Guidance on Prosumer Grinder for Chemex

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

#1: Post by mwb5007 »

Probably three years ago now I added HB (and James Hoffman, Reddit) to my weekly reading prompting several material changes in my experience of morning coffee, something for which I would like to take a moment to say thank you to the community here for inspiring.

At the time of discovering HB, I had a Breville smart grinder and Espro press applied to a local roaster's (largely full city roast) bill of fare. First I migrated to Vocanica but later to my current vendors, Sweetbloom, Black and White, Vibrant and Passenger. After sampling a few pour over devices, I settled on my preference for the Chemex; purchased a Timore Black Mirror (I have since changed to a Fellow Tally), a Fellow EKG kettle and finally, about two years ago, a Commandante C40.

At this point I believe my technique is good - as defined by the fact that, while I still scale and time each pour, I am able to rapidly dial in a new bean to the point where my pour yields a consistent 3:15 to 3:35 extraction time on yields with a 15 through 16.5 to 1 water/coffee ratios .... at least this is what my reading has led me to believe qualifies my claim to good technique.

I am very happy with my morning cup, however I have a steeped interest in trying a different grinder, and while I would certainly hope to equal or better the C40's performance with my Chemex, I'll admit to a hobbyist interest in the process...

BUT ............... every time I find myself tossing around the +/- of some of the more interesting grinders I read about here, I find myself stumbling upon discussions around user alignment from "normal" to "Hyper" to "Alicorn" and it freezes all 10 of my thumbs. Heck, I'll admit to the fact that I have never touched and would not recognize a torqued screw driver and am the kind of person who generally winds up with an unexplained extra part after even the most pedestrian attempt at assembly.

SO MY QUESTION IS - how big of an issue is this when buying a grinder like the HG-1 Prime or the Options O P64 or even a Baratza Forte? Are there places who provide this service for someone like me? Is all that technical writing I read really describing a process which is in fact not that difficult - by which I most certainly mean that margin of error would lead one to describe it as, "a child could do it"? Just how often is something like this required (I have never re-aligned my C40 in 2 years)? Am I better off leaving the whole thing to those more mechanically inclined since they are, after all, the ones driving the "hobby" aspect? ...... any guidance on this subject would be immensely appreciated. And thanks for sharing your knowledge so freely since I understand it was not always gained freely.
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#2: Post by maccompatible »

The main question is "what problem are you hoping to solve?" Workflow? Taste? Aesthetic? You mention you're very happy with what you have, so I guess if you're considering buying another grinder, why?
If you just want an electric grinder for brew, I'd look at the fellow ode. Probably the best bang for your buck for brew. I wouldn't worry about all these topics you said are overwhelming. They're only for the hyper-enthusiasts that want to squeeze every gram of performance out of their gear. Out of the box should work just fine.
"Wait. People drink coffee just for the caffeine??"
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mwb5007 (original poster)

#3: Post by mwb5007 (original poster) »

maccompatible wrote:I wouldn't worry about all these topics you said are overwhelming. They're only for the hyper-enthusiasts that want to squeeze every gram of performance out of their gear. Out of the box should work just fine.
Just to make sure I understand, are you intimating that while alignment may be improved by the "hyper-enthusiasts", that alignment or re-alignment is not actually required as a standard part of a high end grinder's maintenance? I ask because it seems like many of the discussions involve posts where the poster was "required" to re-align the burrs; now this may be the case because they have often purchased after market or differing burr sets and I appreciate that those may have to be aligned. However if I purchased a new grinder (again say an HG-1 Prime or Option O or Kafatek or Baratza Forte) and stayed with the burrs originally in place, would they likely never need to be re-aligned?

I bought a Gen 1 Fellow Ode about a year ago and while it worked it was very easy to use and produced coffee which was comparable to what I get from the Commandante (and noticeably better than the Breville Smart Grinder Pro I started with) but after the second time I took it apart for cleaning the burrs would not seat correctly causing noise, locking up at times and deteriorating in grind consistency. I chalked it up to Breville's often questioned QC and went back to full time use of the Commandante.

I don't know that I am trying to solve a problem but that could be an unknown unknown. I was not unhappy when I began to read about coffee on this forum while sipping local city roast from a French press and a Smart Grinder Pro; but I am much much happier having a lighter roast from say Passenger or Black and White through my Chemex and the use of a scale and temperature control from a better kettle have allowed me advancements in both quality and consistency ..... I live in a small town and I have never experienced most of the equipment discussed here, but what I have tried (though limited) have all been a joy to discover. Too, I understand that some of the enthusiasm comes from ....well, enthusiast's and I am OK with the hobbyist/ritual/workflow enhancements provided by competent if not outstanding tools. It sounds like your advice is why fix what isn't broken and perhaps that is the best of observations; there is a whole lot of posting going on on this forum which suggest otherwise, or at least that I may indeed be missing something about improvements of which I am as yet unaware.


#4: Post by thirdcrackfourthwave »

Apologies in advance for not talking about grinders but I am comfortable recommending Lance Hedrick's you tube on his two hacks for the Chemex. One involves sticking some material in the spout area and the other involves reworking the filters so the layers are even.


#5: Post by malling »

It's not necessary to align unless it wildly off or install aftermarket burrs as long as it's for filter brewing. It dos improve the performance of the grinder but on something like a zerno, P64 or even more expensive SD grinders these are generally perfect once you receive them so there will be no need to do it on those. That said all grinders benefit from a throughout clean from time to time and doing so manually is the best practice, this dos require a access to burr chamber, there some grinder cleaning (grindz etc) that dos a decent job but it dos not take fully care of nooks and crannies.

If we talk something like an Ode it can sometimes be badly aligned and to get good performance unfortunately requires alignment. Also the performance won't really be an improvement over a c40 unless you toss aftermarket burrs in it.

As other say if your happy with what you have, what are you trying to achieve? If it was to remove the hand grinding part there is a motor attachment for the C40 that probably makes more sense in your case. To get better filter requires ssp burrs or much more expensive grinders. Not many offer that in stock except the Gevi, although you can pay for getting SSP installed in DF range grinders but those are more espresso focused in design. The better alternative would be something like Sculpture 078, alignment not necessarily.


#6: Post by Jonk »

mwb5007 wrote:the Options O P64 or even a Baratza Forte?
One of the reasons to opt for a P64 is that you're not supposed to have to align it. It should be good enough out of the box, although some users seem to have had different experiences (that might've been due to faulty burrs). Also worth considering the Zerno.

With a Forté, alignment is a valid concern. Fixing it is not trivial. Either way, you might want to look for something more differentiated to the C40. Not sure what happened with your Ode.. but keep in mind that you can damage more expensive grinders as well if you're not careful.

I have high hopes for the Timemore 078 (it has a style of burr that is probably less sensitive to alignment). I'm still waiting for the Kickstarter fulfillment, but for someone less patient it's already available (220V only..)

mwb5007 (original poster)

#7: Post by mwb5007 (original poster) »

Yes the P64 is very attractive and seems to enjoy a large following among the espresso crowd. It is more difficult to find opinions on its use for Chemex - which I believe falls under both pour over and filter brew categories (I'd want to be corrected if I am wrong).

I also find the HG-1 Prime attractive and it seems like it would certainly make manual grinding much easier or smoother on my old shoulders in the morning, however not many people seem to have decided to go that route and fewer still comment on it use a method like the Chemex. (Is slower grinding speed of manual grinding a plus or a minus for filter brewing?)

I have been watching some videos on shimming but I continue to have the sneaking suspicion that some of these people have great technique and make something that is in fact quite difficult to master (and have the k knowledge to avoid damaging things) look easy. An instruction set like, "firmly but not too tight" appears to want to convey important information to me but I am unable to discern exactly what since I lack mechanical context.

I will try looking at info on the new Timemore and the Zero but at this point it looks like only reviewers and extremely early adopters have hands on experience .... like so many in the same camp who come here, I am (perhaps very naively) hoping to look carefully and buy once.

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#8: Post by Jeff »

Chemex is a filler brewing system and uses a reasonably coarse grind. It is still a percolation method, in contrast to French press or cupping which are immersion methods. Chemex isn't very popular compared to other filter brewing systems among the slice of the enthusiast community I interact with regularly. This is probably why there aren't a lot of discussions around grinders for Chemex (or French press).

Most of what of said about other filter methods and grinders and burr sets probably applies. One of the Chemex users may correct me, but I believe excessive fines may be even more problematic with a Chemex filter than with V60- or Kalita-style filters.

The HG-1 burrs are, in my opinion, more suited for traditional espresso than they are for filter methods. The grinders I personally would consider are the Ode v2, P64, and Zerno. I haven't tasted coffee from the Ode v2 burrs. They may be very good. The SSP or Option-O Mizen burrs cover a range of styles, some of which you may prefer in the cup to your C40.

One of the reasons alignment seems to be a bit less critical for filter is grind size. For espresso, a peak grind can be around 100 um (0.1 mm) or less. There, 10-20 um is a significant fraction. With filler methods roughly 5-10 times larger in grind size, the same imperfection is a much smaller fraction.

mwb5007 (original poster)

#9: Post by mwb5007 (original poster) »

I see, very informative, thank you.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, my first step after reading here for months was the bean. While I no doubt was more careful in my method due to what I learned reading, once I left medium roast Volcanica toward light/medium (or at least lighter medium) from roasters like Sweetbloom, Black and White, Vibrant and Passenger (this past 2 years now) I discovered a BIG change in complexity in the chocolates/nutty, sometimes clear citrus notes and on occasion some melon ..... still I haven't gotten to what this forum sometimes describes as "berry bombs". My cups are sweeter for the most part and some of the beans have yielded a clarity which makes them more tea like than what I was used to with a French press (for many years).

Somewhere I selected the Chemex and got my technique down and learned here how to "dial in" some characteristics and as I say, my morning cup has been much, much more enjoyable.

I don't know if I am allowed to go off topic from my original post since it is not specifically about grinders; however, I did post looking for a grinder for a Chemex not realizing that the consensus might be that I should use a different brewer. I see that many more of you make filter coffee with a Hario V60, a device I have honestly never used and one which I never really thought would make as much difference as the bean and the grinder - the first thing I learned here was that after the bean (and assuming reasonable technique) your real improvements came from the grind.

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#10: Post by Jeff »

Realizing the importance of the beans (and water) is a huge step. It sounds like you've tasted the differences and made some selections that align with what you enjoy in the cup.

The C40 is a well-respected grinder for filter methods. You may find an improvement with some grinders, but I don't think it will be as uplifting as moving to the class of roasters you've listed. I certainly understand the attraction of a motor to do the grinding.

Brewer choice comes down to personal preference. There is nothing "wrong" with Chemex, it is just not as popular in some circles as other methods. You might want to try something very different and affordable to see if you enjoy the change. I find a V60 somewhat finicky, but they are cheap and there's a lot of techniques out there that get varying results in the cup. I like the April brewer for its simple pour structure, but it is comparatively expensive. Another flat bottom brewer that I use regularly is the Timemore B75. It's available on AliExpress for around US$15-20. (Eight Ounce Coffee and perhaps some other North American vendors carry it as well.) To be very clear, these are different than Chemex not necessarily better than Chemex.