As manual lever machines are to super-automatics, so the Zassenhaus is to motorized burr grinders.
Positive Product Points
- Top quality hardened high carbon steel conical burrs - Well designed and engineered for longevity and bulletproof reliability - Simple and easy to use - Classic, old fashioned appearance
Negative Product Points
- Use of wood in cabinet can be frustrating - Much slower than motorized grinders - More work than motorized grinders
When your only espresso machine is a La Pavoni Professional (i.e. an old-school manual lever machine) grind quality is absolutely necessary. Levers in general and La Pavonis in particular are notoriously finicky when it comes to fine consistent grinding. After poor results with a few low cost conical burr grinders, I decided to track down a Zassenhaus manual and see if they were as good as everyone said.
I wasn't disappointed.
Using the Zassenhaus is a very tactile experience. You FEEL the beans being ground into powder. After a couple years of daily use, I can tell a lot about the freshness of the beans and the fineness of the grind by the amount and type of resistance coming up through the crank. This kind of tactile feedback is hard to quantify, but for me it goes hand in hand with the whole manual lever machine approach -- there is a kind of zen to hand grinding the beans. And, if you are making espresso for guests it is an impressive addition to the preparation ritual.
In terms of grind quality the Zassenhaus has consistently given me the super-fine evenly granulated powder that my machine requires. I can watch the adjuster knob as I grind the beans, and adjust it on the fly if it slips a little over the course of grinding (which it does, but only ever so slightly). It is very well built -- all of the metal parts are beautifully machined and fit together with no play. And the burrs at the heart of the grinder are as good as anything that I have seen.
One subtle but significant positive that I have noticed is that due to the slow speed of manually grinding the beans, the ground coffee is not heated by the grinding process. As a result I find that I can pull "sweeter" shots using the Zassenhaus than I have been able to with my Father's identical espresso machine paired with his high quality motorized burr grinder. It is a subtle thing, but I think it is noticeable.
Another plus is that there is very little wasted coffee with the Zassenhaus -- I am able to grind just enough to fill my portafilter. As a result I haven't been throwing away nearly as much of my precious Stumptown Hairbender as I was when I had a motorized grinder.
The tradeoff is, of course, the manual element of the whole grinding process. It takes 2-3 minutes to produce enough super-fine ground espresso to top off my La Pavoni's relatively small double shot portafilter basket. As a manual lever machine user, this process has become integrated into my espresso ritual: turn on the Pavoni to warm it up, grind, dose and tamp the the coffee, and by that time the machine is nearly warm. Then again, my morning coffee ritual takes 20 odd minutes, so if you are into rapid fire shots this is the wrong grinder for you.
The only annoyances and frustrations have come form the wood cabinet which houses the stelar metal components. After sitting on a wet counter, the base of the little cabinet warped and partially detached itself from the rest of the cabinet. The base is apparently secured with some type of wood staples and when the base warped, one edge pulled loose, and now spills a small amount of grounds on the counter when I use it. A minor annoyance, but this issue is the only thing which has tarnished an otherwise unblemished user experience. My advice is to put some rubber feet on the bottom as soon as you take it out of the package so as to give it some grip, and elevate it above spills.
Purchased "lightly used" off of eBay for about half of the MSRP. Smooth and easy transaction, like with most Powersellers.