About the Niche Zero Grinder
The Niche Zero is a conical burr grinder with premium grade hardened steel 63mm burrs and the promise of zero retention. It is a prosumer model with around a 50 gram capacity and comes in a black and white model. It began as an Indiegogo campaign in 2017 and came into production in 2019.
First Impressions and Unboxing of the Niche Zero Grinder
The Niche Zero arrives in a minimally designed cardboard box. The simple elegance of the box mirrors the product’s minimal, yet streamlined and elegant design.
The product comes well-packaged within the box and includes the grinder, dosing cup, wood tray (for the dosing cup to sit upon), brush (for cleaning), screwdriver (for cleaning/disassembling) and the instruction manual.
In my first uses of the product, I had a few initial impressions:
- Size: The grinder is more compact than expected and easily fits on my counter under the shelves (and even has enough space to open the lid).
- Sound: I had heard about the Niche’s quiet grinding and I was not disappointed. It is incredibly quiet for an automated grinder.
- Speed: The grinder is fast—within a few seconds it finished the grinding.
- Consistency: In my first few grinds, I was incredibly impressed with the consistency of the grinds, especially at finer grind settings.
- Auto Shut-off: After using the Fellow Ode for a few months that has an auto shut-off feature, I did immediately miss that feature.
- Hopper Size: While the hopper can technically hold up to 50 grams of coffee, it seems much better suited for 18-35 grams of coffee, which is a bit smaller than the Ode, Baratza Encore or other automated grinders I’ve used.
The Niche Zero is clearly a premium at-home product. At £499 (~$675), the Niche is one of the most expensive consumer grinders on the market. As I’ll discuss more below, the quality of the materials and grind you get with the grinder, does helps to validate this high price point though. That said, it is still a very expensive piece of consumer coffee equipment.
The Niche Zero has a metal body and solid oak features. It is made of high-quality materials and is undoubtedly a premium product. Martin Nicholson, the designer of the Niche Zero, is “an accomplished designer with over 30 years of industry and design experience.”1 This experience clearly shows in the smaller details of the product and helps contribute to the sense that the Niche Zero is a well-built and an exceptional piece of coffee equipment.
As a way to highlight the quality of the product, here are a few small features in the product that show it was well-designed and well thought out from the smallest of details:
- The Niche Flow Control disk: One critique of the original grinder was that beans would popcorn as you grind the coffee (slowing down the grind time and potentially giving some inconsistent grinds on the final beans). Niche quickly worked to develop a “flow control” disk that sits at the bottom of the hopper, which helps feed the beans into the burrs. There is still a little popcorning, but not much. I love that Niche is continuing to evolve the product to make improvements.
- Retractable cord storage: Instead of a standard cord that sits out behind the product, the Niche has a retractable cord that can be stored within the base of the grinder. This avoids extra cord coiling behind the product. It’s a minor detail, but again just elevates the quality of the product.
- The grind cup: The grind cup is designed at the perfect size to fit a 58mm portafilter, which will allow you to flip over the grinds seamlessly without pouring. (Unfortunately my portafilter is a bit smaller than the 58mm size, so I am not able to take advantage of this feature, but I love that the Niche is so intentionally designed that even small details like this were considered.)
Ease of Use
Functionality wise, the Niche Zero is very simple and easy to use. It has a stepless dial that allows you to grind at endless points along their dial (versus other grinders that have steps or clicks that you are locked into) and to achieve grinds anywhere from espresso to French Press. The dial is easy to operate and was quick to move from fine to coarse.
The numbers around the dial help you to easily refine your grind settings and quickly dial in a coffee or brew method. It also helps you to easily remember what settings you use for different brews, so you can go back to it next time you brew with that method or coffee.
In addition to actually grinding coffee, there are two components with grinders that go into their ease of use: cleaning and calibrating.
Cleaning the Niche Zero
A grinder should be cleaned much more often than most people do. One of the barriers to this lack of cleaning is usually the difficultly of actually completing the cleaning (or limits of the machine to allow you to dissemble the grinder to get it clean). The Niche Zero makes it both easy and accessible to clean the grinder. The Niche comes with the screwdriver tool to remove all of the burrs and allows you to quickly dissemble the outer and inner burrs to get full access to any place coffee grounds could get stuck. Niche has a great video about how you can clean the grinder; you can see from the video the entire process only takes a few minutes.
Calibrating the Niche Zero
While it has a slight learning curve, the process of calibrating your grinder is quite easy. The dial has a calibration point towards the top that allows you to easily and quickly recalibrate your grinder. You can read more about calibrating the Niche Zero grinder in the article I wrote and video I created here.
As mentioned in the Quality section, the Niche Zero is clearly well-built. It is sturdy and will not fall apart easily. All moving components (the lid you open/close to pour beans into the hopper, the dial you turn to adjust the grind size, the cup you remove for the ground beans, etc.) are clearly built to withstand years of use. The burrs being as large as they are should withstand years of use as well before wearing out.
The Niche Zero is sleek, compact and a beauty to have on your counter. When I first saw the Niche a few years ago online, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the design, but it has grown on me considerably and now is one of my favorite designed pieces of brew equipment appearance-wise. It’s semi-futuristic, unique design definitely makes it stand out while simultaneously meshing nicely with many of the other pieces of brew equipment I own. The black (or white) metal body with the contrasting oak accents creates an appearance that is extremely high-end.
The Niche Zero is clearly one of the most expensive grinders you can buy for at home use, but the quality of the product helps to justify that cost and makes it a good value even at that high price point. The fact that it can consistently grind for almost any brew method means that it should be the only grinder you need at home (no need to have one grinder for espresso and one for pour over).
Grinding Coffee with the Niche Zero Grinder
Below I discuss the most important component of the Niche Zero grinder: how it grinds. I’ll discuss its grind speed, grind quality, how it differentiates itself from other grinders and how flexible it is with its grinding abilities.
The Niche Zero aligns nicely with other automated consumer grinders I’ve used in the past. It’s grind speeds are:
- 1.5g per second fine (espresso)
- 1.8g per second medium (Chemex)
- 2.1g per second coarse (French press)
This would be a bit slow for any professional setting, but has not been a problem for me in my home setting. For my normal brew size (~25 grams) at a medium fine grind, it is able to grind all of it in 15-20 seconds. There are sometimes
The Niche Zero bean funnel can hold up to 50 grams of coffee, so this means even at the finest setting with the most coffee possible, the total grind time is around 35-40 seconds.
Also worth noting in this section is the sound. The Niche Zero is surprisingly quiet while grinding and is under 72dB. Compared to other automated grinders I’ve used, it is definitely on the quiet end. As a reference, for early morning brews before the rest of the family woke up, I used to grind my coffee with my hand grinder because my automated grinder was too loud. Now with the Niche Zero, I can easily grind it at any time without waking up anyone.
One of the most important elements of a grinder is of course the quality of its grind. There are a few elements that go into the quality of the grind, I think, and I’ll touch on each one:
- Consistency: Likely the most important component of a grind quality is how consistent the grind size is at each different size. If a grinder produces a wide variance in grind sizes, it will result in under-extracted coffees and overall just poor quality brews. The Niche Zero is likely the most consistent grinder I’ve ever used at almost any grind size. As you can see in the various grind sizes below, its particle size at each step is remarkably consistent.
- Retention: With any grinder you want to make sure whatever coffee you put into a grinder is what you get out. The reason the Niche Zero has zero in its name is because of its promise of zero retention. The grinder is designed with a direct path to encourage as little retention as possible. While I am not sure it is truly zero retention, it is very close. In my testing, it was consistently 0.0 – 0.3 grams of retained coffee (many times right at 0.0 grams). Now this doesn’t mean there isn’t any retention, but it is very close to that—and much closer than any other grinder I have used before (it’s likely a very small amount of coffee is transferred from one grind to the next, so even if it shows 0.0 grams, it may have retained 0.2 grams and passed on 0.2 grams from the previous grind). On their site, Niche mentions “Independent testing confirms a dose consistency with a variation of less than +/- 0.2g of grind.”2
- Range: I talk more about this in the Flexibility section below, so I won’t dwell on it here, but how wide a range a grinder has in regards to grind size has a big impact on the quality of the grinder and the grinds it can produce. The Niche Zero has an excellent range of grind sizes.
To a non-coffee enthusiast, a coffee grinder is a coffee grinder and it would seem impossible to see what could justify such a high price point for a machine that simply grinds coffees. To someone passionate about coffee though, it is a different story and I think the Niche Zero does an excellent job differentiating itself from other grinders on the market while still checking all of the expected boxes. Some of the areas I think the Niche Zero differentiates itself most are:
- Burrs: The burrs within a grinder are the biggest differentiator between burr grinders and the reason some cost $40 and others $2000. The large, 63mm steel burrs within the Niche Zero are some of the highest quality you’ll find in an at-home grinder and significantly better than most consumer grinders. While the size of the burrs and what this translates too likely doesn’t mean much to the average consumer, the consistency in the grind they produce is something that even a casual coffee enthusiast can appreciate.
- Step-less adjustment: The Niche Zero has an infinite step-less adjustment. This means that instead of having X number of clicks or steps to select between, you can turn the dial the tiniest bit to adjust your grind setting. This is important at all grind settings, but especially for espresso where the smallest adjustment can have a big impact between too fine or too coarse (especially when that adjustment is predefined by a “step” on the grind settings that could be quite large). Essentially the the level of control this step-less adjustment gives you is fantastic.
- Wide grind range: I’ll discuss more below in the Flexibility section, but the range in which the Niche Zero can grind—Turkish fineness to cold brew coarseness—and grind consistently is exceptional and a big differentiator from other grinders I have used in the past.
The biggest component that plays into a grinder’s flexibility is how wide of a range it can grind consistently within. I have a variety of grinders and most specialize in one specific area; it is either great for espresso and not great for filter brews or visa versa. I haven’t found that to be the case with the Niche Zero. While the settings dial is a bit more geared towards finer grind sizes, it can easily go much coarser and creates a consistent grind through Chemex and cold brew coarseness. This gives you immense flexibility and means you could easily only have the Niche Zero and still be able to grind coffee for any brew method you want—something that can’t be said for most other consumer-level grinders.
There is no doubt that a Niche Zero is an expensive grinder—likely one of the most expensive consumer grinder available. If you can stomach the high price tag though, you won’t regret purchasing this grinder. It is the most consistent grinder I’ve ever owned and has quickly become the one I use every morning. It’s a beautiful, high-quality piece of coffee equipment you’ll be proud to have as part of your coffee collection.