Niche Duo Review | ft. Zero

The original Niche Zero was an instant classic, and immediately re-defined the quality and workflow benchmark in the home coffee grinder market. Now, almost 6 years after the initial launch, its once revolutionary specs have been somewhat eclipsed by equally affordable and capable grinders. In my opinion, it is still one of the best workflows of a home coffee grinder, despite the burr set and appearance becoming a little dated.

But then, with very little advertising, and with very odd timing on April Fools day, a new model appeared on the Niche website. This, the Niche DUO. Not DUO because it’s the second iteration, but because it looked provide true dual functionality between espresso and filter brewing without the sacrifices of every other “all-around” grinders, by providing two separate, quickly swappable burr sets. Does it succeed? And is it a worthy successor to the legendary Zero? Let’s find out!

Build Quality / Design

Starting off with the build quality and design, this is going to be a pretty concise summary. It’s the same as the Zero, but bigger.

Now, this isn’t a bad thing at all from a build quality perspective as these grinders are VERY solid feeling, with the wood, heavy metal body, and absolutely no jumping or movement whatsoever on the counter when grinding.

My one complaint from the original which is still present is the lid. The plastic lid and hinge simply don’t feel up to the level of the rest of the grinder, which is unfortunate, because it’s a part you actually touch and interact with on a daily basis. Switching to metal or maybe wood would have been a nice upgrade, and it could have even still incorporated a clear window if that’s something they deemed functionally important.

Size-wise, while the difference is quite apparent with both units placed side-by-side, on its own, the DUO doesn’t look imposing or oversized on the counter top. I suspect that any sharing of this grinder on social media will result in an endless stream of people asking whether they’re looking at a Zero or a Duo, because without the context of them side by side, it really is tough to tell.

There’s definitely a part of me that wishes Niche went with an updated design to match this updated grinder’s capabilities. I don’t mind the unique rounded looks, but with so many sleek modern designs coming onto the market, I feel like this one looks, well, over 6 years old, and has always been a bit divisive even from the start.

User Experience

If you single dose, Niche is still the king in terms of workflow. It achieves throughput that is never more than a tenth of a gram off from what you put in, most times being perfectly on. They advertise +/-0.2g, and it easily delivers that. Exchange is also fairly minimal, which is impressive for the larger 83mm flat burrs, and most importantly, it achieves this without the need for any bellows or knockers.

This is single-handedly the biggest reason to buy a Niche grinder. The workflow is simply the best. I’m not sure how other brands still haven’t managed to duplicate this since the Zero was first launched, but I have yet to see a single dosing grinder that truly doesn’t need bellows or a knocker to achieve this level of performance.

However, in some ways the Duo has actually taken a small step backwards, particularly when it comes to cleanliness. Because of the switch to flat burrs, Niche have forgone the feed ring that also served as an anti-popcorn measure on the Zero. And because of this, popcorning, IS a noticeable issue. Small bits of coffee can come flying out, and at least a few of these will find their way outside of the lid, and onto your counter top or kitchen floor. This is a disappointment for me, because it could have been very easily avoided with a disc similar to the Zero, or even a seal around the top of the dosing funnel and lid to stop them escaping.

Sound levels when grinding are higher on the Duo due to the larger burrs and faster 530rpm, but overall it is still a very quiet grinder. More importantly than sheer volume, the tone is non-disruptive. It’s not high and whining like some other grinders, it’s a low rumble, which I’ve always liked.

One update also worth mentioning that is also now available on the Zero is the new dosing cups. It might look the same, but this new version they put out a while ago with a gently sloping bottom is suuuuper nice, and makes getting all the grounds out a piece of cake. Even if you already own a Zero, this is a worthwhile upgrade.

Swapping Burrs

Moving on to the Duo’s party piece, let’s talk about swapping the burrs.

Niche offers this grinder with either espresso burrs, filter burrs, or both burrs as a package. Initially when the grinder was released it was only offered in a package with both burrs, and I’m very glad they have backed away from that initial decision even if it makes the Duo naming not make a whole lot of sense anymore. I’d even go so far as to recommend that Niche open this up even further to include other burr options such as those from SSP, and allow customers to mix and match as they please.

Swapping the burrs is very straightforward, but rather than talk about it, I might as well just show you in real time.

Apart from the simple process, the more impressive aspect of this is that the burrs perfectly retain their zero point and alignment when being swapped, which is absolutely critical for this to function as advertised, but easier said than done from an engineering perspective.

So, the Niche Duo works as advertised allowing you to swap between two burr sets with very minimal effort. The bigger question is, do you want that??? To help answer that question, let’s move on to the burr sets and grinding quality.

Grind Quality

Fans of Niche have looong been asking for a flat burr version of their grinders. As home specialty coffee has erupted over the past few years, so has the opinion that large flat burrs are the superior choice over conicals. Lance Hedrick did a fantastic video on this topic that I’ll leave linked here, but one analogy that I really liked from it was showing a rough representation of where he felt conicals and flats lived on the scale of texture vs clarity, and how there’s MUCH more overlap than either is often given credit for.

The Niche Zero’s conicals produced textured chocolaty espresso that gave that grinder its reputation. However in terms of clarity of flavours it left something to be desired, and for filter it was really a completely non-option due to the amount of fines.

In the case of the Niche Duo, it’s currently supplied with 83mm Mazzer burrs one set for filter, and one set for espresso. Just out of curiosity, I tried to brew the espresso burrs as a pour over, and while the results weren’t fantastic, they still well outperformed the Zero in my opinion.

When used for their intended purpose, the espresso burrs produced a profile that I really enjoyed, and after using them for a few weeks, quickly became my go to espresso setup over my previously used X54. Espresso had a nice open presentation with good complexity, and great texture for both straight espresso and for use in milk based drinks. These burrs also have enough clarity to nicely handle lighter more delicate roasts, but I would definitely not describe them as bright, or very high clarity. The notes remain more balanced, and for espresso, I enjoyed that.

The filter burrs also perform well, however they also lean more towards a balanced flavour profile rather than the brighter more insightful characteristics I personally prefer when brewing a pour over. I think it’s a bit surprising that in a scenario where they’re providing two sets of burrs that they maybe didn’t go a BIT more extreme with the included filter set, but I can see many people really really enjoying the sweet, balanced cups these burrs are producing.

Final Word

So with all that being said, who should be considering the Niche Duo?

I think that the best way to approach this grinder is to view it within a vacuum, separate from the whole burr-swapping Duo concept. This is an 83mm flat burr grinder, with a few burr options.

If you loved the idea of the Niche Zero but were craving an upgrade to flat burrs, and if this physical appearance is still appealing to you, then the recently updated pricing makes it a very attractive option even when compared to its nearest competitor the DF83. If given the choice between the two, I’d pick the Duo all day long simply because of the fantastic seemingly Niche exclusive workflow, and the fact that I think the stock Mazzer burrs are better than the stock burrs included on the DF.

How I would NOT suggest considering this grinder, is as an all-rounder that you’re going to switch the burrs on in-between drinks to serve one espresso followed by a filter brew. Even with the impressively fast change-over, I still didn’t look forward to the task, and never ended up changing between burr sets more than once per week. The system is great, but I just don’t think it’s something people will actually use… In the end, it does provide beautifully easy access to clean your grinder, and should be considered a huge win for that reason and that reason alone.

I like the Niche Duo. And now that we’re past the whole weird launch and pricing confusion, we can focus on the fact that they’ve managed to upgrade the grind quality on the very successful Niche platform, and offer it in variations for both espresso and filter lovers alike. It has some small quirks such as the popcorning which I hope might be fixed down the line, but overall it’s a grinder that I can confidently recommend in this price range.

Need more? Watch the video!

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