An excellent grinder with a low price tag that can even serve an E61 machine with ease
Positive Product Points
High quality, durable conical burrs Low speed to keep beans from burning Very precise, stepless adjustment of grinding fineness
Negative Product Points
Some ground coffee remaining in chute unless manually removed Wrong position of scale, no marker to match up the scale with Hopper needs to be placed back manually into previous position when removed
Mine is an Iberital Challenge without the doser, just like the left one shown on the picture in the corner (although it is chrome, not gray; it looks much better beside a stainless steel espresso machine). Note that you can find the same grinder in several brands and disguises (Nemox, Ascaso and some other names).
It is a very good quality conical burr grinder, with appropriately low speed (600 rpm) to keep the beans from being heated up too much. The grind quality is excellent, consistent and, coupled with a good espresso machine, it delivers consistently good shots.
This grinder is famous for its worm drive. Instead of a collar at the bottom of the hopper, where you can only have a fixed number of units (either notches or stepless) distributed along the perimeter of the setting disk, here you have an adjustment knob with an astonishingly low gearing. It takes about a hundred turns to go from touching the burrs to the other extreme. Different coffee blends that require a notch or two of difference on another grinder might need several turns of the knob here. This is an enormous advantage, allowing a rare precision of grinding adjustment. It makes it very easy and straightforward to follow the aging process of coffee once opened or to compensate for other minute differences. Of course, everybody commits the error of going too cautiously with the knob the very first time around, but you soon learn that half a turn or so does practically nothing, so you adapt quickly to seemingly larger adjustments. After the first few shots, it all becomes second nature and chances are, you'll never want to sacrifice this infinite and very precise control over your grinding any more.
But this also means that it is best used as a single purpose grinder. To adjust daily between radically different grinds (for instance, to make Turkish coffee, a French press or espresso alternatingly) is rather uncomfortable because it requires a great many turns of that small adjustment knob. But this is surely only a question of comfort, if you are willing to do that, the grind itself will be perfect for all purposes. As I only use it for espresso, this question is moot for me.
The only criticism with this adjustment system is the foolish placement of the scale near the top of the hopper, away from the machine body that it rotates against. But with the proliferation of computers and printers, it's very easy to print a new scale to a (possibly transparent) adhesive label and attach that to the bottom of the hopper, replacing the original one. You can also cut a narrow stripe of white duct tape and put it as an alignment mark on the small vertical body panel part just above the chute; nobody will tell it wasn't there from the factory. Still, the scale and the mark will not touch each other but, in my experience, if you simply lean over the grinder and look down on the side of the hopper, it is dead easy to see the actual setting and to navigate back to the exact position you noted for a specific coffee blend.
There is no fixed position of the hopper related to its holder (a mechanical lock that only allows the hopper to be put back in a single position would be welcome), so if you remove the hopper for cleaning, first note the setting it's currently on and place it back into the same position yourself.
Yes, this is a small nuisance and the factory could have and should have solved it. Yet, I think, a few minutes' work to rectify it for ourselves is well worth it and the fabulous adjustment system will far outweigh any small problems in the beginning.
Also, as with many other grinders, the path of the ground coffee is not entirely straight from the burrs to the outside world and this means some coffee remaining in the upper part of the chute. A slight tap will bring out about half of this amount but the rest will stay there unless you remove it manually. I use an old knitting needle bent to the right angle to do this, it only takes a couple of seconds and as I already have that needle in my hand, I use it to level the coffee and to do the Weiss distribution. Actually, there is not much to distribute, the grounds are not clumped together but it always helps to avoid the chance of channeling and creates a nice level surface for the tamper.
During regular cleaning, a vacuum cleaner will clean the chute of any coffee residues (especially, if you use something like Urnex Grindz or Puly Grind Cristalli) without the slightest problem. Puly is much cheaper than Grindz and I prefer it to the option of periodically disassembling the adjustment worm drive with the necessary repeated dialing in afterwards.
With a doserless grinder, there is always the risk of making a mess in the kitchen. I found the Iberital to be rather good at marksmanship, nearly all coffee particles land in the portafilter. To avoid any mishaps, I simply put a sheet of paper towel on the feet of the grinder, below the portafilter fork, to collect any coffee going astray. There isn't too much and this keeps the counter absolutely clean. Also, after having pressed the start button with the portafilter, I tend to lift it up, out of the fork, to get it closer to the chute and to move around and wiggle it slightly to fill all sides of the filter evenly.
The machine also has a timer (adjusted with a small knob that also has a screwdriver slot for easier handling) to ensure the same amount of coffee landing in your portafilter every time. Although I prefer not to store beans in the hopper myself but only add the necessary amount before each grind (even if this makes it compulsory to clean out the chute every time, as I described earlier, otherwise that amount would be missing from your puck), I found the dosage to be very consistent. I double checked it with a digital scales during our first common days with the grinder but found no problem at all. The reason for not storing any larger amounts of beans in the hopper has both to do with freshness and my wish to change the coffee occasionally (like decaf in the evening, for the pleasure without adverse effects) but it has nothing to do with the performance of the grinder, you can use it in both ways with ease and consistent results.
The machine is sturdy, weights almost five kilograms, has five very good rubber pads to keep it from moving around on your counter even when you press the portafilter against the start button. It is built to last. I wouldn't hesitate to say that this grinder can successfully serve espresso machines costing five or ten times its own price, up to E61 machines.
And all that with a price tag that could be awfully hard to be beaten.
Excellent service, zero problems. A traditional shop, not a web retailer, I went there, bought the machine, brought it home.
Three Month Followup
Really nothing to write about, the grinder keeps working perfectly. I don't feel any need to upgrade it. I mostly drink very freshly roasted coffee (home roasted by a friend) now and the stepless adjustment became even more important than before to allow me to follow the minute but constant changes of coffee during this very fresh period.
By the way, because I found that very fresh coffee (as opposed to blends bought in vacuum sealed, one-way valve bags) doesn't really like to be stored in an airtight container, I changed my habits and put around 0,2 kg of roasted coffee into the hopper each time and use it up before the next, fresh portion. So, I started to rely on the timer to measure the amount for me. Although I prefer to dose by volume rather than by weight, the grinder has no problems with dispensing the correct amount each and every time.
And another idea, originated from a member of our local Net forum: if you are worried about coffee particles landing anywhere but your filter, find a shotglass that fits perfectly into your filter basket, grind into the glass, put the portafilter on the top, upside down, then turn around both together, and all your coffee will get right into the basket, no mess, no loss. No need to do the Weiss distribution, either, it will be evenly distributed all right. Nice idea, and works with any grinder, of course, not only this one.