The DF64: Niche Killer? - James Hoffman
- Hi there.
Today, we're gonna look at this little grinder right here.
It is the DF64, or the G-iota, or the Solo, or the Turin.
It has a lot of names, it's the same grinder.
It's really, really popular right now.
A lot of interest,
probably the most requested review on this channel.
I've had this for a couple of months,
I'm gonna share some thoughts.
Now, to give you a brief overview of the specs
of this grinder, it is a single dose grinder.
Obviously it has no hopper,
it's got a little kind of bellows set up here.
But you put in what you wanna grind, it'll grind it through
into this little plastic dosing cup.
It has 64 millimeter burrs, hence the name DF64.
Those burrs spin at 1400 RPM,
and those burrs are made by Italmill.
However, these burrs can be switched out
for something like the SSP burrs,
the high-uniformity or the unimodal.
Now price wise, this is what has made this so interesting.
Prices vary depending on where you are.
In the UK, it's about 400 and something pounds.
I've seen it for about 400 euros,
I've seen it for five to 600 US dollars.
You can buy from local distributors
and generally I would advise that.
I bought mine in the UK, where it's branded Solo.
You can buy it more directly on alibaba.com.
I think it's about $450 there.
But that's before shipping, before any kind of import
or duties that you might pay there.
And that'll obviously vary.
Obviously buying in-country,
you'll pay what you're gonna pay up front
and it's simple and it's easy.
At that price point, it is considered to be
the very strongest competitor to something like the Niche.
Right, the Niche Zero has had an incredible couple of years.
It has been hugely popular.
I have one, I talked about it on the channel before,
I really like the grinder.
We'll talk about why again, coming up,
because I think it's really important
to talk about why I liked that grinder
and how I feel about this grinder,
because it's positioned as the Niche killer.
Now, the Niche is a little bit more expensive
at about 500 pounds,
and they are a little bit more supply constrained.
However, the Niche remains in very strong demand
and they tend to run pre-sales that sell out,
and people are looking for an alternative.
And on paper, this is very interesting.
It's cheaper, it's a flat burr grinder,
which some people really like,
as opposed to a conical burr grinder with the Niche.
And you can use different burr sets with it.
It seems like an obvious alternative,
a better choice potentially, but is that the case?
So today we'll talk through a few things.
We'll start with kind of making coffee with it.
What's the coffee it produces like?
Does it make a great tasting espresso, great tasting filter?
And then we'll talk more about
the experiential aspect of it.
Flaws or bugs or quirks or things that I like
or things that I don't.
To start with though,
we should use it for its intended purposes,
and pull a shot of espresso. So grinding with it.
It's not particularly fast and it's not particularly slow
for these kinds of grinders that sits
somewhere in the middle I guess.
It does grind into this, which makes some people angry.
It's a little plastic dosing cup.
It's actually for me, preferable to grinding directly
into a portafilter, for a couple of reasons we'll get into.
But some people don't like the plastic.
To be honest, I quite like grinding into something clear,
it lets me see how it's going
when I distribute it into the portafilter.
And this does fit inside a 58 mm portafilter, which is good.
So let's throw this in.
So you can see that you're reasonably well distributed
before you might then go on and finish distribution
with say a puck rake or something like that
or another distribution tool,
but you're starting from a reasonably good place.
Espresso from this grinder has generally been good,
enjoyable, tasty, well extracted.
It's a good set of flat burrs from Italmill.
I do have some SSP burrs that fit this.
I'm not running those in there,
'cause I wanted to review this as stock.
Because this sort of, the price of this was the appeal.
So starting with a sort of more expensive setup
didn't really make sense.
The espresso from this grinder, it is good.
It's not incredible, but it's good.
Sweetness is there, has okay to pretty good clarity,
the texture is pretty nice.
I've never really had issues with it,
it's not a flawed espresso in any particular way.
Yes, there might be a little bit more available
with better grinders or better burr sets,
but I'm not in this particular moment having a bad time.
It's a really nice espresso
that I'm getting out of this thing.
Now, in terms of negatives of the espresso experience,
there are a few.
Firstly, I'm down getting towards
the zero point pretty quickly here.
I'm grinding at sort of five on the dial,
and it's not recommended really to take it much past zero.
You could, but you know,
you're getting close to the sort of touch point there.
Which is kind of interesting that it's got a small range.
And I've not been going super far around,
maybe 50 or 55 on the dial here for like a V60 grind.
So I know I like to grind finer than V60,
but ultimately it's not a huge range on this
if that makes sense, of kind of a usable espresso range.
Secondly, there are some issues with this.
Firstly, mine does not stay in very well.
And it will wiggle its way out as this thing grinds,
which is just plain irritating.
This is kind of designed as if it might be
a portafilter fork, and portafilters do fit in there.
You might be tempted to do this.
Don't, just don't.
It certainly, with no portafilter I've found,
does it sit well and not wobble out
and cause a terrible mess and much frustration and swearing.
So into the dosing cup.
The other reason that I would recommend dosing
into a dosing cup first with a lot of grinders,
is that that act of sort of shaking it around
and mixing it up before transferring it over, helps
with kind of grind distribution and kind of uniformity.
What you'll have noticed is that when you do press
the bellows, quite a good bit of coffee comes out.
And that coffee is held behind
a kind of silicon declumping sort of screen.
It's quite a rudimentary thing,
it's not particularly well set up.
And it is to me a bit of a problem.
That coffee being stuck there can cause some regrinding,
and you might notice that the very last coffee that you
push out is a little bit finer than the rest of the coffee,
which I think adds to a little muddiness in the cup,
a little bit of harshness
and is a flaw for me in the grinder.
It would mean if I was putting very nice burrs inside
this thing, I wouldn't be getting the best out of them.
Now I've already seen people, I'll link to it down below,
have come up with alternatives to this.
They are using clump crushers from the Mythos grinders.
Someone's 3D printed a new housing to go inside this.
They've been having good results it seems, but as stock,
the declumping situation here is not very good.
I don't think it's a particularly elegant
or even particularly good solution here.
And I think it has been a pain point
for a number of people online
who've bought this grinder and used it.
It's not a deal breaker, but it is a frustration.
Should we brew some filter coffee?
The grinder adjuster is stepless, it's quite nice to use.
We're gonna move to about there.
Now this is what happens if you don't use
a little spritz of water on your beans first.
For a coarser grind of light roasted coffee,
things tend to get messy.
That's err... not ideal.
Now the upside you can argue
is if you don't like chaff in your coffee, great.
'Cause there's almost no chaff in the coffee,
it's entirely on the grinder.
Now you might argue I'm being unfair,
I did say it needs a spritz of water.
It does need a spritz of water.
This is what happens if you don't.
Let me clean this up and show you how it is
with a little spray of water first.
So that's much better.
That's much better.
Yeah, there's a little bit of mess still,
but it's kind of, it's workable, but you know,
make sure you give it a spray of water.
Now, the grounds bin with 30 grams of coffee in it,
it doesn't look that full.
But any fuller than this, when you use the bellows,
you'll start to get kind of blowback where coffee is blown
out of this thing again by the bellows and makes more mess.
So you know, that's a frustration for me.
I might want a deeper one of these
if I was grinding more coffee than 30 grams,
from a mess perspective anyway.
Or I'd be sort of taking this out, putting in my V60
and then trying to bellow out the last bit.
Is that the phrase, "To bellow out?"
Can you verb, can you verb bellow?
To press out the last bit into this
and then throw that on top again,
the last little bit will be a little bit finer
'cause there's some regrinding,
'cause it's stuck behind that declumping screen.
But it's not massively finer,
it's just a little bit finer generally speaking.
Let's brew it up.
So now it seems like a good time to talk about retention.
You know, it's one of the key aspects
of single dose grinding, you want a low retention.
And certainly with the bellows,
this is a relatively low retention grinder.
It does retain a little bit inside the body,
but it's not really a deal breaker for me,
it's not a huge issue.
I think for the money, it's a good single dose grinder
from a retention perspective.
Now in terms of filter brewing,
I've had no issues with stuff like stalling draw downs,
indicating a high percentage of fines.
Generally brews have brewed as I would have wanted.
You know, the beds aren't particularly muddy at the end.
It looks like it's producing a pretty good grind profile
for filter coffee.
And the filter coffee it has historically produced,
has been very nice.
With a kind of flawed, cheaper grinder,
when you drink a cup of coffee,
you can obviously detect some flaws in that brew.
It might have that combination of under and over,
that kind of harsh and bitter
but also sour and unpleasant at the same time.
When I drink this,
it tastes like a good cup of coffee, right.
It tastes like a well extracted sweet, nice clarity,
all of those things.
Now, if I compared it to grinders
at two or three or four times the price, yes,
it may be outperformed by those in a comparative test.
But without the comparison, I don't think you feel
like you're missing out on much necessarily.
If you were using this just as a filter coffee grinder,
your comparison point wouldn't really be the Niche,
it would be something like
the Wilfa Uniform or the Fellow Ode,
which are both a little cheaper than this one here.
Now this, I think does outperform both of them.
From the perspective of,
the retention is not really a problem.
If you are spraying your coffee beforehand,
it's probably neater and less messy than both of them.
The bellows do a better job
with retention than the other two grinders do
with say, a thwacker or anything else like that.
So it does perform better as a filter-only grinder
and that's kind of with stock burrs or with SSP burrs.
So I would say for the money, you are getting an upgrade
to spend another hundred pounds more
on this than you would do on say, the Fellow Ode.
Does it look as nice?
Does it sort of fit into a kitchen as well?
Does it have the kind of, the feel
and the ergonomics and that kind of stuff?
We need to talk about that.
Actually, before we wrap up on the ergonomic stuff,
let's just talk about getting into the burrs quickly.
Take the little bellows off,
and just move it coarse all the away.
And then this top part comes off, very easy.
Here's your fixed burr.
It's just a plate here, sits on threading,
which is outside of the burr chamber.
And threading away from ground coffee
is always a win for me.
Too many grinders have threading near coffee
and it drives me, oh, it makes me very cross.
The top burr sits against three springs
that hold it against that top plate.
Obviously, as you screw this in and out,
this is pressed closer, more allowed to come further away
from the bottom rotating burr.
So changing the burrs,
cleaning the burrs is very simple, very easy.
I like that part about it.
The grind chamber, as you can see,
does retain a little bit of coffee.
But in terms of access and that kind of stuff, yeah, good.
Pretty well thought through from that point of view.
So the user experience, it's okay, generally speaking.
Like as a kind of overall experience, it's okay.
It's not horrific, but honestly, it's not superb either.
I find the placement of the power button
on this thing bewildering.
Why would you put the button
that you need to use all the time there?
Why not on the side
like any other normal grinder would put it?
It's a really weird design decision.
Speaking of those and yeah, yeah, yeah,
there's a little bit of snobbery here, but honestly,
the decision to use this kind of slightly scripty
late 90s font for the numbers, that don't go with
the nice sans serif that they use elsewhere.
Really weird, it's just really ugly for no reason.
And it's part of the grinder that you look at every day,
and I find that a really strange decision, you know.
The fact that your usable range for espresso
is actually quite small, is a little bit frustrating
but it's not the end of the world.
Repeatability has been pretty good.
And then there's the bellows.
They are a little bit hacky, right.
Like it feels like this hasn't been designed
to clear it's sort of grounds chamber adequately.
So you need to find another way to do that,
we'll just use some bellows.
It doesn't feel particularly premium or fun,
it's a bit messy.
It just feels cheap in a funny sort of way, right.
Like it adds a cheapness to the grinder that its build
otherwise doesn't really communicate.
Like it's solid, it's weighty.
It doesn't feel light or lightweight,
but the bellows, I just don't like the experience.
This little lid part, it's awkward,
it's frustrating, it's not an enjoyable experience.
It does seem that the grinder can sometimes struggle
to clear the last few beans.
It has a little popcorning issue as well.
And if you don't have the lid on,
you will see some pretty spectacular popcorning going on.
But it works and that's the thing, right.
Like, let's talk about this
in comparison to the Niche, because that's really
I think what a lot of people wanna hear.
So when I reviewed the Niche a couple of years ago now
I guess, I think the phrase that I used was
that I was charmed by it, right.
Like it was a charming little grinder.
It exceeded my expectations for a number
of reasons and I just liked using it.
And it became the kind of default studio grinder until we
put five of the fanciest grinders in the world on the bench.
And I got a little taste for the fancy-fancy.
Now I still like this, I still use this,
I still think it's a great little grinder.
I still think it's great value for money
and it's a great performer for espresso
and it does well at filter as well.
If I was thinking about just filter coffee in the cup,
performance only, then I might have some more complaints.
Because as a conical burr set,
I don't truly love that style of filter coffee.
I think it makes a very enjoyable,
very tasty filter coffee, but I have typically
preferred this kinda flat burred profiles.
And that's just me.
But the experience of this grinder
was what made me keep it around.
I liked using it every day.
It was nice to use, it felt intuitive to use,
it was pleasing in the right places,
and it was as I said, charming.
If I had this, I don't think I'd have that same experience
because it isn't charming in the same way.
It delivers pretty well in the cup,
and I feel like it has the potential to deliver better
than it does if they could fix the issue
around the sort of silicon declumper that's in this,
that I think is a big flaw in this grinder.
Now, if you're someone who has the budget
for this and enjoys 3D printing things or tweaking things
or hacking things, or kind of squeezing performance
out of things, this may appeal to you, right.
Like there's kind of some wins here,
some mods you can do to get a better result.
And if that appeals to you, this grinder may appeal to you.
But if you don't wanna think
about the act of grinding coffee every morning, right.
If you just wanna have the process, throw the coffee
in the grinder, grind the coffee, get on with brewing,
have the grinder to be a kind of invisible
reliable part of the process, this doesn't do that.
This pokes you for attention, it says, you know,
"Press the bellows a bunch of times,
work out all of the mess, work out the static thing."
If I had this, I would be thinking about upgrading.
I would be keeping an eye out for other alternatives
that maybe performed a little bit better.
Maybe try to buy a secondhand Lagom P-64,
or another one of those style of grinders
if I could find something, you know, not for crazy money.
You know, it would do the job,
I would be happy with it, but I would be aware
that it was a part of my process that could be optimized.
And I feel like upgrading grinders
or upgrading espresso machines should
be around fixing specific problems that you experience.
And I feel like workflow is a problem worth fixing, right.
I want to enjoy making my coffee as much
as I want to enjoy drinking my coffee.
And this is where this falls down for me a little bit.
If you are an in-the-cup purist, if all you care about
is the quality of coffee in the cup and you're willing
to compromise other aspects of your experience,
I think this is a great choice.
I think it delivers great ground coffee
at espresso and filter settings.
And for the money, I can't think of anything that really
outperforms it as a single dose flat-burred grinder.
Right, you can functionally go
from espresso right through to filter.
It's got the range, it's got enough motor power,
it'll do the job.
You know, it outperforms the Ode or the Wilfa,
I think comfortably in that regards.
But experientially, it for me, doesn't outperform the Niche.
But that's me, and that's, what's important to me.
And as a reviewer,
you should understand where my priorities sit.
I really like the coffee out of this,
I really liked the coffee out of this.
But given the choice of which I would take home,
I'd probably still take this.
Just 'cause I just like using it that little bit more,
it doesn't frustrate me in quite the same ways.
Now I don't get to keep this grinder.
This will be given away to one of my patron supporters.
They allow me to have a budget to go
and buy these things, just like a regular consumer,
review them and give you my honest opinions.
But now I wanna hear from you.
Do you have one of these?
Has your experience matched mine?
I think a lot of people are curious, and this is
a great opportunity to share your experience with others.
Have you found hacks or solutions
to some of the issues that I've experienced?
Let me know down in the comments below.
But for now, I'll say thank you so much for watching.
I hope you have a great day.