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Iberital MC2 review
CHOOSING A GRINDER: IBERITAL MC2
An independent review by CakeBoy.
Choosing a grinder is not an easy process. All grinders are not equal, even those that share identical burr sets. Finding the right grinder for your requirements within a given budget is complex enough, but there is also the issue of apparent disparity in price between what appear on the face of it to be very similar machines. Then there is the question of where to buy your chosen product. After all, the enthusiast coffee market rarely offers consumers the chance to purchase locally in person, everything is remote and internet based, so there may no hands on contact before buying. Choices are often made on the strength of other user opinions and reviews that may or may not be subjective, making it critical to deal with a vendor that enjoys a reputation for high customer service.
This is not a technical overview of the MC2, others have already stripped down this particular burr set and analysed it extremely well in relation to the alternatives. The aim of this review is to unravel at least some of the complex choices that confront the perspective grinder buyer and to highlight in particular the strengths and weaknesses of the Iberital MC2 from a user point of view with an eye on the needs of those that may be new to the subject.
FLAT OR CONICAL?
Many people consider a flat burr set to be superior to the conical alternative. Indeed, the majority of top end enthusiast grinders have burrs on flat plates similar to their commercial use higher volume counterparts. That does not mean all flat burr grinders are better than conical types. Grinders such as the Mazzer family costing hundreds of pounds are without peers in their category and superb in operation. In the MC2 price range of the sub £150 grinder it is important to consider the quality of the mounting upon which the burrs sit. I have experienced visible play on the spindle of some flat burr grinders in this price range and had difficulty getting them to maintain fine enough settings for proper espresso grinding. After being dialled in, the plates have actually come together upon the grinder being restarted without it being adjusted at all. This appears to be by virtue of the play afforded by the spindle. That does not mean all flat burr plate grinders in the price range will suffer from the same problem or that it would be a difficulty to all users, but I believe most enthusiasts are likely to encounter the same issues that I came across at this level if they are serious about espresso.
So what are the options? The MC2 has a conical burr set, which as it suggests consists of cone shaped burrs which on a basic level sit one inside the other. An advantage of conical burrs is that they grind at lower speeds generally and thus reduce any risk of burning the beans. In my experience the conical burr set that is found in the MC2, as well as a number of other grinders, does not suffer with issues of plates colliding, even on extremely fine settings. This may be the result of the physical characteristics of conical burrs or simply because of the quality of the mounting.
WORMS OR NOTCHES?
The coarseness of the grinds produced may be adjusted by one of two methods and which is used depends on the make and model of the grinder. Personal preference is as big a factor as anything in the choice of a grinder using notches over one with a worm or vice versa, however, there are a number of other things to consider.
The notch method consists of turning a marked dial to specific locations which are infinitely repeatable, making it easy to move from espresso settings to say drip press and back without risk of losing the optimum place for either. The potential downside is that on some grinders the notches are far enough apart that enthusiasts often complain about needing to be somewhere between two different ones for the ideal espresso setting. Now clearly this changes as beans age or different varieties are used, but it is an issue voiced regularly because producing great espresso can require very subtle adjustments.
There are no marked settings with the worm system. Instead, a knob allows the burrs to be adjusted to any desired position whatsoever on an unmarked dial, thus offering the user absolute control over the grind. The negative here is that it can be difficult to repeat settings, which may make life difficult for someone wanting different types of coffee grinds. Marks can be made by the user on the dial showing espresso, drip and so on, but the nature of a worm still makes it far from easy to return precisely to the same positions.
Worms vary from one grinder to another. Without doubt those found on high end machines are superior to their cheaper counterparts and generally make it easier to repeat settings. However, the difference is not massive and the MC2 does have an excellent worm adjuster that copes well with very slight turns of the knob making subtle changes eminently obtainable.
Many enthusiasts express the opinion that for making only espresso, a grinder with a worm adjuster should be considered, but if it is to grind for different types of coffee a notch system might be a better option.
TIMED OR DOSER?
The model being reviewed is the automatic version of the MC2. This doses a predetermined amount of coffee grinds directly into a portafilter or chosen receptacle on demand by employing a user adjusted timer mechanism. The alternative to the automatic model is the doser version which collects whatever volume of coffee is ground by the user and retains it in the doser for future use, at which time a set amount is provided with each the pull of a lever. The workings of the two models are otherwise identical.
The choice of timer or doser is very much one of personal opinion and a great deal of debate. The ideal location for a doser is in a coffee shop where the volume of drinks served may justify a level of readiness for the next shot. Some home users like the way the grinds are delivered cleanly so they grind and dose just enough at a time to prevent any stale coffee being left behind. The timer version is best suited to low volume users that have the time to grind per shot. Typically this is the enthusiast or even employed in a cafe for coffee that is served less frequently like decaffeinated or speciality types.
As I have already mentioned, a number of grinders use the same burr sets. In fact many employ the same motors as well. The difference between them is often just the body and yet prices can vary greatly between different brands.
This was one of the hardest things for me to comprehend. Like many, I was happy to pay more money for better quality, but did not want to do so simply for aesthetics or a brand name. For instance the Aerolatte grinder (branded Lux in North America and Australia) retails for cheaper in the UK and shares the same burr set as the MC2. Both are mounted on a durable hard plastic spindle, and in practice they produce very similar grind quality.
So why would anyone pay more for the MC2? Well the answer is that they may not. There are many satisfied Aerolatte users around because it does a very good job. The difference is not apparent until the grinders are compared side by side, and it is one of durability. The Aerolatte is tiny compared to the MC2. It is strictly a home use grinder that is housed in a single sheet of thin metal and it is very lightweight. The MC2 is much taller by comparison. It benefits from a rigid metal housing and is considerably heavier. The MC2 can be employed in a cafe as a decaffeinated or speciality coffee grinder. It could even cope as the main grinder in a restaurant where coffee volume is low, whilst the Aerolatte would not manage at all in a commercial environment. Similarly, the MC2 is more than capable of offering a lifetime of service to the enthusiast at home, whereas the Aerolatte probably would not be the final upgrade for anyone.
Please don't misunderstand me, the Aerolatte is an excellent grinder for the money and I chose it as a comparator only because it is the least expensive of the grinders sharing a burr set with the MC2 that is capable of grinding finely enough for decent espresso. My point is that sharing the same burr set does not make grinders equal. In reality virtually all burr sets above the basic level are capable of doing a reasonably good job depending on the rest of the grinder parts. The quality of the mountings, housing and motor is just as important, and something that buyers can easy miss in the overwhelming tide of reviews concentrating solely on whatever burr set a particular grinder employs.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE MC2 IN USE?
Power on and off is controlled by a toggle switch situated to the bottom left hand side of the grinder when viewed from the front. This is a welcome feature that is omitted on some lower priced timed grinders.
Grinds are produced by the MC2 at the push of a button situated at the front of the machine. They appear through a short chute just above the button and some quite flexible plastic arms designed to retain the Portafilter for direct dosing. The button and arms are quite lightweight but should not be a problem for anyone other than the most heavy handed user. The arms are not the perfect fit for my 58mm Portafilter, so to prevent spillage and possible clumping of the grinds, I usually place a glass under the chute then transfer the contents evenly into the basket. Any clumping occurs because static electricity is created by the grinding action causing grinds to stick in the plastic chute. It is a phenomenon common to many grinders, rather than being specific to the MC2, which in fact does not produce as much static as most. Clumping can cause channelling in the basket as water finds the route of least resistance and will spoil the extraction if the grinds are not compacted evenly.
The timer that controls the amount of grinds produced at each push of the dosing button is adjusted by turning a small knob on the bottom right hand side of the MC2 when looking at the grinder from the front. It is capable of providing between six and nine grams per push, and is fairly accurate in operation when compared with many other timed machines.
The knob used to control the worm drive which adjusts the coarseness of the grind is situated on the right hand side of the MC2, near the collar and just below the hopper. The worm works very well, allowing the finest of adjustments to compensate for different beans and roasts, the ageing of beans and varying types of shot. The worm is extremely responsive and neither it nor the control knob suffers from any form of play or unwanted movement. Repeating settings can be difficult on any worm drive as there are no markings similar to those found on the dial of a notched type adjuster, so Iberital have provided what looks like a tape measure in the form of a sticker on the hopper in an attempt to assist users. I have found this to be of no real use as it does not have fine enough units of measurement and is situated near the top of the hopper, thus it is so far from the body of the machine that there is no fixed mark with which to take any reading.
The MC2 is not as quiet in operation as a Mazzer or Macap, but it is certainly not unpleasantly loud and compares more than favourably to other grinders in the same price bracket. As many have said, grinding for coffee is over in a few seconds, and by definition crushing something hard is not a quiet activity.
The hopper appears to move slightly with the vibration of the MC2 in operation, but I have not had any problems with this and it does not seem to be loose in any way. It is certainly not going to be literally eaten by the grind mechanism as reported in some Innova models.
The MC2 is very capable of grinding excellently for all types of coffee. In espresso terms, it is easily able to produce grinds that can completely choke a Rancilio Audrey with a light tamp, which is impressive when considered alongside some other grinders in this price bracket that I found were totally unable to maintain espresso settings at all.
The MC2 produces consistent grinds of uniform size that leave staining on the fingers when rubbed. The resultant grinds from fresh roasted beans when used in a Rancilio Audrey provide an espresso with good Guinness effect, a thick dark Crema and excellent mouth feel from a 25 second extraction. I have found little or no visible debris in the espresso from undersized grinds.
Overall in operation, the MC2 is a well built machine that provides durability and excellent results.
Scott from Happy Donkey rescued me from a hellish experience with Cunill Tranquilo grinders and a vendor that I will not be using again. He ensured that the MC2 was exactly suited to my needs and offered a great deal of advice. I can only recommend the level of professionalism and after sales service from Happy Donkey and would use them again based on price and peace of mind.
The Iberital MC2 is a great grinder that will not disappoint. It can produce excellent quality grinds for all types of coffee, though the worm drive may not suit those needing to change frequently from coarse to fine settings.
The MC2 could easily be a grinder for life and for most will do everything that they ever want. It is not quite as good as a Mazzer or similar higher priced grinder, but the difference is subtle, and possibly only discernible when used with the very best of espresso machines. Those searching for every possible edge toward espresso nirvana might wish eventually to upgrade to something more expensive in order to obtain a potential improvement in quality, though that gain will not be exponential in relation to cost, and will be one that they will benefit from only if all the other variables in their routine are perfect. However, most of us will remain satisfied with a grinder that is one of the best in its class and is capable of working alongside any coffee machine to produce excellent results.
Other more expensive grinders may do it slightly better, but few if any offer the value to cost ratio of the MC2 whilst consistently producing results at a very high level. I would buy it again.