Grinders

Grinders

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The grinder is really the business end of the coffee setup. If you’ve got a good grinder, you don’t need an amazing machine to make nice coffee. If you’ve got an average grinder, though, you’re going to struggle to get great output.

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Our first on demand grinder was a Mahlkonig K30. We really liked at the time – it was portable and easy to carry around, the delivery into the portafilter was good and the 64mm burrs really overperformed – they made nice espresso for their size. It was a pain to clean, though, and when we put new burrs in it kept stalling. The later versions had a more powerful motor, but it was a real issue with this one.

That prompted us to think about changing grinders. The Nuova Simonelli Mythos One was starting to get some serious props in speciality circles, and we got a deal on one that had been lightly used at the London Coffee Festival.

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The Mythos is a top piece of kit and there’s good reason its become the default speciality grinder. Grind quality is great, it’s easy to clean (except behind the rotating burr) and with its partially hidden hopper it looks cool. If you see a Mythos and a Linea, you’ve got a decent indicator that the shop takes its coffee seriously.

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The Mythos has a few things that make it unusual; the clump crusher, the heated area on the front of the grinder, and the angled burrs.

The clump crusher gives Mythos its impeccable delivery into the portafilter. It’s basically a small piece of plastic, cut to make a couple of flaps that sit across the exit chute. However, the clump crusher is a bit fickle, and if it’s not seated perfectly it throws off your both in terms of quality (clumping) and repeatability of dose.

Pete Garcia from VA Machinery gave a talk at a Mythos 2 launch party in Glasgow and said that the clump crusher should be viewed as a consumable the way a group gasket is: it’s going to need replaced every so often. To me, it seems a bit odd that the effective operation of a grinder with a list price of over £2,000 comes down to a flappy bit of plastic that looks and feels like it was cut from a bottle of juice. The clump crushers get easily damaged when cleaning; a well meaning barista putting a chopstick up the chute to clear ground coffee out can wreck havoc on your grinder. And the screws that hold the clump crusher in round off so easily. When it works, it works great, but it needs a bit of maintenance.

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The Clima Pro system in the grinder “manages the temperature in the milling chamber, using a cooling system that starts automatically as soon as the sensor detects the need. It is a simple solution, but one that brings great advantages for quality extraction.”

The heated burrs should, in theory, help to mitigate the phenomena of having to adjust your grind as you get busier and busier and your burrs heat up so shots run faster and faster and you go finer and finer. The Mythos burrs are always ‘up to temp’, so there should be minimal adjustment needed throughout the day.

Initially this worked really well; you could dial in in the morning and that would be it – no chasing the grind during the day.

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At the time, we worked in some challenging environments, like twice monthly popups in a working bakery, and doing coffee service in a pop-up restaurant. In these, temperatures would get pretty extreme and the front of the Mythos just kept getting hotter and hotter. We’d end up having to go almost to zero to keep shots in reasonable parameters and a couple of times the grinder decided enough was enough and it needed a break.

When we moved into the shop, where the temperatures weren’t quite as extreme, we still found the grinder got super hot. The silver part on the front got almost too warm to touch. We latterly ended up running the grinder with the heating element unplugged which seemed to help, but having to disable a feature that was supposed to be a big advantage seemed a bit daft. Pete from VA Machinery said there might have been an issue with the element that meant it wasn’t cutting out when it sensed it was hot enough.

The Mythos was also touted as a super low retention grinder (Nuova Simonelli claim less than a gram retained between doses). Unlike most grinders where the burrs sit horizontally, the burrs (and motor) in the Mythos are mounted at an angle to reduce the amount of retention. It works well, with minimal dynamic retention between the burrs and the exit chute. The static burr easily comes off with four screws though, so giving it a decent clean is simple enough. It does, however, get a bit messy behind the rotating burr – and that isn’t particularly easy to remove. Built up coffee behind here can cause a few issues with the grinder, so it is worth getting the burr carrier off every once in a while for a deep clean.

Adjusting the time is nice and easy, using the arrows on the front of the grinder to change the setting for the dose that’s currently selected. Ours didn’t have ‘barista mode’ (or ‘stop and go grinding’ as it’s sometimes called) – it was a pretty early version, and later versions do have this, though. [Someone told us all Mythos (Mythii?) have stop and go, so maybe we just weren’t hitting the right buttons to activate it]. This meant to top up a dose you had to change from dose one (6.xx secs) to dose 2 (0.2x secs) and blip a couple of times, then cycle from dose 2 back through to dose 1 for your next shot. It was a bit clunky for workflow.

We’d had the Mythos a couple of years, and the frustrations of the clump crusher and doubts about the heating element made us wonder what else might be up to the job.

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The Anfim SPII was a relative newcomer but looked pretty attractive; the burrs matched the Mythos for size (and they were coated too). Although the Mythos is ever present in the speciality scene, a few notable cafes have Anfims on their bars, going about their thing discretely.

Out the box, it didn’t feel as premium as the Mythos in terms of build quality. It’s lighter, and the plastic grinds tray feels a bit cheap. The grinder does cost less than the Mythos (the list price is a touch over £2,000 compared to almost £2,300 for the Mythos, but it’s still a higher end grinder and the tray feels a bit incongruous.

The adjustment is by worm drive and is super accurate. It’s nice and visible, running across the bottom of the hopper. There’s no danger of being clumsy and making too coarse an adjustment. It’s repeatable. It’s a nice system. The grind doesn’t tend to swing about much during the day, with only small adjustments needed but you can easily keep on top of this on a shot by shot basis. The downside of this type of adjustment is that it takes a long time to make big changes, but you rarely need to do that.

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For anyone who’s used a K30 or Peak, the portafilter holder on the Anfim will look familiar. They’re good parts so it’s nice to see some sharing amongst the Ditting/Mahlkonig/Anfim family. Delivery into the portafilter is awesome too, with a fluffy pile of grinds landing in the middle of your basket every time.

The secret behind this delivery is the Anfim’s clumpcrusher. It’s made of metal, resembles a coil / corkscrew and sits right in front of the exit chute. It’s not going to break, and comes off easily for cleaning.

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The first thing you notice when you grind a dose on the Anfim is the noise – it’s loud. It’s like a tank, albeit one that crushes beans into lovely evenly sized chunks. It’s built for grinding, and that’s its job. It wasn’t until we got the Anfim that we appreciated how quiet the Mythos was (and the VA branded ones are even more quiet). For a small shop like ours, where there are seats against the counter where the grinder is, this is a pretty big factor).

Grinding on the Anfim is great (noise aside); it’s quick and the portafilter switch is really responsive; if you need to top up, a blip of the switch gets you a small amount immediately. On the Mythos, there’s a bit of lag before the grinder starts which can make it a bit tricky. It has stop and go so there’s no need to flick between doses to top up, and it resets delivery after five seconds so you don’t need to push a button to tell it you want a full dose next time.

To adjust the dose you hold the button for the single or double dose for five seconds, and you can then program using the up and down arrow – first for seconds and then for tenths of seconds. It needs a few more button pushes and is a bit more cumbersome than the Mythos. While the timer on the Mythos goes to 1/100th of a second compared to 1/10th for the SPII, in practice we don’t find we miss the extra resolution. The position of the screen makes it slightly harder to see than the Mythos, but you don’t need to look at it very often.

The hopper is held on with three screw caps which are a bit fiddly and we can see going missing at some point. If you want to get the top burr off for cleaning, remove the adjustment lever (held on with two allen bolts) which then lets you unscrew the static burr carrier. You can give the grinder a decent clean from here, but like the Mythos you’ll probably want to get the rotating burr off every once in a while for a deep clean.

Retention on the Anfim is higher than on the Mythos. It holds way more between the burrs and the exit chute (where the clump crusher works its magic). There’s probably about 10-15g backed up in there, and when we did a deep clean recently we measured about 25g retention overall. For day to day cleaning, the spout comes off with two bolts and you can then get most of the coffee out the chamber by running the grinder. There’s a switch to do this at the bottom of the grinder which is a nice touch, and means you can keep your fingers away from spinning burrs.

Quality of espresso is pretty similar between both grinders; they’re both 75mm Ti coated burrs, and you can push coffees pretty hard and still stay in the tasty zone.

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As a final curveball, our friends at Craft House Coffee kindly lent us their Mahlkonig Peak for a while. We were curious about the Peak given we’d started with a K30; it would be interesting to see if the annoying things about the K30 had been fixed. The lack of uptake of the Peak was a bit of a mystery; it arrived on the scene with great fanfare, massive burrs and a lot of hype, but it’s still pretty rare to see them out in the wild. Maybe the eye watering price tag (£3,095) has something to do with that.

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The Peak looks great, super stealthy and like it means business. It has a cool LED which shines on the portafilter holder which you can customize in colour to match your scheme; obviously we made it pink.

Adjustment is the same as the K30 in that you unscrew a retaining knob and then make adjustments via the top case. Although it feels like this would give you a lot of scope for adjustment, compared to the Mythos and the Anfim it feels a bit unrefined. Calibration is better than the K30 (you don’t need to take the lid off), but unfortunately cleaning is still a pain.

The grinder is quiet, and delivery into the portafilter is a big fluffy pile – so fluffy it’s actually a bit messy. With the Peak we found our counter got a lot more coffee on it than with the other two grinders.

Adjusting the dose is pretty simple, long pressing the dose button and then selecting the time via the buttons. We didn’t find the timer especially consistent, and we were having top up a lot manually. For topping up, it was better to set your single dose button to 0.1 second – using stop and go for this was a bit clunky and you’d often get way more than you needed. You always have to push the button to ‘cancel’ that dose once you’re done, too – compared to the Anfim which cancels a partial dose automatically, this feels like it shouldn’t be necessary.

We’ve heard a lot of reports of Peaks jamming like the K30 did, but it didn’t happen to us in the time we had it on the bar. For such an expensive grinder, we’d expect the motor to be sufficiently powered to handle anything we want to throw at it.

Retention seems low, but we found dialing in to need pretty big purges – shot time would swing about for a couple of shots after. On a recent Barista Hustle post, someone said they purge 100g from their Peak after making adjustments; if that’s how much is needs to properly purge, that is insane. We didn’t find it needed quite so much, but it feels bad grinding all that coffee out.

The Peak did, however, make a very tasty espresso. It wasn’t in the EK43 league, nor was it miles ahead of the Mythos or SPII, but it makes a fine cup of coffee.

Overall, there’s not loads between the Mythos and the SPII. If you don’t mind the grinder adding a soundtrack to your day, the SPII is better value and has some nice barista-friendly features. If the additional TLC the clump crusher needs to keep the grinder running smoothly isn’t an issue and you have a bit more budget, the Mythos is a great piece of kit.

Unfortunately we didn’t really get on with the Peak, and wouldn’t consider one for our bar. If there was such a thing as a quiet Anfim, or a Mythos that had a better clump crusher system though, that’d be the one.

IASH score

Mythos 1 SPII Peak
Espresso quality 4 4 5
Ease of cleaning / maintenance 2.5 4 2.5
Barista friendliness 4 4 3
Sound 5 2 4
Cost 4 5 2
IASH score /25 19.5 19 16.5

Tale of the tape

Mythos 1 SPII Peak
Width (mm) 188 220 240
Height (mm) 510 575 550
Depth (mm) 400 370 320
Weight (kg) 23 16 14
Burr size 75mm 75mm 80mm
Burr material Ti coated Ti coated Steel
Speed (rpm) 400-1000** 650 900
Motor power (w) 800 720 690*
RRP £2,280 £2,075 £3,050
Replacement
burr price
£150 £168 £520
*no official spec given
** various spin speeds are available

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