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When considering a grinder for espresso there's a basic recommendation to get as expensive a grinder as you can afford. If your budget for an espresso machine and grinder is say $500 at most, folks will tell you to put $250 towards the grinder and $250 towards the machine. Today we take a look at the Smart Grinder Pro from Breville. It’s available for under $250 but has a set of features that honestly blows away most other grinders at the same price. I’m convinced the Smart Grinder Pro is a game changer: programmable precision timed grinding using hardened steel conical burrs.
It’s predecessor, the non-pro model, has been around for a few years. It was well received for the most part by those in the mid-range of home espresso. One limitation is that it only had 25 grind settings. Enter the Pro model with 60 grind settings on the dial, but you actually have a lot more than that. Take off the hopper, remove the top burr, and there’s 10 adjustments there for a real total of 600 possible grind settings. That means more control of grind size, which is critical to get just right for espresso. But this grinder isn’t just for finer espresso grinds, turn the dial and you’re quickly in range for drip coffee right on up to coarser grinds for press coffee.
Plus, it has programmability options like no other grinder at this price. In each of the four basic coarseness ranges you can set a grind time down to two tenths of a second. After that, you can change the number of shots or cups, and the grinder automatically calculates the proper grind time. So let’s say you go between brewing espresso, drip, and press coffee. Once you’ve got a basic dose set, there’s no reprogramming. The grinder remembers the timing in each of the ranges and when you change the number of cups, the timing adjusts automatically to match it.
Some other features of the grinder: it has an easy to remove grind tray to catch any overflow, held in place by a magnet. It comes with 2 portafilter cradles, one for standard size 58 millimeter and one for 50 to 54 millimeter, as well as a grinds container. You can grind right into it, and it has an airtight seal and markings for coffee volume. Another nice feature, you can start grinding using either the start button or by pushing the portafilter in. Push again to pause during timed grinding, say if you wanted to settle grounds, and then just push again to restart and finish the cycle.
You can also grind manually by pressing and holding either the start button or the portafilter switch. The grinder runs a count-up timer when grinding manually. Also, the exterior case has a brushed metal finish while competing grinders will tend to have a lot of plastic. The one pound capacity bean hopper has an airtight lid with finger pull, and when it’s removed, it closes off the bean flow. So you can take it off to switch out beans without them spilling everywhere.
Other smart touches include the Breville assist plug with a finger hole for easy and safe removal, and the excess cord storage underneath keeps your countertop clutter free. Overall, the Smart Grinder Pro has a set of features unheard of at this price. It’s one drawback is a slightly less powerful motor than some of the competing grinders.
The real test for home grinders are dark oily beans done fine for espresso. Now it can get through those, but we wouldn’t recommend this grinder to someone doing 10 espressos a day from them. On the other hand, if you do a few espressos a day -- and they’re not all from dark oily beans -- as well as drip and other brew methods, it’ll be hard to find a grinder with this degree of control and user friendliness at such a price level.