Use preground coffee while saving for an espresso grinder?

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

#1: Post by onemorecupofcoffee »

Hi,
I am about to purchase my first espresso machine and I really don't have the extra money to buy a grinder right now. I noticed that Whole Foods and Trader Joes can do this for you. Is this a good route to go?

Thanks for your help!

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Psyd

#2: Post by Psyd »

You can do it, but the difference between a great shot of coffee from fresh ground and a great cup of coffee from ground-fifteen-minutes-ago is easily noticeable. And the grind will change as the bean ages, or degasses, or stales (whatever lexicon you prefer) but yours' will not. Buy a great grinder instead, and save up for a great espresso machine.
You can get better espresso from a great grinder and a mediocre espresso machine than you can from a great espresso machine and a mediocre grinder. Someone much smarter than I said that.
Saving money by getting an average grinder will change your espresso experience by leaps. The difference between a five hundred dollar espresso machine and a fifteen hundred dollar espresso machine is in ease of use. They'll put out the same product, you'll just have to work a bit harder with the five hundred dollar machine. They'll both do the basic two jobs that an espresso machine is supposed to do; make water hot and pass it through the puck in the neighborhood of 9 Bar.
The difference between a $50 grinder and a $150 grinder is worlds apart as far as the results go.
Go buy the best grinder that you can afford. Then save up for the espresso machine that'll do whatever part of the work that you're not willing to do.
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

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cannonfodder
Team HB

#3: Post by cannonfodder »

You could also go with the ever overlooked hand coffee grinder such as the Zassenhaus conical burr grinder. Much cheaper than a Mazzer but you still get exceptional grind with a bit of work. If they ever get any in at Sweet Marias I plan on getting one to use while camping.

Avoid pre-ground coffee. The grind is never correct for your machine (the proper grind changes daily and sometimes hourly) and as Psyd pointed out, in 15 minutes the coffee is long lost it volatile aromatics and gone flat. Remember, if you can smell it in the air, it is not in the coffee.
Dave Stephens

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HB
Admin

#4: Post by HB »

onemorecupofcoffee wrote:I am about to purchase my first espresso machine and I really don't have the extra money to buy a grinder right now. I noticed that Whole Foods and Trader Joes can do this for you. Is this a good route to go?
Preground coffee = stale coffee. The oils that make up the crema are volatile; as they evaporate, so does the potential crema. And to make matters worse, the grind fineness changes as they evaporate (finer and finer). The only machines that can readily produce a non-gusher with preground coffee are those with "pressurized portafilters," but the result is lifeless, dull, black bitter brew. If you wish to experience it firsthand, go to any Williams-Sonoma and ask them to demonstrate one of their espresso machines using their premium $20+ a pound Illy preground espresso blend.

(Unfortunately I speak from experience, as documented in Hall of Shame: ''What I did when I was a newbie...'' :oops:).
Psyd wrote:The difference between a five hundred dollar espresso machine and a fifteen hundred dollar espresso machine is in ease of use. They'll put out the same product, you'll just have to work a bit harder with the five hundred dollar machine.
I bet many of the respondents to What was your upgrade path from a Rancilio Silvia-class espresso machine? would disagree.
Dan Kehn

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Psyd

#5: Post by Psyd »

HB wrote:I bet many of the respondents to What was your upgrade path from a Rancilio Silvia-class espresso machine? would disagree.
And I've heard just as many say that they can get as good a shot from Silvia as they can from a Brewtus II, or a La Spaz, or whatever, but they can get it more consistently with the latter. I dunno. If you look at my upgrade path, I went from getting good shots on Silvia with the occasional great shot to a pro two-group with a 12 litre boiler and a 4000W 220V element. I still pull sinkshots with it, though. PEBPAG (Problem Exists Between Porta-filter And Grinder)
My point was that the better machine makes pulling a shot more consistent and easier, while a better grinder makes better espresso.
Hey, I could be wrong...
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

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HB
Admin

#6: Post by HB »

Psyd wrote:My point was that the better machine makes pulling a shot more consistent and easier, while a better grinder makes better espresso.
Agreed, the best espresso machine on the planet cannot save a lousy grinder. I learned through three upgrades (Solis Maestro, Rocky, Mazzer Mini) that "the espresso machine is an accessory to the grinder." Who would have guessed that making powder out of roasted beans would matter so much?
Dan Kehn

onemorecupofcoffee

#7: Post by onemorecupofcoffee »

Thanks for your replies! I am definitely going to look into buying a quality grinder.

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mrgnomer

#8: Post by mrgnomer »

Psyd wrote:And I've heard just as many say that they can get as good a shot from Silvia as they can from a Brewtus II, or a La Spaz, or whatever, but they can get it more consistently with the latter. I dunno. If you look at my upgrade path, I went from getting good shots on Silvia with the occasional great shot to a pro two-group with a 12 litre boiler and a 4000W 220V element. I still pull sinkshots with it, though. PEBPAG (Problem Exists Between Porta-filter And Grinder)
My point was that the better machine makes pulling a shot more consistent and easier, while a better grinder makes better espresso.
Hey, I could be wrong...
I agree about consistency. As HB pointed out on another thread internal configurations of machines vary and affect extraction even between similar e61 HX machines. The difference could be noticable in the cup and require an operator to change some routines from one machine to the next.

I used to get really clear, well defined shots with a Silvia once in a blue moon. Now that I've changed dose/distribution tamp with my e61 HX upgrade I'm getting consitently deep charactered shots. The e61 HX is almost 3 times the price of the Silvia but it's starting to give me more than 3x the consistency. Not to mention the adjustability and steaming convenience. Personally I think a good machine is worth every penny. A good grinder even more so.

I also upgraded from a Rocky to a Macap M4 stepless and the grind is much easier to control. If you're starting out and trying to define espresso as far as how to make it and what good espresso tastes like using pre ground coffee might be disappointing and frustrating. From what I've read it takes very little air to oxidize roasted coffee and grinding it exposes even more surface area. Instead of days oxidization occurs much more quickly, minutes if you're really concerned with the kind of freshness that produces good crema and taste.

Merlino

#9: Post by Merlino »

While on my so-far short journey I've noticed too that the grinder is the most important determinant for your espresso, one can't help but notice the impossibility of making espresso without an espresso machine ;) Therefore I still find it kind of funny when someone recommends to buy a grinder without a machine when someone's on a tight budget.

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mrgnomer

#10: Post by mrgnomer »

I don't think the advice is use all your budgeted money on a grinder and sacrifice the machine. It's the priority that the advice addresses. Grinder should take priority with your budget not machine so getting the best grinder you can afford at the expense of a machine is a better way to go than focusing on machine first.

I think focusing on the grinder first works two ways. You can't go wrong getting the best grinder even when starting out since any machine will perform best with a very good grind. Secondly, when starting out, you probably won't put $2000US into a home set up so the machine you'll choose will be an economic entry level one. After learning how to use the machine and make good espresso it's very likely you'll want a better machine and by then you'll see that spending $1000+US on an upgrade will be well worth it. The very good grinder you started with will be able to follow you to that serious upgrade justifying the extra few hundred dollars US you paid for it vs. a less expensive, less capable grinder.

The very thing happened to me when less than a year after getting a Rocky/Silvia combo I upgraded. I wanted more control, better consistency, higher quality espresso than the Silvia offered. The Rocky's grind wasn't bad but I was getting tired of the stepped design and flimsy doser vane arms and chronically failing lever spring and felt a better grinder would be a better investment. I lost the cost of the Rocky with an upgrade to a better stepless grinder but it was worth it.