks to Susan and Anthony...  for additional suggestions )
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SJM
Senior Member


Joined: 17 Nov 2004
Posts: 1,718
Location: CA
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: SAMA (2), Maximatic, Cremina...
Grinder: K-10PB, Rancilio MD-50
Vac Pot: no like
Drip: no like
Roaster: HotTop   Huky en route
Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 10:17am
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

I suggest the Cunill Tranquilo be added to the list.
It is available from the Sovrana Store for $275.
http://sovranastore.com/esgrin.html

And it is a very competent espresso grinder.

Susan
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Whitey72
Senior Member


Joined: 12 Mar 2014
Posts: 6
Location: Great Sampford, UK
Expertise: Just starting

Espresso: La Pavoni Europiccola
Grinder: Hario Ceramic Slim
Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 11:57am
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

Hi Buckley, I'm not stalking you I promise. Great guide. Hope you didn't have too much other work to do today! Could you clarify whether you left out the Ascaso i1, Macap M2 and Anfim Haus based on cost or quality? I don't know what these retail for in the US.
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Buckley
Senior Member


Joined: 25 Jan 2011
Posts: 423
Location: Internet
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 4:17pm
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

Whitey72
Staying in touch is a good thing.  Especially about something as important as coffee.
Thank you for the Ascaso, I overlooked it.
The Macap must be less expensive on that side of the Atlantic.  It is a good grinder but did not make the price cut.
When I read between the lines, the Anfim seems to reviewed by people who brew coffee rather than infuse espresso.
Buckley
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boar_d_laze
Senior Member


Joined: 21 Nov 2006
Posts: 1,217
Location: Monrovia, CA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: La Cimbali M21 DT/1 Junior...
Grinder: Ceado E92; "Bunnzilla"
Vac Pot: Royal Coffee Maker
Drip: Chemex + Kone; Espro Press
Roaster: USRC Sample Roaster
Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 5:13pm
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

Introduction:
This is in addition to what Buckley wrote.  It's in no way meant to disagree with anything he said.  Also, let me tell you up front that I haven't had that much personal experience with grinders in the $300 and below price range.  A great deal of what I'm writing and not writing -- that is, the reasons for excluding grinders not on my list -- is derived from channeling the overwhelming consensus of people whom I trust.

Those grinders on my list are graded accorded to my own system of "Inadequate," "Adequate," "Good," "Very Good," "Excellent," and "Titan."

There are a few standout, espresso grinders under $300.  With the sole exception of the Orphan Espresso Pharos, don't expect any grinder in the price range to produce much in the way of nuance, especially top-end fruits and florals.  The best you're going to get (again, with the exception of the Pharos) is a grinder which can be adjusted so as to consistently produce grind that allow you to control flow rate and extraction.  

It's characteristic of grinders with small burr sets and which aren't at least "very good," that they are more sensitive to coffee aging than better grinders, and consequently will need more frequent adjustment.  But most of the grinders in this price range either won't allow really precise dialing in, or won't hold it for long if they do.

Most of the powered grinders on the market are noisy, messy, and have inferior burr sets.    

Based solely on buzz, my guess is that the two, good, mini manuals will probably give you a slightly better cup than either of the powered grinders.

Anyway...

Powered
Two powered grinders are "adequate."  "Adequate" means "adequate," while not exactly a ringing endorsement, at least it's better than "inadequate" a description which characterize nearly all of the under $300 competition.
  • Baratza Preciso: Plasticky build quality.  Not very durable.  Good conical burr set.  Easy and friendly to use.  Stepped, but adequate adjustment system; and
  • LeLit PL53:  Decent build quality.  Durable.  TreSpade conical burr set (very good thing).  Noisy.  Messy.  

Full Size Manual
Every now and then you run into a full-size, "wooden box" type manual grinder which does good espresso, but it seems to be more a matter of luck than brand.  Mostly, they can't.  
  • Orphan Espresso Pharos:  Excellent but quirky grinder.  Titan "in the cup" qualities.  Not the world's' friendliest grinder, but considering its price, one of the best deals in espresso.  Buckley is mistaken, the Pharos is still in production.  But he's not mistaken by much, it's in sporadic, "when Doug feels like it" production.  If you're looking for a used Pharos... good luck.  They don't come up much.  

Mini Manual
It would be nice to say that there's a kick-ass $100 grinder you could put together by buying a $60 grinder and making a few changes, but... oh well. Even with mods which make them "stepless" and/or stiffen the bearing  supports to eliminate at least some play, inexpensive manuals like the Hario, Kyocera, Porlex are "inadequate" because they need such frequent adjustment and are so messy to adjust.

Although low price makes them very attractive, my recommendation is "don't bother" except for very infrequent use -- as with a travel grinder.  But remember what I said about how good an espresso grinder has to be to achieve mere adequacy.  On the road, you might be able to get away with grinding for something like a MyPressi Twist but only if you're not very critical about grind and are willing to put up with a LOT of mess and inconvenience.  On the other hand, they make perfectly good travel grinders for non-espresso systems like an Aeropress.  

I don't have any personal experience at all with the two mini manuals which I'm going to recommend.  They've been getting a lot of coverage on H-B from people who can be trusted to distinguish good coffee from bad.  So, on that basis...
  • Hausgrind by Knock:  Well designed.  Well made.  Very attractive wood body.  Fast enough as those things go.  "Good" or borderline "good" "grind quality" which is a miracle considering the size of the burr set.  A several week delay (at least) between order and delivery;" and  
  • Orphan Espresso Lido 2:  Brilliant designed.  Extremely well made.  "Less is more" minimalist, but functional and ergonomic appearance.  For espresso specifically, it's slow and requires a lot of effort, but supposedly grinds competently.  Those who've actually used a Lido 2 optimistically hypothesize that speed and quality for espresso grinding will improve as the burrs break in.  At this writing, a several month delay between order and delivery.  

Hope this helps,
Rich
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Buckley
Senior Member


Joined: 25 Jan 2011
Posts: 423
Location: Internet
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 5:49pm
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

boar_d_laze Said:

Buckley is mistaken, the Pharos is still in production.

Posted March 14, 2014 link

orphanespresso Said:

Just stumbled across this 'just the fact pros and cons' rant....you will be pleased to know that all of this background roar over the Pharos has long ago worn thin and I won't keep making them forever.  Between the  people who think they can over engineer the thing into perfection and the ones who never bother to understand the principles of the machine, the build concept, or the challenges involved, we have pretty much had it.   I have completely redesigned the whole thing and now ship the grinder with a locked and set alignment, a longer handle, and all sorts of tweaks and changes but does anyone bother to comment on these things??   Our costs rise but has the price gone up?  

The post you refer to on HB is a modded (voodoo daddy) Pharos so is not Germaine to the topic.

I have burrs for 85 more Pharos and when they are gone I am done.   You read it here first.

So there you go, you win, I quit...feel better?

Doug Garrott.

Posted February 15, 2014 link

Rich, do your homework.
B
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rbkool
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Joined: 7 Jan 2014
Posts: 8
Location: TO, ON, CA
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 6:36pm
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

Buckley Said:

Rich, do your homework.
B

Posted March 14, 2014 link

by orphanespresso on Feb 25, 2014, 7:14 pm
Just a note on the status of the Pharos grinder.....I just built #1000. 998, 999, & 1001 went up for sale today.

We are approaching the building of the Pharos on an "when I have time" basis as this is a much more satisfying way for me to do it. Takes a lot of pressure off. So this means that when I get a few made they will list as in stock and when those are gone the list is out of stock until I get a few more made etc. We are re ordering some of the custom parts to keep the grinder going as long as there is a continued market for it or we replace it with a new model (Pharos 2 design is not front burnered at present but we are throwing some ideas around, which is where the process all starts).

Thanks for your interest.

Doug

And you could do some of your own... :)
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boar_d_laze
Senior Member


Joined: 21 Nov 2006
Posts: 1,217
Location: Monrovia, CA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: La Cimbali M21 DT/1 Junior...
Grinder: Ceado E92; "Bunnzilla"
Vac Pot: Royal Coffee Maker
Drip: Chemex + Kone; Espro Press
Roaster: USRC Sample Roaster
Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 7:27pm
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

No need to call one another out over an understandable mistake.  Would a moderator please remove the "homework" posts?

Rich
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calblacksmith
Moderator
calblacksmith
Joined: 25 Nov 2007
Posts: 7,734
Location: Riverside, Ca, U.S.A.
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: ECM Vene. A1, La Cimbali M32
Grinder: Azkoyen Capriccio, Major
Vac Pot: 40s era Silex
Drip: Msl. Com. brewers
Roaster: gave it a try, decided no
Posted Fri Mar 14, 2014, 8:29pm
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

We are not to edit members posts. Unless there is a rule violation we have to take a pretty much hands off approach . Every member is free to edit their own posts.

 
In real life, my name is
Wayne P.
Anything I post is personal opinion and is only worth as much as anyone else's personal opinion. YMMV!

Feed the newbs, starve the trolls and above all enjoy what you drink!
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Buckley
Senior Member


Joined: 25 Jan 2011
Posts: 423
Location: Internet
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Sat Mar 15, 2014, 4:48am
Subject: Re: A quick newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso
 

rbkool Said:

And you could do some of your own... :)

Posted March 14, 2014 link

Working on it, thanks

Buckley Said:

This should read "A quick but not entirely complete newbie guide for buying that under $300 grinder for espresso" because I am pounding it out in an hour.
Maybe I will edit it later, and others are welcome to chime in with suggestions that I missed or omitted.

Posted March 14, 2014 link

Buckley Said:

If someone adds a suggested grinder to this thread and I come back with a reason why I omitted it, it is only 'for the record' and is not meant to be disrespectful or fuel for a debate.

Posted March 14, 2014 link

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