This article will argue a very simple thesis; that the Niche Zero Grinder is the ultimate prosumer coffee grinder. After a very humble and inconspicuous beginning on Indiegogo, this single dosing espresso grinder has become one of the most sought out grinders in the specialty coffee world.
The Niche Zero Grinder, as the name suggests, is designed to fill a very specific niche; those looking for commercial level grind consistency in a home coffee grinder. It is made of commercial quality components, boasts an impressive set of 63mm hardened steel Mazzer Kony burrs, and is enclosed in a compact and minimalist machine that looks more like a juicer than a coffee grinder. Add to that the bold claim that this espresso grinder has completely zero retention and you have the beginning of why the Niche Zero is attracting such attention.
Niche Zero Grinder
In a nutshell the Niche Zero is a superb set of burrs placed on a powerful DC motor, and designed around the need for simplicity and minimalism. It is commercial grade quality that feels elegant and aesthetic rather than industrial.
Specifications of the Niche Zero Grinder
Niche Zero: A Comprehensive Review
The History of Niche Coffee
As mentioned earlier, the Niche Zero came from humble beginnings. It was a crowdfunded project which was funded four days after release. The brain behind this electric grinder was CEO and designer Martin Nicholson. Nicholson has had extensive experience in the design industry and has worked alongside well known brands such as Kenwood, Phillips, Braun, AEG, and Russell Hobbs.
This was Nicholson’s justification of his project in an interview:
Having worked in the industry for 30 years, I wanted to design and produce a revolutionary coffee product… Our revolutionary Niche Zero Grinder retains virtually zero grind, guaranteeing you the freshest possible coffee. We have designed a coffee bean grinder that is better looking, reduces waste and is quieter and easier to use.Martin Nicholson, Designer of the Niche Zero
However, what has really alerted the specialty coffee world to this espresso grinder is the remarkable number of high end coffee experts who recommend it. This started with the in-depth and glowing independent review that UK coffee expert Dave Corby wrote. Following on, past World Barista Champion and youtuber James Hoffman reviewed it positively, and thought highly enough of it to purchase a model for himself. It is also used and advocated by leading coffee authority Scott Rao. While of course it has its critics (as does every product), the Niche Zero Grinder has been very well received in the coffee world.
Zero Retention: Is It True And Why Does It Matter?
Perhaps the most daring claim of the Niche Zero Grinder is the claim from which its name originates. Before considering how well it meets its claims, it is important to realise what zero retention means. In most burr grinders (commercial and domestic), there are a small amount of coffee grinds that are left either in the grinding chamber or the grinds spout. For this reason it is customary when dialing in for espresso to ‘purge’ the grinder after each grind size change. This gets rid of the old size grinds that are stuck in the grinder, so that only the new particle size comes out. Zero retention means no (or more accurately very little) coffee grinds are retained in the grinder between uses.
This is of particular advantage for the home coffee brewer. In a commercial setting, that many pounds of coffee are used per day that the amount of grinds purged is nominal. However for the home brewer, if you get a 250g bag of geisha beans, you can waste half the packet before you have even found the correct grind size. Zero retention means zero purging. And zero purging means dialing in beans is a dream and waste free.
It also means that switching between brewing methods is amazingly simple. Because you have zero retention, you can grind extremely fine for espresso and then simply change the setting and grind far coarser for Aeropress without any issues or beans wasted. In fact, this was the primary reason that I ended up buying the Niche Zero. Because I typically have an espresso in the morning and then a V60 or Aeropress or two in the afternoon. Previous to this I was using the Rancilio Rocky as an espresso grinder and the Aergrind by Knock for soft brews. With the Niche I have only needed one grinder for all my coffee needs and the grind consistency far exceeds either of my previous grinders. So this is not the review of an objective reviewer but instead of a passionate advocate.
So how does it measure up to its daring claims? Well according to Dave Corby, there are three main areas in relation to retention:
As a point of comparison, for a standard commercial grinder the retention rates would be approximately as follows:
For the Niche Zero Grinder, these were the numbers that came out:
The difference here is staggering! As you can see it is not completely zero retention, but it is about as close as you can come. And the retention which does remain really is negligible either to taste or extraction. This comes as a result of a very carefully constructed grind path as well as patented materials for minimal static. Independent testing verified similar results that the dose consistency is less than +/- 0.2g of grind across different coffees and roast levels. It is worth noting however, that the very first time you use the Niche Zero Grinder, the dose consistency will be closer to 0.5g.
Burrs and Grind Consistency of the Niche Grinder
The next and perhaps most important thing to consider is grind consistency. Optimal coffee extraction requires as close as possible to particle size uniformity. This isn’t a cheap electric grinder, and so for this price point you would expect high grind consistency. This consistency is largely although not exclusively determined by the size and quality of the burrs used.
The Niche Zero utilises premium grade 63mm Mazzer Kony hardened steel conical burrs. This is the same burr set that is used in the commercial Mazzer Kony grinder and according to Dave Corby is the type of burr set he would usually associate with a 1200 pound grinder! According to the manufacturers of these burrs that equates to an average burr life of 750Kg or around 20 years for the average home coffee brewer! So this is a seriously impressive set of burrs which is primarily designed for espresso but also functions well for manual of soft brew methods.
There is still much debate in the coffee world about the advantages and disadvantages of conical burrs in relation to flat plate burrs. With well known advocates in both camps it is hard to say definitively that one trumps the other. Instead it often comes down to the quality of the burrs used, the motor the burrs are connected to, and the rpm. Conical burrs tend to respond very well to a slower rpm as this leads to greater consistency and less popcorning (beans jumping out). This is especially true in relation to single dosing coffee grinders as the lack of a hopper full of beans means there is less pressing the beans into the burrs. The Niche Zero grinder runs at approximately 330rpm. Consequently the mixture of superb quality burrs and a low rpm leads to an exceptional grind consistency.
We use our Niche Zero primarily for both espresso and V60, as well as less regularly for cold brew and Aeropress. As noted earlier, previous to this we did our espresso on a doserless Rancilio Rocky, and all our manual brewing on the Aergrind hand grinder by Knock. We have found the Niche grinder has significantly greater grind consistency than either of these grinders. In espresso this translates to almost no clumping and far better extraction. And for V60 far less fines and a quicker drawdown which similarly leads to a better overall extraction and taste. So although we use our Niche Zero grinder across a range of brewing methods and grind sizes, we have found that it has excelled our expectations as it relates to grind consistency.
In addition, the Niche Zero is a stepless grinder and so has unlimited possible grind size gradations. The ways the grind size is adjusted is both intuitive and simple. You simply take hold of the collar of the ‘hopper’ and twist as little or as much as is required. There is a bottom collor that can also be adjusted not for grind size but for calibration. There are dots on one half of the collar between 1 and 50 as a point of reference. This covers most grind settings the average brewer uses but I have found that at times I do go beyond 50 and it can be frustrating that there is no markings to measure against. I must confess that when I started using this adjustment system I was somewhat skeptical. As I was switching grind size multiple times a day I was sure there would be slippage in the grind settings, but again my expectations have been excelled by the way that this simple adjustment system makes regular adjustments both easy and reliable.
Build Quality of this Espresso Grinder
As well as being fitted out with superb burrs, the Niche Zero has excellent overall build quality. The body of the espresso grinder is powder coated aluminium that comes in either white or black. It has a timber trim that both looks and feels premium. Despite fairly heavy use in the past few months we have noted no issues with the timber wearing. There is talk of extending the range and colour of the wood accents, but this hasn’t come into effect as yet.
The build quality of the Niche grinder is further strengthened by the simplicity of the components and design choices. Because there is no LCD screen, timers, extra displays or lit buttons, Niche has been able to focus on high quality components. As you may know, in home coffee grinders and espresso grinders, the most common issues are not with the burr or even the motor but the added extras like electronics and timers etc. The simplicity of the build both aids reliability and easy repair. Again this was an intentional choice on the part of Niche to aid longer life and sustainability. In fact almost all the breakable parts of the Niche are both affordable to purchase and able to be installed without any special tools or assistance.
The motor utilized in the Niche Zero grinder is a powerful and reliable DC motor. Again this was a rather wise design decision, as DC motors are both smaller and more efficient than their A/C counterparts. This means that the Niche grinder is able to maintain a slow and stable rpm which minimalises pulverisation of beans and yet remains compact in size. This is a powerful motor that deals easily with various types of roast levels and bean densities. If a rock or piece of metal did enter the burr chamber a rise in current will be detected and a self-resetting thermal cutout prevents motor damage. And so although the burrs might get chipped there shouldn’t be any shaft misalignment.
The other build quality aspect worth considering is the NFC (Niche Flow Control) Disk. When the Niche Zero grinder was initially released, a common complaint was popcorning which is very common in single dosing grinders and affects grind consistency. Niche took these complaints on board and released the NFC disk which is connected to the bottom of the hopper and means a slower feeding of the beans into the burr chamber and that beans can’t jump back out of the burr chamber. This is a company that takes improving their product seriously.
Design and Size of the Niche Zero
Part of the widespread appeal of the Niche Zero grinder is that it simply looks too elegant to be a coffee grinder. Especially for those used to a Compak or the EK43, this actually fits and looks nice in a kitchen. It doesn’t dominate the space, it doesn’t feel in the least bit industrial. But instead it looks rather like a nice kitchen appliance by SMEG or another company like that. Your average coffee lover doesn’t mind a ugly monster of a coffee grinder as long as it functions well, but the issues come when you share your kitchen with someone like a wife or husband or partner!
The Niche grinder has a small enough footprint to be unobtrusive, and can easily be stored away under the bench. At 9lb it is heavy enough to be stable while remaining light enough to move and maneuver easily. Another nice wee feature that Niche added is integrated cord storage so that you only pull out as much of the power cord as you need for your situation. It is this attention to small details which sets Niche above many of its competitors.
When your Niche Zero grinder arrives, it comes in a box with the espresso grinder, a small screwdriver tool, a cleaning brush, and the 58mm dosing basket. This basket is different to many espresso grinders as it means that there is no portafilter cradle. This can feel counterintuitive as it does add an extra step in the espresso making process. However, our experience has been very positive around it. While it does add a step, it really is simple and does translate to a far cleaner coffee area. The basket, as every other part of the grinder, does feel and look well made. It is designed to fit snugly into a 58mm portafilter for easy transfer. This works well but could be a pain if your espresso machine utilizes a smaller sized portafilter.
The brush is also a nice feature. This can be used to brush the exterior of the grinder, the dosing cup, and the interior of the grinder when doing a more comprehensive clean.
However, we learnt the hard way not to get the brush wet. If you do, the bristles do go a bit funny.
Functionality of the Niche Grinder
As well as looking nice, and grinding well, the Niche Zero grinder simply is a pleasure to use. And this again comes back to its simplicity and minimalist design. There are no fancy features, no backlight, no display, no inbuilt timer or scale.
So as a single dosing grinder, you weigh out your beans before grinding. You then pour the beans into the hopper, close the lid, and flick the start/stop switch. The grinder won’t begin grinding until the lid is down. The grinder then grinds through the beans until there is none left. It doesn’t come with an auto-stop function and so when the grinding is complete you have to then flick the switch again.
Another pleasant aspect of the Niche grinder is how quiet it is when grinding. It clocks in at 72dB in large part due to the DC motor and slower RPM. Especially in a home coffee set up this is a huge advantage. For early morning brews it means you don’t need to worry about waking the rest of the household, and when entertaining it means you can maintain conversation while grinding the beans (a marked difference compared to the Rancilio Rocky!).
The grind speed of the Niche Zero grinder is neither spectacular nor problemsome. It is not the fastest grinder around, but in a home set up this is a lot less important than in a commercial workflow. The grinding speed depends on how fine or coarse you are grinding but again the speed has felt reasonable so that I certainly never notice the speed or lack thereof.
Maintaining the Niche Zero Grinder
By this point of the review, it will come as no surprise that maintenance and cleaning of the Niche is a breeze. As has been our constant experience, this is an espresso grinder with carefully thought out design choices.
To open up the grinder for cleaning or maintenance is simple and requires no additional tools apart from the screwdriver which comes with it. To open the burr chamber and remove the top burr you simply unscrew the NFC disk, rotate the collar clockwise until it comes off, and then lift off the top burr and other parts as shown in the video below. It is simple to do and can be done in well under 20s.
The Niche Zero Grinder: Concluding Thoughts
So who is the Niche Zero for? Who should buy it? And the answer is the prosumer home coffee brewer. The word ‘prosumer’ essentially means a product which is professional or commercial grade while being designed for consumer use. The vast majority of coffee grinders are either home coffee grinders which have relatively poor grind consistency and a cheap price tag or commercial grinders with superb consistency but at a price tag that runs into the thousands.
The Niche Zero grinder has sought to cut new ground by melding commercial quality (a term that is sometimes used far too lightly) with domestic functionality. It has been called, not inappropriately I believe, the first true prosumer coffee grinder. So if you love coffee enough to feel discontent with a cheap grinder and poor grind consistency, but don’t want to spend as much as you might spend on a car, then the Niche Zero is for you! Having owned and experimented fairly extensively with the Niche grinder, I can only recommend it!
If you have any thought or questions feel free to post them below, and we will seek to answer your queries as soon as possible.