Etzinger ETZ-I / ETZ-U Grinders: What’s the Scoop?
Etzinger may not be a household name to many specialty coffee consumers, but chances are you’ve used their products. Both Baratza and La Marzocco have used Etzinger burrs in their grinders, some going back over a decade. That’s what Etzinger […]
Etzinger may not be a household name to many specialty coffee consumers, but chances are you’ve used their products. Both Baratza and La Marzocco have used Etzinger burrs in their grinders, some going back over a decade. That’s what Etzinger is known for: designing, engineering and manufacturing burrs. Some would argue they also are advancing coffee grinder burr design every single year.
A few years ago, Etzinger decided to expand, and get into the grinder machine category with their ETZMAX lineup of commercial grinders, which are mainly sold in Europe. https://etzinger-ag.com/home/electric-grinders-en The next phase was getting into the growing and intriguing manual grinder market, first with the ETZ-MAN tabletop grinder , and quickly followed with the ETZ-I portable manual grinder.
Etzinger ETZ-I Grinders: Ground Breaking
Etzinger now has a manual grinder that not many people have seen or used yet: the Etzinger ETZ-I. The grinder was introduced as a prototype late last year, and made available for general sale only this May after some minor modifications were made based on prototype feedback. Regardless of availability or even actual hands-on use of the grinder, the ETZ-I garnered a lot of opinions online from people who… well, like to state opinions on coffee gear without actually using said coffee gear.
There’s been plenty of positive platitudes, but also a lot of complaints about Etzinger’s design and engineering choices for the grinder. That’s because the ETZ-I breaks a lot of conventions and “rules” in the manual grinder world.
Burr Housing Design
Perhaps most unique engineering design of the ETZ-I grinder is that it does not have a central spindle for mounting and turning the lower burr, like every other hand cranked, hand held coffee grinder currently features. Instead, the Etzinger hand grinder’s lower burr is stationary (it doesn’t spin) and is solidly mounted to the grinder adjustment collar and housing.
It’s the top burr that rotates in an ETZ-I grinder, and it does so by being mounted to the inner tube assembly of the grinder, which in turn is rotated via a crank handle at the top of the grinder. The result is a bit of Tron Light Cycle magic, if you will: remove the lower burr and grinds catch from the ETZ-I, look through the top portion where the whole beans go, and you see nothing but air down the middle where you’d expect a spindle to be.
The benefit of this design is almost no “burr wobble”; a problem that plagues many traditionally designed manual coffee grinders. While some expensive manual grinders on the market have double spindle designs, double mounting designs and intricate bearing and load control designs, even the best of class hand grinders still exhibit a bit of burr wobble under heavy load, which results in a wider variance of grind particle sizes in the output. The Etzinger ETZ-I design virtually eliminates this.
Counter Clockwise Action
The ETZ-I is also the only manual hand grinder you have to crank counter clockwise (anti-clockwise for my British friends). This is because you’re spinning the top burr, not the lower one. This fact alone has turned some coffee forum pundits (who have never actually used this grinder). I’m left handed, but for decades have spun clockwise on dozens of different hand grinders. That said, I found using this grinder in the counter clockwise motion took only a few grind sessions to get used to.
The ETZ-I has a crazy number of grinder settings – 88 of them! – with each setting resulting in a 0.02mm (20 micron) adjustment in the burr height. If that isn’t enough, unlike most hand grinders, these adjustments are extremely repeatable and reproducible across every ETZ-I out there. If you choose a setting of 9+ 2 ticks, and tell someone to use that setting on their ETZ-I grinder 5,000 miles away, they will be using the same grind setting as you. Etzinger uses a precise Vernier scale indicator on their grinders, and adjusting even just 1 click on the 88 choices is easy, especially if you reverse the grind catch cup and use it to rotate the grind adjustment with more precision. Each clicked position has a tactile, almost haptic-like feedback too.
Other Tricks and Refinements
More and more manual grinders are making use of rare-earth magnets (super strong pull for a small size) to keep lids in place, or establish a more secure hold on the crank handle to a central spindle. The ETZ-I grinder uses a very strong one to keep the grinds bin in place – no screwing it on or off – it just snaps into place. Magnets are also used to secure the crank handle in a level position because… this grinder design has a retractable handle that slides about 80% into the bean chamber when not in use. The grinder also uses magnets to keep the flip-top bean chamber lid in place.
The ETZ-I is also designed to be incredibly easy to clean. No unscrew this, use a hex wrench on that, remove six washers here kind of thing to get to the burrs and inner areas where grinds might end up. Simply rotate the grind selection dial past its coarsest setting until it lines up with a line on the grinder body, and pull the lower burr assembly out. This gives full access to the top burr (in the top bean area assembly) and the lower burr assembly. Super easy and fuss free.
Then there was the most controversial design choice on the ETZ-I that made some coffee forum (and reddit readers) go apoplectic: Etzinger designed what they called “the anti-static jig” for this hand grinder, so it would get an output that was evenly distributed, and generally free of static. And this design works very well. But the design philosophy and engineering behind it had a problem: the design only functions as promised when about 1g worth of ground coffee (depending on how fine you grind) is retained in the grinding chamber (we’ll have more on the why and how of this in our review of the ETZ-I). Yes, this grinder is engineered to retain some ground coffee.
Hey, at CoffeeGeek, we’re as guilty as anyone about talking and promoting retention-free grinders. But if someone came up with a system that eliminates the need to do a RDT (Ross Droplet Technique) to eliminate grinder static, and eliminate the need for the WDT method, which delays the time you take your ground coffee and have water through it, and all it costs is 1g of coffee retention (that you can easily knock out after with a palm rap against the side of the grinder), that sounds pretty good.
1g+ retention, however, didn’t sound great to the aforementioned forum and reddit participants. They complained without even using or seeing the grinder. I can’t stress this enough: very few people have seen this grinder, and even fewer still have used it. Fewer still understand the design ethos of the grinder, which is the main impetus for writing this post before we put the grinder through our review process.
For some, it didn’t seem to matter that this is one of the only hand grinders on the market that is virtually free of static cling in the ground coffee. Or that the output has a very even and balanced participle distribution. Or that it pretty much eliminates burr wobble, giving an impressively even grind output. Or that it eliminated the time-chewing WDT technique people use to even out their espresso grinds (at CoffeeGeek, we believe it’s absolutely crucial to minimize the time between grinding and pulling a shot when it comes to espresso grinds).
We’ve been using the ETZ-I (and a variant, see below) for a week now, and I can already state something: these things do matter. This is an excellent, ground breaking manual, portable coffee grinder. Does it have issues? Sure it does (it could use a rubberized grip of sorts to help keep things secure when grinding). But its output is exceptional, its grinding speed is top of class, and its ability to clean and adjust is also top of class.
The ETZ-I Evolves
Because of the complaints about grind retention, Etzinger has gone back to the drawing board – just a bit – on the ETZ-I and decided to come up with a variant: the ETZ-U.
The ETZ-I, available in both a regular and trim version, will have the anti-jig mechanism in place to deliver what Etzinger wanted with this grinder: no static, excellent particle distribution and a slightly compacted bed of coffee that is ready to just drop into a portafilter, or V60 filter, and brew with.
The ETZ-U, which is still in prototype stage, will have a different burr housing collar that doesn’t have any of the anti-static jig’s design or effects. Every .1g of coffee you add to the grinder up top will come out of the bottom. Distribution is not as ideal as it is with the ETZ-I, but will be on par with the best of class hand grinders currently on the market. Same with static cling. In fact, I’ve been testing both models for a week now, and while I do notice a tiny bit of static issues in the ETZ-U model, again, it’s no worse than other hand grinders. The ETZ-I on the other hand has no static issues at all.
Etzinger believes the ETZ-U model could be repurposed for other uses, including use as a pepper or spice mill (if they do this, it would be the best pepper mill in the world! If you regularly use a pepper mill, you know how frustrating they can be, and how the quality of the burr sets and cranking action is pretty bad, even in famous, high end products like mills by Peuguot and others). Down the road, they might expand and offer a pepper mill version of the ETZ-U without a crank arm, and instead with a rotating top “grip ball” on top, and an open bottom for the pepper to fall straight out onto your food.
The ETZ-U alternative might not even come to market at all. But at the very least, it’s showing that Etzinger is listening to the coffee and espresso “digerati”, many of whom haven’t even used the grinder yet. Personally, I think the ETZ-I on its own is a pretty spectacular hand grinder, even with the 1g retention. Which can be easily knocked out into the grinds catch cup with palm rap on the side or base of the grinder.
We’ll be having a first look for the grinder very soon, along with a full review. And stay tuned to the blog for a feature on the prototype ETZ-U model we have on hand.
Mark has certified as a Canadian, USA, and World Barista Championship Judge in both sensory and technical fields, as well as working as an instructor in coffee and espresso training. He started CoffeeGeek in 2001.