This is the category where this machine ranks very high. Iím a big fan of intelligent and innovative industrial design, and this product packs a lot of it in.
One of the most unique things about this grinder is the two different ways it can be used. See, there seems to be two camps in what is liked in grinder operation. One camp likes a simple on and off button on a grinder - turn on the switch - it grinds. Turn it off, it stops. The other camp likes the timer switch - dial the switch on, and it grinds until the dial turns back to itís off position. The folks at Baratza recognized these two "likes" and came up with a very elegant solution to appease both camps.
On the side of the Maestro is a timer switch like most other grinders in this consumer class - turn it and the machine will grind until the mechanical timer finishes its turn, going back to itís normal setting.
On the front of the Meastro is another button, a "one touch" button. As long as it is depressed, the grinder runs. What's great about this switch is this - its size and position allow you to grind straight into a portafilter, but still let you use the machine with one hand. Hold the portafilter in your hand, and let you thumb fall where it mayÖ and where it may happens to be where the button is located. Press it, and whirr, the grinds fall into your pf. Release the button when youíre done. Very sweet. Now if they only had a heavier grinder (see above), it wouldn't tip while grinding this way.
The Maestro lets you easily see the grinds buildup as you press the button. There is a bit of ďsprayĒ when grinding with this method, but not enough to be a major concern, and I attribute it more to general static than anything else.
Speaking of static, this unit is sort of weird - I'm noticing static with most of the "blended beans" I put in the unit, but most whole beans don't have any static issues. See the photo to the right for an example of some static buildup. Suffice to say, the hunt for a static free grinder in the consumer class is still on.
Operating the machine as a traditional grinder is pretty much flawless. The grinds bin fits well into its recessed area, and it works as you would expect it - either press the front button or turn the timer switch, and the machine grinds. I would say this grinder is also very fast. It is on par with the Mulino grinder (which spun at a faster rate), and faster than the Barista model from Starbucks.
All in all, operation and usability of this grinder is great. The main innovation of being able to grind one handed right into the portafilter is great, and is fairly unique in the grinder world. I score this grinder a solid 9 in terms of usability.
| Three grinders, Maestro, Mulino, and Barista, from the front. |
| Side view of the three grinders: Maestro, Mulino, and Barista. |
Mentioned heavily in this review are the main competitors for this grinder - the Starbucks Barista and the (now defunct) Solis 166 grinder. I compared the Maestro to these grinders in a head to head test to arrive at many of the stated conclusions. To recap:
Of the three products, the Maestro is the clear winner because of two key features - improved usability and a wider low to top end range in grind settings. It is also the quietest grinder in its price range, which can be a major purchasing factor for some.
On looks, it's still a toss up between the Starbucks Barista and the Maestro - the Mulino doesn't even compete.
On build, at first it seems they are all similar but the Maestro again wins with exceedingly tight tolerances in the design of the bin and lid, and one thing not mentioned yet - the Maestro has a bigger bin than the 166 / Barista model does. The Mulino has the biggest coffee bin of the three models.
When it comes to grind quality, the slow turning conical burrs tied in with the gear reduction system in the Maestro gives it a minimal edge over the Barista, which features the previous generation gear reduction system. The Maestro has a huge edge over the Mulino, which spins along at over 1200 rpms (the Maestro grinds at approximately 600rpm).
Under $200, there really isn't any better product on the market, at least not one I've tried. There is an Isomac grinder available for around $165, but availability is spotty. While I've heard both positive and negative things about the grinder, I've never seen it person or used it, so I cannot state an opinion on the Isomac.
For now, in the under $200 price range, this Maestro is the champion.