I’ve been a coffee fan for a while, but I’ve gotten more serious about it since my wife bought me a La Pavoni Europicola for our ten-year wedding anniversary. Since I had moved up to a better machine than my trustworthy Krups Mini, I decided it was time to buy a burr grinder to go with it.
For years I’ve used a simple Krups blade grinder, which is fine for most uses. However, it’s not consistent: part of the coffee gets ground coarse, while the stuff that settles nearer the blades is extremely fine. A truly good shot of espresso is the product of several factors: the fineness of the grind, the pressure that the coffee is tamped into the brew basket, the quality and temperature of the water you use, and the pressure at which the water is forced through the grinds (notice that the list doesn’t include quality and freshness of the coffee itself, which is almost an entirely other topic – the short version is that you want as fresh as you can get, and grind only what you’ll use for the next shot to get the best flavor). A burr grinder uses two rotating metal burrs that crush the beans instead of chopping them, producing a consistent grind.
After doing a bit of research at Amazon and other online outlets, I decided to get a $60 Capresso 555 Burr Grinder (which was actually given to me as a Christmas present… coffee at Christmas, yay!). The Capresso 555 offers 17 grinding settings, a hopper with a portion control mechanism so you can dole out roughly the same quantity each time, and a single push button operation that automatically stops grinding once the burrs are clear. Since I’m not insanely fanatical about my espresso (yet, anyway), this seemed like a good mid-range solution.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. The Capresso is a good machine, but it’s not a good match for my La Pavoni, which demands a finer grind. Even at the Capresso’s finest setting (1), the pressurized water would shoot through the beans way too fast, resulting in weak espresso and, frequently, a splattered mess on the counter.
The coffee gurus at CoffeeGeek opined that the problem was my grinder, not the La Pavoni, so I upgraded to the $150 Solis Maestro Plus, which boasts a conical burr grinder that can produce a much finer grind. The difference has been night and day. My first espresso shot was nearly perfect, with no water spluttering or mess. I’m still trying to find the optimal grind; a shot I made last night was pretty good with the gauge set to two notches finer than its “Esp” (espresso) setting.
You might be thinking, “$150 just to grind coffee??” I thought so, too, and was more amazed when I discovered that the Maestro Plus is still on the low end of the scale; based on reports at CoffeeGeek, the Rancilio Rocky seems to be the mid-range gold standard at $270, and you can easily spend $400 or more for “prosumer” grinders. But after just a few exceptional espresso shots, I can say my $150 is completely worth it.
(As a side note, the Maestro Plus arrived with a timer switch that had been damaged during shipping. I made a quick call to Baratza, the machine’s distributor, who sent me a replacement switch and instructions for replacing the broken one (a simple task) without a fuss. Great service always deserves a mention!)