To make great coffee at home, you need the best possible tools — and most importantly, the best possible grinder. The grinder is unquestionably the most important part of your coffee setup and can make or break your morning brew.
Until recently, if you wanted a good coffee grinder at home, you had a limited number of choices. By and large, the coffee grinders available for home users were fairly similar, with predictable designs and only superficial differences in their features.
In the last few years, however, there has been a wave of exciting new grinders for home baristas to choose from. These new grinders are very different from the ones that came before. Many are designed with one specific purpose in mind, while others bring to your home the kind of quality that was once reserved for large, commercial grinders. In addition, they are designed to look good on the counter, as well as to make amazing coffee.
At Five Elephant, we recently started offering two of the new breed of grinders on our webshop: The Fellow Ode Brew Grinder and the Mahlkönig X54. We chose these grinders because they each offer something different. They are complete opposites in the way they work — and yet, they are each among the best home grinders out there, because they achieve different things. So if you’re hoping to make better coffee at home and want to upgrade your grinder, or if you’re looking for the perfect gift for the coffee lover in your life, then read on to find out what makes these two grinders special.
The Fellow Ode: A good-looking grinder dedicated to filter coffee
The Ode is a stunning new grinder designed specifically for one thing, and one thing only: making outstanding filter coffee. The combination of slick design and ground-breaking features attracted huge amounts of hype at launch, and it’s no surprise that the Specialty Coffee Association selected the Ode grinder for Best New Product of 2021.
The first thing you’ll notice about this grinder is that it doesn’t look anything like a coffee grinder. Fellow has thrown all established ideas of what a coffee grinder should look like out of the window. In its place, we have a sleek, modernist design that looks more like a high-end Hi-Fi amplifier than a coffee grinder.
The Ode is a grinder to display proudly on your countertop, not to hide away in a cupboard. Luckily for those of us with small spaces, it grinds quietly, and at just 12cm wide it doesn’t take up much room. Despite this, it’s surprisingly heavy — they’ve packed a lot of gadgetry and a powerful motor into that aluminum and steel chassis.
At the heart of the grinder is a pair of 64mm burrs — the steel disks that grind your coffee. These are enormous for a grinder this size; you would normally only find burrs this large in much more expensive models or commercial grade grinders. Large burrs generally produce better grind quality, coaxing more flavor out of the beans. In addition, they reduce the amount of heat generated during grinding, helping to preserve the delicate aromas of the coffee.
These huge burrs are coupled with the Ode’s most revolutionary feature (if you’ll excuse the pun): the ‘Smart Speed’ control. In most coffee grinders, the burrs spin faster at the beginning or end of each dose, when there are fewer beans creating resistance inside the grinder. This creates some inconsistency in the way the coffee grinds. The Ode solves this problem by precisely controlling the power sent to the motor, and hence it ensures that the burrs always spin at a consistent speed while grinding the coffee.
These features alone would make the Ode the best filter coffee grinder in its price bracket, but it also has some thoughtful design touches that make it a pleasure to use. For instance, there is a nifty magnetic catch in the base that ensures the grinds cup is perfectly aligned with the grinder chute, with the result that your coffee grounds always end up in your cup, not on the counter.
As with any experimental design, there were some glitches reported at launch, but Fellow was remarkably quick to fix these and the new models ship with upgraded burrs and electronics that address these issues.
In short, the Fellow Ode is the perfect grinder for any coffee and design lover who enjoys exploring the flavors of different coffees. The one thing it can’t do, however, is grind fine enough for espresso — and this is where the Mahlkönig X54 comes in.
The Mahlkönig X54: Professional quality in a home grinder
In contrast to the Ode, the X54 was designed as an all-rounder, that can grind for both filter and espresso. The X54 is like a scaled-down version of Mahlkönig’s popular commercial grinders — in fact, it looks very similar to the grinders we choose for our own cafes, and includes a lot of the same features.
The best way to get an idea of how well a grinder works in practice is undoubtedly to talk to someone with first-hand experience. Since the X54 is still a very new model, there aren’t many reviews out there — so instead, we reached out to Mathias Meyer, a Berlin-based coffee aficionado and Five Elephant customer, who has been using one of these grinders at home for a few months now.
Rugged Construction, Quiet Operation
The very first thing about the X54 that Mathias remarks on is the build quality. “The whole thing is solid and feels well made, which I guess you can expect from Mahlkönig,” he says. “It just feels good and made to last.”
Even though the design is based on large commercial grinders, the X54 has a surprisingly compact footprint. Nevertheless, one thing that some users have commented on is that with the hopper in place, it’s quite tall at 42.5cm. Consequently, it may not fit under low-hanging kitchen cabinets.
It has slightly smaller burrs than the Ode at 54mm, but thanks to Mahlkönig’s expertise in burr design, these can operate efficiently at just 1050 RPM — significantly lower than most grinders. The slow rotation of the burrs means they generate less heat, and produce less than 70 dB of noise when grinding. “It’s surprisingly quiet,” Mathias observes.
Great Quality for Both Filter and Espresso
The X54 is widely recognized for its excellent grind quality — which is not that surprising, considering that it’s made by Mahlkönig, a company whose grinders are found in specialty coffee shops all over the world.
The grind quality is probably the single most important factor in determining how good your coffee tastes, and the X54 really delivers on this front. “Having the X54 has been a good reminder of how much difference it makes to have a good grinder,” Mathias says. “Good beans and a good grinder (like the X54) already take you very far.”
Furthermore, the X54 has stepless grind adjustment, which gives you infinite control over the grind size, and allows you to really nail the perfect flavor of your coffee. It not only produces light, fluffy grinds for espresso, but also compares favorably with popular filter grinders at coarser settings.
Built for Speed
The X54’s large hopper hints at its biggest strength: making coffees back to back. It uses a timer to control the amount of coffee delivered each time. Once the timer is correctly programmed, it can deliver the same dose of coffee with uncanny accuracy. This is similar to the system we rely on in our cafes, which allows us to make hundreds of espressos every day.
Likewise, it’s designed for a fast workflow, fitted with forks that hold the portafilter hands-free and allow you to grind directly into the filter basket, just as in Mahlkönig’s commercial grinders.
Conversely, this approach makes it less effective for ‘single dosing’, where the barista weighs out an individual portion of beans before grinding. “I’ve seen other reviews report that grind retention isn’t an issue, [but] I tend to end up with sometimes more, sometimes less grounds than the beans I put into the hopper,” Mathias says.
Accordingly, the X54 is best used with a full hopper, which means sticking to one kind of coffee at a time. Single dosing is certainly possible, but it’s not what the X54 was designed for — it’s much better suited for the home barista who wants to make several coffees at a time.
Putting the X54 to the Test
In order to really see how well the X54 compares with commercial grinders, we ran a small trial in our training lab. Our , made espressos using both the X54, and the commercial grinder we use in our cafes, Mahlkönig’s E65S. She used exactly the same recipe, coffee, and espresso machine, and used an automated tamper to eliminate any other sources of variation.
She then measured the extraction in each espresso. Extraction is a measure of how much we managed to pull out of the coffee bean, which, in turn, is one indication of how good the grinder is. Surprisingly, she found that the X54 not only matched the commercial grinder — it beat it! In a straight comparison, the X54 achieved an extraction of over 22%, while the commercial grinder only reached 21.3%. This is a substantial difference and highlights just how good the X54 is.
Conclusion: The Ultimate Home Coffee Grinder
To sum up, the X54 and the Ode are two outstanding coffee grinders, each built with very different users in mind.
The Ode is the best grinder for the filter coffee fanatic, who wants to take the time to coax the subtle flavors out of every coffee. If you’re the kind of coffee drinker that likes to sip on a honey-processed Nicaraguan with breakfast, and then switch to a delicate natural Geisha for the afternoon brew, then the Ode is your kind of grinder.
Meanwhile, the X54 shines when you want to make great coffee again and again. Whether you’re always having friends round for coffee, or you just like to drink a lot of espressos while you work, the X54 is a grinder that will give you excellent, consistent results time after time, no matter how you like to drink your coffee.
Both the Ode and the X54 are undoubtedly among the best home coffee grinders on the market. Depending on how you like to drink your coffee, either of them may well be the perfect grinder for you.
Contact our team if you’d like any more information about these grinders, or if you have any other questions about your coffee equipment setup.