As much as I love the ritual of my daily manual pour-over, even a coffee geek like me sometimes wishes for an easier method. There are a few great automatic coffee machines out there, but the Breville Grind Control features a built-in burr grinder—an essential device for great coffee. It promises high quality with as little effort as possible.
What Is It?
It’s a $300 automatic coffee maker with a built-in adjustable burr grinder. It will brew either a single serving or up to 12 cups of delicious joe. Breville’s previous model, the YouBrew (lol), had a grinder with inferior burrs that wasn’t adjustable, and less advanced features all around.
There are other automatic coffee makers out there with adjustable burr grinders built in. But Breville wowed me before with their dual boiler espresso machine, so I thought I would give this one a go.
Who’s It For?
It’s for individuals who have a burning desire for good quality coffee without having to bother with buying multiple gadgets, learning pouring technique, or worrying about the many other variables that go into crafting the perfect cup. Most people buy pre-ground coffee or use a crappy little blade grinder, both detrimental for flavor. Having a good grinder built into the brewer makes everything that much easier.
Breville’s distinct brand of shiny metal appliance is in full-form on the Grind Control. It’s curvy and somewhat futuristic looking; a look that you’ll either love or hate. But whichever way you fall, it looks like a cohesive, well-constructed object. Breville has a strength in UX design and creating buttons and menus that are clear and simple. The interface is uncluttered and the buttons are large with a pleasant glowing ring around each of them.
Make no mistake, this is a big-ass machine. Counter space can be a precious resource, especially in small NYC apartments like mine, and you’ll have to cordon off a good chunk of it for the Grind Control. Of course, if you have a standalone burr grinder, brewing device, and pouring kettle, it may seem like an improvement to just have the one machine taking their place.
My pour-over setup consists of a Baratza Virtuoso grinder, Hario V60 brewer and carafe, and Hario pouring kettle.
There’s no mystery in making the Grind Control spit out coffee. You pour whole beans into the hopper in back, water in the front, select how many cups you want on a dial, and then just let it work. You can also select strength on a scale of 1 to 8 (basically how much ground coffee is used for a specific amount of water). When I opened up the box, I glanced at the quick-start guide, but probably didn’t even need to.
That’s good. Simple is good. Although, to really make the Grind Control sing, you have to know that the goldtone mesh filter that it comes with is garbage and that you really should opt for paper basket filters—unless you want thick murky coffee. I used fancy Kalita filters which are extra great, if expensive. You also should have an idea about how grind size works and why you would adjust it (coarser grains for larger servings, for instance).
The built-in grinder holds a half-pound of beans in its hopper. You fill it from the top and when you press brew, it runs (rather loudly), and spits the grounds into the basket. You do have to clean it every so often, but it’s not that difficult to brush out the few crevices.
Just because there’s a grinder built into this thing doesn’t mean you have a full range of grinding options like with a standalone grinder. This is a drip machine, after all, so you can’t grind coarse enough for a French press or fine enough for an espresso. You’re going for one specific size. There are 4 grind settings to tweak the grind until it looks a bit like table salt. I set it to 3 to start out and that worked great for me. The grounds from the Grind Control were just as consistent as my well-regarded Baratza Virtuoso.
This is good, because the path to great coffee starts with a good grinder. Blade grinders are garbage, and buying pre-ground coffee is a big no-no, as coffee starts losing its aromatics right after you grind it. Compare the smell of freshly ground coffee with a bag of pre-ground coffee to get an idea of what I mean. Plus, the Grind Control grinder is a burr grinder, which crushes the beans to an even size rather than haphazardly slicing them in a tornado of swirling fragments. That means even extraction and better taste.
Another essential mechanism that most coffee machines lack is temperature control. It’s important to heat the water to 200 degrees Farenheit for proper extraction, and the Grind Control claims to do just that. I couldn’t really test this with a thermometer, as you have no access to the stream once the brewing process begins. If true, the water certainly heats impressively fast. When brewing a 16 oz serving, the total time from start to finish is 4 minutes and 22 seconds. The display tells you what is taking place during that time (heating, infusion, brewing). Only about 1 minute of that 4:22 was spent heating the water, which it probably accomplishes by only heating the pre-set volume.
Speaking of volumes, here’s one thing that irked me. You can set the machine to brew anywhere from 2 cups to 12 cups, and there’s a single-serving mode that will brew one cup anywhere between 8oz and 20 oz. The single serving mode was good at churning out close to the selected volume. But when you select 2-12 cups, it actually measures only 5 oz per cup. For most normal people, that’s a bit more than half a cup of coffee. So if you’re brewing for 4 people, select 7 cups or so.
The Grind Control comes with a very robust thermal carafe. It will certainly keep your brew hot for a long time, but I came to hate the thing. Unless the carafe is more than half-full, you have to turn it almost completely upside down to get the coffee to pour out. And when it does, it comes trickling out, spraying drops every which way. I understand that’s so it can keep the heat in, but it makes pouring a right pain in the ass. And unless you’re in single-serving mode, you can’t use your own carafe with the Grind Control. It has a special valve under the basket that only opens when the provided carafe is under it. Again, that’s to reduce heat loss. It seems easy to hack, but ideally you could just press a button to disable that.
My own workaround, since I usually brew two cups for my wife and I, was to set the machine to single serving mode at 16 oz. That way I could use my own carafe and end up with two normal sized cups of coffee.
Breville says that the thing that makes the Grind Control different from other grinder/brewer combo machines is it lets you calibrate the timing of the brewing process based on the specific coffee you are using. Since every coffee yields different amounts of grounds based on things like degree of roast and origin, the calibration tool accounts for that. After initiating calibration mode, it grinds for 10 seconds, you weigh the grounds on your own kitchen scale, then input that weight into the machine, which adjusts the brewing timetable based on the input. It’s a terrific feature for coffee geeks, but honestly, for 99% of people brewing coffee, they aren’t going to know or care about calibrating. It’s not hard to do, but it’s certainly a chore that most people will neglect.
There are some great niceties built into the Grind Control. You can set it to start at a certain time every day, leaving you with a fully brewed pot of coffee when you wake up, which is very cool. It also keeps mess to a minimum with a valve that prevents dripping after the brew is finished.
In the end, the proof is in how the damn stuff tastes. It tastes pretty good.
I did a blind taste test by brewing a manual pour-over as the Grind Control made its own brew. I used the same Kalita filters and beans for each, grinding with my Baratza Virtuoso to match the size of the Breville. I heated water on the stove and confirmed its temperature at 200 degrees with a cooking thermometer before brewing. Both my wife and I blindly chose the pour-over as the superior cup—but the difference was minimal. I consider that an accomplishment, and something I praise the Grind Control for.
It creates good tasting coffee, if not quite up to the standard of a fully controlled pour-over.
It takes the chore out of grinding coffee fresh before every brew.
The interface is clear and the parts are all easy to use and clean.
The thermal carafe makes pouring awkward and slow.
It measures a cup as only 5 ounces, making it confusing to get the amount you want.
It really only makes great coffee if you use good, expensive filters.
Should You Buy It?
If you’re like most people and want good coffee with little hassle, the Grind Control will do right by you. It won’t get you the subtlety of flavor achievable by manual brewing, but it’ll bring you way closer than a K-cup or cheap Mr. Coffee machine. Grinding coffee is the biggest hurdle to drinking great coffee, and the Grind Control genuinely makes it easy.
If you’re a coffee geek like me, this machine probably isn’t for you. Too much of the process is hidden away and uncontrollable. I prefer to see my coffee as it brews, to know exactly what’s going on and to control each variable to a tee.
And if you’re not, you’ll still need to consider this machine’s cost. $300 is a whole lot to ask for good coffee. You can get a great standalone grinder and pour-over setup for under $300, easy. It will brew superior coffee and you can try out other methods like French Press or Aeropress. Of course, that road requires tinkering, knowledge, and technique. But my guess is that people who care enough to chase great coffee at home will welcome the challenge of manual brewing. People who just want something convenient probably don’t care enough to plunk down that wad of dough on the Grind Control.
There are other brewer/grinder combos you could look into, and they are all cheaper than the Breville. Cuisinart’s Burr Grind & Brew is $200, and Krups Grind & Brew is $180. Both companies don’t have a great history of caring about good coffee.
The Breville is nice, but if you actually want to learn about coffee and brew with versatility, pick up a Baratza Encore for $130, a Hario V60 brewer for $12, and pouring kettle for $35. It will give you more control than you could ever ask for.
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