Having owned numerous grinders, both hand and electric, I can honestly say this is by far my favorite and one that I will never sell.
Electric grinders like my Mazzer Mini and Super Jolly, Macap M4D, and Baratza Vario seemed simple enough to use. The Mazzers had dosers and the others were digital doserless, each with their pros and cons. For outright simplicity, the Vario was a clear winner and also produced the best result in the cup, beating even the bigger burred Super Jolly. Of my four electric grinders, it was my favorite and the one I lived with the longest. But try as I might, the taste in the cup never quite equaled what I was served at the best cafés in the U.S. and abroad. While the machines used varied from multi-group vintage levers to beautiful Elektra heat exchangers to the latest and greatest from Synesso, Slayer, and La Marzocco, one thing stayed constant – big conical grinders. All of these cafés used either a Mazzer Robur or a Compak K-10, either dosered or doserless.
When the Orphan Espresso Pharos debuted, I figured I had to give it a shot to see if the grinder was indeed the weakest link in my gear. $250 later I had one, and when it arrived I couldn’t get it out of the box fast enough. I had it dialed in on my La Cimbali Junior within 4 shots and pulled the best shot to date on my equipment. Yes indeed, the grinder was the weakest link. Sadly though, using the Pharos was anything but pleasurable. Like many other owners, I battled drifting grind settings and found that getting the grounds out of the grinder to be a bit of an exercise in patience. To address this, owners developed modified parts to make it easier to live with, the best of which are called voodoo daddy mods, which when added to the inital cost double the price of the grinder but transform it into a far more usable machine, say the tweakers. It's likely that no one will ever declare a stock Pharos a “user friendly” grinder, but it served well to open the door for the development of a more usable, better built, better engineered hand grinder. Enter the HG One.
When word of the HG One started circulating I was a bit hesitant to the hype. I had such high hopes for the Pharos only to be extremely disappointed to the point of selling it within days of taking delivery. Paul and Craig, the designers of the HG One, did a phenomenal job of posting updates to the progress of prototype development and even lent out a prototype to get an outside user’s perspective. That spawned a thread over on HB, and along with posted videos, they showed the ease of use you could expect when using the grinder. This drew a lot of attention.
The initial price was somewhat of a punch to the gut - $850! I, and many others, thought the price was a bit high given that this is a manual grinder, but in watching the videos I looked at elapsed time needed to prepare a shot and noticed that it was only marginally slower than the Vario but much quicker than what I needed for my Mazzers. Add to that the fact that this grinder was stated to be a near-zero retention grinder, meaning if you insert 18.5 grams of beans you will get 18.5 grams out without needing to bump the machine on and off a few times to expel the remaining grinds in the chute, sweep out the throat and chute, and whack the doser numerous times to get all of the grounds out. On the HG One, turn the handle until there is no resistance and you are done. It really is that simple. That $850 price tag became more reasonable the more this grinder was scrutinized.
71mm or 83mm burrs? Both are Mazzer Robur burrs, with the 71mm burrs coming from the 115 volt Robur and the 83mm burrs coming from its 220 volt brother. While bigger usually means better, in the case of the HG One, it appears that bigger just means bigger. Users that have both sets of burrs (along with Roburs and Compak K-10s) report no discernible taste difference, with the 83mm burrs taking a little longer to grind a given quantity of beans, to the tune of about 20% longer. Honestly, I don’t think you could go wrong either way. I opted for the 71mm burrs for quicker grinding and supposedly slightly less effort required to grind, but chances are that if I’d had gone for the 83mm I’d be just as happy.
The grinder comes extremely well packaged and includes the stainless dosing cup and the tumbler. Setup takes only a few minutes, and when the directions are followed, you’ll be very close to having your grinder dialed in right from the start.
One word of caution though, the grinder is packed in foam that may cause your grinder to suffer from a high level of static for the first day. While the static level will diminish over time, it will never fully disappear. All grinders I’ve owned suffer from static, some more so than others. The bottom of the doser on my Mazzers had grounds defying gravity (static) that you would never notice until you looked underneath or moved the grinder across the counter, where they'd drop onto either the counter or tray. Same thing for the Vario, though not quite as bad. The HG One’s magnetic removable lower cone made it very easy to detect static, and the search was on to find a cure. Users have found that adding two tiny droplets of water on your beans before dumping them in the throat will cure the static, not only on the HG One but on any grinder. This technique has been coined the Ross Droplet Technique, or RDT if you'd care to read more about it by searching on Google, and is being used by many people that single dose. If you single dose, you must try this simple trick. It flat out works…on any grinder, and the tiny droplets will evaporate with the heat generated from grinding the beans, so there is no need to worry about doing any kind of damage to your beloved grinder.
I used to measure the retention on the HG One, weighing every single dose in and out, but after weeks of seeing the same result – less than .1 grams deviation – there was simply no need to measure any longer. Dosing 18.5 grams in will always yield 18.4 – 18.6 out. No other grinder I've ever used or owned was anywhere near that consistent. Simply put, you get out what you put in.
Having said all that, no grinder is perfect, so let’s look at the downsides of the HG One. For starters, it’s big and heavy. While these traits are almost moot in a home setting, this is not a grinder I’d want to take on a road trip, though some owners do. For that I have two vintage hand mills – a PeDe and a Zassenhaus – that perform well enough and are far more portable to accommodate one of my Creminas for a road trip. Secondly, the price might place it out of reach for some of you. While $850 isn’t exactly cheap, the performance, ease of use, and build quality definitely help justify the price tag. Finally, to realize true zero retention you will need to employ the RDT method mentioned above.
In closing, if I had to do it all over again I’d make the exact same choice. I was very fortunate to get on the waiting list before the initial run of ~130 sold out. At the time of this review, Paul and Craig are producing the second batch, which may also be sold out. If you have the chance and are fortunate enough to be able to own one, you will not be disappointed. To date, I have not seen one come up for sale. That alone says it all.
Paul and Craig are first class. I got follow-up emails from them to check on my satisfaction and to see if they could answer any questions I had. I can't remember how long I had to wait to get the grinder, but I constantly got emails with updates of production and shipping statuses. They really set the bar for others to follow.
Three Month Followup
Like I said in my 3 Month Followup, the only downside for anyone into handgrinding is the height. At just over 17" tall, it doesn't fit under my cabinets. Grind quality that can equal the electric big boys at a reduced cost. If hand grinding is for you and you want the best available and have the space for it, this may the the one for you.
One Year Followup
Handgrinding is something you either love or hate. If you like it, I don't think there is a better hand grinder out there. However, the process to some is tedious, and for me it got old after about 6 months. I found myself using it less and less and started to miss my on demand grinder. I went back to on demand which put the HG One in rarely use mode. After looking at it eating up a ton of counter space and not getting used I decided to part ways with it. If I'm honest, I don't miss it at all. It's not that it's a bad grinder, just that the whole routine to get the best out of it took a fair amount of time, and when you are grinding 5 shots or more a day, it tends to wear on you, or at least it did me.
I think this grinder is best suited to lever users, not because it fits the grinder, but because it fits the person. If you love using a lever, the HG One's routine is probably more of a suitable fit.
If at all possible, try this grinder before you buy it. If you buy it and decide it's not for you, relax knowing the resale value is quite high for espresso gear, so while you will lose some money, you won't lose much. They have been popping up more and more on the used market as users grow tired of the routine, so if you pick up one used, you may be able to try it at no risk, giving you the option of selling it for at or near your purchase price. Just something to keep in mind ...