I still remember back to when I received the Mazzer Mini - I was pretty excited. I mean, it had a bit of a rep, and I was plainly aware that I was getting a grinder that would possibly set the bar for me in terms of how good a grinder could be.
Usually when I get like this, ie, letting my anticipation build up a product so much, I am disappointed (however mildly) by the product once it arrives.
I can tell you it wasn't the case with the Mazzer. It met my expectations, and then some.
Out of the Box
The Mazzer Mini Espresso Grinder is packed well, with form-fitting styro top and bottom braces that hold the product and its parts securely. Our box was a bit beat up (thanks UPS!), but the machine was completely unscathed. Inside the box is the 22 pound grinder, a tamper attachment that is thankfully unattached (to prevent from breaking during shipping), and a well illustrated and professional looking manual that, in my case, was quite a mess inside - the print run for my manual screwed up the printing order, and repeated some languages twice, leaving a lot of the English section missing. A call to the product supplier resulted in a new manual being sent out.
Sidenote: if you have a Mazzer Mini manual that is not printed properly, I have obtained a PDF version of it that you can download.
As I mentioned above, the grinder does weigh in at a full 22 pounds, and most of the weight is towards the rear of the box, making it somewhat unwieldy - so be warned if you buy one and need to handle the box on your own.
Design, materials and initial setup
Setup is a relative breeze. The grinder was tested at the manufacturer (there are grind remnants in the burr set), and after attaching the tamper device, putting the hopper on, tightening the single hopper bolt, and attaching the screw-in "arm" that lets one easily change the grind, the Maz Mini was good to go.
The machine is a real professional beaut. I had another commercial machine to compare this to (a Rossi RR45 behemoth), and honestly, there's very little comparison, at least in the looks department. The painted-black Rossi is a good workhorse for sure, but looks like a raggedy horse at that while doing it. The Mazzer Mini encompasses the best of what Italian espresso is all about - beauty and brawn. We'll find out soon enough if "ability" is an additional attribute.
The Maz Mini is available in a few different colour choices. Ours is the "Silver" model, which is painted silver, and finished with a gloss lacquer. It also features polished stainless steel all over. This steel and silver version, is, in CoffeeGeek's opinion, "da bomb" best choice of any of the available colours. However if you have an espresso machine that is black or red, Mazzer Minis are available in those color styles as well, (and possibly others).
I say "beauty and brawn" because that's what you get with this grinder - it is an industrial design wunderkind, but is also beefy as all out. The parts fit nearly perfectly. The machine is a serious heavyweight. The fit and finish is superb throughout, with nary a mar, missed detail, gap, or any problems at all with the design aspects that my inspection could point out. I can't say that about any other grinder I've ever tested or owned. Even the switch on the right side impressed the heck out of me - it's unlike any other switch I've ever seen on a grinder or espresso machine. It's a dual switch - one button for on, one for off, but more detailed than even that. And that switch is big, which is a big operating plus.
| Bottom Burr closeup shot inside the machine |
I spent quite a bit of time inspecting the grinder before actually plugging it in. I will save most of my comments for the Build and Performance section (the next page in this review), but here's some of my initial observations.
The burr area of the grinder is extremely well thought out. Mazzer's patented Micrometrical Grinding Adjustment mechanism is deceptively simple in looks, but is time tested and really does the job of giving you infinite grind adjustment settings.
Initially I thought the clear portion of the doser chamber was glass - after taking it apart as the months went along in this review, I discovered it is high impact plastic. Even 8 months later, it shows no scratches or cloudiness or other similar marring - my Rossi RR45 grinder does not share this - the clear plastic in that grinder's doser does show aging, yellowing, scratches and stains that won't come off.
Dialing in a grinder is always a crucial thing when you first use it, especially a stepless grind system. Upon reassembly of the burr group, dial and hopper, I left the burrs set pretty high (lots of clearance between them both). I plugged the machine in, turned it on (wow, is it quiet without beans - I would say on par or better than a Rocky, with barely any difference). And started dialing down the burrs. Eventually I found the "zero" point - that's the point where you first hear burr touching burr. I quickly backed off about a micrometer so that there was no burr gnashing sounds, and wallah, there was my near zero point.
| The set point sticker is tuned well, to provide you with a good "normal espresso" grind when pointing to six o'clock. |
I should note that on the burr dial (the element you move to adjust the grind), there is a sticker with three arrows and text to indicate which direction goes coarse, which goes fine, and your "set point". At the grinder's zero point, this set point arrow points at about the 4 o'clock position when you are looking directly at the front of the grinder. I also quickly discovered that the Mazzer's engineering tolerances are so tight that, at the near ideal "normal" espresso grind for most types of coffee (that is, a grind that will give you the 2 to 3 ounce double shot in 27 seconds), the set point arrow points almost exactly at six o'clock, or straight towards the front of the machine. Wow. I've also confirmed this with other Mazzer Mini owners - their set point arrow also points directly to the front when the grind is ideal for a normal espresso shot.
Because I'm all about ristrettos (which require a finer grind than a normal espresso), my setpoint sweet spot is at about 5 to 5:30 on a clock face.
Once the visual inspections and dialing in were done, I was ready to add beans and give the Mini its first trials.
My next step after doing what seemed like an eternity of visual inspections was to add beans. Because I still had no idea where the ideal "set point" was in this first trial, I had the arrow pointing at around 7 o'clock. The grind was nice, but a bit coarse, giving me a 15 second double. I reset to 6 o'clock, and discovered what I wrote above - the fit and finish of the Mazzer is so refined, they nailed the positioning of the set point.
I'm harping on this for a variety of reasons. Knowing how the micrometrical grind selector works (based on springs), I'm surprised they were able to be this accurate on a mass assembly basis. Also, every other high-quality doser espresso grinder I've used has a lot more "play" between machines when it comes to where the sweet spot is for grinding. In Rockys, for example, some people find they get their best grind when the dial says "8". Others say "5", others say "2", and still others say "-3" and so forth. My guess is Rancilio doesn't pay too much attention to how they put on that dial number sticker that is on the hopper. Mazzer apparently pays very close attention to where they put on their set point sticker, which just chalks up another "excellent attention to detail" point about the machine.
The sound of the Mazzer when grinding beans is hard to describe. It isn't overly loud (you can carry on a normal conversation around it), and it sounds more like the turbo injection on a car than it does your typical $100 grinder. There's a certain pleasant 'whine" to the sound which I've grown very accustomed to (and still like to this day). The closest comparison I can think of is how BMW motorcycles sound different from almost any other motorcycle - it isn't a throaty growl of an engine, it's more like a super efficient whine, almost a turbine sound. The Mazzer isn't nearly as different from other grinders as BMW bikes are from other motorcycles (at least to my ears), but there's a notable difference in sound when you have a Rocky and a Mazzer side by side.
| Macro photography of some stray grinds in the grinding chute area. Note the buildup of grinds on a sweeper vane inside the grinding area: that's less than a half gram of coffee. |
I performed a side by side visual and touch inspection of the grinds from the Mini, an Innova conical burr grinder, and the Solis Maestro. The Mazzer's grind seemed superior both in evenness and in texture... I could not detect any variance in the grind. I used the excellent macro abilities of a Nikon Coolpix to take some 3x lifesize photos of the grinds from each, and the results are detailed on our Comparisons page.
After running maybe a quarter pound through the machine to "season" it and get it dialed in, running a few espresso shots I didn't drink (to get the dial in process over with), I set the grinder at what was the "ristretto" setting, and went for my first pull to test the results.
I was using the Pasquini Livia 90 as my test espresso machine with the product, and ground about 17 grams for the first real shot. As a comparison, I used an Innova Conical Burr grinder already dialed in. Please understand that other variables are in place when testing shots against shots, so my results are more subjective than scientific, but I did notice a slightly more even and rounded out shot from the Mazzer Mini attempt early on.
I also noticed that the Innova's initial attempts had one shot that had visible fracturing and pitting in the basket. I got no such action from any of the Mazzer pulls. Again, this is subjective, but what it means is that there are possible imperfections and un-evenness in the Innova's grind, which could result in pitting and puck fractures. These lead to under-extracted shots. The Mazzer's first two pounds of coffee testing exhibited no fractures, no pitting, and extremely good looking, even pull shots of espresso. Early on, I was getting very good indicators that the machine was a performer.
First Week With the Mini
| A vertical view inside the Mazzer Mini's Doser. Adjustment screw for dosage volume is dead centre in the chamber. |
As my first week with the Mazzer wrapped up and I was getting ready to write my First Look for the product, I was continually impressed with almost everything about the machine.
The doser is easily the best one I've seen overall (though there is still room for improvement). You can easily adjust the dosage size per pull, keeping in mind it only really works if you have a doser filled with ground coffee. The chute between the grinder and doser is pleasantly short, trapping at worst maybe 1 gram of coffee in between shots.
The grind is very consistent, and the machine really lends itself to micro-adjustments to the grind based on how old your beans are, how darkly they are roasted, and the relative atmospheric conditions in your working area around the grinder. When you hear professionals talk about adjusting the grinder each morning and through the course of the day, they probably had a Mazzer grinder in mind - it's so easy to adjust on the fly in micro steps that maintaining the "perfect grind" becomes second nature once you're familiar with the machine. After a week or two of using the Mazzer quite a lot, I got "familiar" enough with it that I could confidently adjust my grinder each day to compensate for older (or newer) beans, more surface oil (or less), and if it was a hot, cold, or humid day.
How did this come about? I often preach that with a high quality grinder, you, the grinder user, have to become as in tune with how it works as the grinder itself does with the espresso machine you're using. "Be one with the machine" sounds corny and a bit weird, but you know what? The Mini will deliver you absolutely perfect espresso grinds once you get accustomed to how it works and what it is capable of. That only comes with experience.
In my first week, I went through about 10 lbs of coffee on the grinder - not a lot when you think about this machine in a commercial environment, but that's about 5 weeks' of normal household coffee usage in a typical home. I started by wasting two or three shots each test session, super fine tuning the grinder, my dosage volume of grinds, my pack and tamp in the portafilter, to find out what worked best. By the end of the first week, I was at the point where I may waste one shot "dialing" in the grinder each morning. Mind you, that wasted shot was certainly drinkable, but ristretto pulls are so demanding, that it requires an extra shot or two to do the perfect dial in. If one was pulling normal doubles, it would be an almost no brainer - set the "set point" on the grinder to 6 o'clock, and with most bean types, you get a very acceptable grind for those two 1.5 ounce doubles.
A Few Niggles
Before you think I'm all 100% positive about the grinder, there were a few (very few) minor points about the Mazzer that were negatives.
One thing I don't like is the cord's position on the grinder. It is at about the 8:30 o'clock position on the body (when you're looking top down), and it gets in the way of things. It's also fairly high up on the body. I would have preferred to see the cord as low as possible (perhaps even coming underneath the machine) and on towards the back of the left side, perhaps at around 11 o'clock.
I wasn't overly impressed with the Mini's portafilter fork. It sits quite low below the doser, giving almost 2 inches of clearance between a typical commercial portafilter and where the grinds come out. This results in a lot of grinds that fly outside of the filter basket, onto the black plastic disk at the bottom of the grinder, and onto the counter as well. If you click the doser lever slowly, you won't lose many grinds, but fast clicks result in ground coffee all over the place. A closer fitting fork height would eliminate a fair amount of waste.
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| I'm not crazy about how high up the plug is, how far out it sticks from the machine, or it's position. |
| Almost 3 inches between the fork and portafilter. Given that a PF sits about 1.25 inches high, that's a lot of clear space. |
| Certifications, by ETL, including a nod to CSA (Canada's version of UL, but more stringent) and UL. 110V, 60Hz, 2.1 Amps, and 250W (not listed). |
Also, there is a finger guard in the doser. I can see the reason - the chute between the grinder and doser is short, and if accessible, stray fingers trying to clear out ground coffee could easily be chopped off if the machine is running. But the finger guard makes it almost impossible to use a grinder brush to sweep out the doser chamber. Thankfully, the guard can be removed (although it is a bit tough). I detail this in my Long Term Use page.