So...why would anyone buy a $1000 manual grinder?
For me, what this grinder offers most is a completely visceral experience when I make my favorite drink. To the casual coffee drinker, manually grinding your own coffee may be considered tedious. But using this grinder is truly a labor of love for me and those who own one. Making coffee is usually a mundane ritual most of us initiate half-asleep, only to be rudely awaken by the unnerving sound of a motorized grinder. With the HG One, my blood starts to pump, waking me up with each stroke of the grind wheel, engulfing myself in swaths of aroma emanating from the vortex of grinds flowing out of the funnel. The smell opens my eyes, and just by the tactile feedback through the grind handle, the grinder tells me about the state of my beans. As I continue to grind away, I produce a gentle crackling, grinding sound like playing an instrument. It's almost sensory overload. It truly is a blast to use. And once broken in, a grinder of this caliber will produce the best possible results because it employs the same commercial-grade 83mm burrs used in he Mazzer Robur grinder, costing upwards of $3000 or more. A $1000 hand grinder may sound expensive but one way to look at it is being able to own a grinder with the highest quality burrs for far less than having to buy a commercial grinder, which you will have paid for the expensive electronics and motor that you don't really need. They were designed for commercial volume production, not for home use. And being that it is electronic, there is a higher chance of failure than a non-electric, manually-operated hand grinder that will last for generations.
About the grinding burrs---While I had read that Mazzer's current production of their Robur grinders are shipped with pre-seasoned burrys in their machines, the burrs on the HG Ones are not preseasoned. While I was forewarned of this and understood that until the grinder was fully broken in it would not perform well, I didn't expect it to be THAT bad. But pulling the first few shots right out of the box was a very ugly reminder. Channeling all over the place, sour shots, bitter shots, watery shots... They all went down the sink.
So onward to seasoning the burrs. I took an interesting approach to breaking in the grinder. While researching the grinder, I had watched many videos, but one particular video produced by HG One demonstrated a well-dialed in HG One, whereby the HG One was used to grind a double shot which pulled perfectly on an Olympia Cremina. Upon close examination, I saw that it took 35 rotations to grind the 18g double shot of espresso in the 24-second grind time shown. My approach was to used this as a baseline target for my burr seasoning, while grinding 18g at a time and adjusting my grinder to ensure that it would take exactly 35 rotations to go through 18g of beans in 24 seconds, while periodically visually comparing the grind consistency with that of my perfectly dialed in grounds from my Hario Mini Slim hand grinder. The approach made sense and worked quite well. Starting out, the grinds were not quite as fine. But as the burrs got broken in, they became more efficient and would go through 18 grams quicker. So I continued to tighten the burrs to ensure I matched my target grind time and rotations. The grounds continued to get finer and finer and by the time I finished grinding through 5 pounds of stale beans (courtesy of a local coffee shop), the grind consistency was nearly identical that of my Hario. BTW, please keep in mind I'm only focusing on a visual comparison as a start and that I was not attempting to intentionally dial in the grinder. That would have to come naturally as part of the seasoning process. I will say this--while the shots I pulled right out of the box were horrible, the shots I pulled after going through this exercise (and I literally mean exercise, I think I burned 200-300 calories) were finally palatable. Also partly due to the fact that the beans I was using for my calibration shots were not as fresh as I had thought. Today I picked up a new bag of beans from Stumptown and the shots were actually very good. Certainly not anywhere close to a god shot, but I am confident I will get there with time. I don't know how long, perhaps 5 more lbs. Maybe 10 pounds of seasoning? I really don't know. But I think that is part of the fun, just knowing my shots will only get better and better.
Aside from having to season such massive burrs, another point of concern one might need to consider is the fact that the grinder can be a bit unwieldy for some people, particularly petite women. The lighter the roast, the more strength is required to operate the grinder smoothly.. My wife wanted to assist in seasoning session and struggled with the stale beans (which were medium roasted). Attempting to muscle her way through an 18 gram, the wheel siezed a few times simply because she was not strong enough to keep the grinder completely steady, thus requiring my assistance. Ultimately I had to clamp the grinder to the counter, which fixed that problem and enabled her to really leverage more of her body to operate the wheel, at times using both arms. But this poses another issue... We did not want to leave the grinder mounted to the edge of the counter all the time, which would take up valuable working space for other things. Preferably, we wanted it next to our Cremina, which sat along the back of the counter against the wall. But to use the grinder, we would have to lift grinder and move it forward. And then do the opposite to put it back. Being that the HG One is roughly 30lbs, I do not see my wife doing this on a regular basis. On the flip side, she is primarily a drip coffee drinker, so the Hario Mini Slim would actually work out better for that purpose, given I do not wanto constantly adjust between two different settings.
Speaking of settings--some folks have complained about the lack of tick-marks on the adjustment column. Personally I'm very glad they left it optional with stickers, in favor of individuals that prefer a cleaner look. Of course not having them does pose a bit of a problem since adjustments need to be made from time to time to accommodate different roasts, and bean ages. Setting them back would be impossible without tick marks. To work around this, I used a silver Sharpie to mark my positions with a tiny dots on both the burr mount and collar. The marks would be essentially invisible against the bead-blasted aluminum texture, however at visible from certain angles. And easily removable with some solvent.
Anyway I'd like to go over few additional points...
On grind retention -- What went in came right now. Exactly the same measurement on my digital scale. That isn't to say the burrs are completely clean and free of grounds after each grinding. In fact the burrs will be loaded with some grounds and the burrs will always have some friction against each other unless you free the grounds completely from the burrs by spinning the flywheel several times in the opposite direction. I make it a habit to do that at the end of every grind, so as to avoid introduce old grounds in my next grind portion.
On build quality -- Simply masterful, astounding fit and finish.. Not enough good can be spoken of this. The black satin finish is anodized metal, not paint. It feels incredibly slick to the touch, not unlike the back of an iPhone 5. And the bare aluminum "bee hive" a nice matte bead-blasted finish. The shaft rotation is smooth, quiet and absolutely solid--completely free of any lateral movement. If there was any, (mimicking Jonathan Ive), it would be "measured in microns" :) The step-less burr mount has a nice dampened feel enabling you to make very fine adjustments. The entire base construction, top to bottom is solid metal, which lends to the heavy weight. The whole thing weighs 25lbs. The grab handle is nice and smooth, so long as you make sure to lubricate the steel bolt and nylon washer with the supplied grease, when installing it. . I made the mistake of forgetting this important step and suffered through some squeaking before I corrected it. The only sounds you will hear are that of the beans being crushed and grounded.
A quick note about making adjustments-- While it is pretty straight forward, you have to make them blindly (versus on-the-fly). Personally I think if the adjustments could be made on the fly, it would make dialing in the grinder immensely easier than having to stop, loosen the burr mount, make your adjustment, tightening the burr mount, and doing a test grind--only to see you've over or under rotated and will have to take another attempt at the adjustment. Just something to consider.
Additional comments on the burrs--the HG One can accommodate 83mm or 71mm burrs. Given the smaller diameter, the 71mm burr set will rotate more than the 83mm with each turn of the fly wheel, and therefore grind faster.. However HG One only sells the grinder with 83mm burrs now. I am not sure what the rationale was. Perhaps a supply issue? Or perhaps they decided to stick only to 83mm burrs because they are somehow better? we Not that it matters much in a home environment. 71mm burrs should last a lifetime as well. Also, there are 3 burr sets to choose from: Mazzer bead-blasted burrs, Mazzer TiN coated burrs and aftermarket 83mm TiN coated burrs. TiN coating supposedly offers improved corrosion resistance and grind retention (reduction), but honestly I think any of them will work just fine and choosing between one or the other is splitting hairs. Either set will last you forever. 71mm might grind with a few less strokes, but let's be honest...When you're grinding a shot at a time, it isn't going to matter much. It takes less than 30 seconds. A few more seconds of grinding with the 83mm burr set isn't going to be a deal breaker. BTW, Robur burrs, according to manufacturer specs, will optimally grind 1800 lbs of beans before needing to be replaced.
Regarding pop-corning--I did observe some stray pieces fly out of the upper funnel when I got overzealous with the grinder. Also, I noticed the faster I grinded, the less efficient each rotation became. There is a loss of efficiency somewhere when you grind faster.. I think at lower speeds, the beans flow more readily into the grinder. I found that one rotation per second or 60RPM worked best. I had no popcorning and it was fast enough to be smooth yet slow enough to be a relaxing, non-strenuous activity.
And regarding static--The incorporation of the plastic funnel wiper almost completely eliminated any retention of grinds in the funnel due to static. It works amazingly well. Removing the funnel, I saw very few grounds sticking to the inside. There was a little bit, however, on the outer lip of the bottom funnel. Not a problem as a light tap quickly dislodged them into my portafilter basket. Fortunately I found did not have to use any WDT to prevent static. The grounds were very fluffy and sat cleanly in the cup. BTW, I purchased the optional portafilter cradle for my Olympia Cremina. It fit the stock PF and also the Richard Penny PF. The only difference between the two is that the Richard Penny PF must be slid into the cradle whereas the stock PF can be placed onto the cradle. I found the cradle to be of the same superb fit and finish as the HG One--a nice compliment to the grinder, allowing the filter basket to sit directly under the funnel, reducing stray grounds. I now use a small scale which I place under the portafilter holder and that elevates the basket directly below the funnel and with literally no gap for stray grounds to go flying. The resulting heap does go up into the funnel, but because of the funnel wiper, which flattens the top of the heap, I only need a short quick jerk of the portafilter to settle the remaining grinds in the lower funnel into the basket. And a light tap on the side of the funnel dislodges the remaining grinds sticking to the lip of the funnel. The grinds sit perfectly into the basket. I give the portafilter another short jerk, then pull out the portafilter from the holder and tamp. A perfect, completely mess-free operation with no RDT required.
So.. Would I buy this again? Absolutely! Not that I'll ever need another one.