Mazzer Mini E versus Macap MC4 (a personal view)

Mazzer Mini E versus Macap MC4 (a personal view by Paul L)

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How much is a good grinder

One of the rules of thumb I expect we all live by is to try and avoid false economy and short-termism. It generally leads to moving on and losing money in the process. The trouble is, when we 'don't know what we don't know' we have no idea whether we are buying an item which will give us that marketing promise of 'many years of pleasure' or if we will become dissatisfied.

In my days of high street & supermarket packs of roasted beans (in other words stale) I used a cheap blade grinder. I read about their inadequacy in various coffee forums and, with some relief, time and time again the word was that a Macap was every bit a rival to a Mazzer Mini or Mazzer Mini E. So I went the whole hog and bought a Macap MC4 in 2005.

At £225 if I recall correctly (currently in late 2007 the GBP:USD exchange rate would make this about $450) this was a really significant decision but obviously it was still a significant saving against a new Mazzer Mini (£300+) or Mazzer Mini E (£380). If you read this as a newcomer, you will probably be picking yourself off the floor at this point as this was probably more than yours and my first proper coffee machines put together!

Of course, I had no idea of the limitations of my first consumer Gaggia and was yet to discover back to back shot pulling, no waiting for temperature changes between coffee and milk, pressure relief to stop coffee sneezing all over your kitchen and all the joys of E61 HX machines, double boilers and rotary pumps and so on. I moved to a Pavoni before this which was another learning experience altogether.

An opportunity to get hands on with both

Some 18 months after buying my Macap, I then hit a particular coffee crossroads all over again when getting together with Dave alternately at his place and mine. It meant he regularly saw and used the Macap and I did likewise with his Mazzer Mini E. Either right tup-front or somewhere down the line we wonder how the two brands compare and usually have only the internet to shape our view.

I'll be honest, I was struck by the no-nonsense operation of the doser-less Mazzer against my doser Macap and this was not something I felt had come out of the mountain of information on the web at that time. If it was there perhaps I could not relate to it at that time. From reviews, I had assumed Macap had brought value to the market with their cheaper pricing and that Mazzer was over-priced (probably trading on their name and global coverage in cafes) but now I was not so sure.

At the time I chose my Macap, I had decided that the price differential was not justified. It has to be said this was based on web-lore and reviews only but the saving was just too good to ignore. How did I feel once I had the opportunity to get hands on with both alternately for some weeks?

Well, I sold my Macap and bought a Mazzer Mini E.


I had 3 reasons:


Firstly, I found the doser-less Mini E operation much better for my home use than my doser Macap. With the Macap, I had to grind into the doser, pull the lever on the doser to move the coffee into the basket and basically mess about to get it right. Like other owners, I had the choice of leaving all the grinds everywhere or removing them so that I always drank fresh coffee. I did not want stale coffee building up so I vacuumed out the grinder and doser after every use. Maybe excessive on my part and we get used to our routines to th epoint of not thinking about them but the grinder comparisons continuousl showed me this was a chore.

Did it matter? On one level, no. On another, it did because it meant guesswork and inefficiency. In contrast, with the Mini E design you pay for the privilege but you get to grind the amount you want straight into the basket. You cut out the doser completely and the funnel sits above the basket so the whole operation is cleaner. (Note, there is no such thing as no mess coffee so you will still get some stray grinds on your surface). The version of the Mini E with buttons on the funnel is fantastic in use and gives you great control. (I think this is type A and the other type B which uses a button you press with the portafilter is not as controllable as it is more limited).

Was this enough of an issue to change grinder? On it's own, probably, the convenience is fantastic for the home user with our small quantities relatively. Enough to sell a Macap and effectively add another £100 to the buying decision. Perhaps not. When enthusiasts consider a Mini E this aspect is probably the one they base their decision on but I felt the next two were equally important.

Perceived quality

Secondly, the engineering of the Mazzer was better in my view. I'm not talking about the styling, plastics of the hopper or even the solidity of the body which is great with both brands. I'm talking about the grinding mechanisms, the business part up in the throat of the grinders. Basically, those sessions with Dave meant we were often adjusting the grind to suit whichever coffees we were using. Having adjusted the Macap, we frequently found when adjusting back to a previously used grind that it was not the same. That point is worth pausing on as I did not read this anywhere on the web… … …

It meant you could not reliably move away from a grind and move back to it confident that your extraction would come out the same. I don't know why, perhaps there is play in the springs holding the burrs. I only know that if you use different coffees this can become a chore.

In contrast, altering the Mazzer and going back to a grind setting was always consistent. In other words, it gave confidence and meant that if you mentally noted a grind for a particular bean or blend you could rely on it.

Now, I'll be honest, this was a real surprise as theory said it should be the other way around. My Macap had 'stepped' adjustment so whilst it do not have absolute stepless adjustment one would assume each click would be accurate and take the guesswork or play out of adjustments. The Mazzer had 'stepless' adjustment meaning the only accuracy when adjusting was your eyes and your fingers on what is known to be a stiff collar (incidentally pushing down on the narrow collar makes this easier). It wasn't like this though which is why I can only assume it is the engineering or spring set-ups.

Was this enough of an issue to change grinder? Yes, definitely for me, the kind of issue that allows you to trust a tool or not. Of course, it's all about whether you regularly or rarely change the grind in your use but longer term draws you to a precision tool and reinforces your buying decision.

The grind in the cup (or basket)

Thirdly, I preferred the grind of the Mazzer. Now, please note that I did no empirical taste tests, no back to back, group tests or blind tastings. In other words, I don't want to mis-lead on this which is a personal and subjective view. Oh, and no microscope analysis, I'm serious, you can find some coverage out there on one or more coffee forums where folks have taken grind analysis to this extreme.

My subjective perceptions were that the Mazzer produced a fluffier, flakier grind which naturally fell into a basket as a cone and could be ground coarser and yet tamp down really nicely. A Macap grind felt harsher and more resistive to me. As I say, don't shoot me for this, it's a personal opinion.

Did this translate to the cup? Well, I felt that extractions were more 'gloopy' cones of crema than before. I'll add that with fresh coffee (this is a prerequisite of course) it was good before but I felt there was a difference.
Was this enough to change grinder? Yes, this alone would have done it for me too.

So, when I first started appreciating the two grinders side by side I found my Macap frustrated me more and more and the expensive Mini E looked increasingly like something I would appreciate for years.

Some people either don't like or have frustrations with both of these grinders

In the interests of impartiality, some of our Coffeetime forum members want to conduct some back to back taste tests between their Macap and Mazzer grinders and I hope they do. I also want to point out that some enthusiasts don't like certain Mazzer design features and that others swear by even more expensive conical burr machines from Macap, Mazzer or others. Check the size of such machines before setting your sights on them though, they're not small!

To sum it up

The build quality and basic engineering and choice of materials of these machines ooze quality in many areas. With the Mazzer my personal view is that the grinding mechanism, spring arrangement, burr design and adjustment tolerances instil more confidence although I see no reason why either brand would let you down in reliability. 10 years has to be a conservative estimate on lifespan (unless commercial posters chime in to the contrary). I see no reason why you should not have a grinder of this quality for life.

I started by talking of false economy and short-termism so let me finish there. An item like a Mazzer or Macap give the impression that they will outlast you and will be happily spinning with the occasional burr change from time to time (I haven't checked but suspect Dave will have a separate article on common sense of how not to damage your burrs or simple checks so that you don't blunt them in everyday use by not checking what you put through them).

If you started with a Macap as I did and find yourself pondering over a change to a Mazzer is the change worth an extra £140 give or take a few pounds either way plus the £100 you lose on your Macap sale? It's an entirely personal thing. If I thought I would change grinder again then no but in the longer term definitely.

Hopefully this will make the decision making a bit easier if you find yourself at this particular grinder crossroads by giving you an insight to considerations which are not at first obvious and which may be important to you.