I have had the grinder in action for six weeks; I ordered the minute the pre-sale email arrived. Looking around various forums there is some angst about delivery timescales, but I seemed to sidestep that. I received an immaculately boxed grinder on 6 January. It looks exactly as I expected, I hesitate to say it was like unboxing an Apple MacBook Pro but as I’ve now said that, I can’t take it back. The very slight bugbear was you need to have a mains lead that fits the domestic socket in the UK, it arrives with a two-pin plug. Perversely I had thrown out a bunch of old computer cables the week before, so had to wait for Amazon Prime to do its bit.
The Key came with both a standard tumbler and Magic Tumbler. Also included is a small bean dosing cup that holds 20 grams, plus a tinted glass water spritzer. The online manual is very brief. The grinder is up and running very quickly. I have gone from a Sage integrated grinder to a Eureka Mignon Specialita, to a Niche Zero, and now to the Key. I lay out my journey to give a reference point.
The Key looks great and the super slim profile works for me, as I have (am allowed) limited work surface space. Really nice touches such as the on-off, integrated cleaning brush and variable RPM.
I started by setting the grind size ring per the instruction manual and ran 500 grams of old beans through the grinder to dial it in and get used to the machine. I found the suggested starting setting to be far too coarse. But no hassle, the grinder was dialled in.
Heretic point here, but I’m not really obsessed by the dreaded ‘workflow’. I like to make a coffee in my own time and enjoy all the steps in the process. I’m not running a production line, I make three coffees a day for me, and one for my wife. Workflow doesn’t come into it.
I started with RPM at 70 and ground some Gardelli espresso blend. Removed the Magic Tumbler and the grind looked bright and well distributed. Put the tumbler on the portafilter. Out with the mushroom, small ding on the side of the tumbler to dislodge a few grinds hanging up. Tap the portafilter and lift the tumbler off. I used my Bravo Distributor and Tamper to remove that variable. Portafilter into the Rocket Mozzafiato R and got a very good 40-gram espresso in 26 seconds the first time out.
The first day as you would expect was caffeine overload.
Over the next week, I played around a little with grind size and RPM. At the 50 RPM setting, I would say the Key produces more distinct flavour tones than the Niche. There weren’t quite heavenly trumpets playing behind me, but it’s very fair to say that for the first time I could pick out some of the flavour notes Gardelli describes on his coffees.
I tested shots blind too and got someone else to blind test versus the Niche. I wanted to check it wasn’t buyer’s bias. Now six weeks in I think I can see the pattern. Lower RPM means more distinct flavours are notable in the shot. High RPM and I get a bit more body and a little less of the distinct flavour notes - it’s more homogenous. Interesting to play around changing body and flavour ever so slightly through RPM.
I can pick up the difference in a straight 40 gr espresso shot. But also the flavour comes through in a cortado or even small latte. The milk takes less off the coffee notes.
A range of blends and single-origin beans have gone through the grinder over six weeks. I haven’t experienced the stalling at low RPM that others have mentioned on forums. While on that, my driveshaft isn’t wobbling and neither are the burrs visibly gyrating in an eccentric manner.
The dosing cup just fits 20 grams of beans, then a quick spritz of water, and tip the beans in through the v-shaped cover. Not always the most precise, and an odd couple of beans can make a run for it. And while the ever so slightly afterthought-like cover is there to prevent popcorning, it doesn’t 100% succeed especially at lower RPM. It’s not a mess, but it’s not a perfect solution. I have some Weber bean cellars for some of my hideously overpriced beans, and they easily tip into the grinder.
The Magic Tumbler works very well, as does the integrated WTD tool. You very quickly learn to angle the tumbler as you lift it away from the grinder, so as not to dislodge any minuscule amount of grinds from the WTD wire. The magnetic attachment is genius. A magnet dropped out one day (manifested in a clunking noise from the tumbler as the wiper hit the magnet.) I found the magnet, pressed it back and gave it an extra nudge into the recess with a jewellers screwdriver, and it hasn’t moved since. It doesn’t feel like it’s the El Chapo of escaping magnets.
I used the standard tumbler for one day only. I found there was a small overspray of coffee grinds emanating from the gap between the funnel and tumbler and it was a mess that I didn’t need. I was grinding a single-origin lighter roast on low RPM so maybe that was the issue. Nevertheless, the Magic Tumbler is much cooler than wiping fines off my worktop.
Another foible is that out of the blue a shot can sometimes pour very quickly, or a shot can suddenly spray randomly from the bottomless portafilter. Some wise owl of coffee always says “puck prep” at this stage. But my puck prep is very consistent.
Those are my only two tiny problems with the Key. There is a small cosmetic issue, but I contacted Douglas directly and to his credit, he responded overnight with a resolution.
The upsides hugely outweigh the tiny negatives. The precision of the dial adjustment for grind size is superb, I make tiny adjustments as I work through a container of beans, and the espresso is remarkably consistent and predictable (save the odd aberration as described above). The grinder looks stunning, and the narrow footprint is a genuine help to me. It cleans easily - lift the cover and use the integrated brush to clean the burrs from the top; drop the Magic Tumber off and quick brush around the bottom of the burrs - less than two minutes.
I was an early, early adopter so my price even with duties was very keen. I think they are probably £2,000 landed in the UK at the moment. Do I think it’s worth it? That’s the existential question we all face when we get obsessive about a pursuit. Is a Porsche better than a Ferrari? I would buy it again, no doubt. The Eureka was a great grinder, but single dose is important to me and the move to a Niche was logical. The Niche is a very fine grinder. I don’t buy the zero retention BS around it, but it’s an outstanding grinder. The Key is better. I would buy it again. Before anyone says it’s four times the price for a marginal gain in coffee quality, I would say that’s the road we have all chosen. The Ferrari is 2.5 times the price of the Porsche but on the track very little separates them; one stirs the soul of some people, the other the soul of others, and both leave some cold.
Great job by the Weber Workshops team. A year from now I will probably be making an unarguable case to myself about why I need an EG-1.