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Hands-on Gear Review
Breville: the Smart Grinder Pro Review
Price: $230 List | $199.95 at Amazon
Pros: Makes a great cup, quiet, easy to clean, useful features for espresso
Cons: Cluttered controls, expensive
Bottom line: Fancy! And has a price tag to match. Super quiet and produces a great cup with hefty taste. However, the precision control features are overkill and make simple operation elusive
The Breville Smart Grinder Pro is among the higher quality grinders that we tested, with well above average scores in three out of our four criteria. It makes a tasty cup of coffee that ranks only one point below the Editors' Choice award-winning OXO On Barista Brain and it has a number of features that the average burr grinder doesn't include. But it was surprising how unhelpful other features turned out to be for performing common tasks for grinding coffee. The central controls feel crowded and stuffy. Better a grinder with a "pulse" button than the highly automated controls of the Breville. That said, the Breville flexes its muscles with a removable bin base that makes for easy cleanup and has a top score for quietness. It's a cool product and has a lot to offer, but lacks an intuitive interface.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Breville Smart Grinder has everything and the kitchen sink. It makes a good cup of coffee but it errs on the side of including every feature that you could possibly imagine to fine tune and expedite the grinding process. The cup this machine produced scored an 8 for quality of taste and also pulled in a top score of 9 for both quietness and mess-free operation. The downside of the Breville is that it's loaded with such a handful of features that it can make coffee brewing more complicated rather than more intuitive. The OXO, which scored a 10 for ease of use, boasts similar precision with only one central control button for dosing and grinding. The Breville was ranked a 6, with multiple controls clustered in the middle to adjust grinding time by the tenth of a second and to program changes to the original settings.
The quality of taste from this machine is solid. The Breville stood out in making a cup with great depth and resonance (lots of chocolates), and good sweetness, earning an 8 in this category. The cup style is pretty one sided in that it highlights concentrated bass notes and minimizes the top notes. The Breville presents very little "lively" nuance, unlike the Baratza Virtuoso, which tied the Breville's score. This grinder also tied with the Cuisinart Deluxe, which produced good coffee that was more smooth, sweet, and mellow in its flavor profile. The OXO, in comparison, seemed to have it all—mouthfeel, depth, sweetness, full range of nuance—pulling in a 9 for quality of taste.
Ease of Use
The Breville Smart Grinder Pro is loaded with features. It has all the bells and whistles that its competitors have, and then some. An easily removable hopper (pictured above), removable bin base for easy cleaning, even a plug that's extra easy to unplug from the outlet. We initially assumed that this spaceship of a grinder with all these features would crush the competition. But before long we found ourselves staring blankly at the controls saying, "Uhh… so which one of these buttons grinds coffee?" The Breville allows you to adjust grind time to the tenth of a second and even has a programmable memory, but we felt lost navigating around these features and their cluttered positioning. If you intend to use the automation features and put high value on impeccable precision, then you may find the Breville helpful. But if you don't use these features you can't put them in an "apps I can't delete" folder—you will have to learn to work around them to use the machine. We found this frustrating and finished testing with an inclination to avoid using the Breville. It was easier to use the simple pulse feature of the Baratza Encore, or the Bodum Bistro with its plastic timer dial and start button, which both pulled in decent scores of 7 for ease of use.
The Breville "majors in the minor details" and loses sight of the primary task of coffee grinding. The OXO achieves a perfect score of 10 for helping you make coffee. It has one central control button that performs the most common daily functions: selecting your dose and starting the grind. The OXO performs other detail functions but these options are discretely situated, unlike the Breville, where miscellaneous functions are clustered together in a central display with multiple labels.
Breville's marketing team highlights these features as if they make a better tasting cup. But this level of precision doesn't make a significantly better brew, especially if you're making more than one serving. And while the Breville does make a better tasting cup than the majority of grinders we tested, it is not because of its buttons and knobs. Every cup in our testing was dosed out to less than half a gram of difference. The Breville's precision features aren't what make the coffee taste better; they only made it harder to make good coffee.
This kind of precision could come in handy for an espresso machine. If you are trying to control variables for pulling a 27-second espresso shot rather than a 29 second extraction, then the tenth of a second grind time variable control can be useful, not to mention the grind range on the machine that is almost half dedicated to espresso making… or the adjustable burrs that can be calibrated to make the machine's entire grind range tighter. However, when evaluated as a grinder for brew methods other than espresso, these features don't make the Breville outshine the competition for ease of use, they just crowd out the basic controls.
The Breville Smart Grinder Pro had the lowest decibel reading of every grinder we tested and was rated a 9. This gives it a tie with the Cuisinart Deluxe Grind, which was Top Pick for Quietest Grinder. The Breville had a noticeably lower objective volume but a little bit higher pitch motor noise. However, the Deluxe Grind had a low volume and such a mellow white noise frequency that it tied with the Breville and stood out as the Top Pick winner.
The Breville's mess-free operation posts another top score of 9. There are virtually no escaping coffee grounds during grinding or while transferring the coffee to the brewer. Any mess under the burrs where the grind chamber rests is easy to wipe up, yet the Breville makes things even easier by making this area removable—just pull it out and dust it off or rinse it. Each grinder seems to have a unique way of making a mess. The Cuisinart Supreme (NOT to be confused with the Cuisinart Deluxe) scored a 2 for how much coffee static and powder escaped during transfer from bin to brewer, the Baratza grinders both ranked 6 because of escaping dust while inserting and removing the bin, and the Capresso did pretty well in creating less mess (earning an 8) but is a bit difficult to wipe up because of a divot underneath the bin where coffee collects. The Breville's design seems to avoid all these issues and deserves a hi-five and a score of 9 for mess-free operation.
The Breville makes great coffee and although we didn't pull any shots, it seems to yell "espresso." The Breville highlights the depth of a coffee's flavor profile, which can give a balanced flavor in milky drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. It also has features that make precision and automation possible and a grind range that is almost half dedicated to espresso. The cluttered controls are a significant drawback for coffee brewing but for someone obsessed with dialing in a 28-second shot, these controls could be used frequently. However, to nerd out on espresso extraction, you should shop for espresso grinders (which we have yet to review) and keep the Breville Smart Grinder Pro on your radar for then. Espresso use aside, it is difficult to recommend this machine unless you like to regularly use automation features.
The Breville is not a cheap option, listing at $230, and we think the price exceeds the unit's value. The Breville is a top tier grinder and worth a good chunk of money; it does everything and does it well. However, its biggest drawback is the cluttered controls with options and settings that aren't necessary for making good coffee. Purchasing the Breville would be paying for a a lot of features you would have to work around on a daily basis. You might be the person to take full advantage of this machine's features. However, other machines like the Cuisinart Deluxe secured the same top scores as the Breville but blew the ease-of-use score out of the water as well. The Deluxe boasts a list price of $149 list, an $80 difference. The Editors' Choice award winner, the OXO, gives a tastier brew with per-gram precision using only one button as the central control, and it lists at $200. The Breville is no bargain but if its control features ring your bell, maybe $230 could feel worth it.
They don't call it the "Smart Grinder" for nothing. Breville thought about everything when they designed this thing. That's why it has top scores in nearly every category. However, that's also why it suffers a low score in ease of use. The Breville's cup of coffee was exciting and pleasant, it created little mess, was easy to clean up after, and it's uber quiet. But the overall experience was tainted by the controls we had to mess with every time we wanted to make coffee. We wished there was a "grind" button or some sort of manual override. However, if you plan to use an espresso machine for making your coffee, this grinder might be handy. In that case, consider it along with other machines that are dedicated to grinding for espresso.
— Jared Marquez
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