Compak K3 Touch (Doserless) and K3 Elite (Doser): Our Long-winded Review
We used both of these models in our lab for several months before deciding to carry them. In the meantime, we decided not to carry a few other mills due to quality concerns, i.e. either the build quality and/or the resulting grind quality. On this page are some observations about the strengths and weaknesses of the Compak mills. Obviously, we decided the positives of the Compak far outweigh the negatives, and that grind quality trumps all. (There's no point in us carrying mills with a snazzy design that produce super clumpy, heated, or uneven grinds).
We love the Macap mills, but they have a couple issues. The quality of build and grind results are great, and the design of the doser model is solid. But their doserless mills have issues with how the grinds dispense. The chute is designed for loading small coffee bags, not dosing into filters or espresso portafilters. Grinds get trapped in the current design. They are pushing a model with a over-designed digital timer as well. We do not like timers on espresso mills, especially when they increase the cost dramatically. Time-based dosing is not effective at accurately controlling the amount of coffee dispensed. As you will see below, the Compak Touch actually has an under-the-radar timer feature which you can use or not, but it certainly adds no cost to the mill. Lastly, the Macaps are very spendy, and the Compak represent a good value for a stepless espresso mill.
The Compak is a stepless mill, with continuous grind adjustment, once you set it to the desired grind there will be a slight bit of play, this is normal. I find that you need to rotate the top very slightly to effect a change in grind. I personally don't love the faint numbering and marks of the grind setting. But I must admit, adjusting by numbers when you are making really fine changes for espresso extraction is not that useful. Once you have a feel for it, the indistinct number markings for grind don't seem like an issue. Above left is the K3 Elite in aluminum, and right is the K3 Touch in black. To the left is coarser, to the right is finer. As with all mills, if there is coffee in the burrs, remember to adjust the grind when the mill is running, not empty, especially if you are adjusting to a finer grind. If you adjust the mill too far towards fine you could lock up the burrs, try to avoid doing this and if it occurs just turn the adjustment back towards coarse while the mill is running. Always make adjustments with the mill running and with coffee in the burrs, I know, I said it twice. Because it is very important.
We like the quality of the burrs, and they seem in line with the best mills out there, the Mazzer and Macap models. They are 58mm flat burrs. The machine is designed for 2 minutes of use, and 10 minutes of rest, to ensure that the motor doesn't heat up the coffee, and for the life of the motor and burrs. This is standard for home units, but we warn you, this is not for continuous operation. It's fine for grinding a half pound or even a pound of coffee all at once as well, but not all the time...
Access to the burrs is easy, and involves popping off the aluminum cap and loosening one screw. This little cap is meant to function as your indicator of grind setting as you adjust the mill as well. (FYI, for our machines, this is set nearly square with the chute on the front of the Touch mill, and perhaps very slightly coarser --to the left).
Then the top rotates to loosen the upper burr housing. We found the chute holds back very little grinds in the Touch model.
The hopper is fairly standard. It is somewhat low in form (they call it the "mini-hopper"), since the mills are designed to fit under standard countertop cabinets. The height of both models is 16.5 inches. The hopper has a lever to shut off the flow of whole beans so it can be removed. We found the top lid on the hopper to be a bit tight-fitting. There is a removable tray to catch stray grinds. It pops out, and can be a little tough to remove the first few times. The chute design one the Touch is simple and effective. It has a grind release push lever to knock out any residual grinds between the burr and the chute. It also functions as a switch to activate the grind timer (see below). In the chute picture above, I removed the 2 "forks" that would hold the portafilter, simply because they don't help much with a bottomless portafilter, and often I grind coffee into a filter with this mill. I like the amount of space between the chute and the forks: there's great visibility to see the grinds falling into the portafilter and tons of room to adjust the portafilter during grinding.
Okay, so here is the stealthy timer feature. Ultimately you should be dosing by weight, but often many of us use volume to dose. Time? Eh! But with the Compak the timer can actually be useful ...The Switch to operate the machine has 3 settings: 1-Automatic, 0-Off (Middle) and 2-Manual, toward the front of the machine. Manual is simply "On" and the burrs turn. Off is off. 1-Automatic means the timer is in effect. Tap the portafilter once against the push lever (behind the chute) and the mill will grind one "portion", which is set to about 7 grams by default. Tap the portafilter 2x against the push lever and it doses 2 portions. The portion is adjustable with a small dial underneath the mill. Now, many manufacturers have time-based dosing, and it is silly to rely on it for espresso; so many variables affect the amount of coffee dispensed (bean size, density, etc) that portions will not be consistent. But I like this hidden little feature on the Compak when used to slightly overdose the filterbasket, which I will then kick down when I use my "East-West-North-South" technique to distribute the grinds evenly in the basket. It's an appropriate design for a grind timer.
Josh felt that, with an unmodified coffee handle, the clearance under the portafilter on the Elite model is tight. I didn't see it as an issue, and after all the design is to make the mill a total 16.5" manageable height. The tamper on the front of the Elite? It screws right off, and I removed it immediately since it is ridiculous to tamp this way. You will never get 40 Lbs. As a matter of function, I like to use dosing grinders without the top on the doser. You can see everything that way. There is a little "finger guard" over the chute in the Elite (above right), easy to remove... There is a dispenser regulator screw in the hopper to easily adjust the dosing amount. Like all dosing mills, the grinds come out slightly to the left of the filter basket.
I would not accuse the Compak manual of being fancy, but it has all the basic information. While it states the mills are for use in commercial operations, I don't think the recommended "2 minutes on, 10 minutes rest" would work for any business ... well, that actually has business.
And lastly, the Compak manual reminds you: Do Not Handle With Bare Feet . I don't know about you, but I can't push the grind button with my bare feet, especially while holding the coffee handle under the chute. -Tom
These images are on the primary page as well, but we want people to know that there is a reason for a doser ... for less clumpy grinds. Above left is the Compak K3 Touch (doserless) grinds, and above right is the Compak K3 Elite (doser). Other mills we have tested lately have had excessively clumpy grinds, which does affect distribution in the filter basket and therefore the shot quality. We found the K3 Touch to be acceptable, and the grinds are not heated up by the mill. A good distribution technique using your fingers, paired with a good tamping technique, will result in nice shots!
Above is the distribution and clumping of the grinds from the K3 Touch. As mentioned, it is clumpy but no more than most doserless mills. We feel the particle size distribution was very good, as judged from the shots we have pulled with this mill over the past few months. We've also noticed that as the burrs have broken in over time the grind has gotten less clumpy. 3 weeks after taking the pictures above, we're still getting clumps, but fewer of them.
Grind Basics ... Pinch Me.
Above, A Good Starting Point: I thought to include a few images of basic manual testing of espresso grinds ... the rule of thumb or should we call it the Pinch Test. Above is what I like to see as a starting point in espresso grind. I see some clumping (it is from the K3 Touch Doserless), and when I pinch the grinds they have the ability to compact, to cake, but not excessively
Above, Too Fine: What I see above is too much caking, and when I pinch the grind it actually records my finer print perfectly. This is a Turkish grind, basically, way too fine for espresso in my book.
Above, Too Coarse: This is a nice filter drip grind, but it lacks the ability to cake under tamping pressure. This will not make an espresso.