This review is wildly overdue, but better late than never! Back in 2017, I backed a Kickstarter project for LUME, which billed itself as “The World’s First Travel Coffee Grinder and Camp Light.” I received the product in late 2017/early 2018, but I never got around to testing out the grinder or writing this review until now.
The LUME grinder is marketed toward outdoorsy types who want to have freshly ground coffee on their camping trips, but don’t want the hassle of using a hand grinder. I am not an outdoorsy sort of person, but I chose to purchase the LUME anyway because I was intrigued to see if the particle consistency would be as good as they claimed. Could this $89 travel grinder stand up to the quality of my more expensive home grinders?
The LUME came packaged with a sturdy canvas/leather bag for carrying. It has two compartments inside; the fully assembled LUME will fit into one, and I presume the other might be for transporting any related accessories (the USB cable/wall charger, a small jar of coffee beans).
The device is pretty straightforward: press and hold the brown button at the top for around 2 seconds to activate the grinder, and press again to shut it off (it will also automatically stop after 2 minutes). The white button can be pressed once to see the remaining battery life, or pressed additionally to activate the camp light (low and high brightness settings). The grinder uses ceramic burrs, and the collection bin has markings in grams so that you theoretically don’t need to bring a scale… but if you prefer to brew by weight, as I do, you’ll want a scale available to weigh your water anyway.
The main reason that I held off so long on testing this grinder was because I was unclear on how to change the grind settting from coarse to fine and back again. These were the instructions from the LUME online manual:
4.2 HOW TO ADJUST GROUND SIZE
Use the adjusting knob to adjust ground size. Clockwise for fine, counterclockwise for coarse grounds. (TIP: Set it at tightest to start, then turn the knob back 45 degree each time for incremental adjustments.) The gap between the burr and the outer ring indicates how fine the ground would be. Each types of bean requires different setting for optimum brewing. In general, we recommend 0mm – 0.5mm for fine, 0.5mm -1.2mm for medium, and 1.2mm – 2mm for coarse grounds.
However, this was what I saw when examining the burrs. 0-39? What do these numbers have to do with the millimeter suggestions? Also, with the hopper empty, the adjusting knob spun aimlessly when I tried moving it. I realized with some help from Shutterbug that I had to hold the number ring down to change the burr setting, at least until some coffee was already ground.
Unlike my Baratza Virtuoso grinder, which goes 0-40 from fine to coarse, the LUME goes 0-39 from coarse to fine. I misunderstood this scale at first and assumed there were only 40 settings for this grinder; there are more if you keep turning the dial! But my initial test was based on the numbers I first encountered.
I ground some fresh coffee (used Eiland’s Espresso X for this test) at different settings in the LUME and in my home grinders to see the results:
I was actually pretty impressed with the particle consistency size of the LUME compared to my Baratza grinders. The 2 on the LUME compared favorably to the 20 setting on my Virtuoso (which is what I use for AeroPress brewing). The 35 on the LUME felt virtually identical between my fingers to the Vario 3-P setting – a very fine sand (the 18 on the LUME was a coarser sand).
Earlier this morning, I had dialed in some espresso shots, and I was curious if the LUME could compare favorably. So, I set the LUME back to 35 and started grinding.
Baratza Vario: 18 grams, 12 seconds grind time
LUME: 18 grams, 8 minutes grind time (!!!!)
Remember how I said this grinder automatically shuts off after 2 minutes? I had to reactivate it 3 additional times to finish grinding the beans I needed for a doubleshot. I was getting sincerely worried about overheating or breaking the burrs! And, after all that, it turned out that the grind setting was just a bit too fine (I ended up with even less than a ristretto’s worth of espresso!). I wasn’t willing to sit through another 8 minutes of grinding to retest this. Bottom line: the particle consistency is great, but this is not a suitable option for home espresso unless you’re REALLY patient and you never have to make more than one serving.
I decided that I next wanted to try a coarse grind in the LUME to make some french press coffee. I came to realize that the numbers really didn’t matter – this device is not comparable to a home grinder that has stepped settings (such as my 0-40 grind settings on my Baratza Virtuoso). Rather, this was more of a stepless design and you are meant to find the right position through a bit of trial and error. Ultimately, this is fine, because I feel like most of the people that use the LUME will probably be the sort to stick to one brewing method while camping, so once you find the right burr setting, you’re unlikely to have to change it significantly. In order for me to find a setting that was comparable to the coarse grind on my home grinder, I spun the dial on the LUME several complete circles to reach my desired grind size.
I was pretty impressed with the particle consistency from the LUME grinder. It may not have been quite as consistent as my Virtuoso, and as you can see, the LUME setting was a little coarser than I expected. But, at less than half the price, I think the LUME stacks up favorably.
Next, I wanted to brew some french press coffee for two, so I timed the relative grind times.
Baratza Virtuoso: 44 grams, 17 seconds grind time
LUME: 44 grams, 3 minutes grind time
While the auto-shutoff did kick in again, the total wait time wasn’t as onerous a process as when I was doing a fine grind. Still, I will say that if you plan to make coffee while camping for more than 2 people, any wildlife around you is probably going to be annoyed by the noise of this grinder. It’s not super loud, but 3 minutes of this? Definitely not a sound found in nature.
The resulting French press coffee was just like it usually is when I make it at home: rich, full-bodied, with the familiar sheen of oil on the surface as well as some sludge at the bottom of the cup. It tasted indistinguishable from the coffee I made with my $229 grinder. This was great!
Cleanup: LUME has a video on Vimeo showing how to disassemble the unit for deep cleaning. I haven’t done this myself yet but it looks like a pretty simple process. Interestingly, every part of this (including the ceramic burr) can be washed with water (just be sure you dry everything completely before reassembling). I never use water when cleaning the burrs for my home grinders, so this was something different.
Summary: This was a good purchase, and I would recommend it for anyone that wants a battery-powered travel grinder that has great particle consistency. Due to the small burr, it takes significantly longer to grind coffee in this versus a grinder designed for home use, so be prepared; I think the LUME is best suited for coarse grinding for this reason. There is some trial and error involved when looking for the right grind setting for your brewing method, but once you find it, it’s smooth sailing from there. I like how easy it is to charge the LUME via USB, and the two light settings are a nice feature to have. I will be taking the LUME with me on my next trip, and I’m really pleased to be guaranteed to have freshly ground coffee in the mornings!
Free shipping within the U.S.; worldwide delivery available.