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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Robur-E in da house!

Talk about taking a break from blogging.

A few things have happened, more of them in future posts. This is just a quick one on my new grinder, the Mazzer Robur-E and my previous one, the Mahlkönig K30 Vario.

The Mahlkönig was a very good grinder. The looks, the finish (especially of the customized version I had) and the ergonomics were excellent - way better than those of the Robur. The stepless adjustment is probably the best design I have seen in a grinder. Overall, I was really pleased with the K30 but there were two things that in the end drove me to the latest change - the lack of conical burrs and the clumping (although I think this could at least partially be fixed with a change of burrs).

Having now spent a few days with the Robur-E, does it live up to my expectations? Too early to say as I am still in the process of running the beast in. Kindly enough Kaffa Roastery had some test batches, old samples etc of coffee that were of no use to them and I managed to source 25 kilos of coffee for running in the Robur. I am halfway through this coffee and I am happy to already see that there is no clumping or static issues with the big Mazzer and the ground coffee is really fluffy and has an almost perfect initial distribution. The shots I have pulled and drunk using quality coffee also shows promise. But too early to draw any conclusions...

Below pic shows my espresso bar, but also gives an idea of the size of the Robur. It is huge compared to even the K30 :)


Friday, November 09, 2007

Mahlkönig K30 has arrived

After a fairly long wait, my new grinder (I know, a new grinder again) has arrived. It is the Mahlkönig K30 Vario with a custom finish.

The Vario -bit in the name of the grinder means that it has stepless adjustment and I have to say that the Mahlkönig's adjustment mechanism is great. The custom finish on mine is polished steel and gloss black, which I think make the grinder look pretty cool.

I have only had the grinder for about 24 hours now, so I only have some initial impressions for now. These impressions are very positive. The grinder is fast, quiet and very practical/easy to use. There is very little mess. And so far the shots taste great.

There is some clumping at finer grind settings, but I knew to expect this from my previous experience with the K30. The clumps are softer than e.g. my previous Mazzer Mini-E and there is none of the particle size sorting that I experienced with the Mini-E.

The K30 is of course a flat burr grinder and it is not as forgiving as the conical burr Compak that I still also have. Nevertheless, I am thrilled to bits about the K30. It is early days but I think this may be a keeper. I will post further experiences in due course...


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Compak update

Quite a while back Marcus kindly sent me a new power switch to replace the original defective one that was on my K10. The switch was easy to swap and the new one not only looks better but is of significantly better quality. The Compak has now been serving duty as my main grinder for a couple of months and the external timer does a great job in helping dose consistency when grinding per shot.

I think the Compak is fabulous grinder and the shots are great. However, the flak I am getting from the wife continues - she just hates the doser. She could even live with the size of the grinder, but not the doser.

To be honest, I am not too keen on the doser either, even though the one on the Compak is a very good one. Having owned quite a few grinders and tried numerous other ones in addition to those, I am starting to face the fact that I just prefer doserless grinders.

The Mahlkönig K30 has attracted me before and my wife thinks we can't get one soon enough. It certainly does have its own issues and it does not have conical burrs, but it still is a great grinder in my opinion. So, I have put in the order for a new, slightly customised Mahlkönig K30 Vario that should be arriving in about a months time... ...this means that the Compak is coming up for sale...


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Grinder analysis - part III

Before going to the point, I'd like to note that I have edited the post on part II of the grinder analysis as I had mixed up the data from the Casadio and the Compak. Realising this and looking at the profiles again, they now make a lot more sense to me (although I still do not want to draw any conclusions).

Ok. To the point. I managed to get the data from the previous grind analysis (part I) in electronic form and I thought it would be interesting to compare the particle distribution profiles of these grinders side-by-side. In the first image we have the profiles from three flat burr grinders.

One can see that the more expensive the grinder is the more uniform the size of the coarser particles. Assuming that uniformity in coarse particles is desirable for the results in the cup (and that the finer particles just control the flow of the extraction), it appears that one does get a superior grind in return for a larger investment. The differences in the graphs are small, but still noticeable.

The are also differences in the shots that these grinders produce, and these differences are in my experience larger than the above profiles suggest. There must therefore be something else to the quality of the grinder than the particle distribution profile?

In the second image we have three conical burr grinders and here the variance in the particle distribution profiles is a lot more apparent than with the flat burr grinders. The argument that you get a superior grind with an additional investment seems to hold even more true here (with the same assumptions I made with the flat burr grinders).

However, the profile from the conical Innova appears to contradict the common opinion that it actually produces a good grind and a great cup (on par with Mazzer Mini). The unit did not appear to defective in any way and it was also almost new, so I am a bit baffled as to what the explanation here could be...

Ok. Enough rambling since I cannot draw conclusions from all this. I will follow the discussions on Home-Barista.com with interest to see if the more scientific and thorough analysis will yield credible conclusions...

Last, but most definitely not least, I would like thank "isojp", a member from the ristretto.fi forums for running the tests on all these samples!


Monday, June 18, 2007

Grinder analysis - part II

A while back I took part in an interesting experiment where the particle size distribution for various grinders was measured with a laser diffractometer (link to the post). I had an opportunity for a quick second round of a similar experiment and now that I have two new grinders, I was naturally curious to see how they would stack up. The Compak is currently out of action, but I managed to run the samples for these experiments before the problems.

The idea was to set the grinders in a way that with an exact 16 gram dose, 9 bar brew pressure, 92 degree (real, not indicated) brew temperature, identical tamping force and 25 second brew we would get shots of identical volumes. Three grinders took part in this round, namely the Compak K10 WBC, the Casadio Instantaneo and the Mahlkönig K30 ES. The grind as well as the shot samples were taken. The K30 I did not have at home, so the shots were pulled with a La Marzocco FB80 residing at Risteriet and I admit that the shot was a tad more voluminous than the ones I pulled at home (but I have been advised that this should not have a significant impact as regards the results). The same blend from the same roast batch was used for all the samples.

The first image (click it for a larger size image) shows the particle size distribution of the grinders. This was somewhat a surprise to me, especially the profile from the Compak. This was explained once I realised that I got the data between the Compak and the Casadio mixed up! The image now shows the right profiles. I was expeting the K10 produce more fines than the Mahlkönig, but there really isn't much of a difference. The Casadio produces the least fines out of these three grinders.

The kink in the Casadio's profile leading from the coarse particles towards the fines is interesting and to my palate it produces the most bitter cup of the three (at least with this blend). Perhaps there aren't enough fines to slow down the flow rate and one therefore needs to grind finer than is desirable (and subsequently the coarse particles are overextracted)?

I will have to experiment with a larger dose and a slightly coarser grind to see if this improves the taste from the Casadio. The Compak has a very "clean" particle size distribution profile compared to the other two and it also produces a sweeter cup that is more to my liking...

It was also interesting to see what ends up in the cup from each grinder. The second image shows a particle size analysis of the actual brewed espresso shots for which the dose was ground with the respective grinders (note: this image and graphs I did get right the first time).

The hump in the slightly larger particle sizes with the Mahlkönig makes me wonder if there was some coffee grinds on the portafilter spouts when this sample was taken (even though we tried to avoid it)? Here we also see that the Casadio appears to produce most fines into the cup - could this be another or the reason for the slightly more bitter taste?

Another thought that occurred to me is also that the larger number of fines in the cup (despite the least fines in the particle distribution) could be an indication of dust being produced by the Casadio due to the combination of high rpm and small conical burrs? Or it could just be the burr design? Or a sign of over-extraction caused by the lack of fines? I cannot quite figure this out...

I may have the opportunity to get the data on the earlier grinder comparison in electronic form, which would enable me to plot the graphs of the particle size distribution from those grinders onto the same diagram to make further comparisons and analysis easier. To be continued (hopefully)...

Aagain I will draw no conclusions here as I do not feel qualified to do so. For a more scientific read on the same issues I refer you to the ongoing discussions at Home-Barista.com, especially these two threads: Titan Grinder Project and Titan Grinder Project: Particle size distribution of ground coffee


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sweep mod for the K10

As I noted in my first post regarding the Compak K10, I already chopped the hopper to make the grinder shorter and added an external timer to help in grind-per-shot use. To further improve the K10 for this type of use at home, I took the doser apart to implement the "electrical tape mod" or "sweep mod".
The sweep of doser on the K10 was not too bad before, but with this modification it is clearly better. There is virtually no coffee left behind in the doser. The only part where a few stray grinds are left behind is the top of the dosing star, where some of the coffee exiting the chute does spray on. To be honest, this is minimal, but being a neatnik, the "inverted cup mod" is something that I have in my sights in the near future...

By the way, when putting the doser back together, I intentionally left our the dosing sector (highlighted in the first picture with the red arrow) as it just promotes grinds retention on top of it. Without it in place the doser is also even easier to clean.


Titan Grinder Project

Home-Barista.com are running a side-by-side review of a few conical burr grinders (with a flat burr Mazzer thrown in for comparative purposes). This will be interesting. Check it out here.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Macap MC4 Electronic

Macap has introduced an interesting new grinder, an electronic version of the MC4. Check out the details and images at Home-Barista.com (click here). This is a clear competitor to the Mazzer Mini-E and appears to solve the usability issues which the regular MC4 had i.e. the new grinder has a microswitch for portafilter actuation of the grind and a portafilter fork. The dose timer setup appears to be clearly superior to that on the Mazzer, making this a really interesting alternative to the Mini-E. However, the clumping issues that the regular MC4 had still appear to be there and in a bad way!


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Compak K10 WBC

So, my Compak finally arrived earlier this week. I remain curious as to how it can take a week to deliver a package in the Copenhagen area while it only takes one day to deliver from Germany to Denmark? The same happened with the Casadio and this time around the delivery company even blatantly lied about supposedly having tried to deliver the Compak earlier. That particular company surely has no idea of what the word service means. Ok. Rant over.

I knew that the K10 would not be a small grinder, but the size was still a bit of a shock especially to my better half. Her immediate reaction was that the Compak is too large and will not stay in our kitchen. There is no way this beast will fir under regular kitchen cabinets (it stands 64 cm / 25 inches) tall with the stock hopper.

So I had a challenge in convincing her to agree on having it stay. To make this easier (as well as generally more practical), I decided to shop the bean hopper to that the grinder would fit under the cabinets and indeed with 11.5 cm / 4.5 inches taken off the height it actually does. Great. The hopper lid is naturally no longer a good fit, but I don't think I'll really need it (I do not keep beans in the hopper for long periods of time anyway).

The cutline of the chopped hopper turned out surprisingly well. I marked the spot where I wanted to cut the hopper, put masking tape over and around the line to both protect the plastic as well as to prevent cracks in it. I used a Dremel to make the first cut (attached to a ball-jointed vice, which in turn was attached to the cupboard wall - I admit that the setup looked a bit funny).

Anyway, the Dremel generates a lot of heat when cutting so I only used it to make the initial cut accurately around the hopper and finished the job off with a hacksaw. I then used sandpaper to get rid of any sharp edges (I will need some finer grit sandpaper to make it really nice).

The grinder now fits where it is supposed to in our kitchen. To help in the usability, I also added a digital darkroom timer that can be adjusted to the accuracy of one tenth of a second. The red button is used for the timed grind, the top two buttons for adjusting the time and the lower left button is for continuous grind (press for on and press again to stop the grind). A handy little gadget, this.

In terms of the grinder itself, the major attractions for me were the large (68mm), slowly turning (300 rpm) conical burrs. My initial impression is that they do produce a grind that is superior in taste to the Casadio (or the Mazzer Mini-E for tha matter). The bitter notes I experienced with the Casadio are just not there, but instead I get a smoother, sweeter shot that still has lovely complexity to the taste. Lovely.

Two doubts that I had regarding the Compak were the potentially troubling amount of ground coffee retained in the chute and grinding chamber and whether or not I can learn to live with the doser. Well, it appears that the K10 retains less than 10 grams of coffee and this is pretty easy to clear out. There will be a bit more waste than with a Mini-E or the Casadio, but I think I can live with that to get the superior grind.

The doser action is nice and it sweeps pretty clean (about the same as the Mazzer Mini I had in the past). I will probably modify the doser a bit in the near future by attaching electrical tape to the doser vanes for an even cleaner sweep and I am also on the lookout for a suitable part that I can use for a nice-looking inverted cup mod. The doser does throw slightly to the right but less so than the Mazzer Mini.

Also, while grinds distribution is miles better than a Mini-E (no clumping, static or particle size distribution issues here), I have to say that the Casadio actually does provide a superior initial distribution. This is quite a feat for a doserless grinder. Nevertheless, a quick Stockfleth's move and you will get a perfect extraction from the Compak as well.

The grind is adjusted steplessly by moving the adjustment collar in a manner similar to the Mazzer adjustment. The collar itself is beautiful but it could use a more pronounced adjustment pin (although you can use the hopper attachment screw). The difference between the adjustment in the Compak and the Mazzer is that in the Compak you are moving the bottom burr (in the Mazzer you move the top burr that is spring-loaded).

Overall I am very pleased with the Compak and I think this is the grinder that will stay in the kitchen. The Casadio will be up for sale soon. The build of the K10 is far superior to the Casadio's and while it may not be quite as well built as the Mazzer's, it is not far behind and it is also clearly superior to the Rancilio (Rocky) and Cunill grinders. Some aspects I actually like more than those on the Mazzer - for example the doser lever and the adjustment collar (even though it could use the pin I mentioned earlier). Less convincing is the plastic portafilter fork that actually collects some coffee on top as well as the doser "hood" that could fit a bit better.

There is one more thing that I should mention. Most grinders of this caliber have useless auto-grinding functions, finger guards and interlocks that prevent you from running the grinder hopperless. None of these are an issue with the Compak K10 WBC.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mazzer vs Casadio

Now that I have had a bit more time with the Casadio, I have found some interesting things about this grinder. The initial thought that it produces more bitter flavors in the cup may after all not be entirely accurate. For example, a blend that contains Robusta that yielded a fairly rough cup with the Mazzer Mini-E worked surprisingly well with the Casadio. I really did not like to drink this blend straight up with the Mazzer (although it worked well in a cappa) but with the Casadio the taste is a lot smoother and I actually like it also as a straight shot. Furthermore, the Arabica blend that I was using previously appears to be working better with the Casadio than I initially thought now that I have tried a slightly larger dose. Hmm...

I mentioned earlier that it is a lot easier to achieve an even extraction with the Casadio. To demonstrate, I'll start by showing an image of a shot from a Mini-E where no action has been taken with regards to overcoming the grind particle size distribution issues. I should note that the burrs on the Mazzer have seen about 50 kg of coffee and should therefore still be perfectly ok (and the Casadio is obviously new).

For this shot the portafilter just sat in the fork and I only performed a Stockfleth's distribution and tamped (no knocking, tapping or other measures at any stage of the process). The picture is at around 15 seconds into the shot and the pour developed better from here, but nevertheless you can see the extraction favoring one side of the basket. I admit that this is a rather extreme example, but it does show the issue that the Mini-E has.

This is another shot from the Mazzer at around 20 sec into the pour. I rotated the portafilter 180 degrees during the grind to overcome the particle size distribution issues of the Mini-E. Now the shot is more centered and the extraction more even. This is better but still not the best shot I have pulled with the Mazzer. For an image of a better pour from the Mazzer, click here (for that shot I took additional measures to overcome the Mazzer's shortcomings).

Now we can take a look at the Casadio. This picture is at around 20 seconds into the shot. Again, the extraction is a lot more even than in the first picture, but what is interesting is that the shots from the Casadio go blonde later into the pour. Most importantly, achieving this type of pours is also a lot easier with the Casadio that they are with the Mini-E. No gimmicks like the Weiss distribution are required to get a perfect pour every time.

My initial conclusions are that the Casadio is a clear improvement over the Mini-E in terms of the initial grinds distribution, grinding speed, the ridiculous easy way in which one can achieve an even extraction as well as the lack of grinds retention. I am slowly warming up to the Casadio, but I am still not entirely convinced that the taste in the cup is superior. Sometimes it appears to be so while at others, it just doesn't. Having said this, it always takes time to learn the finer nuances of a new grinder and I can already say that this grinder is most definitely no slouch.

The looks and the build still annoy me. With regards to the taste, I just hope to receive the Compak soon so that I conduct some further comparisons (it has been in the country since Tuesday but the local delivery company just doesn't have its act together - hence the delay, again). The thought of a doser is somewhat daunting to me, but let's see...

By the way, I previously forgot to mention the huge thanks to Marcus Bätz who sourced and sold the Casadio (and the Compak) for/to me. He has been quite a gentleman through the process as well as great help in terms of some practical questions I have had on the Casadio...


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is 2007 the Year of the Grinder?

It appears that there are some very interesting developments taking place with coffee grinders. Take a look at the new doserless grinder that Elektra has in the pipeline. Compak also has an interesting new product, the K-6 Automatic. Mazzer is apparently planning on making timer and even doserless versions of their bigger grinders (e.g. the conical Kony or Robur will be interesting). La Marzocco is coming up with the "S" that is still in the prototype stage but will eventually become available (a huge beast of a grinder, but interesting nevertheless). Add to this Versalab's improvements on the M3 and the rumours about Mahlkönig's conical burr version of the K30 and it looks like things are getting better. However, with the exception of La Marzocco S and perhaps the Mahlkönig (if the rumour is true) these grinders appear to be variations of current models and perhaps not huge leaps forward, but still a positive sign that the manufacturers may finally be listening to the demands of the baristi?


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Casadio Instantaneo

My Casadio Instantaneo has finally arrived (after some troubles with the local delivery company). Anyway, this grinder is not very well known internationally, Germany being the notable exception where it is considered superior to the Mahlkönig K30 (for half the price). So what's up with this? Here are my first thoughts on the Casadio...

First off, I have to say that the Casadio is ugly as hell. I initially did not even consider purchasing this grinder because of the looks, but good looks do not good coffee make, right? So I decided to go ahead with getting one of these to see what all the hubbub is about.

The Casadio is slightly beefier than a Mazzer Mini-E. The body of the grinder is almost exactly the same height as that of the Mini-E but a tad wider and deeper. However, depth is not so much an issue as an espresso machine usually requires more space in this dimension. In terms of the width, the Casadio does actually not require more space here, either because its power cord exits from the back instead of the side as in the Mazzer.

The standard hopper of the Casadio is fairly tall, though (making it around 4 inches taller than a Mini with a short hopper). However, I have a shorter hopper that is fairly easy to cut down further if need be. This hopper does not look particularly good, though and I am looking to receive an alternative that is a tad wider and look better when chopped down to the appropriate height.

The fit, finish and quality of materials on the Casadio are really bad. When I mean bad is that especially after the beautifully built Mazzer the build quality of the Casadio is bordering on unacceptable to me. It really is that bad with the cheap, thin and bendy plastic, poorly fitting components etc. Perhaps I will learn to live with this.

Ok. Now that I have vented most of the bad stuff about this grinder, let’s get into the good stuff.

The Casadio is significantly quieter than the Mazzer when grinding. One of the special features is the floating design of the motor and the burr assembly. They sit on rubber bushings that separate them from the grinder body. However, as with all quality grinders, the burrs are rigidly mounted on metal carriers to ensure even grind quality. There is a side effect to this floating design, though. The motor is rated at 450W versus the 250W of the Mazzer Mini-E and when one starts it up, the torque of motor actually rocks the whole grinder making it step slightly to the right unless held in place. This reminds me of an old American muscle car - you know, a huge powerful V8 in a small body and not much in the way of proper suspension. Perhaps the rubber bushings are a tad too soft?

The burrs on the Casadio are 48mm conical. Pretty small, huh? They turn at a pretty high rpm (1350), though and this gives a very fast grind - it is almost as fast as a Mahlkönig K30 and more than twice the speed of the Mini-E. Nice. Considering that the mass of the burrs is small compared to the amount of coffee that goes through them, it is not surprising that after grinding a few shots you notice some heat issues. This means that the Casadio will not be able to cope in a busy cafe but grinding four consecutive doubles in a home environment is not an issue.

One outstanding quality of the Casadio is that when grinding there is no horizontal path from burrs to the filter basket. The chute from the burrs is at a 45 degree angle and there is zero coffee retained in the chute after grinding! Now I have tried quite a few grinders and I have never seen anything this good. Having said this, as with all grinders, you will have some partly ground beans in the burr chamber after a session and at the start of the next session you will still want to throw away the first few grams of coffee out of the chute to ensure that you are using fresh coffee only. Regardless, this is one of the impressive qualities of the Casadio.

There is no portafilter fork or a tray to catch stray grinds. Sounds bad, right? Not a huge problem to be honest as the grind is so fast it doesn't pain me to stand next to the grinder for the 5 seconds it takes to grind the 17 grams for my double. There is also even less static and stray grinds than with the Mazzer and the Casadio actually makes even less of a mess than a Mini-E if used right.

Compared to the Mini-E (or the Mahlkönig K30), there is less clumping and less static. This is pretty impressive for a doserless grinder considering that the Mini-E is pretty good in this aspect compared to other doserless grinders (again including the Mahlkönig). Another problem of the Mini-E, the uneven distribution of the different sized ground coffee particles appears to be completely absent in the Casadio.

The Mini-E's issues combined require the use of techniques to overcome the grinder's shortcomings and you will still pretty easily end up with an extraction that favours one side of the coffee puck (the one closer to the machine's body - and I have experienced this with two machines that were both level). The first picture of the ground coffee above is from the Mini-E. Not bad, but if you look at the Casadio (below), it is visibly better.

The grind from the Casadio (the second pic) is also fluffier - the same amount of coffee measured by weight takes up a larger volume than the equivalent dose from the Mazzer (both pictures are a double of around 17 grams that yielded a 27 sec shot of the same volume at the same machine settings). It is a lot easier to achieve even extraction with the grind from the Casadio and the shots appear to turn blond later into the shot. Again good news!

The grind is activated by pressing the buttons on the panel. There is a button for a single dose and another for a double. Press both for continuous grind. There is no portafilter activation for grinding nor is there a separate button for continuous grind. This is an inconvenience as it is pretty tricky to press the two buttons simultaneously while holding the portafilter. The dose adjustments are not that intuitive, but they are accurate (much more so than in the Mini-E). You can adjust the grind time to 1/100th of a second and if you max out the setting, you can access a sub-menu where you can add full tenths (and still retain the possibility to fine-tune to the 1/100th). No upper limit as there is in the Mini-E (although I have not tried a triple). This is great. When idle, the display shows the number of shots ground with the grinder - already a fairly large number on mine since it took a good while to dial things in (my grinder was way off from an espresso grind setting). Now this brings me conveniently to the grind adjustment. It is by the way of a worm drive that allows for extremely fine adjustments. This is clearly an espresso only grinder as it is just too much trouble to move from espresso to French press and back (the adjustment scale is also very poor indeed, although there is one).

All in all, the important things with the Casadio appear to be in very fine form. The clearly is room for improvement in the choice of materials as well as the fit and finish. The manufacturer could also consider adding another button for continuous grinding or even a micro switch for portafilter activation of the grind. This would make the grinder so much more convenient to use - I just love the Mahlkönig K30 in this respect (also for its perfect build quality), but then again it is in a different price class and the actual grind quality might be inferior. In other words, although there are clear weaknesses in the Casadio, it is great value for money - it costs roughly the same as a Mini-E but offers superior grind speed, better extractions, more accurate dose setting, easier fine-tuning of the grind and less mess on the counter.

One and obviously the most important measure of a grinder is the quality of the coffee in the cup. How does the Casadio fare in this respect? Well, it is too early to draw conclusions. The better extractions are naturally a clear plus. I also note more bright notes in the shots, but also more bitter flavours. Could this be due to the high rpm generating more fines/dust than is desirable and this bring an unwanted dimension to the coffee? As I said, it is too early to draw conclusions but will revert after further experimenting....


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Grinder analysis

I had an opportunity to be a part of an experiment where the the grind of four coffee grinders was analysed. We used the same blend from the same roasting batch of coffee ground on the same day with four different grinders at roughly the same fineness (espresso). First 20 grams out of each grinder was discarded and the sample was taken from the ground coffee thereafter. The ground coffee was then run through an industrial particle analyser to see the coffee particle size distribution in each sample.

I do not know how conclusive the results are scientifically, but nevertheless, I found this quite interesting. One caveat, though. The machine used for the analysis was only able to analyse particles smaller than 0.6 mm, therefore cutting out the larger sizes. However, I still think that the results give an idea of the differences. To the results, then:

Ascaso (Innova) i1 flat burr
Ascaso (Innova) i2 conical burr
Mazzer Mini E
Mahlkoenig K30
Looking at the graphs, the first thing I notice is that the flat burr grinders have similar particle size distribution while the conical burr grinder does really stand out. Taking a closer look and comparing the flat burr grinders, one can see that the Ascaso i1 has more fines as well as a wider distribution in the size of the larger particles. The Mazzer and Mahlkoenig have a more uniform grind, the Mahlkoenig very slightly more so, but on the other hand it aso has more fines than the Mazzer. As fas as I understand, you do need some fines to hold the puck together and achieve a balanced cup, so is this a good or a bad thing? I guess this is something that the graphs won't tell us and we will need to evert to our tastebuds :)

The graph from the Ascaso i2 conical burr grinder is a surprise. The grind is a lot less uniform than that of any of the flat burr grinders. Logic would tell me that this is a bad thing and hitting the targeted optimal grind would be more difficult. On the other hand, you might get in the ballpark more easily - i.e. the grinder would be more forgiving? This is just speculation and I may be off in my analysis. After all, aren't conical burrs supposed to be better due to the longer cutting surface of the burrs etc? Perhaps the wider particle size distribution would bring more complexity to the taste in the cup?. I hope to have an opportunity to try and actually taste the difference in the near future... ...it would also have been interesting to see the graph from a higher quality conical burr grinder for comparison...

Like I said, this was all in good fun and interesting, not a serious scientific experiment. I'd be interested in hearing any comments you may have, though. Oh, I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Jesper, Michael and especially JP for making this happen.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Macap MC4

When Mads came over during the weekend for the grider cleaning session, I had the opportunity to briefly try out the Macap MC4 doserless grinder. For a while (especially before the purchase of my Mini E), I had been thinking that this is an interesting alternative when considering quality doserless grinders. This particular sample is with the stepped adjustments whereas it is currently also available with stepless adjustment - i.e. you can choose (personally, I prefer stepless adjustment).

I was actually surprised by the size of the Macap. For some reason I expected it to be slightly smaller than the Mazzer but it actually appears larger (see image). No problem there, but my main reservation regarding the doserless Macap has been that it really is not designed for per-shot use at home despite the fact that it is doserless. It is more a shop grinder intended for grinding into a bag - hence the bag retainer on top of the spout, no portafiler rest and no portafilter activation for the grinding (just the relatively stiff on-off switch on the right side). The power cord is more smartly done than the one in the Mazzer.

You need both hands for operating the Macap - one for holding the PF close to the spout (to avoid spillage) and waiting through the duration of the grind (with the Mini E you can leave the PF on the rest and do other stuff - with the Macap you can't). The Macap is therefore a bit inconvenient to use and this is accentuated by the fact that it is also slightly slower to grind than the Mini E (58mm vs 64 burrs). I also noted that the Macap clearly has more clumping of the grinds, making even distribution of the coffee (critical for even extraction) slightly more difficult. There is also significantly more grinds retained in the chute area and more mess on the countertop.

I sound all negative don't I? Well, I'm not. I think that the Macap is great value at only 60% of the price of the Mini-E and I honestly think that in terms of the results in the cup, these grinders are equal (at least if one can overcome the Macap's clumping with proper distribution technique). The build quality of the Macap is on par with the Mazzer and I like the looks, too.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Cleaning the Mazzer Mini E

I've owned my Mini E just over 7 months now. How many times have I actually given it a thorough clean? I have to admit that to date I have never taken the upper burr off and my grinder cleaning routines with the Mazzer have so far been limited to the bi-weekly vacuuming the burr area and swiping the hopper clean with a paper towel. A month ago I purchased some Urnex Grindz grinder cleaner but so far I have only run it through the Mazzer once. I guess the main reason for not partially disassembling the grinder before are the horror stories claiming that cleaning the Mazzer is difficult.

A friend, Mads, had had the same concerns with his Macap and he suggested that we get together and do ourselves (and our grinders) a favour a give them a thorough cleaning. The dirty upper burr wasn't as bad as I thought it would be - the burrs apparently pretty much clean themselves (although the fact that I did run some Grindz through a few weeks ago might also play a part).

The lower burr itself wasn't too bad, either, but the need for cleaning is more apparent here. Below are the pictures showing both burrs after a quick clean with a couple of brushes, some toothpicks and a chopstick. Having now taken the grinder apart and cleaned it, I have to say that taking the upper burr off the Mazzer is almost as simple as it was on the Rocky.

Here's the how-to:

1) Unplug the grinder
2) Take off the hopper and wipe it clean
3) Remove the stop screw on the grinder adjustment collar (observe the grind setting you have at this time)
4) Turn the collar clockwise until it comes off

5) Once the collar is removed, just lift out the upper burr out
6) Clean the both burrs and vacuum (take out the three tension springs to help in cleaning and to ensure that hey do not end up in the vacuum cleaner)
7) Make sure the threads are clean, put the tension springs back into their slots and put the top burr back on
8) Put collar back on and turn it clockwise while pressing it down slightly

9) When you feel / hear the collar nudge into the position where the first thread engages, start turning the collar counter-clockwise. Keep doing this until the burrs touch and then come back until you are at the same grinder setting you had before taking the upper burr off. Make sure that you do not cross-thread (if you feel resistance, back off and try again).
10) Reattach stop screw to collar, reattach the hopper and voilá, you are done!

This was so much easier than I thought it would be and there is no need for two people to do this. Oh why had I put this off for so long?

While I was working on the grinder I noted that the area that probably benefited most from the cleaning was the chute leading from the burrs into the funnel. In the Mini E this only a short ledge (compared to other grinders I have seen), but I noted that coffee tends to collect there and to some extent clog the chute. The wire mesh that is placed there to break coffee clumps and prevent static accentuates the clogging.

Since I had had the finger guard in place in the fear that its removal would cause static problems, the chute area really is not accessible for cleaning. I decided to take the finger guard off to allow for easier access to the chute. My impression is that the removal of the finger guard does not cause any problems.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mazzer Mini E review

It's already been two months since I received my Mini E and I think it was time to post the review that I have been quietly working on. It is now up on CoffeeGeek - just follow this link if you want to read it. Like in my previous reviews, it is mainly a summary of what I have already posted right here on my blog...


Sunday, November 13, 2005

A month with the Mini E - some thoughts

Time sure flies, it's been a month since I received the Mini E and I have now had some more time to find a comfortable way of working with it. There are a few findings and I'll start with the negatives.

Firstly, the grinds distribution is not quite perfect as I already suspected in part I of dialing in the Mini E. If one leaves the portafilter on the rest and hits the double dose button, the coffee ends up unevenly distributed in the basket both in terms of the size of the particles as well as the orientation of the coffee mound. This happens because the coffee just slides down the inner funnel wall instead of swirling and mixing on their way down. Upon exiting the funnel I believe that coffee particles of different weights/sizes/shapes travel different distances and this uneven initial distribution is practically impossible to correct when distributing / leveling the coffee. It does mean uneven extraction of the puck if one has the portafilter in situ (on the rest) during the grind. The tilt of the portafilter when it sits on the rest accentuates this tendency. I have sold my naked portafilter but a new one is on its way and once I have received it, I will take some pictures of the "naked pours" to demostrate the extraction issues resulting from the distribution problem.

There may naturally be differences between the portafilters of different machines so I can only say that this is what I find with the Andreja's stock portafilters. The 15 degree La Marzocco portafilter seems to fit perfectly and sit level but when one switches on the grinder there is a small virbation that will make the angled portafilter slide off the portafilter rest - but this is not really an issue because of the routine I use (read on).

To be honest, all of the above is slightly disappointing considering the price of the Mini E. However, there is a workaround. This involves moving the portafilter around during the grind to aid and even out the initial distribution and when using this routine I have experienced no problems in terms of uneven extraction and doing this is not too much of a hazzle.

I observed that the PF rest does make moving the portafilter around slightly awkward - the spouts tend to "catch" on it. Also, the rest has sharpish edges that scratch the bottom of the portafilter bowl. One can of course remove the the rest altogether but I do like to keep the PF on the rest after tamping and while I steam milk (before pulling the shot for a cappa or latte). I have therefore been considering adding "padding" on it to avoid scratching of the portafilter bowls.

My Mini E now also has the short hopper and as I noted with the dosered Mini, it makes the grinder more convenient to use and prettier, too - I do not have to pull it out from below the kitchen cabinets to pour beans into the hopper.

In terms of dialing in the dose buttons, I am currently using the double dose at its maximum setting, tapping the portafilter vertically to aid distribution and then topping up the dose with the continuous grind button. For triple shots I use the double dose, single dose and top up. The latter is not ideal so I will think of alternative approaches for triples. At a later stage I may also do some measurements in terms of the consistency of the Mini E's dose sizes but I have already observed in improvement in this area - my doses are more consistent with the Mini E and I waste less coffee than I did with the dosered Mini (or the Rocky for that matter). And I love the Mini E's neatness - there really is no mess on countertop because of the grinder...


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dialing in the MiniE - part I

So, my new grinder has arrived. It is a Mazzer MiniE mod A in black. I ordered it from Espresso Service West and I must say that they were a real pleasure to deal with. The price was also very competitive - the best I am aware of in Europe.

Why a black one? I think that the black body of the grinder contrasts nicely with the polished stainless funnel and adjustment ring (as well as with the finish of my Andreja). The finish is a matt satin vs the shiny lacquered finish of the silver version. Both look good but I am happy that I went with the black finish this time around. In the picture are both Mazzers - the doser version is going to a new home next weekend and the MiniE will also be getting a shorter hopper in the very near future.

The bigger question may be why did I go with the mod A instead of the mod B MiniE? The mod B looks better (with its portafilter activated grind), is easier to clean (the funnel lid is just that, an easy to remove lid vs the pad platform on the mod A) and is less likely to break (the cord leading to the funnel top on the mod A may eventually break) - right? Well, maybe. Let me explain why I chose the mod A.

As I have indicated earlier, I will be getting a lever machine soon and I will be grinding, dosing, distributing, leveling and tamping with the basket(s) out of the portafilter. This is where the mod A is actually more convenient. Also, should I want to grind for french press or do some cupping, I the mod A would again potentially be more convenient.

I honestly do not think that durability is an issue with either model of the MiniE, especially in home use. In terms of cleaning, I came to the conclusion that since the ledge between the burrs and the funnel is shorter in the MiniE than it is in the "regular" Mini (due to the MiniE's larger 64mm burrs vs the Mini's 55mm within the same body), there is not going to be much coffee stuck there. What little is left there to go stale can be purged by briefly hitting the continuous grind button - and again this is slightly more convenient in the mod A. Taking all this into account I actually noticed that I preferred the mod A.

The final push came when I contacted Henk at Espresso Service West. The mod A was available for immediate delivery while I would have needed to wait three weeks for the mod B (I could have purchased the mod B from another source immediately but at a higher price). Since I was alread leaning towards the mod A, the availability situation helped cement my decision.

Enough rambling and onto the real thing. Dialing in the MiniE. The factory setting on my previous grinder was pretty close to the actual setting I ended up with (it was just slightly too fine). However, the MiniE was at a very coarse setting - somewhere in the ballpark for french press. It took a few tries to get the grind setting to approximately where I want it.

I then turned my attention to the dose adjustment dials of the MiniE. The left one is for the single and the other is for the double. Half a turn (180 degrees) on a dial changes the dose by roughly 1 gram. Turn clockwise to increase the dose and counter clockwise to reduce. For some reason Mazzer has capped the size of the double dose at around 17 grams. This is less than my usual 20 grams and way off the dose for a triple basket that I frequently use.

I dialed the double dose button for 16 grams and the single at 5 grams. I lightly tap the portafilter vertically after the double dose to distribute the grounds and finish the dose by hitting the single dose button for an additional 5 grams. For the forthcoming part II of dialing in the MiniE I actually intend to dial the double dose down to 10 grams - I'll then distribute half way to the dose with a double and 2/3rds of the way for the triple. The minimum setting for the single dose is 4 grams and I am contemplating setting it to the minimum for the purpose of purging the chute of any stale coffee before each session - alternatively I will just continue using the continuous grind button to do this.

One of the benefits of the MiniE over most other grinders (both dosered and doserless) is its neatness. The ground coffee exits the funnel directly into the portafilter and only a very small amount ends up on the tray below. There is virtally no mess on the counter with the MiniE. This is great.

There is some clumping of the grounds but this appears to be no worse than with the dosered Mini and definitely less of an issue than with the Rocky doserless. The coffee ends up in a nice pile (or a pyramid if you like) and this means that one has to pay attention to the distribution to ensure even distribution and density of the puck.

There is one thing that I will need to analyse further. If you look at the picture on the left carefully (click to enlarge), you will actually see some "sorting" of the grinds - the fines seem to be ending up closer to the body of the grinder and larger particles towards the handle of the portafilter. If I am not imagining things and this really is taking place, it is likely to have implications with regards to the extraction pattern of the coffee. One way of overcoming this (if it turns out to be an issue) could be to move the portafilter around during the grind. More on this later.

So, the MiniE is not yet fully dialed in and there are a few things to explore further. Regardless, I have managed to pull a couple of decent shots already. I like the MiniE - it appears as if it will be living up to my expectations of helping with dose size consistency, requiring minimal tending from me during the espresso preparation process, creating less mess on the counter as well as having less things to clean within the grinder. As with the "standard" Mini, the MiniE also delivers in spades on the looks department.

I have not yet managed a "god shot" when using the MiniE, although the one pictured on the left was a pretty good one. In part II of dialing in the MiniE I will address the issues raised above and by that time I expect to have achieved my best shot to date. Nothing less will do...


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Mazzer mod no.4 - the inverted cup

I have already sold my Mazzer but delivery is to take place more than a week from now (as per the buyer's request). However, since I had been planning on doing this mod for some time and I had everything I needed to do it - why not do it then? So, here we go...

When grinding, some of the ground coffee exiting the chute lands on top of the centre section of the dosing mechanism. It does not all come off no matter how many times you pull on the doser lever. You will have to brush it off and this is the most time consuming part of cleaning the Mazzer's doser. It therefore makes sense to do something about it, especially when the grinder is used in a home environment and mostly for grinding per shot.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the modification for me was to find the right vessel. I eventually found a plastic glass that I sawed off at the point where its circumference more or less matched that of the centre section of the Mazzer's dosing mechanism. I then marked the spots where the dosing vanes are located and filed down the notches to make the "chopped" glass fit snugly on top of the grinder's centre section.

The end result does not look too obtrusive. It would look even better had I been able to find a sufficiently thick clear plastic glass (making it almost unnoticeable) or a silver/stainless coloured one to match the rest of the grinder. Regardless, the effect of the mod is as desired - now (with the sweep mod also in place) the only area to clean after each session is just a quick brush of the chute. This certainly makes life easier and also results in less wasted coffee! As with the other mods, this one is extremely easy to reverse - just take off the inverted cup.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Mazzer Mini review

So, a busy week behind me (the annual Sibos conference and a total of 7,000 bankers from around the world were in town), I finally had time to complete my review on the Mazzer Mini. I posted it on Coffeegeek today. I will spend the weekend recovering, enjoying my espresso and exploring possibilities of making my Andreja that little bit quieter...


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