Macap is a company that's been making grinders and other food preparation equipment for a long, long time. Located in Venice, Italy, the company dates itself back to 1930, and has enjoyed a solid reputation in Italy and other parts of Europe as a quality manufacturer.
Their lineup of machines have been available in N. America for a long time, but distribution was spotty and rare, at least until recently. The company has recently taken bold steps that shows them as a forward looking company: They've moved to radically increase their market penetration in North America; they've updated their branding and product literature; and most importantly, they've been developing and introducing new products, including the subject of this First Look - the Macap M5 Doser Espresso Grinder.
We were sent a Macap M5 with the short bean hopper (which fits under most kitchen cupboards) by Vaneli's, one of the US importers of Macap machines. They currently sell the manual (on off switch only) Macap M5 for $395 in the US, and other variants of the M5 cost between $395 and $480 (our tested Chrome model is $450).
Out of the Box
Being a commercial machine, I didn't expect any fancy, shelf display style packaging with the Macap M5, and I wasn't disappointed. The machine ships in a sturdy cardboard box with spacers and good molded foam inserts that keep the machine safe and secure during shipping.
The machine is definitely a heavyweight. Out of the box, and assembled (but with no beans), it weighs over 10 kilos (about 24 lbs), and the quality of build and parts used are testament to the weight. The machine's outer body is a highly polished chromed steel, with extremely thick smoke-coloured plastic used for the doser, and a medium-thickness smoked plastic used for the hopper.
Our test machine is the "manual" model, meaning it has a straight on/off switch. The switch is covered by a soft rubber covering, which I'm not a huge fan of (Elektra does something similar with their espresso machines and grinders).
Going from top to bottom:
- The Hopper: A medium - lightweight plastic body, it features a fingerguard built halfway up the hopper, a trap door to seal off the bottom of the hopper (good for changing beans), and a large plastic cover. Good construction overall, and I like the finger guard design.
- Collar and Adjusting Dial: is beefy and is activated by pressing down on a lever on the left side. This is not a stepless grinder like the Mazzer - you have to "click" the grinder into different positions. The click ranges seem average, not too wide, but not too precise either.
- Grinding Plates: The M5 has 58mm flat burrs for slicing up beans, which is the same size as the Mazzer Mini. Well constructed and beefy in design.
- Grinder Body: Extremely heavy for its size, solid and features Macap's updated logo branding on the back.
- Doser Assembly: Is actually better than Mazzer Mini's doser in some aspects. The top portion is all plastic, but extremely thick (I havenít measured it yet, but I'd guess about 3 or 4mm thick). Fit is very tight to the grinder body. The doser itself is adjustable between 5 and 9 grams per pull. There's a finger guard which can be easily removed. There's also a "shot counter" on the side, which is actually useful to see how many times one can pull, when you're grinding only per shot (in my week of testing, the counter went from 9929 to zero, to 0942! That's over 1000 pulls of the lever in a week!)
- Dosing Lever: More sleek than other doser levers, it has a rather unique "action" or feel. Hard to describe, other than to say it almost seems pneumatic (though it isn't). Very solid and reliable.
- Dosing Fork: Looks a bit bare bones, but actually quite functional and solid - based on a thick wire of metal, bent to support most portafilters.
- Grinds Catcher: attaches to the machine by slotting one of the grinder's rubber "feet" through a hole built into the catcher. It's a tad small, and doesn't catch all stray grounds, but does catch most dribbles.
- Cord: A solid, long cord designed to power this 250W, 120V, 60Hz machine does the job. Cord comes out from the bottom of the machine, and can be positioned well to "hide" if the grinder is in an area of display.
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| Push Button |
The on off switch has a soft rubber housing covering it.
| Doser Lever |
Sleek; I got to like the "action" it provides.
| Finger Guard |
Easily removable finger guard. Also note the thickness of the doser plastic.
| Dosing Fork |
Wire heavy duty assembly, it facilitates "spinning" the portafilter while dosing.
After initial photographs were over, I brought the machine downstairs to place next to a Mazzer Super Jolly and a La Marzocco Linea, and got ready to fire it up, dial it in, and start grinding.
First Use of the Macap M5
Do I need to state this again? RTFM. Even a very short one like Macap's 2 page (per language) manual. I did. I was set to go.
First process for me when trying a new grinder is the dial in process. Damned good thing I got lots of old coffee around, because, after being so used to a stepless grinder, I had to do some serious adjustments and fine tuning of my dose to get some good first shots (my goal is 2oz total, or two 1oz shots, in 25 seconds).
Which raises a sidebar. You may not be aware of this, but in Baristi competitions, there's a cadre of judges who believe that the dose should always be the same, and only grinder adjustments should be made.
Hoooooy. That's what I say. This kind of constrictive thinking comes from cafe owners, trainers, and Baristi who work on machines like Mazzers with their stepless adjustments. Yes, in an ideal world, your dose would be identical every pull, and you'd do micro adjustments on the grinders to compensate for fast or slow pours.
But most of the grinders on the market (including this Macap) are not stepless adjustments. They are click (or preset) adjustments. And sometimes, the difference between a 23 second double and a 25 second double is half a click - something you can't adjust for, if all you're doing is adjusting the grinder and not modifying your dose.
| Dial and Doser |
The grinding dial selection is good, but coming from a stepless adjustment, you may find something is lacking.
Is this a detriment? Yes, a small one, and something I'll address in more depth in the Detailed Review. But for now, all I cared about was getting three consistent 25 second double pulls, and adjusting my dose was part of the package. Once I got this, it was time to get serious.
I grabbed a bag of 5 day old Intelligentsia Black Cat (CoffeeGeek's official coffee supplier is Intelligentsia, for all our reviews), set up half the bag in the tuned-in Mazzer Super Jolly, and half the bag in the Macap M5.
First off, grind times. The Macap is definitely slow compared to the Super Jolly, but that's to be expected. I get a sense it's faster than the Mazzer Mini, but I haven't been able test this yet. I used a Mazzer Mini at the last cupping session I did at a local roastery, and it just seemed the Macap M5 was a tad faster, but I won't know till I get the Mini out of storage in a few weeks.
The Macap's noise level is actually better than the Super Jolly. Without any beans, the two machines are both whisper quiet, but the Macap seems quieter under load (with beans grinding) - perhaps the thicker plastic, tied in with the better fit of the doser against the grinder's body plays a role here. The difference is small, but noticeable.
| Half a Double |
Shots ground with the Macap M5 showed excellent tiger flecking, and near perfect extraction levels.
Shots? Damned near identical. Tiger striping galore (it helps when you're using fresh, quality beans), tiger flecking in the cups, and I was a scant second off between the two grinders in terms of getting 2oz poured (the Super Jolly average over five pulls was 24.2 seconds; the Macap was 25.7 seconds, avg over five pulls).
But then it got interesting. I noticed that the Macap's shots seemed a tad richer in the Guinness Effect cascade, and in taste? Very close, but on a couple of the pulls, the Macap's shots seemed to eek out a slightly better overall extraction. It's way to early to tell though, and I'm also dealing with a grinder that's pulled about 1000 shots (the Mazzer Super Jolly) vs. a grinder that has pulled about 40 shots at this point (the Macap).
First days? It was looking good.
First Week with the Macap M5
As I ramped the little shot pulling counter on the side of the grinder up past 1000 (no, not 1000 shots made, but over 1000 pulls on the doser lever), I started to get a feel for what the Macap was all about.
First, a preface. This grinder got a lot of use in the first week because I had a film crew hovering over me for a couple of days, and I had to look busy on camera :) Ditto for a couple of other items being reviewed. That said, I was able to solicit some opinions of this grinder from third parties, long before I normally do focus groups or test groups.
Overall, the impression was "serious", as in "that's one serious piece of hardware". These folks were impressed by the machine's size, build, sound, and output, but also shocked by the sticker price. But, back to the first week.
I found out a couple of things about the grinder that only a couple of dozen shot pulls in succession would reveal. I guess the first thing I noticed is that there seems to be some sort of brake built into the grinding plates that activates when the power is turned off. Whereas the Mazzers will spin for some time (if there's no beans in the hopper), the Macap M5 winds down pretty quickly. This is a boon to those who are anal retentive about sweeping out the grind chute (the pathway between grinding area and the doser) - I've chopped up many a grinder brush's bristles by shoving it in there on a Mazzer with the grinding disks still spinning down.
Initially I didn't much care for the wire shape fork on the machine ("it doesn't look as impressive as a cast piece of chromed metal, like on the Mazzer!" I thought), but after using it for a week, I really like it... even more than the Mazzers' forks! Why? Because the wire fork facilitates "spinning" the portafilter to fill all areas of the filter basket - hold the handle to the left, click the lever. Hold the handle to the right, click the lever. Makes for faster, easier, and more uniform filling of the filter basket, especially when you are grinding for the shot.
I was finding myself missing the stepless grind adjustment that Mazzers have. The Macap M5 has semi tight "click" positions on its adjustment collar, but I'd like to see them even tighter. My early testing shows that one click results in about a three to four second difference in extraction times - too much for the fine tuning I've gotten used to. But I'm also a proponent of adjusting the grinder + adjusting your dose to pull off a good shot, so I fell back on the latter, and was producing amazing shots on the La Marzocco.
In fact, all week I felt that the grinder was a hair trigger better than the Super Jolly in terms of cutting beans for the best possible extraction from the machine. I could notice no physical difference in the grinds, but the Macap M5 seemed to be pulling shots that had a tad more Guinness effect, a tad more finishing crema, and a tad richer body. It was very slight, but noticeable. This could be because of the newness of the machine, and I think most people wouldn't notice any difference. The long term review will examine this more.
On aesthetics and usability, I am more or less neutral at this time - I like shiny metal things, but the Macap seemed too shiny at times. Fortunately, it's available in a range of colours - if shiny chrome isn't your speed, you have options.
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| Hopper Trap |
The trap (piece of plastic that slides into the bean hopper) works well.
| Sweeper |
Inside the doser, there's a straight metal rod that sweeps grind buildup off the walls.
| Your pusher |
The push lever that is used to change grind fineness levels.
| Limiter |
On the grind dial, this removable pole keeps you from adjusting too coarse.
The grinder did slide around on the counter a bit under heavy use; I fixed that quick by affixing more grippy rubber dots to the bottom five "feet" (you can buy these things at Office Depot for a couple of bucks). I also found myself wishing the catcher tray underneath was a bit larger, but this is a minor quibble.
My first week with the Macap M5 had me thinking this machine is a possible contender for the Mazzer Mini's crown as the ultimate in home espresso grinders.
There were some aspects that the Mazzer wins out on (notably the stepless grind adjustments), but at the end of the first week, I was liking the fork design the lever action, the wind down of the grinding plates when power is shut off, and the rich, full shots of espresso the Macap M5 was delivering to me.
The machine has the combination of super heavy quality build, a great size for home use (huge and impressive for your non-coffeegeek and true coffeegeek buddies alike, though still fits under the counter) great burr set, excellent doser design (leaves less grinds behind when compared to the Mazzer Mini), and overall, an excellent addition to the home espresso setup.
In our Detailed Review, I'll be looking at extreme esoterica, including noise comparisons, head to head shot pulling by experts (hopefully!), and long term use (500+ shots pulled), but for this First Look, things are looking good. When you can buy it for as low as $395 via our product supplier, Vaneli's Espresso Equipment, (our test model, the chrome version, is $450) this machine is a serious contender for the high end home espresso grinder market, and it's as much as $50 or more cheaper than the current undisputed king of the hill.
When people say to me, the Macap M5 Doser Grinder is a Mazzer Mini Killer, I'd look back at them and say "you could be right!"
Ed.Note: It seems almost overnight, most of the main online vendors are carrying some Macap grinders. That's actually pretty cool and such, but I ask that, if you decide on getting this grinder, remember our sponsor for this review - without their help, chances are we wouldn't have a test model to sample and evaluate.