EK43 alignment and SSP burrs review - Updated

Grinders are one of the keys to exceptional espresso. Discuss them here.
takethingsapart

Postby takethingsapart » Jul 07, 2019, 10:55 pm

So I recently switched from an HG1 to a EK43s in hopes of getting better tastes from lighter beans for espresso. In the process, I've read a great number of super informative guides on here about aligning an EK and swapping out to SSP burrs. While I certainly believed that doing these things lead to greater extraction numbers, I've been pretty doubtful that this translated to a tangible taste difference and more importantly, enough of a difference to justify the cost.

The comparison below is not blind as I can only have one grinder at a time. My fiance helped taste the espresso as well, and her opinions are neutral. I taste both the espresso and with milk added in a latte. For espressos, I always stir because the crema never tastes that good.

HG1
I really liked the HG1, and owned it for about a year. The espresso is thick and quite capable of choking my GS3. Once dialed in, almost any coffee I put through it tasted good. But to be honest, most coffees tasted pretty similar to each other. I bought Geishas in the hopes of getting wildly different espressos out of it but they all tasted pretty similar to me. On my refractometer, I usually get a 16-19% extraction, and 2:1 ratios tasted the best.

EK43s Stock
The EK in stock form is quite similar in performance as the HG1 despite being a completely different burr type. I get more sweetness out of the beans and surprisingly a decent amount of mouth feel. I was scared from reading online that the ek would produce especially thin espressos, but it wasn't that different. On my refractometer, I can suddenly get 20%-21% extraction yields. Objectively, the stock EK is not worth the additional money over the HG1.

Sandpaper alignment
I followed this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPHfzFsma3o
I live in China so buying the titus tool would be dealing with long shipping time and annoying customs, so I followed the sandpaper method. Wasn't particularly hard, but a solid afternoon was spent doing it. None of the guides I've read said I should have lubricant gel on hand, the EK makes squeaky noises once the original gel is cleaned off during sanding.

After sanding, the grinder made really good sound according to the matt perger test. The taste is significantly better. The sweetness of the espresso seems more highlighted, but my feeling is that instead of an increase in sweetness, it's actually a decrease in astringency. I would compare it to the difference between a young red and white wine. Extraction yields increased a bit, and I can get 22% if I brew a bit longer at 3:1 ratio. Normally I use a naked portafilter, but at 60g yield, there's just too much coffee for my preference. Currently, I switched to a split spout one and just drinking one shot vs a double, but I may experiment with single baskets.

At this point, I feel like it's a significant enough upgrade in taste to justify the price. I am able to create espressos that tastes different from the shops near me. It's still not cheap though, and it doesn't mean I wasn't able to create delicious espressos before when I had cheaper equipment. But in the context of a hobby, and compared to things like wine or photography, the price isn't unreasonable.

SSP red speed
Review a few posts down ->

takethingsapart

Postby takethingsapart » Jul 07, 2019, 11:00 pm

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My chinese refractometer. If you want one, maybe you can try aliexpress, I paid only $100 USD for this and it's pretty consistent (testing the same coffee multiple times)

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Any idea how to clean the grind and gunk from the inside of the EK? it's the part near the motor and quite hard to reach

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My custom bean hopper

Rytopa

Postby Rytopa » Jul 08, 2019, 12:16 am

Thanks for sharing your experience. could you kindly share a sound clip of your burrs touching sound. I have just sanded down my EK too, trying to find a reference point in the sounds.

takethingsapart

Postby takethingsapart » Jul 08, 2019, 1:21 am

Not at home but I used this as a guide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jWlpz9mELM

Pretty much the same except the EK43s being a bit shorter so the tone of the background machine sound is a bit higher pitch. There's also a clip at the end of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPHfzFsma3o

blkswn

Postby blkswn » Jul 08, 2019, 6:13 pm

Thanks for sharing Luke. I've had the same conclusions as you regarding the post-alignment results so looking forward to the SSP review.

To clean out the dust/metal shavings inside, I just used a slotted vacuum hose. Alternatively a shop vac hose should fit right over the spindle and go all the way down to clean it out. You definitely don't want that mixing in with your grinds. I would say, as a general maintenance item, always clean and re-lubricate the shaft, inner burr carrier shaft, and pre-breaker.

takethingsapart

Postby takethingsapart » Jul 08, 2019, 9:55 pm

Ah good call, I only have a dyson vacuum, I'll try to macgyver something out of tape.

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It's pretty amazing how much the alignment matters. Some people say that the unaligned EK is performing at 70% of the max potential is still better than other grinders, but I really think before/after alignment make the EK feel and behave like different grinders.

winslette

Postby winslette » Jul 09, 2019, 1:18 pm

Do you feel the EK43s becomes more unimodal after sand paper alignment? I use mine mainly for pourover and don't want anymore fines. I am assuming the alignment reduces the % of fines.

blkswn

Postby blkswn » Jul 09, 2019, 1:47 pm

I have the EK43 with the newer (2017) coffee burrs. Apparently the EK43S has different burrs, but, relatively, I can't say, visually, the alignment significantly reduced fines. It did, slightly but noticeably, increase the sweetness in my brews, and I feel that Luke's mention of the reduction in astringency is true. For my V60s, I utilize the spin but only lightly spin it 2-3 times and have no problem with the fines. Agitate any more than that and it settles the fines at the bottom clogging the filter. Scott Rao's latest blog post also highlights this issue if you spin too much or too aggressively.

For what it's worth, I tried out the Coffee Ad Astra program for particle distribution and measured it at #7 and #8 on the old EK dial. My EK43 chamber was sanded and the burr carrier was machined at a shop for a perfect runout. Pictures below are of the analyses I tried with the program. I have no idea how accurate this actually is and I do not have a before alignment analysis as that was done months ago. I did not clean up the #8 image as much for clumped particles as I did on the #7. I'll try running the analysis again some time later and update the post if it's a significant change. I may have to create a thread with steps on how to get it installed and running on a windows computer via Python for those who have been wanting to try out the program.


EK43 Dial #7
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EK43 Dial #8
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takethingsapart

Postby takethingsapart » Jul 10, 2019, 4:03 am

Haha, I was going to run that python program as well, got lazy.

winslette wrote:Do you feel the EK43s becomes more unimodal after sand paper alignment? I use mine mainly for pourover and don't want anymore fines. I am assuming the alignment reduces the % of fines.


So I have this fines sifter (not the kruve, but some no name one). I can definitely make it reduce the amount of visible fines, but that didn't really affect the taste all that much. I used it pre-alignment and post-alignment. Matt perger has this video about this subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kI3zOwFG9mg

The SSP burrs does reduce visible fines a whole lot. I'm still breaking it in.

takethingsapart

Postby takethingsapart » Jul 12, 2019, 1:40 am

SSP burrs review

Note: So I might still be breaking in the burrs. I've ran it through a few KG of beans already, but we'll see if anything changes further down the line.

If aligning the burrs via sanding was an all round improvement, the SSP red speed high uniformity burrs I got is a bit of a different scenario. Firstly, it grinds significantly finer. Pre-alignment, I was at 0.5/14 on the dial for espresso, post-alignment, it was around 1.2/14, using the SSP burrs, this jumped to 5.5-7.5/14. This is a pretty big change, because previously dialing in means small tweaks at the smallest increments, now I have to make larger movements on the dial. This is an improvement in usability of the machine for espresso, because you can make finer adjustments AND it's more fault-tolerant. Overshooting on the "new coffee burrs" meant gushers/burnt flavors but now it's more or less drinkable. However, I don't drink any drip on a regular basis. One usecase I can imagine being impacted is someone regularly switching between drip/espresso settings, since now even the coarsest grind setting might be too fine. Titus makes this custom dial that let you go beyond a single rotation of the dial for easy switching between espresso/drip, I finally understand why this is needed.

Second change is the clarity. I mostly make milk drinks in the mornings, and to be honest, differences in bean origins don't really make significant differences in the cup. The roast level does, but the origin usually just means slightly more/less acidity. (this may be because of my own skill level, I don't have access to world-class cafes nearby to verify.) The SSP burrs does change this a bit. Fruity notes are clearer and more easily noticeable. It's not an overwhelming change, but it's definitely there.

Third change is this general improvement of the bottom line. With the new burrs, I haven't really been able to make undrinkable coffee. The average decent cup didn't become more delicious, but the sink shots are mostly gone. My feeling is the uniformity of the grind makes it less likely to channel or something. There's definitely alot less fines, but I don't really think fines really ruined the flavor. My old HG1 made a ton more fines, and it was pretty tasty anyways.

Conclusions:
I think the SSP burrs is good for hobbiests or coffee nerds, it's more available for tinkering, more fault tolerant if you're just single dosing a couple of shots a day, and the whole install process is pretty fun. The thing is, these burrs cost about the same as a niche zero (in Shanghai, niche zeros go for ~550 usd). It's definitely not a great value for the money, but like most hobbies, that last 5% usually cost about the same as the first 80%. The redspeed looks phenomenal though, like rose gold in color. In comparison to my fiance's jewlery, it's affordable. If your budget allows it, and you've already paid for all the other upgrades, get this.