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coffee@home: Le’Lit PL53

Model: PL53 Doserless Stepless Espresso Grinder
Brand: Le’Lit

Reviewing coffee equipment is no small endeavor. It takes a desire to tinker and plenty of time. Besides, it’s hard to argue with the collective coffee equipment wisdom accumulated on the boards of Coffee Geek and Home Barista.

In fact, these two sites were the first places I looked when approached by the people at Coffee Grinders. They offered to send me a Le’Lit PL53 Doserless Stepless Espresso Grinder.  I didn’t want to accept this relatively expensive piece of equipment if I would inevitably find myself having to pan it, especially since I was listing them as a sponsored link on the left hand side of the page. Fortunately, at least two threads (1,2) suggested I had little to worry about and I asked Coffee Grinders to send along this demo.

The Le’lit is Petite

When the box that contained my grinder arrived, I did a double-take. As the proud owner of a Super Jolly, I wasn’t quite sure that such a lightweight package could actually contain a decent grinder. With some work, I opened the outer and inner boxes and peeled back layers of Styrofoam. It was, at least well packed, and once opened required only minimal assembly, which is good since the extremely limited instruction manual could use a little work.

In fact, at 5.8 pounds, this grinder isn’t that insubstantial. It has sufficient heft to keep it stable on the counter top. Most of my of my dismay may have been due to an unfair comparison. Next to my Super Jolly (which is not as beefy as some “home” grinders), this little guy is tiny. The Le’lit’s footprint is nearly half the Super Jolly’s (around 5″ wide and 8″ deep) and the top of its hopper only reaches up to just below the top of the Super Jolly’s neck (just over 12″ high).  Really, though, its just about the right size for a person not deluded into thinking that their kitchen is a cafe and provides more than enough heft for regular home use.

A Solid Sense of Design

One thing is for certain. This grinder looks great. The shiny stainless steel get’s a little smudged, but looks gorgeous with minimal polishing.  And the fairly industrial, boxy look of this machine is completely up my alley. It’s a good looking grinder if you like spare and semi-professional, but with a bit more polish and charm than a used shop grinder.

The controls come in three. There’s an on/off master power toggle switch on the right side of the machine (while facing it), while an activation button sits on the front, in between the two mental folded in prongs that serve as the portafilter fork. You depress the activation button with the portafilter as it rests upon the forks. The adjustment nob sits high up to the right of the machine (sorry lefties) and turns with a good, but not too tight, level of tension.

Quick Thoughts

In addition to its being stepless, here are a few other key features of the Le’Lit along with my initial reactions to them.

  • The Le’lit is doserless. One argument in favor of a doser, besides actually helping to measure the dose (which I do by weighing or even eye-balling my dose), is that it prevents clumping. In the couple of months I’ve used the Le’Lit, I’ve seen relatively little clumping. Another argument in favor of dosers is that they can be cleaner. While grinders with dosers can spit to one side, they rarely do if you slow down as you dose. The Le’Lit does do some spitting to the left, especially when beans in the hopper get low. It’s a bit messier than I’d like, but no more so than other grinders in this price range.
  • The Le’Lit has conical burrs. Conical vs. flat burrs is one of those never ending debates for grinders of the same class. I don’t have a well-formed opinion on this debate, but I found espresso blends or single origins with a fruitier profile somewhat enhanced by the Le’Lit, with shots that sometimes outshone those ground on my Super Jolly.  The Le’Lit’s conical burrs may give it a slight edge over a machine with comparably–sized flat burrs – at least with certain coffee profiles.
  • The forks that hold the portafilter have a bit of an edge to them. I read about possible portafilter scratching. I’m not sure if it had to do with the material used on those portafilters or the technique used, but I didn’t see any evidence of scratching.
  • The chute is small and angled such that you can’t reach the grind chamber. As with any grinder where burrs aren’t mounted vertically, a small amount of ground coffee will get trapped on the ledge just above the chute. With my Super Jolly, I can just open the doser’s lid and brush this out. The Le’Lit, however has a fairly long screw holding the chute in place which makes it difficult to frequently remove the chute to allow for a thorough cleaning after use. I found that a good rocking back and forth of the grinder between grinds shook it clean. I also read that some people simply left the screw out and popped off the chute off as needed to sweep it.

Baby Steps

It’s worth repeating that this grinder is a stepless grinder, which means that it is only suitable for espresso. I didn’t attempt to change this grinder from an espresso setting to a French Press setting, but doing so would have certainly taken its toll in both time and a repetitive strain injury. If you need a grinder for multiple brew methods, the PL53 is not it. This grinder is for espresso only.

That said, when it comes to espresso, being stepless is very much a good thing, and a rare feature for a grinder in this price range. I loved the ability to fine tune my grind, and almost find the infinite grind possibilities overwhelming. While the collar adjustment on my Super Jolly is technically stepless, it’s is so sticky that in reality it moves in many small, discrete steps (kind of like really good digital is to analog).

I suppose my one big complaint about the grinder is that the adjustment knob is devoid of any objective numeric references. You turn it one way to loosen and another to tighten the grind. For a given espresso, as you adjust the grind from day to day, these controls work well. Switch espressos and switch back, or try to institute a standard starting point for any blend and you may have difficulty given that the knob in one position looks just like it does in any other.

The Bottom Line

The Le’Lit PL53 sells new, for slightly less than $30o, depending on where you buy it. At that price, it is about $75 cheaper than the highly regarded Rancilio Rocky. The Rocky, a grinder with a similar burr size and roughly similar dimensions, has the benefit of being able to more easily switch between espresso and other grind types, but its stepped adjustment limits it’s strength when it comes to espresso. A similarly sized grinder such as the Vario, which is highly lauded for both grind quality and flexibility in grinding for different brew types as well as other useful “smart” features costs $450. If you can find one, a Super Jolly will typically run at least $400, used on ebay. The Super Jolly is built like a tank, has a larger (flat) burr set, and an easily adjustable grind, but the thing is much larger and more pricey.

At this point, I’ve not run more than a few pounds of coffee through the the Le’Lit so I’m by no means an expert. I hope to return to this machine down the road with a little update. But in my limited journey with it, I found it to be less consistent than my Super Jolly. It takes longer to dial in and often produces only a comparable espresso, but when I get it just right, it is capable of really shining.  At this price range, if you’re looking for an espresso-only grinder, I’d say you’d be hard pressed to find something better.

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