Saturday, February 9, 2013

Coffee Bar Grinders : Which one to pick?

Over the last 15 years I've buying and selling a lot of coffee grinders.
At least 40 for my own use and over 150 just for sale.
Lots of times I was happy with the grinder, but never a fully 100%.

Long ago we were just hastling in Belgium with Santos and San Marco and Gaggia grinders. As long we were prepping Lungos (15 cl one spout dripping monsters coming out of one or another espresso machine) there's wasn't so much of a difference in between them. Of course it didn't take long to understand that a bit more power and bigger blades were very convenient, but a lungo is just was it is : a bad cup of coffee. Ok, there are differences : some are bad, some are very bad and others are plain awefull, but bad it stays.

When grinding for espresso it does not take very long to see what you need in a professional environment.
First of all power. If you have an unknown grinder in front of you, first thing to do is to lift it. The heavier the better. It's a little bit like amplifiers. You need some weight in most of the components to be shure they last and not going to over heat once they're on the roll.
Then you should start checking the blades. Mostly it comes down to the same type of advice here : the bigger and heavier the better. 75mm are better then 65 and the later ones are better then 53mm and so on. A coffee bean is very hard and espresso grind is very find, so power and volume and toughness are a big help in such an environment.
Then we should start thinking about the type of grinder. Are we talking about grinder on demand or just a 'simple' on/off grinder. If it's a grinder on demand you have two types : one with or one without a doser.
After the On Demand Grinders became succesful, people thought about grinders with dosers to become monsters from ancient history, but sometimes you have to take a step back to advance again.
When I saw Stumptown rebuilding the big Mazzer Roburs, knocking off the big metallic funnel and replacing it with a traditional doser I thought it still made a lot of sense to continue distributing your find grounds with a doser.
When you take the, say, 20 grams of espresso coffee, pull by pull by pull you have no clumbs and you can have them all nicely spread in your filter basket.
The way the Ritual boys Drew Cattlin and Chris Baca dosing their coffee and tamping it straight away was in 2008 a revolutionary method, and still a almost perfect way of working 5 years later. No clumbing, no waist, no leftovers, no hassle and it all looks very professional and with lots of craftmens ship.
And you can't do this without a doser. Sometimes I dare to say a regular On Demand Grinder is for monkeys and On Demand Grinder with doser is for Baristas. Of course it's a joke, but there's a lot of truth in here. I see a lot of Baristas laughing with automatic machines. And then they position their selves behind the bar to use ..... an automatic grinder. Phew.

I dare even go further down this road and then we end up where the problem is with all our grinders. If you wouldn't use a grinder on demand, but just a, what I call a On/Off grinder, we would probably be more precise in dosing.
When you fill a basket, without tapping the portafilter half way, and you make sure to swipe of all coffee above the rim of the basket, you would most probably have a very accurate dosage. In between you're not struggling with 3 variabels (volume, grind angle and tamping) but only 2, cause volume is done by the Barista and not by the grinder.

When installing some On/Off grinders the last years, mostly because of budget reasons, I met a lot of professional Barista's who thought I was very unprofessional and these grinders were very hard to handle. Wake up guys, you just pull the handle and once the basket it full you distribute, if needed, and swipe off. You have a full basket left. You tamp and pull the shot. Too fast? Grind finer! To slow? Grind coarser!

Ok, nobody still wants to do that, so we're stuck with On Demand Grinders.
With the brands I mentioned before I survived for the lungo's. Never ever had a decent espresso grind out of a Santos grinder. Don't know why this machine doesn't do the job, but that's how it is. And let's forget about the Fiorenzatos, Gaggia's, San Marco's, La Cimabali and other machine builders.
With Compak we had a lot of hope 5 years ago, but they didn't really deliver after all.
And then came the all mighty Mahlkonig company.
The K30 and the double twin are omni present in Belgium and The Netherlands. If you would start up a bar without any experience and you start looking around with dealers, in bars and trade shows, you would think this machine is the one to buy.
Well, I bought 2 K30 and was not so happy about them.
They grind fast yes, but this is together with the relatively small burrs, the main reason why the burrs heat up very quickly. Use them 30 minutes non stop and you have the burrs heated. And don't think they cool down the first half hour.
Warm burrs means faster extractions, means readjusting again, means even warmer burrs, ....
Of course you don't notice such when using a dark roast. If we would go check grinders in the city of Rome you would notice most of grinders in the big bars run very hot and burn the coffee, but of course you wouldn't really notice cause the (dark) roasting flavor is over powering the defective grind. Same with the very hot water, old and cheap coffee and lousy baristas ; roast dark and you'll get away with it.

Besides of that I think the K30 engines are on the light side, the digital technique is shaky - at least with the ones I had - and the ease of maintenance (cleaning, changing disks) wasn't on top of the designers/engineers list. They're very expensive on top, but let's come to where we need to go to finish this article : accuracy in dosing.
I remember Bert and I went with a paper of dosing statistics to an old master of Rombouts, I forgot his name, when rehearsing for his Championship competition in 2007 (i think). We were at the office of the MK distributor and he explained us very precisely why the dosage (for doubles) jumped from 18,5 to 20 to 19 and 20 again and so on.
It all sounded very logical and we started to life with it.
But when we discover the Anfim Super Caimano one year later we noticed these grinders were way more consistant! And therefor our extractions became way more stable.

When Isabelle and Roeland from Zwart told me last year they had discovered big variaties in dosages from the Anfim I was suprized. Of course I knew every shot was a bit different from the one before, but generally I was very happy with the consistancy.

Then a couple of months ago I had the opportunity to taste our coffee on a Mazzer Robur at The Village in Utrecht. We have a Mazzer Kony in our bar for the week specialty's and was not deeply impressed, nor dissapointed with this grinder, but his big Robur brother seemed to have a better reputation.
The grind was fast, the sound of the machine fantastic and the cup brilliant.
Back at home Vincent started his rehearsels for the Championship and I decided to buy a Robur for his convenience and to add speed and quality into his line up.

Everyone told us we had to season the machine for a couple of weeks in the bar though.
And then came good old Bert into play. When we noticed variable extraction times on our espresso's we started to measure the Robur dosages and we discovered some shaky figueres here as well.
Then we the Super Caimanos grammages as well, for a full bar shift.
And the result was : less shaky results on the Super Caimano! For a grinder 1/3rd of the price of a Robur!
Of course the discs are lighter, the engine as well and the look of feel of a Super Caimano is not at the same level of the Robur.
On the other hand the Super Caimano with doser is a lot of fun to work with, the cleaning and burr changing can by done by our grand mother and we have still our dealer ship in Belgium, so .... we moved to Mazzer Robur but to the shelf in the basement. Anyone interested in this monster? Or do you want to buy a Super Caimano. ;-)

Oh yes, in between I also bought one Simonelli Mythos grinder. It's fast, accurate and doesn't heat up too quickly. We have it running for our weekly specialty's in our Take Out bar in Hopland but I never really working a lot with it. It felt too plastic and difficult to program, but probably needs more study. Later on ...??

Yes, the perfect grinder is not build yet. Even our fav grinder Super Caimano is shaky, you need a fan on it when you grind over 4 kilo's a day, the sound is not so pretty, it has always one double shot sitting in between the burrs and the doser and maybe the looks are discussable.

Oh yes, I was willing to start talking about big shop grinders and small espresso and filter grinders as well, but that's probably a bridge too far for todays blogging.
Have a nice day,
See ya all tomorrow?

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