Following up the Part 1 of the Versalab M3 Single Dose Grinder Review linked below, Part 2 is going to dive into some nitty gritty and physical details of how it compares. This review is admittedly more scattered in order than others, but as I’m becoming more familiar with the M3, it only seems fitting, since it is becoming apparent that it is quite different than others.
Physical Appearance and Unboxing
Although beauty is highly subjective, I’m going to say that this is the best looking single dosing grinder on the market, and maybe the best looking grinder period. The Kafatek models have a very high end machined presence that certainly exudes quality, but skews more industrial and perhaps less aesthetically refined. A grinder like the EG-1 certainly has the modern presence, but it’s so freaking huge, I just feel like it stands out of place in most settings, certainly in the home. The M3, on the other hand, looks like a piece of modern sculpture or art. So much so that even my wife commented on how beautiful it is. Although the footprint is very similar in size to the Monolith Flat, it feels smaller and more grounded and at home on the bar, perhaps it’s the use of the warm brass top and bottom funnel/burr housing.
As expected, the grinder came well boxed, and setup was extremely quick. I essentially unboxed it, plugged it in, and followed the zeroing procedures. This quick start process is all documented in a quick start guide that is included among a number of printed sheets of various tidbits and revision notes. Admittedly, when reading through it all initially, I was worried the grinder would be high maintenance or finicky, but in four and a half weeks I’ve been using it, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s simply a matter of the basic maintenance being slightly different than expected.
There are instructions for the cleaning the belt, since it is exposed, cleaning the lower funnel and applying fruit wax to mitigate static if needed, but all of this is very occasional and very straight forward. The parts are all very accessible and straight forward, and after actually using it, I don’t find any of this to be of concern.
One area that I do think could be improved is the application of markings or indications of setting. The instructions for how to apply the option graduations either are very complicated, or are certainly written in a very complicated fashion. This is one place that I’m torn; on one hand I feel like a grinder like this, and at this price, should have a scale or some sort of indicator to reference grind setting incorporated into the design. On the other, I respect that fact that it does not given how attractive it is. I do somewhat feel this could be done in such a way as to not distract or takeaway from the attractiveness otherwise. I think even just one marking on the funnel or the housing would serve as a very useful reference. The mostly sterile bezel on the Unimatic U1-EM watch recently featured in the Monthly Roundup comes to mind.
The portafilter holder might be the best executed I’ve seen. The portafilter is held in very secure and solid, and it’s extremely slick to operate. Simplistic, but not sure why others haven’t been able to make one this good until now. To further illustrate the level of thought that goes into the M3, I initially appreciated the silicone or poly ring on the bottom of the lower funnel so there wasn’t metal to metal contact with the top of the filter basket, and appreciated it created a nice seal. Well, I later found out this is meant as a thermal barrier between the portafilter and the brass funnel, so the brass funnel doesn’t suck any heat out of the portafilter. It’s all about what’s going to create the best finished product, a shot of fantastic espresso.
So Why Isn’t the M3 Being Talked About?
…(abbreviated) from my outsider’s perspective. I say abbreviated because I’m not going to go into the whole history of the grinder and why it seems to have fallen out of favor. And I say “oustider’s” since I wasn’t in the exchange on the forums back when this grinder first came out, I’ve simply gone back and read through the threads.
Basically, the people at Versalab being engineers, they were not spending their time on the forums and they weren’t always out marketing their message in consumer friendly language. They were keeping their heads down making their product better and supporting their customers. At some point, a used M3 was purchased by an engineer type that ultimately concluded the grinder was out of alignment, contained flaws, and this was posted on the early coffee forums as fact. And, least I can tell from reading back through it, these threads spiraled heavily against Versalab before they were aware of the issue, and when they want to address it, the combination of the timing and language used, just did not translate and come across favorably to Versalab. I don’t have an interest in taking a side in events that happened well over ten years ago, but I can say that I can see how Versalab’s responses can easily be perceived and read by consumers in negative light. And that’s simply because they’re Engineers, and as I’ve come to learn, they’re simply looking at these concerns and the dialog in a much different light, for better or worse.
Long story short, the forums deemed the M3 to not be consistent or well aligned, which certainly does not seem to be the case when you look at their tolerances, a man in Germany has made a business out of bespoke M3’s, and the M3 is by in large left out of current conversations. It was truly ahead of its time. I too, am guilty of overlooking it, as evidenced by my omission of the grinder from the first post on single dose espresso grinders. I will be revising that list to include the M3, because I do find it provides some distinct differences from its competition. As the saying goes, “there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle,” after reading much of the negative information online about the M3, I would say most of it has been addressed (quietly) in design revisions, or Versalab has addressed directly with end consumers, to whom they’re very focused. But, that message doesn’t always get out. So, I will say, it is my opinion that there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings of the M3, due to what’s still circulating on the forums ten plus years on.
I believe that a lot of the early concerns people had with the grinder have been improved or addressed, and actually from reading one of the more recent threads, it seems that Versalab supports its customers very well, working towards a solution. One example of all of this are the revisions to the belt. When the grinder was developed, light, filter roast coffees were not the norm. But the rise in popularity of these harder beans demands more torque and power from the grinder, and as a result, early belts would occasionally slip. This has since been addressed with that consumer, and I have not seen any evidence of this being an issue in my testing thus far.
I suspect another reason the M3 may be overlooked is a lack of understanding over the DRM or Hybrid burr type, particularly at a time when big flat burr grinders are very en-vogue. The DRM burrs use large conical burrs that feed into flat burrs to provide a longer, more gradual grind path. The conical burrs do the initial breaking down of the beans, and the flat burr take care of the finer work. Versalab does this so the coffee has a more gradual, longer, grinding path, which avoids any heat build up or overheating of the coffee which can affect the coffee’s flavors (we don’t need to roast it any further), this is also why you’ll note the grind path is nowhere near any heat the motor may generate. The other thing this does is deliver the most fluffy, clump free grinds, regardless of the coffee used. This eliminates the need to WDT or mess with clumping and inconsistent dosing.
As promised, I will be following up with a full taste comparison and thoughts, but initial testing with the Monolith Flat and the Compak K10 PB, the DRM burr grinder does create a shot somewhere in between the two. This hasn’t proved to be necessarily any better or worse, but certainly a profile all its own.
I get the impression that the cloud of old misinformation and misunderstanding combined with the current buzz of grinders like the Monoliths often leads people to not consider the M3. And that’s not to say that is a mistake since the Monoliths are great grinders. But to say that the M3 shouldn’t be considered at all is a disservice, in my very humble two-cents of an opinion. I will do a full breakdown of who should buy this grinder with final thoughts and taste comparisons, but my initial thoughts are that it offers a clear alternative for someone that:
May prefer the appearance of the M3.
Does not want to RDT, WDT, redistribute, use a bunch of extra tools, etc.
Supports the school of thought regarding the necessity of speed in the workflow to improving taste and quality, including:
Not letting the coffee stale and volatile aromatic compounds to dissipate. (I am testing this and will include my findings)
Maintaining better temperature stabilization by not allowing the portafilter to cool as much.
Prefers the grind speed of the M3, it does grind faster than the Monolith Flat.
At this level, all of the options are truly exceptional grinders. I want to emphasize that because all will be able to make excellent coffee, and the differences begin to lie more in preferences and subjectivity. My hope is that this series of posts will allow the potential consumer to better make a decision in line with their preferences. As always, thank you for reading, and if you have any questions, comments, or things you’d like to see, please comment below or reach out via the contact page.