It's the Grinder, Stupid

Grinders are one of the keys to exceptional espresso. Discuss them here.
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#1: Post by wookie »

Have you decided to move your Barista skills up to the next level? Does making really good espresso or a morning latte at home sound heavenly? Maybe you are looking forward to entertaining friends around some really good cups. Or did you discover really great coffee somewhere and the evil mermaid just doesn't cut it anymore? Whatever the reasons, one of the key things, probably the key thing you can do to improve your coffee at home is to invest in a really good coffee grinder.

Great coffee, whether it is in the form of espresso, a latte, cappuccino or a drip pot can be a sublime experience, an epiphany. But it's not the easiest thing to pull off either. Great coffee is the result of getting five or six different things all right at the same time. Mess up just one part and you end up with mediocre or worse coffee. So not everyone is going to be able to make great espresso. It demands a certain amount of time and effort, perfecting your skills & consistently applying what you have learned. But once you start to pull it all together and your barista skills are improving, then we need to talk about your coffee grinder.

Most new coffee connoisseurs center their attention on what machine they want to buy. Is the machine important? Sure, but here's a secret - the grinder is far, far more important if you want to make great tasting coffee. You can work around a mediocre machine, there's not a lot you can do if your coffee is inconsistently ground. A poor grind is going to result in bitter over-extraction, weak, dull or sour coffee, missing crema and a litany of other problems. That espresso or latte is a complex mixture of volatile oils and flavours. And how well those flavours are extracted into the cup depends heavily on the size and evenness of your ground coffee.

Now, you're probably thinking that this guy is nuts. Just how much difference can a grinder make anyway? Well, it's even more important than the coffee itself. Did that get your attention? Freshly roasted coffee can be a revelation. It is probably the second biggest improvement you could make, but a mediocre blend or even coffee beans that are a bit stale still won't ruin your cup as dramatically as a bad grind will. You can buy a $2,000 machine and $22 per pound fresh-roast coffee but it still isn't going to taste great if you're murdering the bean because you didn't have enough money left over for a real grinder. Make a decision: is mediocre coffee good enough for you? If it isn't. If you like the taste of great coffee and want to make it at home, then you must have a good grinder. It's not really optional.

Now this isn't going to be an inexpensive purchase. And you probably don't covet a grinder the way you do that shiny, new stainless steel espresso machine. But if you are like most of us and have limits as to how much you can reasonably spend on your coffee addiction, you're going to have to decide which is more important.. great tasting lattes or a stainless steel trophy for your kitchen counter? Espresso will suffer the most from a poor grind but it makes a big difference for vac-pot, French press & drip coffee lovers too. Lattes and cappuccinos are more forgiving - the milk hides some of the worst problems caused by a bad grind. But not having a competent grinder is still the biggest single thing holding you back from making those memorable cups that your friends rave about all of the time. And no you can't fudge this by having the store grind the coffee for you. It has to be freshly ground just before you brew it..

My advice is simple: buy the best grinder you can afford and you won't regret it. View it as an investment in all of the coffee that you intend to enjoy for years to come. Choose a good grinder first & then buy an espresso or coffee machine with whatever money you have left over. You can get good results with a basic machine. But fudging on the grinder will always show up in the taste. Don't bother wasting your money on a cheap grinder, thinking it will do for now. You'll regret it all too soon. You just cannot get a good cup from that $20 blade grinder that the supermarket had on sale. If you're not convinced that you need a good grinder, then find a competent coffee bar to hold you over until you are ready. There are some good burr grinders in the $150 - $250 range. And a top-notch grinder like a Mazzer or LaCimbali will cost $400 or $500 but will last a lifetime and you will taste the difference in every cup.

Wait a minute; you want me to spend how much on a coffee grinder? $200 isn't cheap, but that is what it takes. Spend less and you are settling for mediocre coffee. An effective burr grinder is simply the cost of admission if you are going to make great coffee at home. On the other hand, if you think that the sludge at work or 7-11 tastes just fine, then I agree that you are wasting your time reading this post. It is a fact that most people have never tasted great coffee. Come back again after one you drink five or six sublime cups somewhere and it ruins you. You found this website which probably means that you have decided that coffee will be an important part of your life. Commit to a decent grinder, grind fresh before each brew and you will be well on your way to enjoying each sip along the path to coffee nirvana.

Note: This was a contest entry that didn't make it in because it was submitted close to the deadline & there were no moderators around to vet it. [ bad mod, no Affogato :) ] It tries to persuade you that your next upgrade ought to be a coffee grinder, not an espresso machine. If it in any way influences you to get a better grinder & the result is that you are now enjoying some exceptional cups at home.. then it was worthwhile writing it

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#2: Post by Rayman »

That'd be me! Thirty years ago, I thought - Hallelujah! I have my own Grindmaster blade grinder. "...tries to persuade you that your next upgrade ought to be a coffee grinder."

Fifty years ago, Mom had a wall-mounted Zassenhaus grinder with a pretty blue windmill on the (Nine o'clock) bean hopper. I made coffee for the folks in some kind of glass Vaculator pot. They liked my coffee, I didn't. Too hot and too weak for me. I liked to chew on a bean!

I always realized the blade grinder wasn't done grinding/pulverizing till it was off. At full speed, the sharp blade creates some fine particulate dust with every Whack! (Maybe I could PID it!) Not.

Just "pulsing" the grind button to reduce the max blade speed reduced the dust and I thought "Hey, I'm bad. I'm controlling this uncontrollable thing!"

The Solis conical burrs in a $0.99 thrift store "find" gave me visions of a Zass-quality grind from Hoover Dam. (I already paid my dues.) The burrs- especially the ring burr- looked and felt like a rock had gotten into it.

With the extent of the damage- it must have been dropped- all the internal mounting ears had been broken off, so would have needed five or six drops of JB Weld, I gave it to the land fill. The motor and gearbox were good, but I keep too much stuff. H'raus!

A new Maestro Plus will save the ultimate expense, frustration and mess of endlessly fixing the Junker.

Hello! The new burrs I ordered from Baratza for the <new!> grinder are identical to the old spurs I kept before I tossed the old grinder. How now!

OK- The burrs in the new Solis Mnasty Plus actually clash when set three points finer than Drip. A fact totally disinteresting to Baratza's Josh. Keep looking.

I determined to try a Capresso conical burr grinder, along with their funny-looking Classic espresso machine. Due to some conspiracy, the Supplier actually sent a different grinder- the Bodum Antigua- which has the Solis burrs that were unacceptable in the first place!

I immediately gave it to my sister, Jamie, who always grinds coffee at the whole bean grocery bins, with the following caveat: "I think it's a poor excuse for a grinder, but it will look neat on your counter. Always fresh-grind for every pot, and ask your palate if it's right for you." If not, I'll get her another grinder.

Bottom line- I got a Huge Mazzer on eBay. I just have to tune it up a bit- have to calibrate the Zero point (clash point) after I stick in a new set of burrs. Why? The burrs are ten years old at this point and have aged well. New burrs in this big mama will give a superior grind for decades in home use!
"If ... chances are, it's a duck."
Cheers -RayO, aka Opa!

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#3: Post by willja07 »

I wish I had read this before buying my shiny new espresso machine. I never knew how bad my grinder is one of those fake burr grinders by Krups. GVX? I think. I never even knew it was fake burrs until this website. The grinder was okay for my hand-me-down goodwill-style espresso machine because I just assumed the machine was the problem...but now there is nothing to hide behind!

Anyhow, this was a joy to read and now I know where my next lump of savings will go. Thanks

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#4: Post by Randy G. »

wookie wrote:you want me to spend how much on a coffee grinder? $200 isn't cheap, but that is what it takes.
That is ridiculous... Simply absurd. A better starting point would be to double that! :wink:

Seriously, I have participated in numerous threads that go something like this:
OP writes: "I want to make espresso at home. I am tired of spending $4.85 at the local XXXX coffee shop every day. I have budgeted $350 for an espresso machine..."
My first response:
"Do you already have a grinder? Does that price include the grinder?"

Reply to that is either:
"That includes everything. It's all I have to spend and I need all the other stuff too like the pitcher and a tamper thingy ad stuff."
- or -
"I already have a grinder that I paid $45 for, so that should be fine for now."
There are variations to that journey's theme, but they all end at the same destination.

Next, I ask them,"What is more important to you: The quality of the coffee you will make, or does it HAVE to be espresso?" I explain that a Baratza Grinder and an Espro Press can make what would probably be the best coffee they have ever tasted (if fed good beans), and the investment in the quality grinder will pay off alter when they can afford a good machine.

More than once they have replied that it has to be espresso... At that point I usually find something else to do.

It is nearly impossible to convince a person taking a stand on that platform that what they spent on a grinder is what a set of grinder burrs cost.. or a little more than double that for the grinder I have. Even when you point out that the $4.85/day is over $1000 a year for working days. More if it is truly every day, they can't see themselves spending $400 on a machine that "just grinds coffee."

We do what we can do. - 2000-2023 - a good run, its time is done

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#5: Post by allon »

You don't have to buy new!
I have, at various times, bought a Rossi RR45, two Mazzer minis, and a Nuova Simonelli MDX, and the RR45 was the most expensive of the bunch, at $100.

A little cleaning and new burrs and you've got a real workhorse.

These deals do come up, but you have to be in constant acquisition mode, no hurry, and be willing to drop a little change and do some cleaning and end up with a used grinder.
My personal preference places performance over style. ymmv.
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#6: Post by parkerto replying to allon »

$100 for any of those is a steal as we all know. WHERE? I mean, I shop ebay and am in constant acquisition mode as you say and I have NEVER seen a Mazzer below $300. So WHERE? The grinder as we know IS most important and that is why I am always in the acquisition mode you talk about. Thanks.

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#7: Post by claypriley »

A couple of days ago I saw a Fiorenzato T-80 with the starting bid of 89.99...... that went unbidded on when it closed.... That could be a nice grinder with a couple of mods. I too, have not seen any Mazzers go for less than $300....... I paid $345 for my SJ last November. I think that because awareness has come out in homebaristas everywhere with counter space, the prices for good grinders has become fairly stable. The good deals are to be found in your local restaurant auction house, 2nd hand shop and or antique store. Hopefully you live close to a shop that gets its goodies from a wealthier area. Where I live, the Incline Village 2nd hand store has way better stuff than Tahoe City. Good luck, and be patient. I agree, It is the Grinder...the better the grinder the better the coffee and more consistent........ I can't wait for the Pharos to arrive....... I might have to take the SJ off the counter.......

I do think my Mazzer SJ makes a more consistent shot without a lot of fuss, compared to the Mazzer Mini, and Macap M4 I had. I can't wait to finish my Mazzer Major rebuild to see if it gets even better results than the SJ......... And then compare that to the Pharos...... Man, there just isn't enough time in the day to drink as much coffee as I would like to drink.......... BTW: the Pharos is under $300, and I am hoping it will Kick A$$ like the reviews say...... then I won't be compelled to get a Kony or Robur or K-10

hey Randy, if I hadn't read your espressomyespresso adventures 5 years ago, I wouldn't have understood the grinder importance.... I remember starting off with a stepped Lux/le Lit knock off from Vaneli's that was about $170..... which was a lot for me to bite down on then...and now I wouldn't bat an eyelash at a price like that, only I know that I can get a lot more grinder for that amount of money than that "Yugo" (man, that was noisy, but it still grinds good to this day, my niece is using it a college). Anyway, what a 5 years it has been..... the machines I have owned, the grinders I have played with, and the better and better homemade espresso is what keeps me going forward...... or as it is now, going now sideways....... I have stepped into the realm of lever machines and a Giant hand grinder!! Cremina arrives this week..... better get polishing the Major...... Any of you who want to come over for a "grinder intervention", I am sure my wife would be appreciative..... just make sure you bring your own roasted beans....
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#8: Post by JohnB. »

parkerto wrote:$100 for any of those is a steal as we all know. WHERE? I mean, I shop ebay and am in constant acquisition mode as you say and I have NEVER seen a Mazzer below $300. So WHERE?
Definitely not on Ebay. You might luck out on Craig's List but the $100 or less Mazzer will be mighty hard to find these days. A couple of years ago a visit to one of the salvage outfits that cleaned out Starbucks would have yielded some jaw dropping deals.

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#9: Post by allon »

The RR45 was from a pawn shop in 1993; the rest were from Craigslist.
claypriley wrote:BTW: the Pharos is under $300, and I am hoping it will Kick A$$ like the reviews say...... then I won't be compelled to get a Kony or Robur or K-10
I had hoped the same.
Sadly, it seems that it is only whetting my appetite for the large conical burrs....
I use the Pharos for espresso and the MDX for drip....the level of effort with the Pharos isn't that much different from single dosing a large electric grinder.

But I know that if I see a good deal on a Titan conical, I'm gonna go for it, counter space be damned!
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#10: Post by Bluecold »

allon wrote: But I know that if I see a good deal on a Titan conical, I'm gonna go for it, counter space be damned!
Occupied counter surface area (OCSA) from a titan conical is not much different from the MDX ... inder.html
The titan is 2 inch wider and 2 inch deeper.
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