Monday, 6 January 2014

Back to the grind

In the UK for many it's back to the grind day at work after the Christmas and New Year break.  So I thought in honour, a grinder review was in order.

How is coffee nose to tail?  Well, this and beer is something I'd very much like to do start to finish.   Technically you should be able to grow your own barley (or buy it from a local farmer), malt it, and make beer - anyone tried to do this?  (The space required for malting seems a lot.)  Although having found a good local brewer just over the mountain in Caerphilly in the Celt Experience I waned on the self brew

Could you grow your own coffee? (seems unlikely but a greenhouse?). There are local businesses here, or delivering online, roasting regularly and importing single origin beans.  Anyway you can make a huge difference on the quality of the coffee you make with just beans that haven't been sat around a long time and grinding it immediately before going into the espresso machine. It's also a lovely end to end process that makes the kitchen smells great.

My coffee grinder broke, and to be honest, it was bad.  Whilst getting decent reviews (at the time) and being a burr grinder it had several problems.  The button was exactly where you wanted to pick it up so moving it around normally meant spraying coffee over the kitchen.  It (Ok I when using it) made a lot of mess and the thing was fiddly to get beans in and out of.  It got a lot of coffee grinds inside its casing as well which didn't help longevity, and ultimately it didn't grind fine enough or well enough.  Not my finest purchase.  Luckily I can't find it on Amazon any more either so no need to steer people away from it.

It's meant I've been stuck with supermarket ground for a while over Christmas, and it has been making me grumpy.  Roger at roger-in-technology recently tried one of his favourite Australian Skyberry coffees ground from the supermarket and provides a good write up of why pre-ground also made him grumpy

So where to look for help on a new grinder?  Coffeegeek is very US focused, but my main reference, and they do a great explanation of why the grinder is so important.  However I can't convince myself that £/$200 is how much I want to spend on a grinder.  Or more importantly lose that my kitchen space to a permanently set up machine.

So in light of new year resolution and getting some exercise, it's time to try a manual.

Enter Hario Coffee Mill (Ceramic Slim).  Shipped from Japan it takes a while to arrive, but very pleasantly surprised.  I paid £18 and it seems to be very nicely made.  It is really compact, which means it perfectly fits in a shelf, the handle just clicks off - so it uses almost no footprint in the kitchen.  The hex key at the top is just smaller than a standard electric screwdriver bit socket (yes I tried), but there must be someone out there who has hacked that - something for another day.  Beans go in the top (securely enough), and the cup at the bottom collects everything neatly and has approximate graduations.  After a couple of goes, I started to really like it.

The main thing people warn about manual grinders is they take a lot of turning.  Exactly how much is not very clear from many reviews.  So below is the amount of coffee I need to grind for one double espresso in my machine.  This took me 2m 10s, without particularly rushing.  At this speed this leaves my arm tired, (like whipping cream manually), but me not out of breath, although slightly more awake.

On the finest setting (click positions not infinitely adjustable) the grind is very nice.  Very even, and good texture.  Much better than the previous electric grinder.
(this is exactly the same coffee from below poured out)

And now into the basket - inelegantly tamped and slightly damp in one corner due to messing about having put it on a board first.   Pouring the coffee directly out of the collection bit works much more nicely.

Here is the espresso it made.  (Not sure what you can tell from a photo.) how was it?  Well much much better than the cheap electric burr grinder.  Espresso pump clearly immediately working a lot harder, crema fuller, taste is much smoother.   All in all very impressed.

Not being quite as geeky as coffeegeek I can't compare to the £200 grinders recommended there, but in general this grinder reviews very well there.  When you look at it, you can see where the money has gone, and the lack of electronics mean that I think the burr and mechanism is probably equivalent to a lot more expensive machines having to spread the spend over power supplies and electric motors.

Practically (and I think this might be a winner for me) It is much, much quieter.  My work means I regularly leave at 05:00 and putting the electric grinder on wasn't fair on my better half, or the baby.  Whilst not silent, this noise is definitely not an issue for anyone outside the room - I just need to budget 2 minutes of grinding rather than 20s.

Lastly the intangibles.  I really liked doing the coffee this way.  I felt involved, it's a nice hands on object, it made a measurable difference to the quality of the coffee, and it really didn't cost very much.


  Good fine grind
  Quality construction
  Very small footprint and packs up easily
  Low mess
  Low noise
  Low cost

  2m 10s of reasonably vigorous arm work - enough to make your arm tired
  It's not a big shiny box in your kitchen you can show off (if that's your thing)

Next to be replaced is the espresso machine.  Again looking for one with as small as possible footprint, but getting significantly up the quality scale.  Suggestions happily received.

Happy back to the grind day

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