Versalab M3 Grinder

Postby Abe Carmeli on Thu Aug 04, 2005 5:54 pm

Day 1

It has finally arrived today. I let it sit in the box for six hours, as I knew that once I opened the box, my work will be shot to hell.

Here are some images for starters

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In the box

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Ready for unveiling

The small plastic bags contain the drive belt and hex wrenches. It took 2 minutes to release additional plastic strips which protect the burrs during shipping, and a few seconds to wrap the drive belt around the large Pulley. The belt, Schomer style, transfers spinning motion from the grinder engine to the grinder burrs. The M3 has two sets of burrs: Flat & Conical.

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The Versalab & The Mazzer Mini side by side

There is no hopper, and you place the coffee beans directly in the round conical receptacle. It holds up to 3 scoops, which should be enough for dosing a triple. Note also, that the Versalab does not have any step marking on its dial. The dial is the top funnel and it is adjusted by moving it clockwise for finer grind. This is clearly a problem. A marked dial saves a lot of time when you change coffee beans. I use a dial chart for my Mazzer Mini, in which I specify the grind dial for every coffee I've ever used. It saves a lot of time, and a ton of coffee, if you can quickly get within one adjustment of your target dial.

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View from the back

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View from the top

The combination of flat & conical burrs is probably the most important feature of this grinder. It can be found only in commercial grinders that are much bigger, and cost two to four times as much. It should produce a rounder and fuller flavor in the cup.

Let's grind some coffee

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How it looks out of the grinder

Since the M3 is a doserless grinder, one attaches the P/F or basket to the bottom of the grinder chute. That spot uses a rubber gasket to seal the contact between the two and prevent ground coffee from flying all over the place. This is how it looks out of the grinder. Do you notice a problem there? There is a hole in the middle. This is due to the coffee distribution pattern out of the chute. The M3 has an inverted donut shaped bottom, and when the grinds come out of the burrs, they fall down through the perimeter, as the center is blocked by a disk. My fear is that this may cause uneven distribution.

More to come tomorrow.
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Postby AndyS on Thu Aug 04, 2005 7:00 pm

Abe Carmeli wrote: This is how it looks out of the grinder. Do you notice a problem there? There is a hole in the middle. This is due to the coffee distribution pattern out of the chute. The M3 has an inverted donut shaped bottom, and when the grinds come out of the burrs, they fall down through the perimeter, as the center is blocked by a disk. My fear is that this may cause uneven distribution.


It is not a problem. I've pulled about a dozen shots so far with my M3 grinder, and a typical Stockfleths-type distribution fills the hole in nicely.
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Postby AndyS on Thu Aug 04, 2005 9:12 pm

Abe Carmeli wrote:There is a hole in the middle. This is due to the coffee distribution pattern out of the chute. The M3 has an inverted donut shaped bottom, and when the grinds come out of the burrs, they fall down through the perimeter, as the center is blocked by a disk. My fear is that this may cause uneven distribution.


My fear is different. I'm afraid that the M3's almost perfect radial distribution of coffee in the basket will spoil me. After using the M3 for a while, I may have difficulty remembering how to properly distribute coffee in the basket when it comes out of a conventional grinder.

Fear is a nasty thing, no? :-)
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Postby Abe Carmeli on Thu Aug 04, 2005 9:22 pm

AndyS wrote:Fear is a nasty thing, no? :-)


Fear is good. It keeps me alive when I think about taking up Base Jumping :). I intentionally left it as "to be examined tomorrow" item, and see if indeed it is a problem.

The distribution in the perimeter is very even, it is the center that worries me. The centrifugal pattern of the dispersion out of the chute reminds me a bit of what L/M tried to do with the Swift Grinder. I believe that their mistake was that they tried to automate the tamping as well.
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Postby another_jim on Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:16 pm

I've underdosed the LM triple with it, as a trial, and the grounds distribution is definitely better than any other grinder's; there is no problem with uneven pours with the underloaded basket and no distribution moves (the tamp has to be heavy, or the puck melts with all that headroom).
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Postby Abe Carmeli on Fri Aug 05, 2005 10:06 am

DAY 2

Woke up at 6:00 a.m. itching to tackle the grinder distribution issue. So, let's move straight to some closeup views.

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Out of the chute

As the burrs spin, they disperse the grounds in a spiral pattern, like a small tornado out of the chute. That can clearly be seen in the picture above. Notice how fine and even the grounds look when they come out, and how evenly they are dispersed. It is like grains of salt.

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Settling

As the grounds settle, one can clearly see the mound's spiral character. Notice the crater at the top, and the spiral galaxy imprint in the background. This is very different from the Mazzer Mini with a doser. There, the grounds are tunneled through a 1" wide chute on their way to the doser.


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Versalab Grounds - Closeup

There are practically no clumps in the image above.


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Mazzer Mini Grounds - Closeup

There are huge rocks coming out of the Mazzer. The contrast with the M3 smooth and even grounds mound is startling.

The Preferred Barista Technique With the M3

As I was concerned with the crater in the middle of the mound, I tested three Barista leveling and distribution techniques.

First: Stockfleth. This is a circular sweep of the basket using the index finger. I did it clockwise to be in sync with the grinder's spiral dispersion direction. Result: No channeling, though it took longer than usual for the puck to saturate its center. That resulted in somewhat slightly uneven extraction.

Second: Schomer. A sweep across the basket rim in four directions NSEW. No channeling, but still, the center takes longer to saturate than usual.

Third: No distribution at all, just leveling the puck in one sweep across the rim. Bingo! Even saturation across the puck and no channeling. The resulting shot was fantastic.

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Out of the grinder

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My preferred method at this point - just one sweep to level the puck

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The result in the cup

Wow! What do you do when your grinder tells you "step aside espresso boy, and don't mess with me". Andy and Jim were right. One can get very lazy and sloppy with this wonder of a machine.

However, I do not intend to role over and die. In the coming days I will try to see if there is a distribution technique that will do even better.
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Postby AndyS on Fri Aug 05, 2005 11:42 pm

Abe Carmeli wrote:However, I do not intend to role over and die

Good news! :-)

Abe Carmeli wrote:In the coming days I will try to see if there is a distribution technique that will do even better.


I'm looking forward to hearing your results. Keep those great photos coming! It's a sweet little grinder, isn't it?
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Postby another_jim on Sat Aug 06, 2005 1:18 am

Hi Abe, my congrats on the awesome pic of the grounds exiting the grinder. Maybe versalab will use it for their PR; it's hard to imagine any better way of illustrating the benefits of a simplified path from grindstones to basket.
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Postby another_jim on Sat Aug 06, 2005 1:35 am

I've run into an interesting problem trying to do blind shot comparisons. After grinding and tamping into two identical baskets (the M3's with a hidden ID mark under the lip), shuffling them and making shots, it was easy to see which one came from the M3 -- the pours were always perfect. I went through most of the coffee I'd intended for testing trying to get the mini pours consistently as good, but to no avail. Most of the shots would have had an easy tell in their early flow.

Andy is working on the same problem.

I've put up a call on CG for Chicago area alties to participate in a test; I hope a few respond (if there are any here, email me).

In the mean time, I'm going to be doing blind brewing tests. I did the first one tonight, with one cup from each grinder, using a coffee that won't be reviewed on coffeecuppers. One cup was flat and kind of pleasant; in the other, the (mostly bad) flavors were clear and vivid. Fortunately, it turned out that the vivid cup came from the M3 (whew!).

Tomorrow, it's on to triangle tests. This is a test that was introduced to us amateurs by Barry Jarrett (I'm not sure if he or someone else invented it) for severely testing whether bean or roast differences were real or a product of self suggestion. One uses six cups, in two groups of three. one group for each bean, roast, or in this case, grinder. Each group has one cup with the coffee from the other set. The task is to pick the odd cup from each group. If one can do this reliably (say in three successive trials) , then one either is cheating or there's a real tasteable difference.

Of course, acumen helps. The last time I did this, on two roasts (one on a hot top, one on my airroaster using the identical profile) I couldn't distinguish the odd cups, whereas Barry had no trouble at all, even getting the odd cup from two successive roasts on the same roaster.

However, I'm hoping the M3 is sufficiently better not to require such tasting prowess.
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Postby another_jim on Sat Aug 06, 2005 5:15 am

I added a proper scale for grind setting. This version is just packing tape covered paper, but maybe I'll come up with something nicer. The font is Goudy Old Style 36 point. Since the semicolons are lozenge shaped, it makes a makes for a nice scale with little trouble. The circumference is just over 10 inches, so a regular printer sheet, landscape format, does the trick nicely.

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