My Ascent Through the World of Coffee Grinders
I think the biggest factor in my feeling out of sorts last week was the low quality of the coffee. I had just purchased a new bean grinder for the Haus Interactive Office and it ended up being defective. But not completely defective; it worked but produced very uneven, blocky hunk of grounds that made espresso impossible, and French Press only bearable.
Anyone who experienced saucy attitude from the tech hotline during this time should not confuse it as a lack of being caffeinated but the wrong kind of caffeinated.
After living a few days with the budget industrial work of art called the Infinity conical burr grinder I thought I’d take a brief journalistic “tour of the grounds” from the Haus Interactive Office’s cheapest bean grinder to the most expensive. Interestingly enough, the order in which they were purchased and experienced are the same order they are presented here.
Since three of the four grinders, I’ve owned are from Capresso, and since they have some good supplemental (and accurate in this former barista’s opinion) information on their website, I’ll be quoting them a bit in this article.
LEVEL ONE: BLADE GRINDER, HELICOPTER GONE MAD
Our first grinder was a propeller with a cover made by Braun. Since I was young and poor at the time it worked not only for drip coffee, but with a little effort (and a LOT longer grind time) it actually allowed a bit of crema to form on the top of espresso drawn from our now retired Mr. Coffee pump espresso machine. It’s not for the faint of heart and Capresso says this about our blade grinder:
Blade Grinders “smash” the beans with a blade at very high speed (20,000 to 30,000 rpm). The ground coffee has larger and smaller particles and is warmer than ground coffee from burr grinders. Blade grinders create “coffee dust” which can clog up sieves in espresso machines and French presses. These type of grinders are suitable for drip coffee makers. They also can do a great job for grinding spices and herbs. They are not recommended for use with pump espresso machines.
LEVEL TWO: BURR GRINDER, ENTRY LEVEL ESPRESSO
The Capresso Burr Grinder (Model #551) Joined the Haus Interactive kitchen team along with an Estro Vapore espresso machine. It delivered consistent grinds for more than 5 years and was still working when it was donated to our neighbors a few weeks ago.
From Capresso: Burr Grinders with disk type burrs grind at a faster speed than conical burr grinders and create a bit more warmth in the coffee (10,000 to 20,000 rpm). They are the most economical way of getting a consistent grind in a wide range of applications. They are well suited for most home pump espresso machines. However they do not grind as fine as Conical Burr Grinders.
I think the plastic bean capture container had weakened either from age, from the oils in the grounds, or constant tapping. Constant tapping? Yes.
Capresso has this to say about static:
- The ground coffee creates “static cling”. The ground coffee particles fly around and “cling” to surfaces.
- Before removing the grounds containers (all burr grinders), tap the container slightly and remove slowly.
Looking back, and now knowing that not all grinders have this problem, I can say this sucker could have powered a lightblulb with the static generated. The grind chute was directly next to the spinning blades which would shoot them through the collection jar into it’s side. The spot where most of the grinds hit actually took on a brown coffee-bean stain that would not wash out after approx use. Recently I was tapping the container to get all the grounds to settle and a thumb-sized chunk of plastic simply broke off the back of the container. It was a clean break so it was superglued before retirement.
Another problem that developed was the coarseness adjuster (found on the side of the machine), which hag gotten progressively more and more difficult to turn as it aged. Our grinders often switch back and forth from French Press to Espresso so this dial gets a lot of attention. Once the dial smooths out (and the mechanism stops to rotate smoothly) from use there is no way to get any torque and give it a proper turn.
Though I wouldn’t qualify this as a problem, this grinder was pretty loud. It sounded like a little chainsaw from a room away.
It was easy to clean which is good as you’ll need to take the top blade off about once a year to break slightly hardened chunks of coffee dust/rock out of it so that the beans continue to feed effortlessly into the blades.
LEVEL TWO: BURR GRINDER, MIDRANGE
The Capresso Burr Grinder (Model #556) was slated as our next replacement. The price seemed right ($60) and since model 551 treated us well for all those years it seemed like this would be a slight upgrade and provide the same level of reliability.
The observed Improvements included:
- Much quieter operation
- Slightly better controls: true on/off button, better coarseness adjuster
It was nice to see the grinds fall down into the container instead of getting flung sideways into it like the model 551. There is still the static cling effect, though, and it seems like cleaning the twisting coffee bean chute would be a pain…
Also not sure why they chose such an odd shaped bean container. It’s rectangle with only a slight slope into the grinder. It is easy to picture beans not all falling into the grinder after only a short amount of use and people having to scoop them there with their hands. Not a safety issue, just an annoyance issue.
All in all this grinder lasted a week in our office before getting sent back. I’m sure it was just a burr-grinder seating issue at the factory and not a fundamental flaw to the machine itself, but the one I got wouldn’t grind anything smaller than drip-coffee wood chips. I made sure the top of the burr mechanism was in and firmly attached, etc. No dice. After reading a little more about the next level up I decided to return our faulty one and buy that top level of consumer grinder:
LEVEL THREE: INFINITY GRINDER, THE DEPTH-CHARGE OF MY HEART
Conical Burr Grinders preserve the most aroma and can grind very fine and very consistent. The intricate design of the steel burrs allow a high gear reduction to slow down the grinding speed. The slower the speed the less heat is imparted to the ground coffee thus preserving maximum amount of aroma.
Because of the wide range of grind settings these grinders are ideal for all kinds of coffee equipment, Espresso, Drip, Percolators, French Press. The better Conical Burr Grinders can also grind extra fine for the preparation of Turkish coffee. Grinding speed is generally below 500 rpm.
Here is where the fun begins: Almost every single aspect of this grinder is better than the others:
- Small footprint on counter
- Solid construction
- Minimalist Design**
- Shape of bean holder promotes them falling into blades better
- NO STATIC! This actually surprised us quite a bit as I’ve spent years living with static. Grounds simply tumble into a perfect mound the consistency of soil.
- Very reliable and consistent grind
It is a bit louder than #556, but it’s a different sound, deeper growl.
Instant turnoff could be a problem with the timer as the “go” button (you should be able to force it down to 0 if you need to…)
Overall this is an excellent grinder and does it’s job so well there is very little to add to the bullet point list. For $50 extra you can get the same model in “die cast zinc”. Since the interior of the machine (and most importantly the burrs) are the same material this seems like a silly waste of money to us.
An interesting thing I noted is that the more expensive a product gets, the simpler and more elegant the interface gets (finally). I wonder if the average consumer, who can’t SEE the improved quality that may or may not be on the inside of a product feel they are getting more for their money by having more buttons and dials to fiddle with, even if they do little or nothing for the product. That, though, is a philosophical question for another post.
**Really the biggest nit I have about the machine is the gaudy bean coarseness label. In the interest of a better-designed world, Bronzefinger hereby submits the following PhotoChop rendering of an alternative bean-coarseness label.
Simple dots of increasing (or decreasing) size do triple duty:
- Illustrate the size of the grind
- Confirm that the dial is properly aligned
- Eliminates the need for multiple language printouts
Editor’s Note: To experience the best taste and karma, make sure your coffee beans are organic fair trade, whole bean (non-ground), and roasted in small batches locally. If you happen to live in Brooklyn I recommend you check out our friends at Gorilla Coffee.