In my recent post coffee grinder, which one?? I shared my decision making process with regard which grinder to go for, having spent quite some time sifting through the available options and narrowing it down.
As I said in that post, I had decided that a doserless grinder was right for me, and I wanted something that was easy to switch grind size for various brew methods, and that had a good enough range to do from the course grind required for cafetiere, through to drip and all the way up to grinding fine enough for espresso.
It’s also important that I can adjust the grind in small increments to allow me to be able to dial in to all the different coffee beans I’ll be trying, especially when it comes to espresso. I wanted something that looked good, that wasn’t too huge, that was fairly quiet, and of course reliable – oh and did I mention I didn’t want to pay too much for it too? I don’t want much do I? 😉
So I wanted a great grinder but I didn’t want to pay too much for it, well actually my budget was approximately zero to be perfectly honest, but I’m not going to let that stop me. Sure there are bills that need paying, but I need to be able to grind coffee, so the bills can wait, why should we pay for water and gas anyway, it occurs naturally (just kidding British Gas and North West Water, honest, if the payments fail it’s a banking error).
So anyway, I can’t afford to spend much, I certainly can’t afford the commercial end – and even if I could afford it, if I spent somewhere in the region of £500 or more on a coffee grinder, it would need to be big enough for me to live in, when my wife kicks me out of the door and launches a bag of my clothes at me (just kidding babe if you’re reading this, I know you wouldn’t bother throwing me any clothes 😉 ).
So I was looking at the entry level, but that being said I do realise that there’s “entry level”, and then there’s “entry level”, in other words as far as I was able to ascertain, for anyone wanting decent consistent results and reliability, you’re probably going to have to leave the £30-£100 range alone and head up between £150-£200. This is my opinion anyway based on doing quite a bit of research, I just came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be happy with the grinders at this level, and that I needed to “buy right, or buy twice”.
In the end I decided on the Sage Smart Grinder Pro, simply because in terms of everything I was looking for, this machine ticked all of the boxes. It’s on offer at the moment on Amazon UK by the way, which puts it among the lowest priced within the grinders I was deciding between, but I think I’d have gone for this one even if it wasn’t on offer to be honest.
So without further waffle:
Sage Smart Grinder Pro Review
After over a year of use! (See the update at the bottom of the review)
As was the case with the oracle when Sage (I should say Sage by Heston Blumenthal, but I can’t be bothered typing his name all the time – maybe I would if it was something easier like John Smith…) sent that to me on loan for a week, they box this grinder very well. It was delivered via UPS, the retail box was inside another thick box, like a Russian doll ;-).
So I opened the outer box, took out the retail box, then the smart grinder was very carefully packaged in protective moulded packaging inside this box, so they do their best to make sure it gets to the customer in one piece. That’s important, it’s a real pain in the rear taking delivery of something you’ve been waiting for, and then finding it’s been damaged by heavy-handed couriers.
There is a quick start guide in the box, which tells you the steps to take, and it’s literally a case of rinse the hopper out, rinse the grounds container out, plug it in, put coffee beans in the hopper; very simple indeed!
It comes with a nice handy heavy duty plastic air tight grounds container, and with measurements on the side, and also with two porter filter cradles. My portafilter is 58mm, so I chose the 58mm cradle, slid that in, and it locked in place thanks to the magnet on the back.
I struggled a bit at first to get the portafilter into the cradle, and then realised I was being a muppet; I just needed to put the handle to the left hand side as I do when I’m inserting the portafilter into the slots on the group head before I lock it in place, so that the bits that stick out on the side, rest on the cradle.
The knob on the right hand side adjusts the grind size. I wanted espresso grind so I turned the dial until the arrow on the LCD screen went up into the “espresso” range – can’t get much more simple than that! I pressed the “shots/cups” button to tell it to grind enough for a double shot, and this automatically set the grind time to 17.8 seconds. I could see that I can adjust the grind time with the dial on the front, and I wasn’t sure at first why I would want to do that.
Again I realised I was being a muppet, this is just the way that you adjust to grind more, or less coffee than the automatically resulting grind time based on the number of shots / cups. For example by default it grinds for 17.8 seconds for a double espresso shot, which is actually just about perfect for my 58mm portafilter and double basket, but if I found it wasn’t enough, well first I could press and hold the start/pause button to grind just a bit more – but then next time I could just adjust the grind time slightly to 18 seconds for instance.
You can actually program the grinder too, to change the amount it grinds by default per cup / shot for that particular brew method. For instance you can change it to set the default grind time for 18 seconds for a double espresso shot, without making any difference to the grind time for drip.
I adjusted the grind to 7, I was in the espresso range so I just expected to have to try it a few times to dial in with the coffee beans I was using, but at 7 with these beans, I tried it and it seemed absolutely perfect with my Gaggia classic, I didn’t even have to fine tune!
So in all, first use, really good, very simple – such a clever machine!
I continued to use the machine for a couple more days, before continuing with the review, so I now feel that I have enough experience with this grinder to start reviewing it.
I really like the way this machine looks, it’s mainly stainless steel, with a bit of black plastic on the inside. It’s a really compact machine, the footprint is only 16cm x 21cm (just over 6×8 inches), and right to the top of the hopper it’s just over 38cm (roughly 15 inches) tall, which is almost identical to my Gaggia classic in terms of height, and it means there is plenty of clearance over the top before the bottom of the kitchen wall cupboards.
Everything about it just looks classy and high quality to me, and in my opinion Sage (or Breville as they’re known outside of the UK) really know how to design slick looking machines.
Ease of use
It’s a doddle! The big knob on the right hand side controls the grind size, and you can take it straight into the desired range, i.e. into the espresso range and then test and tweak from there. You can tell the machine how many cups or shots you wish to grind, and you can very easily adjust the grind amount by turning the grind time dial as I mentioned earlier. There’s really nothing about it that requires much thought, it’s all designed very cleverly.
OK it’s a grinder so it grinds coffee beans, and allows you to change the grind size etc., as you’d expect; but it has really neat features that not all grinders have, especially at this kind of price range. One of the features I find really helpful is the pause feature, you can just pause it mid-grind, shake the portafilter, then continue the grind. The fact that when you set the grind into the espresso range it gives you a message to add the portafilter cradle, and when you set it down beyond espresso range it prompts you to remove the cradle, that’s really smart too.
The fact that it has a removable grinds catcher that you can just slide out to dump any loose grinds is a handy feature too, as is the fact that the grinds catcher and the portafilter cradles have magnets on to snap them into place. The locking and unlocking of the hopper is a really nice feature which ensures that when you lift the hopper out with coffee beans in, they don’t spill all over the place – I’ve seen that this isn’t the case with all grinders. Also the fact that it won’t grind without the hopper locked in place is a very good safety feature, I’m guessing that most grinders would have this feature but don’t quote me on that.
The fact that you can re-program the default grind time per shot or cup for each brew type I think is a very cool feature, as is the fact you can start the grind by pushing in the portafilter or pressing the start/pause button, and that you can grind freely by pressing and holding the start/pause button until you’ve ground the required amount.
I wanted a stepped grinder so that I can easily switch between different brew methods, and I’m also aware of the benefit of stepless grinders when it comes to having the ability to finely tune to be able to perfectly dial in to different coffee beans for espresso. It turns out that the smart grinder pro is actually the best of both worlds.
It’s stepped, but there are actually very small increments in between the steps, hence it’s stepped and stepless at the same time. In other words, not only are there 60 digital settings and another 10 manual settings (which are really meant for much later on when the burrs are a bit worn and adjustments need making) , but in addition, you can turn the dial in between the steps for very fine tuning.
This is something else that I think is fairly important, I noted from some of the other reviews of the various grinders I was looking at, that some of them were particularly loud, or produce a tone that makes it appear louder. I don’t think it’s possible to grind hard coffee beans silently, but the sound of the smart grinder pro grinding is not at all a deafening noise, in fact I don’t find it to be loud at all.
That being said, I am a drummer, and for many years I didn’t wear ear plugs when I really should have, and I’m a loud drummer; the guitarists in the bands I’ve been in have been just as loud, so my hearing isn’t the greatest. Joking apart though this isn’t the loudest of grinders, and I think it’s more about the tone than anything. If you watch the various reviews and comparisons, you’ll find that the smart grinder pro is usually found to be quieter other grinders.
To me, it’s plenty quick enough, and seems like hyper drive in comparison to hand grinding. It takes 8.9 seconds for example at the default settings, to grind enough coffee for a single espresso shot, 17.8 for a double. From what I can gather this is maybe just under a second slower than the Mazzer Mini, which is four or five hundred quid, so that’s not a bad comparison for a machine costing a heck of a lot less.
Something that came up often when I was researching the entry level priced grinders, was static issues, with coffee grounds for some reason getting statically charged and then sticking to everything. I didn’t see anyone complaining of this for the smart grinder pro, and I can confirm that in my case at least, there’s absolutely no issue with statically charged coffee grounds.
Again something I noted often among reviews of the lower priced grinders, was mess. This is a really clean grinder, even when I’m grinding into the portafilter which is when you’d think the grounds may miss it, it’s very rare that there’s any mess, and if there is, the grounds catcher slides out to be emptied, and then just slides back in again – and connects with a satisfying clunk thanks to the magnet on the back ;-).
This isn’t something I’ve checked under a microscope, I’ve not measured individual coffee grinds, but visually the grind size looks consistent from espresso all the way up in coarseness to cafetiere. I think it is slightly less consistent the bigger you go, but I have read that this is the case with all grinders.
I’ll come back to you on that one in a couple of years, but I am expecting this to be a very reliable machine. I’ve seen a video in which Phil Mcnight of Breville states that you should be able to grind at least 200 Kilo’s of coffee before you even need to start making any adjustments with the machine, that’s 800 bags of 225g coffee beans… so if they’re talking these kind of figures, I’m expecting that they’ve built these machines to last, that isn’t to say that my expectation is any guarantee of course – but there’s a 2 year warranty anyway.
Update. I’ve had the grinder well over a year now, and I’ve not had to make any adjustments. There was an issue at one point where the grinder starting making an odd noise, after about 8 months. I suspect that I’d ground a small rock, as it happened when I started grinding a bean I’d never tried before, although I couldn’t find anything when I cleaned it out. Sage sent me a part straight away, that didn’t fix it, so they just swapped it out for a brand new model, and their support people were very friendly.
What I don’t like about the Sage Smart Grinder Pro…
There’s actually only one thing that I would change if I could, and that is the auto sleep function of the LCD display. It’s no big deal, pressing the button wakes it up again – it’s just that I like the pretty bright blue LCD light ;-), so I wish it would stay on. I doubt it uses much power to stay on, so I wouldn’t have thought that there is much power being saved by having it go into auto sleep. Like I say though it’s no big deal, it’s probably an EU directive or something – like banana’s having to have a certain degree of bend…
Update, a couple of weeks later
I’m still really impressed with the Sage smart grinder pro, it’s brilliant! Some of the things that are really great about it are subtle things that I’d not really noticed to begin with, or that I’d not given credit to in terms of how useful a feature it is.
For instance, the grounds catcher just pulls out, so you can empty any loose grounds, and then slides back in, and snaps into place thanks to the magnetic strip on the back – that’s handy. The fact that when you unlock the hopper from the grinder, it locks the hopper itself so the beans don’t pour out; this is handy when you want to switch beans.
For example if I want to make a decaf, and there are full caffeine beans in the hopper, I can unlock the hopper, pick it up, put the bottom of it into the bag that the beans came from, then release the beans, put the decaf beans in, put it back onto the grinder and unlock it. I do this a lot and it’s really convenient – I don’t think it’s a feature that all grinders have either, from what I’ve read.
The pause function is really handy, I do use this when I’m grinding directly into the portafilter for a double shot, to level the grounds.
I’m really happy with the grinder, there’s literally nothing at all I have to complain about – even my comment about not liking the fact that it goes into auto sleep, that’s just me being daft, I don’t think anyone would see it as a bad thing that the LCD goes into sleep mode after a few minutes, as just pressing a button wakes it up – and as I said in this post about global warming, energy saving is important even if it only saves a small amount.
You can get them on Amazon uk – or directly from Sage by Heston Blumenthal, you can also get them from John Lewis online or in store, if they have them in stock. The cheapest option currently is Amazon at £139.96.
I’ve been using the grinder for nearly 5 months now, and I’m still just as impressed with it, it’s brilliant – there literally hasn’t been a single niggle or issue with it. At the weekend though I really put it through it’s paces… We had a charity event for my gorgeous Niece who was born severely brain damaged 2 years ago and needs expensive care equipment that the NHS won’t fund. At this event, I had my Gaggia classic and 4 Hario V60s with my copper pipe drip station – and fueling both, was my Sage smart grinder pro. This is the first time I’ve used the grinder for anything other than usual home grinding, and it was brilliant! It didn’t let me down in any way. I’d even go so far as to say that I would think that this grinder could cope being used for some commercial use, as a back up doserless grinder, or for use with Decaf maybe, especially for someone for whom space is an issue, such as a coffee van / cart. Thank you very much to Adams & Russell coffee roasters who donated the freshly roasted coffee beans, and the take away coffee cups for the event, really appreciate it!
I’ve been using the Sage smart grinder pro for well over a year now, and I’m still just as happy with it.
I did have an issue at one point a few months back where the grinder all of a sudden started making a strange sound. I was concerned that I’d ground a stone or something, as I’ve heard of this happening with grinders, but I couldn’t find anything when I cleaned it out. I contacted Sage, who were really helpful, I was on the phone without any fuss or hold music, with someone who clearly knew what they were talking about, who sent me a new felt washer with some instructions on how to replace it. It didn’t seem to fix the issue, so they swapped it out under the warranty without any hesitation. I was expecting them to tell me I had to return it and go back to my hario skerton for a few weeks while I waited for it to come back, but they told me they don’t do this with the smart grinder – very pleasant surprise! By the way, when I phoned and spoke to support, they didn’t know that I have a coffee blog, this wasn’t special treatment in any way, so it was a good test of their customer support – and I give them 10/10 based on this experience.
If this had been after 2 years and it was out of warranty, I’m not sure what would have happened – but then again, this is a grinder at under £200. Mazzers, Macaps and so on cost from around three times the price tag, and I would buy something like that expecting it to last me a decade. But spending £150-200 on a grinder like this, personally I wouldn’t be too miffed if I didn’t get a great deal more than 2 years of decent coffee grinding out of it, as I do realise that it’s an inexpensive grinder. It’s feature packed, it works brilliantly well, but I wouldn’t expect something at this price point to be built to last in the same way that a seven or eight hundred quid commercial grinder would be. Although who knows, maybe there’ll be an other update several years down the line where I contradict myself, I hope so! ;-).
I use the grinder still on a daily basis, for various brew processes including espresso, and I’ve never had an issue dialing in a bean. You can adjust the burs manually as well as digitally, but I’ve not found that I’ve had to do that as yet. Such a great grinder for such a relatively small price. It’s not just me saying this, the grinder has 4.4 stars our of 5 from 55 reviews on Amazon, click here to read the reviews. As to be expected there are some negatives, but they mainly appear to be people with faulty units who’re lashing out via reviews before having actually spoken to Sage, I know from experience that their support guys are brilliant.
Life is like a box of chocolates, so follow me on Twitter, and that’s all I have to say about that.