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.
I knew that I wanted an affordable grinder, I wasn’t going to be investing several hundred pounds on a grinder, but I wanted something that was reliable, easy to use, and could handle a wide range of grinds for the various coffee brewing processes I use. I don’t want much do I? 😉
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, if you’re wanting an electric grinder.
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.
There is also the Sage dose control pro, which is £30 or £40 cheaper. A reader recently emailed me to let me know that he has this grinder, and it’s essentially the same grinder but without the LED display, and you adjust the grind by turning the hopper around instead, similar to the Baratza Encore. Other than having a slightly smaller capacity hopper, and being a bit less power (130w vs 165), it seems to be basicallyh the same machine. I wouldn’t want to give up the LED display and the grind adjustment knob though, but I’ll get to that shortly.
So without further waffle:
Sage Smart Grinder Pro Review
After nearly two years 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 usually 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.
By the way – a quick note on dialling in the bean. You’ll need to “dial in” to get the right grind size for each new bag of beans, but even with the same beans you will find with any grinder, even with commercial grinders, that you need to tweak the grind over time. For example you might find the perfect grind size with the beans in the morning, and go to pull another shot the next day with the same bean and find that you have to adjust slightly as it’s either running too slow, or too fast, at that grind.
I find a good starting point with freshly roasted coffee beans for Espresso is around 10-12, but you may find it’s different with your Espresso machine. If grinding for Aeropress I usually start at the courser end of Espresso. Similar for The Oomph although the oomph doesn’t seem to be as sensitive to the grind. For pour over, Chemex, V70, Kalita etc., I’m usually quite a bit courser, high 30s to late 40s – and for cafetiere much more course, somewhere from late 40s to 60. These are just guestimates, you’ll have to do some experimenting.
I’ve been using this machine for almost two years now, so I’m including features here that I have found useful myself, rather than just the obvious features that will be covered in the sales blurb.
This machine has so many clever features, but I think probably the number one for me over the past couple of years, has been the ease of adjusting the grind size and clearly being able to see this via the LED display. This was really highlighted for me when I recently did my Barista training using a very expensive commercial grinder, with a mechanical grind adjustment wheel which many grinders have – and I found it really difficult to know what I was doing when adjusting the grind, trying to get dialled in. When I got home and got back to using the Sage smart grinder pro, I realised that, amazingly, I found my sub £200 home grinder to be much more intelligent when it came to communicating with me where we were going with the grind, and therefore much easier to get dialled in, than with a grinder that costs roughly ten times the price!
You just turn the dial on the side, and you see the grind number changing on the LED display, from 1-60, not only this but it tells you on the screen when you’re within the range for each brewing process. You can see very clearly, for example, when you’re in the Espresso range, and filter range or cafetiere range – although after a while you’ll probably find that, like me, you don’t use the ranges as you know roughly what number you need to be at for each brew process.
So although the Sage dose control pro is almost the same machine at about thirty or forty quid less, I wouldn’t want to lose this feature, as it makes it so much easier for dialling in – and it would be easy to lose £30-40 worth of coffee over the life of the machine due to taking longer getting dialled in, I’m sure!
When you put the portafilter cradle on, by the way, the grinder automatically changes the options on the screen from “cups” to “shots”, and gives you the option to grind for a single or double shot, it’s a really intelligent machine!
Having such a wide range is also a great feature, there are 60 settings via the dial, but actually, there are 60 settings for each manual adjustment with the burs, so I suppose in theory there are 600 settings ;-). What I mean by this, is that you can very simply adjust the burs manually to shift into a finer or more coarse range, by taking the wire handle from the burrs and then adjusting the setting on the burrs from 1-10. I think the idea with this is that if the burrs wear over time, you can manually adjust accordingly – although I’ve not had any reason to do so as yet.
Removing the burrs to clean is very quick and simple. Again, to compare this with breaking down and cleaning the commercial grinder I was practising with during Barista training, the smart grinder pro is an absolute doddle in comparison.
The hopper is nice and big, much bigger capacity than most other affordable home coffee grinders – it will take nearly half a kilo! Most of the time I only put what I’m grinding in the hopper at any given time, but if I’m making a lot of coffee I’ll just pour the whole bag in. The hopper has a rubber gasket to keep the beans fresh while in the hopper – this is a feature that even most commercial grinders don’t have.
When you unlock the hopper to remove it from the grinder, the hopper seals, meaning that you don’t end up with coffee beans everywhere, and you can put the hopper over a bag & dump them in there. This seems like common sense, but not all grinders have this feature.
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.
You can program the grind time per shot or cup for each brew type, which I think is a good feature, as is the fact you can start the grind by pushing in the portafilter in, 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.
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 than other grinders.
To me, it’s plenty quick enough, and seems like hyperdrive in comparison to hand grinding. On my current settings, it’s set at 17.8 seconds to grind for a double shot. From what I can gather this is maybe just under a second slower than the Mazzer Mini, which several hundred pounds, so that’s not a bad comparison for a machine costing a heck of a lot less. Like all grinders of course the more coarse the grind, the faster it will grind – and when I’m grinding for V60, Oomph, Aeropress etc., it’s far quicker than when I’m grinding for Espresso.
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 (I did… see below), 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 250g 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 – a year later.
I’ve been using the Sage smart grinder pro for well over a year now, and I’m still just as happy with it, such a great grinder – and Sage Appliances are great if you ever have a problem!
After a few months, I did something to the grinder… I’d been trying lots of different beans from different roasters, and although I didn’t find it when taking it apart – I think I ground a small stone. From what I can tell, that’s the only thing that would have caused the issue.
I contacted Sage Appliances, and they were really helpful, I spoke to someone in support, told them what was happening, they wanted to try swapping out a part, they sent it to me free of charge and told me how to fit it, it was very simple, but it didn’t fix it. So a couple of days later they just swapped out the machine with a brand new one! I’ve been using this machine now for close to two years, and it’s just been brilliant.
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, 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 another 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 dialling 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 out of 5 from 55 reviews on Amazon, click here to read the reviews.
Update – a couple of years later…
Still loving the Sage smart grinder pro! What a great machine it is, for such a relatively small price tag. OK I know some people would say around £200 is a lot to spend on a grinder, but you can easily spend a lot more than this on a grinder, it is at the lower end of the price range.
I’m just as impressed with the grinder now as I was when I first started using it, and I’ve used it with various different manual brewers, and also with my Gaggia Classic, and now with my La Pavoni Europiccola. If this broke tomorrow (I hope it doesn’t…) I would happily go out and replace it with another of the same model. There is nothing lacking, there’s no downside to this machine, it’s just brilliant!
I reckon I have ground somewhere in the region of a hundred kilos of coffee beans with this grinder, and fingers crossed – touch wood, it’s still perfect. I have to hold my hands up too, and admit that I’ve not looked after it how I should have. When I did my Barista training recently, I was made aware just how important it is to keep your grinder clean, and to regularly take the burs off and properly clean everything. Up until this point I don’t think I’d actually ever cleaned the grinder properly other than giving it a quick brush. I’m looking after it better now though, so I hope I’ll get another year or two out of this grinder! I’ll keep you updated anyway.
I’ve not even had to adjust the burrs once yet manually, so the claims that were made re not having to do this for until something like 200k of coffee had gone through it, may well turn out to be accurate!
At the time of writing they’re on offer here on Amazon UK for £179 (sold from Sage Appliances, dispatched by Amazon) and although the RRP is £199, they’re nearly always available at around 180 on Amazon.
The cheapest I’ve ever seen them, though, is just under £140, on Amazon – I’ve seen it on offer at this only twice, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is probably the distributor price, and they probably drop it down to this price when the Amazon stock needs moving.
They sell via Fulfilment by Amazon, you see, meaning that they send stock to Amazon and Amazon send out the stock for them, which is why it’s available via Amazon prime free next day delivery. Sellers on Amazon can end up paying additional storage fees if stock is with them for too long, so my guess (I may be wrong) is that they drop the price to this to clear stock and avoid fees, in which case it probably won’t happen all that often, as they’re a good seller.
I have set up some alerts so that I’ll find out when the price drops, so if you want me to email you to let you know when the price drops, just join my mailing list “Brew Time” over on the right hand side of the page, and I’ll send you an update when the price drops down again.
Life is like a box of chocolates, so follow me on Twitter, and that’s all I have to say about that.