Here at York Coffee Emporium, we often get asked about the best espresso preparation methods for home use, which don't break the bank.
So, we decided to do some testing! We contacted some of the best known manufacturers of home grinders and asked them to send us one of their machines, so we could put them to the test!
The Zassenhaus Lima Coffee Grinder
We are pleased to be stocking the Zassenhaus Lima coffee grinder which is ideal for home use and the grinding mechanism is guaranteed for 25 years. It is a great hand coffee grinder that has been built to grind coffee the perfect way!
A Zassenhaus coffee mill gives consistent uniform grind for coarse to powder fine with the least possible heat build up to protect the most delicate flavours of the coffee. The grinding mechanism is guaranteed for 25 years.
THE COFFEE GRINDER TEST
In the object of fairness, we decided to set some benchmarks. Espresso grind is notoriously hard to achieve from cheaper grinders - so of course, this was the challenge we set our grinders! We used our main commercial grinder and espresso machine to set the criteria which were as follows:
1: To achieve a 20-25 second espresso extraction from our commercial espresso machine.
2: To achieve the crema and flavour balance which had been achieved using our commercial grinder.
We decided in the name of fairness that we would judge on flavour and extraction overall.
The control results were as follows:
Grinder: Mahlkonig Vario (see here for calibration technique thank you to home-barista.com!)
Espresso Machine: Gaggia D90
Extraction: 24 seconds
Grind Particles: See the photo: excellent particle size consistency from the Vario
Espresso Flavours: The coffee used for calibration and for testing would be our popular South American blend, which is a sweet, cocoa and caramel blend capable of providing consistent and forgiving results.
Crema: Hazelnut golden, thick, stretches to edge of cup.
The following grinders were used in the test:
Zassenhaus Coffee Mill Santiago - Kindly provided by Zassenhaus.
Stellar Manual - Kindly provided by Judge and Stellar.
Dualit Grinder 75002 - Already owned.
Cusinart - Kindly provided by Cusinart.
Judge Electric Flat Blade - Kindly provided by Judge and Steller.
Let's Start with the Manual Grinders.
Zassenhaus Santiago - RRP £89.99
The first thing that strikes you about the Zassenhaus is its slinky, ergonomic design. Hand grinders can be a real workout, so its great to see that Zassenhaus have thought about this, and designed a hand grinder which actually has ease of use at the core of its design! It is designed to fit between your knees when grinding, so you can be seated at the kitchen table reading the paper whilst preparing your weekend morning coffee, instead of giving your arms a pre-brew workout! It looks attractive too - the real wooden casing has a quality look and feel, and the stainless steel makes it reassuringly heavy. This is a grinder to buy and cherish for life (then passing it on to your children!)
This manual coffee grinder has a steel mechanism, so it is solid, hard wearing and provides good consistency - according to the side of the box. Upon close inspection, we find the grinder houses a conical burr made 100% of steel, no aluminium in sight (as you would hope for the price!). To adjust the grinder, the user turns the locking nut clockwise or anti-clockwise as required.
Expecting to find the grinding process long, tough and laborious (as most hand grinding sessions are!) we were pleasantly surprised here. Although no-one can argue with the "long" part of this statement, the grinder has a longer than average handle, which makes turning the mechanism easy, especially when seated with the grinder tucked between your knees. And also, one could argue that the process is far from laborious too, as yes, grinding even 30g for a few espresso shots took a good few minutes, but the hand grind movement was actually quite therapeutic!
The Zassenhaus is certainly capable of grinding from powder fine up to cafetiere without a worry.
A crucial note is that the grinding mechanism of the Zassenhaus is designed to avoid applying too much heat to the ground coffee, which has a massive impact on retaining the flavour profile of the espresso. This, as roasters, we like very much.
Grind Consistency: Very good. 4/5
Particle Size: Consistent. (PIC) 4/5
Espresso shot: 26 seconds, caramel golden crema. 4/5
Flavour: Sweet, cocoa and caramel – worth the wait! 5/5
Conclusion: Consistent, good quality coffee grounds produced, but lengthy process! 4/5
Stellar Coffee Grinder - RRP £30.00
Not ones to be impressed by the rule that more expensive always means better, we wanted to try as many budget ranges as possible, so we're pleased to receive the stainless steel Steller. Steller have been making kitchen equipment for a long time, and they are just starting to push their coffeeware. We were impressed by the visual of this grinder, its small footprint and its lightweight feel. But could such a light grinder cut the grinding mustard?
The grinding mechanism consists of ceramic conical burrs, which look acceptable enough. However, the grind settings are difficult to change due to the locking nut being in an awkward position, so set up is tricky. Another awkward area in the design is the short grind handle; this makes turning the mechanism pretty hard work, and if you were grinding for a 12 cup cafetiere even the strongest coffee fan will be sweating with the effort by the end!
However, once you get it right, the burrs do their job fantastically, and the consistency of the grind, even at espresso level, is impressive for a £30 piece of kit. The only downfall is how hot the grinds get - touching your finger to them after grinding and they feel red hot, and this, unfortunately, is apparent in the espresso flavour.
Grind Consistency: Excellent 4/5
Particle Size: Consistent. (PIC) 4/5
Espresso shot: Struggled with consistency due to difficulty with settings, best shot was 30 seconds, dark hazelnut, clumping crema. 2/5
Flavour: Sadly lacking the sweetness and depth, as the heat stripped much of the flavour. 2/5
Conclusion: Needs some work on reducing the heat, but then again, it is only £30.00. 2/5
Testing the Electric Coffee Grinders
Dualit 75002 Grinder - RRP £85.99
Dualit knows a fair bit about kitchen gadgets, and their coffee grinders don’t disappoint. It has a small, sleek footprint and its compact design means it fits easily on the worktop. The hopper can hold about 250g of beans, and it grinders straight into a small plastic tub which can easily hold enough for a 12 cup cafetiere. Unfortunately, this part suffers from ground coffee’s fatal enemy – static. I understand however that there is a newer model available since this review, so this may eradicate the static issue.
The Dualit can produce grind from espresso to cafetiere, and although the grind settings aren’t totally accurate as they work on a sliding circular scale, they produce a great result which can be altered as necessary, dependant on the coffee you are using. The grinder is easy to use and works on a timer system, so you can grind as much or as little as you need without having to keep your finger on the grind button.
The grinder advertises having a "keep cool" grinder function, which basically means the conical ceramic burrs move at a slower pace to ensure they do not heat up the ground coffee. This works very well, and the flavour is maintained perfectly as the beans stay cool the whole way through the grinding process.
Grind Consistency: Very good. 4/5
Particle Size: Consistent. (PIC) 4/5
Espresso shot: Spot on - 25 seconds and crema a thick, hazelnut brown. 4/5
Flavour: Lack of heat generated means all flavours from the blend are present. 5/5
Conclusion: Good price, great consistency, great flavour. 5/5
Cuisinart Burr Coffee Mill - RRP £50.00
This mid-range coffee grinder is, at first sight, a good find. The footprint is a good size, the hopper can hold 250g and even better, it has a five-year manufacturer’s warranty, which is impressive. The construction of the body is brushed stainless steel and looks the part, but this is let down slightly by the number of plastic additions. The hopper and the grind casing are both plastic, as are the buttons and settings, which leads to Static based issues.
Having used this grinder a few times, I have to say it got better in terms of consistency with each use. Initially, it started off with varying results when attempting to grind for espresso, but after about half a kilo the grind begun to stabilise and "bed in". This is probably due to the "flat" steel burrs, which would need more wearing in than conical burrs.
There are 18 different notched grind settings, The espresso grind was OK, not as consistent as we would like, even by the end of our testing, but it may be that it improves with use as the burrs season.
The only real problem here was with the static - it can get quite messy with the coffee grounds when using this grinder; so care is needed and a good vacuum cleaner.
Grind Consistency: Average/above average
Particle Size: Reasonable
Espresso shot: Fast, due to the inconsistency of the grind, roughly 18-20 seconds on average, with a pale crema.
Flavour: Slightly bitter, and underdeveloped.
Conclusion: Messy, average grind, but got potential and great value. 3/5
Judge Electric Blade Grinder - RRP £19.99
Another one from Judge, this time an entry-level blade grinder for the complete novice. I would not recommend a blade grinder normally due to the harshness of the blade on the beans, but Judge kindly sent us one and so it is only fair to test it out. I, admittedly, would use this kind of tool for spices rather than coffee. The design is sleek and ergonomic, fitting in the hand easily whilst you pulse the blades, which are stainless steel. The body is a toughened plastic. There is a retractable cord too, which makes it tidy when in the kitchen.
As this is a blade grinder it works by slicing the beans into particles, then continuing to slice into them, rather than crushing them, like a burr grinder. This means a great deal of heat is inflicted on the beans, especially with the fast motor housed in this model! Again, I would love this if it were grinding my nuts or spice, but I feel it’s a little too brutal for coffee. The finer grind you want, the longer you pulse it. Simple. (It also has indicators that let you know when the grind is coarse, medium or fine)
Naturally, the result is extremely inconsistent and the beans very hot, and the grinder struggled to deal with larger quantities of beans (and by this, I mean 50g plus).
Grind Consistency: below average
Particle Size: below average, lots of variation, especially the finer you attempt. The grind got hot to touch too the longer you ground.
Espresso shot: No shot attempted on the Gaggia but could be ok for home-based espresso machines.
Conclusion: Perfect tool for spices, nuts or breadcrumbs, but not gentle enough for coffee snobs. 1/5 for coffee. 4/5 for other purposes due to its speed, functionality and tough blades.
When reviewing domestic grinders, it is always crucial to contextualise the findings. Our control grinder, the Mahlkonig Vario, has an RRP of almost £400, which is over four times more than the most expensive grinder reviewed here. And that still does not have the consistency, reliability and stamina of a larger commercial grinder, such as its bigger brother, the Mahlkonig K30. This would set you back up to about £1500.
So, to expect a machine for £30 to produce the same results as a commercial model is naïve and unrealistic. What we would expect, however, is for it to produce a consistent and good quality grind for light home use, hence why we were only measuring on the basis of a few shots.
What we can say for certain, is that ANY home grinder is better than buying pre-ground coffee, which will go stale in hours, regardless of what the packet says. Even on the tightest budget, you can buy your own beans. Buying freshly roasted coffee beans and grinding them to order - yes, even with a blade grinder! - is better than keeping an open packet of pre-ground coffee in the fridge, and as you save up you can easily upgrade your set up.
In conclusion, we would have to say, based on our testing, that our preferred choice would be the Dualit coffee grinder, but if you were looking for a more tactile coffee experience, then the Zassenhaus will be the one for you. And finally, for the budget option – go for the judge Blade Grinder, but if you get this, use it for coarse ground coffee, so it produces the least amount of heat to retain as much flavour as possible. And whatever you do, don't grind your spices in the same grinder as your coffee, or you could end up with some flipping awful flavour profiles.
Coming in the next few weeks, home espresso machine review!