I owned a Kitchen-Aid Proline grinder for 9 months (see my review). I loved it in the beginning, then I started to find its major fault, lack of consistency. I hated the thought of paying almost $500-$800 for a new top of the line grinder, but soon realized it was inevitable if I wanted to achieve some real quality in my espresso shots.
I started hitting the internet and tried a few local (Salt Lake City, UT) coffee suppliers to see what was available. The Mazzer, Macap, and Rancillio Rocky all seemed to be the consensus of what to get. Most of all, the Mazzer had consistently the best recommendations from everyone and from every online review. Most people that purchased a Rocky seemed to ultimately upgrade to a Mini, and the Macap seemed to have some minor issues of its own. I did not want to have to upgrade again, so I started patiently checking every online vendor and eBay waiting for a "deal" to pop up, but the Mini seems to be in high demand among coffee geeks everywhere. Eventually I found a slightly-used Mini on eBay and was able to "win" it for $380 with shipping.
After some mishaps with the USPS Parcel Post shipping (it was returned to sender after 7 days for an unknown reason and then took 7 more days to go from Washington State to Utah), it finally arrived in very good shape. It was set to a fairly coarse grind, so I started experimenting to see where the "sweet spot" was for use with my Quickmill Alexia and a bottomless portafilter. After about 6 tries, I pulled a 2oz shot at 28 seconds with no channeling and a beautiful looking extraction from the bottomless filter. The taste was better than anything I have ever pulled before!
I had read that the grinder is the most important part of the espresso equation, but to see it in action, side by side against my Proline blew me away. The grind from the Mazzer looked different than that of the KA because it was extremely consistent. My KA had large chunks and dust on a medium-fine setting, and all dust if I went to a fine setting, choking my machine. I could never get a consistent grind out of the KA and ultimately had to use a fairly course grind and tamp HARD to get a decent shot. With the Mazzer, I was able to use a proper fine grind and a real 30lb tamp to get an AMAZING shot of espresso. With the Mazzer, I hardly ever get "streamers" shooting out of my bottomless filter, a sign of channeling through the puck. With the KA, I ALWAYS had streamers shooting everywhere, and I eventually stopped using the bottomless and went back to the regular filter to avoid getting espresso spray all over the kitchen. Now I use my bottomless filter exclusively with no streamers and great high-quality delicious espresso.
The Mazzer Mini is large and heavy, unlike its name. It is all metal and really lives up to its reputation of "being built like a tank". The hopper is huge, and is really too much for home use, in my opinion. I have read that a new smaller hopper is available to help the Mazzer fit under cabinets, but just leaving the hopper off works best for me. I instead just scoop what I need for each shot into the top where the hopper normally goes. I put my single-shot filter over the top to stop beans from flying away during the grinding.
The high quality of the materials is obvious. The all metal body is tough and the plastic parts (hopper and doser windows) are thick and strong.
Can you hear that? Nope. When the Mini is on without any beans, there is only a slight whirring noise. With beans, it is still amazingly quiet.
The only negative that I have found quality-wise, is that the timer switch on mine does not engage until the timer is turned to about half-way through its travel, or about 1 centimeter. Then it works fine, traveling all the way down to the off position, about 30 seconds or so. This is very minor, but it is why I rated the "quality" as an 8. A $450 grinder should have a perfect timer switch, even if it is purchased used. Anyway, I will probably just exchange it with a toggle switch in the future to make it easier to use for single servings.
Using the Mini is easy, and if you surf some of the coffee forums online, you will find a million different ways to use it, modify it, and play with it to try and get over some of its quirks. For me, other than not using the hopper and maybe changing the timer switch for a toggle, I really don't plan on changing anything. The previous owner had already removed the finger guard in the doser, and I would have done the same.
Using the doser is probably the biggest quirk that there is with the Mini for low volume home use. Even a coffee-fiend probably won't make more than 5 shots a day in a normal home setting. The hopper and doser are made for use in a coffee shop with fairly high volume.
To stop my coffee from getting stale while sitting in the hopper and doser, I just scoop what I need into the top of the grinder, cover it with my single basket, and let it grind into the doser until all of the beans are gone. I then remove the doser cover and sweep all of the grounds uniformly around the doser, dose into the portafilter, and make the shot. I have to pull the doser handle about 12 times, or 2 complete doser revolutions, to completely evacuate the doser of grounds. The first lap is a slow pull on the handle, allowing a clean dose into the filter. The second lap is a fast "thwap-thwap-thwap" to clear out everything. The little bit of coffee that is left in the doser does not really bother me.
This is the last grinder that I will ever purchase....period! Of course if there is a major technological breakthrough, I suppose I may buy another, but that is a different story. The quality of the Mini is superb, and the quality of the espresso is improved over my old grinder. Parts are readily available if the need arises, and there is no reason to ever upgrade as this is the grinder everybody upgrades to. Most importantly, THE DRINK TASTES BETTER WITH THIS GRINDER.
I do hate that in order to really have a decent cup of espresso that you have to pay $450-$800 for a grinder. I think all coffee-geek, high quality equipment is overpriced, but a $200 grinder SHOULD work well enough. I would love to know what makes all of this equipment so expensive. However, until someone is able to invent and successfully market an inexpensive grinder that WORKS, save your money for a Mini, this is as good as it gets!