Mazzer Mini vs Compak K-3 Elite
14 March , 2008
- First Impressions
Mazzer. It's a name which has become synonomous with top quality commercial coffee grinders for years, and with the growth of the prosumer market discerning home users have been keen to make use of a Mazzer in their home espresso setup. The smallest unit in the Mazzer range, the Mazzer Mini, is the one most suited to and most often used for this task.
One unfortunate side effect of the enormous popularity and reputation of the Mazzer Mini is that other quality grinders are potentially dismissed as inadequate simply because they don't get the same air time as the Mazzer. Potentially one such grinder comes from Spanish company Compak - the K-3 Elite. The Mini and the K-3 Elite both sit at the bottom of their respective product chains and both compete for the same market - small commercial environments and possibly the top end of the domestic market. The purpose of this review is to put these two machines head to head and see whether this relative newcomer has what it takes to knock the Mazzer Mini from the king of the heap!
Typical equipment reviews involve a manufacturer handing a piece or two of equipment to qualified and well-respected members of the coffee community who then go through the process of 'unpacking', 'set up', 'first use' and 'after a week' or something like that. While this review could have followed that same pattern, it was written after being an owner and user of the Compak for about five months and the Mazzer for about two months, so it seemed a bit pointless to try to recall such details. Not that that's a bad thing though - the length of ownership prior to writing this review means its contents are a result of extensive normal use rather than a brief examination of the components and the asseration of theoretical conclusions about what effect these should have, so therefore any conclusions are more likely to reflect those of an owner over the long-term. Another difference is that there are so many different components in each grinder which affect the overall impression they make and their suitability for different users that it seemed best to write this review in a more component-oriented fashion rather than workflow-based, i.e. by moving through each grinder from top to bottom examining each of their components rather than trying to evaluate all these features simultaneously through normal operation and ending up in quite a jumbled mess. It may seem a little pedantic spending all this time on the components of each grinder rather than walking through a typical test cycle, and I don't doubt most readers will no doubt roll their eyes at considering one aspect or another, be it the power cord location, finger guard or something else; but if there's one thing I found in doing this comparison it's that the smallest details can often make a big difference to the overall suitability of the unit for one's purposes, so it seemed best to provide that detail and let each user decide what's important for them.
Although these units are primarily designed as entry level commercial units, the growing prosumer market means a certain number will end up in a domestic situation. Because of the dual purpose, I'll endeavour to discuss the implications of each feature from the point of view of both a small-volume commercial operation and a discerning prosumer home user.
One note I should mention is that the Compak grinder used for this review was purchased in 2006. The Mazzer Mini (badged as a 'Rio' Mini) was purchased early 2007 but manufactured several years before that. I don't think either of these will affect how these units performed under review although I do understand that Compak tend to make numerous running changes to their designs so it's possible some areas have been attended to since the release of the review unit. Mazzer tend to stick with one design for a lot longer so I'd expect a 2008 Mini to be identical to a 2001 unit.
One thing that is immediately obvious at first glance is that both these units mean business. Both are solidly built, relatively heavy items which share the same basic design used by any dosered grinder (a non-dosered version of the Compak is available - the K-3 Touch). Both use basically identical 58mm flat burrs driven by a 250w motor rotating at (depending which specs you look at) 1100-1400rpm. On paper, you could be looking at the same unit.
However despite these similarities, the way each grinder ended up at its final design appears to have come about quite differently. It looks as though Mazzer's engineers went their separate ways to design a grinder, a doser, a collar, a hopper and a dregs tray, and then worked out how to put them together. Compak's engineering department seems to have approached things from the other end, where the overall appearance of the grinder was first designed, after which the components were designed to fit that aesthetic mold. As a result, the Mazzer has a very modular, discrete appearance, whereas the Compak is much more integrated and streamlined; it appears to have been designed with aesthetics in mind, whereas the Mazzer is, comparatively, a case of function over form.
One thing I will say at the outset as a teaser for the conclusion is that these are both excellent units and throughout this review you'll pick up a lot of comments such as "It's not that unit A is particularly bad, it's just that unit B is better". Therefore the 'winner' or 'loser' isn't a stark condemnation or acclamation of one particular unit, but more of a recognition that unit A does very well in a few more areas than unit B.
So, let the games begin!
Hopper Lids - Compak (top) and Mazzer (bottom). Note warping and lip thickness on Compak unit
Both lids are domed and have adequate finger grips. The Mazzer lid has a thick lip which sits comfortably over the smooth walls of the hopper and feels substantial. The Compak lid has a thin lip which sits over a shallow lip on the hopper. Adequate for the job but doesn't feel as solid as the Mazzer and the thin mounting depth means it's a bit prone to fall off and doesn't feel as positive when fitting. Further, the unit I have is warped so two sides of the lid are noticably raised. This accentuates the flimsy fit and looks cheap.
|Domestic||Nothing significant, just the aesthetics||8/10||10/10|
|Commercial||Could be more difficult to throw Compak lid back on quickly if too precise a fitting operation were required; more likely to fall off if the unit was knocked or when jamming the lid on to pack the beans in. Mazzer's would be better in both regards.||7.5/10||10/10|
Hoppers with 360g of coffee - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R)
Both share a similar profile with structural supports near the base. The structural supports on the Mazzer are larger so it's probably the stronger of the two hoppers, though the Compak's are by no means inadequate. Beans tended to get stuck more on the Mazzer's supports than the Compak's and required the hopper to be shaken to dislodge all beans. Both are probably designed to hold 500g but the Compak would go further before filling up than the Mazzer. Photos are of 360g. The Mazzer is roughly triangular, and its dimension are 150mm diameter x 155mm deep (to gate). The Compak is 158mm ID x 160mm deep (to gate) and more curved. For a domestic situation they're both an overkill; a smaller hopper is available for the Mazzer.
|Domestic||Both are overkills. Beans getting stuck in Mazzer’s structural supports is a minor gripe. Smaller unit available for Mazzer||9.5/10||9/10|
|Commercial||Nothing significant. Compak being slightly larger means less refilling in busy cafes but the difference is minimal||10/10||9.5/10|
Hopper gates - Compak (top) and Mazzer (bottom). Note hard-to-locate spike on Mazzer unit.
Both serve the same function but I found the Compak jammed less easily than the Mazzer and feels smoother in its operation. Both wobble when in their midway position, but the Mazzer’s is a sort of 3 shape device with a sharp point at each end and if you don’t manually locate it straight these will stop the gate from fully engaging. If you try to close it while beans are in the throat, the beans will get stuck in the middle of the gate. The Compak’s is more of a 'C' shape which helps to displace the beans if closing while full rather than jamming them. I normally have the gate closed while I load however much bean I need for the cup, then open the gate to let them drain through, then close it again to prevent bits jumping out. Commercially I expect this would be open all the time during normal use, but if you need to close the gate to remove the hopper at the end of the day, it may feel closed when it’s actually still half open. The throat on the Compak is narrower than the Mazzer so beans drain into the grinder quicker in the Mazzer, but either drain rate is so much faster than the beans will ever grind that this has no practical relevance.
|Domestic||Stickier gate on Mazzer can be annoying as you’re more likely to open and close it domestically||10/10||8/10|
|Commercial||Gate can feel like it’s closed when it’s open, so removing the hopper at the end of the day may result in dropping a lot of beans.||10/10||7.5/10|
Hopper retention system - Compak (top) and Mazzer (bottom). Regular Philips head screw used on Mazzer unit missing from this picture.
The Mazzer hopper is attached to the grinder via a Philips head screw through a hole in the hopper throat. Most people leave this out but the hopper could potentially get knocked out of the grinder. If you fit it it obviously requires a screwdriver to remove to clean the grinder. Also you must line the hole in the hopper throat up with the hole in the collar to fit the screw. None of those are particular problems except the Compak's system avoids every one of them. It has a thumb screw at one end and a shaft with a rounded end at the other which pushes against the throat of the hopper. This means fitment or removal of the hopper is just a twist of the thumb screw and the hopper's out. No need to locate anything to get it back it; just drop it in and torque the thumb screw 1/4 turn. If the hopper’s always left in it’s unlikely to have any effect either way. The only risk with the Compak's system is that overtightening could crack the hopper.
|Domestic||Unlikely hoppers are going to be regularly removed domestically, more messing around to remove the Mazzer’s||10/10||8.5/10|
|Commercial||Removal requires a screwdriver, failure to fit screw to avoid this runs the risk of knockage and major bean spillage. Slight chance of cracking Compak hopper||9.5/10||7/10|
I'd take everything on the Compak's hopper except the lid.
Burrs (top) and Burr Carriers (bottom) - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R). Note loooong thread on Compak unit and springs on Mazzer unit
This is where the Mazzer has it all over the Compak. The Compak like most others has a fine thread to adjust the grind, but despite the fine thread pitch there's still a couple of millimetres of play either way on the collar as the collar thread moves from one side of the burr carrier thread to the other before any adjustment takes place. You can feel things go noticably tight when adjustment starts so it's not hard to pick this point, but if you're relying on an accurate scale for grind settings (which I'll come to later) you have to consistently take your readings at the coarse end of the freeplay as the collar will shift to the coarse end of this freeplay once beans get between the burrs.
By contrast, the Mazzer uses a 'spring-loaded' burr carrier, which pushes the top burrs up against the top side of the adjustment thread. This means there's absolutely no play in the adjustment mechanism, so as soon as you move the adjustment collar a millimetre, the burrs move by that same amount. Mazzer also provide a longer lever with which to adjust the mechanism than Compak, who rely on the hopper retention screw to serve this purpose. The only downside to the Mazzer’s system is its inherent stiffness so you need to be careful not to rotate it further than necessary.
Having said all that, the Compak's mechanism is quite adequate in itself to do what it needs to do; it's just that it feels a bit cheap compared to the Mazzer's tight system.
In a commercial setting where the grinder is adjusted by result rather than by gauge, this isn't particularly a problem but there’s normally still some reliance on a scale of sorts to give you an idea of how far you’ve adjusted it. Domestically it’s more likely to cause some irritation but it’s not something that can’t be worked around.
|Domestic||Mazzer better particularly if using a scale for adjustment and easier to get back on the same reading.||6.5/10||10/10|
|Commercial||Compak’s shortcomings less of an issue commercially.||7.5/10||10/10|
Grind adjustment scale - Compak with user modification (top) and Mazzer (bottom). Original Compak scale of large dots on hopper lid and silver rivet still visible.
My previous grinder was a Lux which has a numeric scale on the hopper and a stepless worm drive adjustment. It made adjusting a breeze and I could always keep a numeric setting for the blends I used, meaning I could quickly and accurately adjust for decaf or a milk blend.
I was disappointed to see the pathetic scale on the Compak when I unpacked it; the adjustment collar has a round silver rivet which is supposed to very approximately line up with several very broadly spaced dots on the doser lid, when the ends of the adjustment range for espresso probably span 1/3 of the distance between ONE set of these dots. Unexplainably, the scale is made from round dots not vertical lines so it’s impossible to line up the two accurately, and even if you could they’re so far from each other it’s nigh impossible to be consistent. In a good commercial setting when grind is adjusted by pour result this isn’t as much of an issue, but it was entirely unsatisfactory for my domestic use, so I added my own numeric scale. However even in a commercial setting adjustments are normally made relative to its current setting (e.g. +/- 1 division on the scale), so the lack of any useful scale is a downer in every respect. The other trouble is that the scale which does exist is on the dosing chamber lid; if you have this removed to allow excess doses to be scraped back in, there's no scale at all!
By contrast the Mazzer has a 'markedly' (chortle chortle) better scale; the scale divisions are vertical bars at the edge of the collar, and the corresponding datum line is directly below this on the body of the grinder, so it's always there. The initial scale is a broad numeric one which ranges from 3 to 7 in 360 degrees, but the grips on the side of the collar line up well with the datum line and are closely spaced enough to serve the purpose well even if they are unnumbered. Either way it's a much more usable system than the Compak, if still not perfect.
|Domestic||If you rely on a scale the Compak is useless unless you add your own. Mazzer’s is good but markings would be nice||1/10||9/10|
|Commercial||Minimal; if you use a scale at all the Mazzer’s is better, and the Compak’s being on the lid is a pain||6/10||9/10|
Grind entry chute to hopper - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R)
Both grinders attract criticism in this regard, as the exit chutes on both grinders are horizontal. This means the grinds in the chute will sit there at the end of a grind until the next beans are ground, which push the old ones out of the chute. This volume isn't significant - about 1.5g on the Mazzer and about 2g on the Compak, but it does mean that before each use, when changing beans or when adjusting the grind, you need to either clean the chute or dump an extra couple of grams of beans into the hopper, allow the first dosing chamber to at least half fill and then dose this out and discard it, leaving the new, fresh and properly ground content coming through. For higher volumes or moderate volumes of a single bean / blend, this isn’t a major problem, but it may get a bit wasteful if you're regularly changing beans or doing very low volumes. A diagonal chute would be a far better idea as the grounds could fall down into the doser. Both incorporate a finger guard which makes cleaning the chute impossible without a screwdriver (more on that later).
The Mazzer has a theoretical edge since its chute doesn’t collect quite as much, but the difference is so minimal it would be nigh impossible for this to have any practical effect so it’s not worth considering.
|Domestic||If you’re using the grinder on multiple beans / blends, be prepared to waste some while cleaning the chute if bean purity and freshness is paramount||5/10||5/10|
|Commercial||With moderate to high volume use of the same bean, the small amount that collects in the entry chute is not enough to cause a problem so long as monitoring of on-the-fly grind adjustments takes into account the fact that the first shot after adjustment will still contain a little of the old grind.||8/10||8/10|
If the last section looked like Mazzer domination, here's where the tables are almost completely turned, as there's hardly anything in the Mazzer than beats the Compak.
Doser showing lids - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R). Compak unit definitely looks more integrated than Mazzer
The Mazzer has an unoffending round 'Tupperware'-style lid which sits loosely on top of the dosing chamber. It rattles when grinding and while it’s thick good quality plastic it’s just sitting on a lip on top of the dosing chamber so it feels a bit cheap. The Compak's lid is moulded to join neatly with the grinder body and does wonders at aesthetically integrating the doser to the grinder body. It’s also a nice positive fit rather than just sitting there. There's nothing wrong with the Mazzer's lid in itself; it's just that the Compak's looks so much better. We remind ourselves in passing that the Compak includes the grind adjustment scale, so no lid means no scale.
|Domestic||Minimal. Mazzer’s rattles so can be a bit annoying. Aesthetically Compak’s is much better but removal removes scale.||9.5/10||7.5/10|
|Commercial||Minimal. Mazzer’s could perhaps be knocked off more easily||9.5/10||8/10|
Dosing chamber - Compak (top) and Mazzer (bottom). Note 360 degree window on Compak compared to partial windows and distorted walls on Mazzer
The Mazzer's chamber is a strip of thin stainless steel with a few cutouts wrapped into a cylinder shape. Inside these sits a piece of thick perspex with roughish cuts to allow the grinds to enter. The rolled nature of the chamber means reflections of straight lines bend and bow as you look at the side of the chamber. Finally, two cheese-head screws sit unashamedly either side of the front of the chamber, with a third equally spaced further around the left side. The only purpose I'm aware of for these is for mounting the tamper, but they look out of place at the best of times, particularly as Mazzer didn't bother to spend an extra $0.02 to fit a fourth screw on the other side so things at least looked symmetrical. It's the sort of thing you don't even notice as a regular owner, but for a first-time viewer you ask, "Why?".
The dosing chamber on the Mazzer isn't what you'd call ugly, but it's certainly more utilitarian than sleek.
The Compak's chamber, by contrast, is simply a work of art. It's machined from a single billet of aluminium so it's strong, light and has smooth curves. The perspex window runs 360 degrees around the doser and sits flush with the walls, unlike the Mazzer's. Moulded to the front is a nose which normally supports the cheap tamper that's been removed from the accompanying photos. The doser looks well strong enough for you to use it as a carrying handle though I’m sure it’s not designed for the purpose!
|Domestic||Aesthetics are normally more of a domestic issue than commercially so the Compak has to win here.||10/10||6.5/10|
|Commercial||Both do the job. Cleaning of the Compak’s is probably easier as the Perspex is flush rather than recessed.||10/10||8/10|
Dosing adjustment - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R)
Adjusting the dose volume is something you'd probably only do when you initially set the grinder up, or if something in your setup changes, e.g. new filter baskets. There are similarities and differences in how they go about it. Both dosing mechanisms incorporate 6 dosing chambers in a star configuration with a sliding base which allows it to stay in contact (roughly) with the floor of the doser while the dividers move up and down as necessary. This is common on both grinders.
The Mazzer uses a small but substantial nut which can be operated by the thumb and the forefinger, if you can get past the finger guard to access it that is! If you turn it anticlockwise it's a stiff but positive adjustment; unfortunately if you need to turn it clockwise the dosing star just spins unless you can get your other hand in there to hold it in place - and if you've got big hands this gets pretty poky. There's also what appears to be a locking screw on the top of the adjuster which I presumed was for locking in the setting once it was right, however I found it no easier nor harder to adjust the doser with this tight or loose, so its purpose escapes me at the moment. Whatever purpose it does serve is hampered by the fact Mazzer didn't bother to mould a screwdriver access hole into the finger guard for it to be easily accessed, which is one good example of how Mazzer's engineering appears to have been done first and the design last, or not at all. The adjustment is stepless.
Note: I understand the newer Minis have a revised finger guard which alleviates these access issues.
The Compak uses a tall fluted tapered shaft attached to a spring-loaded cam which allows the doser to be adjusted in steps. It's a simple matter to reach into the top of the doser, push down lightly and rotate this either way against the spring-loaded cam which neatly clicks into the next position and elevates the dosing mechanism ever so slightly. The dosing mechanism stays put regardless of which way you turn it, and while adjustment would be a rarity, it's literally a 5 second job from start to finish with the Compak.
Technically the Mazzer's stepless mechanism allows for greater control, but I don't feel the Compak's steps are big enough to cause a problem, particularly as the exact quantity of coffee in each dosing chamber will probably vary slightly anyway.
|Domestic||Much easier operation on the Compak, Mazzer only saved from a lower score by the rarity of the operation||10/10||7/10|
|Commercial||Much easier operation on the Compak, Mazzer only saved from a lower score by the rarity of the operation||10/10||7/10|
When used as designed, both are quite adequate. If you're inclined to clean the entry chute, while most of the grinds from the Mazzer will fall in or on the dosing star you do get a fine spray across the whole doser as the chute fills up; though it’s just that – a fine spray rather than a coating. If you’re 'grinding-through-the-doser' rather than pre-grinding into the doser and then dosing on demand, this is a bit messy. Again, full points to Compak. The grinds drop in neatly from the exit chute to the middle of the dosing chamber sitting directly below it. As opposed to the Mazzer, the Compak's finger guard is a vertical one which prevents any grinds from flying out if they were so inclined but makes things more difficult for cleaning.
|Domestic||The superior grinds containment of the Compak is a plus when you don’t want to mix different types of beans which lets the Mazzer down slightly.||8/10||7.5/10|
|Commercial||The spray of the Mazzer is irrelevant when high volumes are being processed. Low volume installations or installations using the same grinder for different beans / blends should refer to the domestic implications above.||9.5/10||9.5/10|
Finger guard - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R)
I've almost said everything about these that I could so far. Both units employ a finger guard around the grind entry area in the doser to stop fingers or cleaning equipment getting to the exit chute. Mazzer uses a horizontal plastic device above the exit chute (revised metal on newer models), while the Compak uses a vertical plastic paddle to achieve the same.
The Compak's doubles as the shut-off mechanism for the doser - you can load the hopper right up and it will keep grinding until the grinds push the paddle across which shuts off the grinder. Domestically this is more of an inconvenience than a benefit as a domestic user is unlikely to need this and it makes cleaning harder. It could be a useful feature to have in a low-tier commercial situation that doesn't want to grind on demand as you could get away with a cheap slow grinding unit such as one of these to fill up the grinder in its own time rather than having to pay big dollars for a machine that can grind fast enough to keep up with the busy patches such as a Compak K-10 or a Mazzer Robur. It's not perfect because you're naturally going to get more grinds building up near the exit chute so it will often shut off before the hopper is overly full, and start again once you operate the dosing lever and move the pile around a bit, but for those who would use it it will probably fill the hopper enough to do the job. Its only other benefit is as a fallback if you happen to leave the grinder on by mistake!
|Domestic||Both do the job of keeping fingers from the burr area. Auto shut-off more of a pest than a convenience but potentially has some use||9/10||9/10|
|Commercial||Compak’s is potentially useful for the shut-off feature when filling the doser and as a bean-saver if the unit's left on. Mazzer's is easier to remove for cleaning.||9/10||8/10|
Dosing Action - Compak
Dosing Action - Mazzer
Both grinders on test had a lever to the right of the doser which when pulled rotates the dosing mechanism 1/6 of a turn to deposit one chamber of grinds out of the doser. The Compak mechanism feels superior to that of the Mazzer; it's smooth, quiet and consistent in its sound, while the Mazzer tends to be a bit more metallic. If you've ever been through a house with old door handles you'll know the sound of the creaky springs and you'll have some idea of the sound I mean. It's not objectionable but it sounds a bit agricultural compared to the Compak.
When going light on the dose, I've sometimes pulled the lever only part of the way forward before releasing it to its home position, meaning the ratchet which rotates the dosing mech doesn't engage the next chamber. If this happens on the Compak, the lever returns silently to its home position and is very easy to move; if you complete the dose properly, the lever returns to its home position with a positive click. By contrast, on the Mazzer there is no difference in the feedback or noise when moving from the home position whether you've completed the dose or not. This means if you accidentally don’t quite finish a dose you won’t realise it and possibly underdose the next shot.
One big beef people have with the Mazzer is that the doser doesn't sweep the chamber clean. When I got the Compak I was a little disappointed that some grinds were still left behind at the edges of the chamber, though most of it was clean. When I got the Mazzer, I realised just how good the Compak was by comparison – its dosing mech doesn't appear to even touch the bottom of the dosing chamber, so you end up with a healthy (or unhealthy as the case may be) covering of grinds over the bottom of the dosing chamber.
Something a little worrying I noticed was that on a few occasions the ratchet in the Mazzer mechanism seems to have slipped half way through a dose and the lever's jumped to the end of its travel leaving the dosing mechanism behind. Returning it to the home position and repeating picks it up where it left off, but in a commercial environment this would be frustrating if you're (understandably) relying on the doser working every time. It’s possible this is a problem with my individual unit rather than a general fault as I’ve not heard any other reports of this.
|Domestic||The smooth and refined feel of the Compak next to the comparatively agricultural feel of the Mazzer carries more weight in the domestic environment than the commercial. The clean sweep means less cleaning and cross-contamination between different beans; domestically it’s highly likely a single unit will grind several different types of bean so this is a big plus||10/10||5/10|
|Commercial||Compak’s benefits apply commercially, less so in a high volume environment, but it’s still got the lead. The slipping mechanism is cause for concern when dosing with the hopper full commercially, as an unnoticed slip could cause a severe underdose in two consecutive shots. Mazzer only fails to lose more points due to the lesser impact of the sweeping shortcomings in this environment. Nothing to fault Compak on here.||10/10||5/10|
Dosing lever - Compak (top) and Mazzer (bottom)
The dosing levers are quite different. The Mazzer brings a steel lever from the middle of the underside of the doser to the outer edge, where a narrow 35mm vertical paddle is formed. Contrary to initial appearances, the paddle is not plastic, but uses a piece of softish plastic heatshrink over the metal paddle so the operator isn't touching metal all the time. The Compak brings an aluminium paddle from the edge of the underside of the doser to the outer edge which looks neater, where a 61mm wide 3/4 oval paddle is formed. Think an oversized metal Magnum paddle pop stick on its side with the bottom side of the paddle chopped off.
The spring on the Mazzer feels stiffer than that of the Compak so it requires more effort to operate the Mazzer's doser. Also, with the Compak being lighter than the Mazzer, it's a little more likely to slip around when dosing; however I've only noticed this when it's on a particularly slippery surface, and the extra grip afforded by the added weight of the Mazzer was largely offset by the extra force required by the stronger dosing spring.
Result? The jury's still out on this one, but I *think* I like the Mazzer in this regard. The longer lever on the Compak is nice and big so there would never be any RSI issues I would think, as you can use all your fingers for dosing if you need, but being bare aluminium it’s cold to touch. The Mazzer's lever is so short you can only use two fingers to operate it, but the slight w-contour suggests it's been designed with that in mind and the plastic cover on the lever makes it nicer to touch.
While the extra 26mm on the Compak's paddle makes it feel more substantial, it gives the impression of a longer throw than the Mazzer, so you feel as though you have to use your arm slightly to do the dosing; with the Mazzer you can easily use just the movement in your second and third fingers to do the dosing, though in actual fact you can easily do this with the Compak, it just doesn’t feel like you should be able to. The Mazzer feels short, punchy and agile in its action, while by comparison the Compak feels a touch more lethargic on account of its longer lever. Interestingly, the hopper on the Mazzer is 4mm larger in diameter, so at the edge of the hopper the Compak actually has the shorter throw, but the paddle design of the Compak’s lever means you tend to operate it from its edge which gives it the feel of a longer throw. The physicists amongst us will know that the larger the diameter of an object, the greater the amount of linear travel required to effect the same degree of rotation - imagine the ease of spinning a golf ball between two fingers compared to a tennis ball. In practice this means you don’t have to move your fingers *quite* as far to achieve a dose. There's a theoretical time saving here for the Mazzer but it would be very minimal.
|Domestic||Extra length of Compak’s lever doesn’t pose a problem and perhaps is more comfortable to use, though Mazzer’s maybe nicer to the touch. The spring on the Compak is easier to pull against than the Mazzer’s but still up to the job. Ultimate winner probably depends on the individual but I’d have to give a slight edge to the Compak.||9.5/10||8.5/10|
|Commercial||The feel of extra dosing speed afforded by the Mazzer is a definite plus, providing you don’t mind being restricted to two fingers. I owned the Compak for three months prior to getting the Mazzer, and I never saw a problem with its action, but next to the Mazzer it pales slightly in a commercial setting.||8.5/10||9.5/10|
Exit chute from the doser - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R). Note different distances between the doser and the portafilter.
Baskets dosed from each grinder - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R)
These two items are considered together as they're implicity linked.
The Mazzer's grind exit attracts a lot of criticism for the mess it creates and that it 'throws left', meaning the grinds land on the left side of the basket rather than in the middle. Compak have evidently put some work into avoiding both these points. The 'throwing left' is inherent in the fact the doser rotates clockwise, meaning the grinds are pushed to the left of the exit chute when they leave the front of the doser. In the Mazzer, the grinds have a 33mm drop from the floor of the doser to reach its exit, and they then travel a further 41mm before they pass the top of a standard Rancilio portafilter and basket. By contrast, the Compak requires grinds to travel 50mm before they leave the doser, and then only 15mm to the top of the basket. On the Compak, the longer initial fall within the doser provides more opportunity for the grinds to hit the inner left side of the doser and resume a vertical descent; any lateral movement which remains then only has a short distance over which to create a problem.
Surprisingly for the Compak, the problem isn't entirely eliminated in fact the photos appear as though the Compak performed worse though that's certainly not the case usually. You certainly get favouratism to the left with the Mazzer and a certain amount flying onto the grinds tray below, but the Compak still has some left loading and a bit of spillage. A vertical grind dump straight into the middle of the basket makes final settling prior to tamping an easier exercise. If no settling step takes place, a centre-weighted heap will still give a more even extraction than one heavily loaded to the left. You may like to view the video in the 'Noise' section below which includes the dosing action of both grinders.
As far as the forks themselves which support the portafilter during dosing, the Mazzer clearly has the more substantial of the two units; it's a steel unit where the Compak's is plastic. However both are adequate in supporting the weight of the portafilter, and even though the Compak's appears flimsy purely because it's plastic, it's certainly sturdy enough for the job and has some structural bracing to aid in its rigidity. One nice thing about the Compak’s fork is that its shape holds the portafilter in place rather than just supporting it, so you can let the portafilter go if you need to and it’ll stay there; do this on the Mazzer’s fork and the portafilter's on the floor though you quickly adapt to either system.
However there are two specific benefits of the Mazzer’s fork and its location which may be by design or they may be coincidence - either way, discerning users put them to good use. Since it’s metal and sits somewhat low, it’s rigid enough to accept tapping of the portafilter as part of the settling stage and for all that energy to go into settling the grinds. The Compak’s fork sits closer to the doser so you don't have much room to raise and drop the portafilter, and being more springy it doesn’t provide good feedback with any tapping anyway. Secondly, the extra height below the Mazzer's doser allows coffee to be heaped up for subsequent settling - on the Compak, any heaped coffee will be scraped off by the bottom of the doser as you raise the portafilter from the fork for removal. The ability to dose and then immediately undertake a settling knock or three in place on a solid fork is something many Mazzer users appreciate.
Ultimately however, this area has to be scored on the primary purpose of the parts, not how people may use the various shortcomings of the machine. The ideal dosing mechanism should drop the grinds evenly onto a well supported portafilter so the Compak does win this area, however bear in mind many people leverage the Mazzer's fork for quick settling and prefer it as such so these particular scores may be different for you.
|Domestic||A vertical grind dump has to be a good thing so the Compak scores points there though domestically there’s time to fix this up prior to tamping. If you are going to settle with the fork though, the Mazzer has the edge though this is more a side-effect.||9.5/10||9/10|
|Commercial||A settling step is basically a necessity with the Mazzer, which in one sense makes this shortcoming of the Mazzer a good thing, as a settling step prior to tamping is important. If it’s not done then there’s definitely going to be more uneven extractions than on the Compak, all other things being equal.||9.5/10||8/10|
If I had to take one unit complete it's be the Compak's every time, it's a work of art! Not perfect though; if I could pick and choose components I'd take the dosing lever from the Mazzer and lose the auto shut-off on the Compak but keep everything else Compak.
Ultimately, the units are around to grind coffee and how well each unit performs that is of paramount importance, so it might seem to be trivialising this by sticking it in the 'miscellaneous' area. But it's here because I found no difference at all in the performance of these units in this area. This is hardly surprising since both units use basically identical burr sets, they both use solid brass-threaded burr carriers to precisely locate the top burr and the bottom burrs are directly attached to the motor, and only time will tell whether either motor's bearings wear out faster than the other, but given both are high-quality units with no lateral thrust it's unlikely either will develop any wobble anytime soon.
|Domestic||Both as good as each other||10/10||10/10|
Grinds Tray - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R)
This is another area of differences where it's hard to make a clear judgement one way or another. Obviously the Mazzer's is bigger; it pushes in under the front of the grinder and locks in with a positive feel. It's just as easy to remove and clean. On the downside, the plastic lugs which hold it in invariably break after a few months' use, like the rest of the unit it's aesthetically an 'add-on', it still wasn't large enough to catch all the grinds thanks to the 'throw left' issue, and if you pick the grinder up the grinds tray unclips and falls to the ground which is a great way to make a mess. On the Compak side of the fence, the grinds tray is integrated, is a little harder to remove though not overly difficult, but is very small; consequently even though there's not as much 'throw left', you still get some grinds falling onto the left side of the grinder body and onto the bench.
In use I certainly prefer the Mazzer; it's large enough not only to catch most of what the doser sprays around, but also whatever comes off the portafilter when performing a pre-tamp smooth. With the Compak this is impossible; it's just not big enough to be useful for anything else other than catching stray grinds.
|Domestic||Compak looks more integrated, however Mazzer's is larger in capacity and is less likely to create a bench mess providing you can keep it in place once the lugs break!||8/10||8/10|
|Commercial||Larger capacity of the Mazzer's of particular importance commercially but broken lugs will tend to make the tray wander around a bit||6.5/10||8.5/10|
Power cord locations - Compak (L) and Mazzer (C,R). Mazzer looks sleeker from the back but not from the front
The Mazzer's is on the left side of the body, the Compak's at the rear of the unit. From an operational perspective I think I prefer the positioning of the Compak's power cord, but from a cafe's cosmetic point of view it's nice to have the rear of the grinder clean for advertising the Mazzer badge on the rear of the unit.
|Domestic||Compak's rear cord looks neater||10/10||7/10|
|Commercial||Cord position irrelevant, clean backing of Mazzer a plus||8/10||10/10|
Power switches - Compak (L) and Mazzer (C,R)
This I guess is a fairly personal choice matter. The Compak has a rounded rocker switch on the left side of the unit which allows you to drag your hand over it towards the front of the unit to turn it on and slide your hand along the side over it to turn it off. It's a neat system but I like the Mazzer's better. It has two parts to the switch which sit side by side, and when you push the 'On' button in, the Off button pops out. Thus the button poking out is whichever mode (On or Off) is not engaged. The benefit this has is that whatever mode it's in, you just whack your hand on the switch and you'll switch it to the other state. It just means that unlike the Compak, you don't have to remember which way to push the switch to turn it off or on as required - just hit the switch and it'll change over from whatever it's not presently doing.
The Mazzer's switch is also on the right hand side of the unit so you can hit it once you've finished dosing (presuming it's a right-hand lever doser as most are), whereas the Compak you have to swap hands or let go of the portafilter and use your left hand for the switch (at least the fork will hold the portafilter while you do this though). The only saving grace for the Compak is that in a commercial setting it may be left on all the time and rely on the internal doser level switch to turn it off when required, so you're not as likely to need it as the Mazzer's.
|Domestic||Switch looks nice but still not as easy to use as Mazzer's||9/10||10/10|
|Commercial||Much easier to quickly slam the switch on and off purely by feel on Mazzer. Offset perhaps by utilising auto-fill feature on Compak. Without this it may get annoying compared to Mazzer||8/10||10/10|
Frequency Response of Compak (top) and Mazzer (bottom)
Grinding and Dosing - Compak
Grinding and Dosing - Mazzer
The Mazzer definitely has a more pleasant sound to it. When I measured these sounds I was surprised to find the Mazzer actually scored a slightly louder SPL reading because it definitely sounds quieter than the Compak. Examining the spectral response of each grinder, the Mazzer generates most of its noise in a band from 1200-1800Hz with a small band around 500Hz. By contrast, the Compak has much quieter noise bands, but they occur at 500-900Hz, 1400-1600Hz, 2000-3000Hz and 4000Hz. It's these higher frequencies on the Compak that are harsher on the ears and give the impression of a louder unit.
|Domestic||Less intrusive sound of Mazzer gains it the domestic edge||7/10||10/10|
|Commercial||Noise unlikely to be an issue in an already noisy cafe, but I guess a less intrusive sound can't be a bad thing.||9/10||10/10|
While the aesthetic effect is a result of components already considered, it's worth looking at how they all fit together. Commercially this is unlikely to be a particular issue as neither of them are exactly ugly, but domestically these things can be important. Undoubtedly the Compak leads the way in this department.
|Domestic||Looks matter in a modern kitchen!||10/10||7/10|
|Commercial||Not so much in a cafe when only the back is seen||10/10||9/10|
Everything Mazzer but the power cord location and aesthetics thanks!
Cleaning is an important but relatively rare event for a grinder so we will just take an overall cleaning score rather than on each component to reflect this.
Compak top collar (top) and both collars removed from machine - Mazzer (L) and Compak (R). Why is there so much thread on the Compak?...
Top and bottom burrs - Compak (L) and Mazzer (R)
The Mazzer wins this round hands down. The adjustment collar only requires 5 complete anti-clockwise turns before it's off and you can pull the upper burr carrier straight off. You're open for cleaning within 60 seconds and with no tools. The Compak has allen key screws for adjustment stops, and the pin which hits these is a self-tapping screw mounted to the collar with a rounded head, meaning you can't remove this pin to clear the stops to allow the collar to be unscrewed! The only way to get the thing apart is to remove the three allen key screws which hold the collar to the adjustment mechanism (just imagine how many users would lose the required tool to do this!), then remove the collar, then either remove the grinder-mounted stop screws and reattach the collar, or else grip the round slippery brass adjustment mechanism itself and rotate it 12 turns to allow it to be removed. I can't think for the life of me why there are so many threads on the adjuster considering the range allowed by the factory stops is only 1/4 of a turn, and that does from espresso to plunger. To get around the cleaning problems I removed the adjustment stop screws so I can just unscrew it as I do with the Mazzer. A far better solution would be for Compak to modify the collar-mounted rivet screw to make it user-removable so it could just be unscrewed and removed as the Mazzer without having to disturb the stops. Annoying for all users but probably more so commercially when cleaning is likely to occur more often.
Once you've got it apart they're very similar inside. The burr sets are all but identical. The Mazzer has less build-up of old coffee than the Compak, but in both cases it's firmly packed stuff which isn't going to come loose which acts much like a replacable gasket to fill up any gaps, so it's not a particular problem.
Chances of cleaning the grind entry chute - Compak 'Electricians 'R' Us' (top), Mazzer 'life-was-meant-to-be-easy' (bottom)
It would rarely need doing but when you do it's a whole lot easier on the Mazzer. The guard is held in with two screws which are easy enough to remove. Compak’s has the microswitch and wiring all incorporated and it can't actually be completely removed (wiring doesn't have connectors that allow the switch assembly to be removed) so must be messily held to one side. Compak clearly didn't intend this area to be cleaned.
|Domestic||Much easier job on the Mazzer, rare occurrence||2/10||8/10|
|Commercial||Much easier job on the Mazzer, rare occurrence||2/10||8/10|
Having done all that we now have to analyse what we've seen and draw some conclusions. Both units do an equally excellent job of their primary function of grinding coffee, meaning any conclusions will be based on the performance and importance of the architecture surrounding that core function. Personally, my perfect grinder would be a Mazzer with the Compak's hopper and doser, but that's just what works for me and the reason I've scored each component separately is to cater for the fact that different people have different priorities. Clearly however we don't have the luxury of making our own grinder, so let's look at what we have.
One way to get a quick summary is to look at the scores we gave throughout this review, and these are collated below.
Table 1. Raw Scores
Not much of interest here, just a collection of the scores from the review, as well as an importance weighting for each component in domestic and commercial environments. The weighting is admittedly somewhat subjective as it's based on what I consider to be important, so if your priorities are different you may get a different score. However I think most would agree that things like grind adjustment is more important than the power cord location!
|Weighting / 10|
|Exit / fork||9.5||9||9.5||8||8||8|
So, not a lot in it at this point. The Compak's 2.5 points ahead domestically, the Mazzer's 1.5 points ahead commercially.
Table 2. Weighted Scores
Now we apply the weighting to the raw scores and see how each compares, the maximum score attainable for each component and how the Mazzer fared relative to the Compak in each.
|Item||Compak||Mazzer||Max. Poss||Compak||Mazzer||Max. Poss|
|Exit / fork||7.6||7.2||8||7.6||6.4||8||-0.4||-1.2|
Table 3. Totals
The one that really matters!
|Compak||Mazzer||Max. Score||Mazzer Lead||Compak||Mazzer||Max. Score||Mazzer Lead|
|Raw total equivalent*||187.51||192.77||230||5.26||198.74||201.86||230||3.13|
* Raw total equivalent scores - (weighted total / maximum weighted score possible)* maximum raw score possible.
This gives a figure which can be directly compared with the raw score.
There are some interesting conclusions to draw from these numbers. Firstly, the raw scores are very very close, which means it's neck and neck in terms of which unit has the better components - the Compak is 2.5 points ahead in the domestic arena while the Mazzer is just 1.5 points ahead commercially. However once we weight those scores, we find the Mazzer turns the tables in the domestic arena, turning a 2.5 point (1.09%) deficit into a 5.26 point (2.29%) lead, and in the commercial arena it slightly extends the 2 point (0.65%) lead to 3.13 points (1.36%) (we'll discuss in a moment how those leads came about). While these are very slender margins, the increase on both counts means the Mazzer excels in the areas that matter most, whereas the Compak's main strengths aren't the ones which hold the most weight. For example, the Mazzer scores perfect 10's in Grind Adjustment which is clearly a critical area, while the Compak scores perfect 10's in Doser Adjustment and Doser Mechanism which aren't weighted nearly as heavily. That said, the margins we're dealing with here are still very slim, and because of that there's every chance the balance could tip the other way if your priorities are slightly different to mine.
On that note, one weighted statistic that is particularly worthy of mention before drawing any further conclusions is the 'Scale' score in the domestic arena. Because a grind scale has been deemed to be very important in a domestic arena and the Compak is so poor in this regard, the Mazzer lands an enormous 8 point weighted blow in this area; remembering the Mazzer only came in 2.7 weighted points ahead of the Compak, if a scale is of no importance to a particular domestic user then the Compak would immediately hold a comfortable lead; even reducing the weighting of this area from 10 points to 4, the Compak would still have the raw equivalent of a 4 point lead. This underlines the fact that if you have different priorities and thus weightings, you may well get a different result to what has been achieved here, which is why you need to consider your own priorities throughout the reivew rather than just relying on my conclusion to guide your decisions!
Back on track, both grinders grind as well as each other, but after that the most important thing performance-wise is being able to consistently get the burr spacing right to produce the right grind, and this is where the Mazzer lands one of its biggest blows on the Compak. The spring-loaded burr carrier and collar-mounted 'scale' makes grind adjustment a very accurate process, something which makes coming back to a particular setting a much easier job than on the Compak. All other factors after that (doser, power switch, hopper etc) are peripheral to the grinding process so they start a distant third. Good as the Compak is in some of these other areas, the importance of the adjustment mechanism and the Mazzer's sparkling performance in this area makes it hard to beat in the 'best for purpose' stakes. In all but the raw domestic figures, the Mazzer scores higher than the Compak so it's hard to see it any other way than the better unit as far as performance. It feels a harsh judgement to pronounce on the Compak which is clearly an excellent unit, but on performance stakes it unfortunately fails to outshine the Mazzer in the areas that really matter, even if the difference is only a couple of percent.
So does this mean the Compak is to be relegated as a poor imitation of the Mazzer? By no means - while it didn't achieve the highest scores, there are still some very compelling reasons to consider the K-3. One telling statistic for the Compak is the raw number of category wins, irrespective of the margin. 22 categories were assessed; domestically, the Compak scores higher than the Mazzer in 12 categories, the Mazzer beats the Compak in just six, and the remaining four are equal. Commercially it's a closer race, with the Compak holding 10 categories, Mazzer nine and three equal. What this shows is that in both environments, the Compak actually gets more things right than the Mazzer but by a fairly slim margin, however the relatively few areas the Mazzer outshines the Compak are by so much that it still gets over the line. The K-3 is a unit which still performs extremely well, if lacking the functional clout of the Mazzer a little, but it still outshines the Mazzer in areas which some will see as particularly important. For starters, it's sure a nicer unit to look at than the Mazzer, to my eye at least. As mentioned it wins the component-by-component race. It's also cheaper - Compak's RRP is $630 where the Mazzer retails at $790, so you pay a premium of $160 or just over 20% for the Mazzer. Aesthetics and cost are both factors which are of great importance to a home user, so even though the Mazzer outscored the Compak in the domestic score, in the home these points will make the Compak, er, right at home. Remembering the Mazzer's lead was only 1-2%, the Compak is definitely be in front if we're looking at value for money. Quite apart from that, if features like a scale or a slack-free adjustment mechanism aren't quite so important, then the two biggest point-scorers of the Mazzer lose a lot of their gloss, leaving the Compak with its superior aesthetics and cheaper price tag suddenly looking very very attractive.
I'm one of those people who often skip to the end of a review to find out who won if I can't be bothered reading the whole thing, so I love it when the writer calls the winner by a big margin to save me the effort. When it comes to writing reviews I see it differently; in cases like this I'm reluctant to call an absolute winner because there are certain areas that each will clearly out-perform the other. So what are our conclusions? Which is overall the more fit-for-purpose unit, and what about value for money? The story of this whole review has been 'Grinder X is good in this area, but grinder Y is better', so frankly I wouldn't complain if I was given either of them.
Performance-wise the Mazzer Mini wins the race in the areas that really count. If you're a function over form person and can justify the extra money then the Mazzer will definitely give you a good return on your investment and the sort of clinical precise control in the areas that really matter. While both units will perform extremely well, the Mini lands those few blows that really count and push it over the line, even if only by the slightest of margins. In the Compak corner, the shortcomings which see it lag behind by just 1-2% are more than atoned for in the 20% saving you have on the purchase price and the fact that it gets so many other areas right that the Mazzer doesn't quite live up to. Particularly if aesthetics are high on your list, the Compak definitely deserves to be on your shortlist.
Which is the best unit for you depends on your circumstances - evaluate the areas that are particularly important to you and choose the best unit for you. Whichever you choose, it will serve you with consistently ground coffee for years to come.