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Can anything match the EK43 for non-espresso under $500?

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  • Can anything match the EK43 for non-espresso under $500?

    I know the EK43 is the 'darling' of the coffee world... and I hate to bandwagon-jump, but I've been reading Matt Perger's posts on his blog and I'm a convert to the idea that totally uniform grind particle size distribution is the holy grail for even extraction.

    That's the science... and the reality is that when I go between different classes of specialty shops, those that really focus on the grind with an EK43 dialled in for the SO can make pour-overs and aeropresses that really shine. Oh man. I just feel 'I have so far to go'. At home, with the same beans same recipe and my trusty conical burr grinder (which I thought amply good for non-espresso drinks - and, truth be told, I used to think it fine for espresso drinks), I can't get anywhere near the same clarity and sweetness. I can distinctly feel too much sour and too much bitter obliterating the naturally amazing flavours in the middle. Secondly, at other lesser specialty cafes, when other cheaper grinders are used (like those generic looking ones from Taiwan... they look like a small sewing machine), I find the coffees taste just like they do at home. So I think I am hitting the peak of what my grinder can do, which is what those other lesser cafes do.

    So, kitchen space aside, I'm not going to spend $2.5K on a grinder (just yet. I might one day. Argh), and obviously want to max out what I can do for <$500. So my question is: can anything out there match the EK43 for non-espresso drinks

    Bunn/bunnzilla? (Or 'Son of bunzilla')? The Lido 2, which I just bought? Should I just buy a series of sieves and add 3 minutes of vigorous shaking to an already pretty ridiculous morning coffee routine? I've been googling and can't get a scientific answer. (Why hasn't some person with a lab done a laser diffractometer test of everything from the Hario Mini through to the Robur! I would have.)

    So anyway, looking for opinions. Sorry for the diatribe!

    EDIT: Found this old thread, and don't want to poke the hornet's nest: I found this old thread, and worry that I may be stirring up a hornets nest: http://coffeesnobs.com.au/grinders/3...43s-caf-s.html

    So let me rephrase slightly - is there anything under $500 (auto or manual) that has proven performance in delivering a consistent particle size similar to a top-end grinder?

  • #2
    Originally posted by danahooshmand View Post

    So let me rephrase slightly - is there anything under $500 (auto or manual) that has proven performance in delivering a consistent particle size similar to a top-end grinder?

    No. Of course not, or we would all be using them !
    but there are plenty of $500 grinders that can produce excellent coffee.

    Comment


    • #3
      It really continues to be a gotcha for me and reeks of marketing spin.

      The new messiah delivers the rules from atop of the mountain and decrees what is a merely a commercial deli bag grinder. In effect, no difference at all from your average Ditting, Compak or any other bag grinder- vertically mounted planar burrs.

      The result? The congregation duly ditches whatever it previously using and creates a new "must have".

      Welcome to kaching.

      Comment


      • #4
        Sorry, can't answer your main question. However,

        Originally posted by danahooshmand View Post
        Why hasn't some person with a lab done a laser diffractometer test of everything from the Hario Mini through to the Robur! I would have.)
        keep searching and you'll find that quite a bit of work has been done on grinders, including measuring particle size distributions. Problem is there are confounding issues that are hard to overcome when drawing conclusions. On another forum, Jim Schulman suggests that laser diffractometers can only go so far with coffee because the particle shapes are not very uniform. He questions some of the conclusions drawn by Perger and others regarding the effect of these distributions on extraction.

        Comment


        • #5
          Do you home roast?
          I think you'd get much more benefit out of playing with roast levels than saving for a $4k grinder. I'm constantly amazed at how roasting differently, say a fraction faster and dropping a fraction earlier transforms a slightly bitter, muddy tasting espresso-roasted bean into an aeropress marvel! Want better manual brews? Then roast for manual brews (or buy from a roaster that provided specialised roasts for this purpose) - but don't expect them to do espresso or milk as well

          And FWIW - I'm currently playing with a Lido 2 for my espresso and comparing the same roasted beans through a Robur - and finding minimal difference in flavour profiles when the roast is right

          Cheers Matt

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by danahooshmand View Post
            I know the EK43 is the 'darling' of the coffee world... and I hate to bandwagon-jump, but I've been reading Matt Perger's posts on his blog and I'm a convert to the idea that totally uniform grind particle size distribution is the holy grail for even extraction.

            That's the science... and the reality is that when I go between different classes of specialty shops, those that really focus on the grind with an EK43 dialled in for the SO can make pour-overs and aeropresses that really shine. Oh man. I just feel 'I have so far to go'. At home, with the same beans same recipe and my trusty conical burr grinder (which I thought amply good for non-espresso drinks - and, truth be told, I used to think it fine for espresso drinks), I can't get anywhere near the same clarity and sweetness. I can distinctly feel too much sour and too much bitter obliterating the naturally amazing flavours in the middle. Secondly, at other lesser specialty cafes, when other cheaper grinders are used (like those generic looking ones from Taiwan... they look like a small sewing machine), I find the coffees taste just like they do at home. So I think I am hitting the peak of what my grinder can do, which is what those other lesser cafes do.

            So, kitchen space aside, I'm not going to spend $2.5K on a grinder (just yet. I might one day. Argh), and obviously want to max out what I can do for <$500. So my question is: can anything out there match the EK43 for non-espresso drinks

            So let me rephrase slightly - is there anything under $500 (auto or manual) that has proven performance in delivering a consistent particle size similar to a top-end grinder?
            Hi danahooshmand

            For coarser grinds, I have had success with either a SB EM480 & a Breville Smartgrinder. Unfortunately, they tend to vary widely, so you may get a "good one" or a "shocker". The only other one I have tried briefly was a Baratza (aka Mahlkonig in Oz) Preciso gen2, which was better again "out of the box". Mark Prince has a pile of info about the earlier versions and their particle spread, just be aware that the newer gen2's pushed the envelope even further. http://www.coffeegeek.com/pdfs/Barat...rs%20%20SM.pdf has the info. The Vario gen2 is really a Turkish & espresso grinder only nowadays AFAIAC, as the newer ceramic burrs do not work well on coarser grinds.

            I sold my two calibrated* EM480's and bought two Mahlkonig Vario gen2's. Of course, for espresso the Vario is in a class of its own until you get up to the EK43. Either 480 beats the Vario hands down for coarser grinds... I am actually still regretting not keeping one of them - when last summer rocked up I realised my mistake. I do iced coffees in a very modified "hybrid chemical lab stirrer / plunger**" I developed in the early '80's, and neither Vario cuts it for that use. Luckily I can borrow one of my previous 480's and make up a large batch!

            I really wish a few CSr's would realise the difference between a grinder that spins the burrs reliably for a long time and a grinder which actually has a decent particle spread. I found that even for non-espresso use (esp. cold steep & my pet hybrid) a narrow particle spread is literally transformative. Another option is to rapidly sieve the grinds (grinds stale in under 5 minutes).

            Jim Schulman's post about particle shape is timely, most "big conical" burr grinders produce long thin slices (kinda like a grain of long rice or a loaf of bread, however they are much, much rougher) which can throw off medical type refractometers - been there done that... The readings vary depending on the angle of the grains. Simple solution - clean and calibrate the grinder. If it is still poor, get a grinder with better shape. Smaller conicals and some of the "newer design" flat burrs give a far better shape and spread. Oh, and the difference is very apparent in the cup (embarrassingly so when you have a decent grinder next to it...).

            *calibrated EM480's: I had access to a full blown medical stainless steel engineering lab. Apart from a laser refractometer and numerous other toys that cost insane amounts of money (cleaning baskets & clogged steam wands etc in an ultrasound bath...), the measuring gear allowed me to remove the dynamic side & end play of my 480s. Made a huge difference to one of them, almost none to the other one. I also did a couple of Smartgrinders and a few other 480s. The variability was surprising to me for such a mass produced item.

            **hybrid chemical lab stirrer / plunger: I developed it to reduce the brew time and hence stewing/brewing and sourness notes. To date the best aeropresses I have had are only getting near the clarity. The reduced time also reduces bitterness a lot. Probably worth your while taking the time to play with one.

            TampIt
            Last edited by TampIt; 6 February 2015, 01:43 AM.

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks everyone... so what I've learned so far from you is
              - I can make do with anything with vertically mounted planar burrs. Yes have read so much about ditting/compak/bunn in that arena, and will focus my attention there at the budget end and learn to not worry and love budget equipment.
              - Laser diffractometers aren't a perfect measure of distribution due to irregular shape (also something I wondered about), so I shouldn't focus too much on graphs, as tempting as it might be
              - EM0480s (and presumably other burr grinders) benefit from calibration... though it sounds like it needs a lot of equipment! I like the EM0480 - only don't have one because I already ahve something so similar, though definitely inferior for non-espresso (I have a Le'Lit grinder, leftover from when I used to have a Silvia. I should sell it)
              - Been considering sieving, though it adds a tricky step with timing. Also, waste. Mechanical sievers are a huge capital investment, so that won't work (and they're also noisy). Might experiment anyway just to see how this variable affects the product.
              - The Lido 2 is indeed better than my current grinder - but it could just be that it's a lot cleaner!
              - Will read Jim's post on particle shape... sounds like another rabbit hole...
              - Mahlkonig and Baratza sometimes co-brand?! First I learned of this, and definitely a useful point.

              Roasting: Yes, I home roast, and appreciate/love the control that gives. That said, I am fully aware of the differences between my abilities and those of good roasters. I constantly buy the same green SO, then buy the same bean from a roaster, and just try to learn to match what they do. Good results sometimes. Actually, I think I can do that (inconsistently) better than I can brew coffee. I have a bag of Aricha Grade 1 that I roasted on a Behmor that matches Aricha I got from Sweet Bloom. (I.e. I can brew the same coffee from each one) However, when Sweet Bloom's version was brewed in a cafe by an award-winning barista, the results nearly made me fall over. Just from a v60, standard recipe. I can't get that at home. So it's something in my set-up. Good, but not 'fall over' good. Yet...

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by dana_h View Post
                Thanks everyone... so what I've learned so far from you is
                - I can make do with anything with vertically mounted planar burrs. Yes have read so much about ditting/compak/bunn in that arena, and will focus my attention there at the budget end and learn to not worry and love budget equipment.
                - Laser diffractometers aren't a perfect measure of distribution due to irregular shape (also something I wondered about), so I shouldn't focus too much on graphs, as tempting as it might be
                - EM0480s (and presumably other burr grinders) benefit from calibration... though it sounds like it needs a lot of equipment! I like the EM0480 - only don't have one because I already ahve something so similar, though definitely inferior for non-espresso (I have a Le'Lit grinder, leftover from when I used to have a Silvia. I should sell it)
                - Been considering sieving, though it adds a tricky step with timing. Also, waste. Mechanical sievers are a huge capital investment, so that won't work (and they're also noisy). Might experiment anyway just to see how this variable affects the product.
                - The Lido 2 is indeed better than my current grinder - but it could just be that it's a lot cleaner!
                - Will read Jim's post on particle shape... sounds like another rabbit hole...
                - Mahlkonig and Baratza sometimes co-brand?! First I learned of this, and definitely a useful point.

                Roasting: Yes, I home roast, and appreciate/love the control that gives. That said, I am fully aware of the differences between my abilities and those of good roasters. I constantly buy the same green SO, then buy the same bean from a roaster, and just try to learn to match what they do. Good results sometimes. Actually, I think I can do that (inconsistently) better than I can brew coffee. I have a bag of Aricha Grade 1 that I roasted on a Behmor that matches Aricha I got from Sweet Bloom. (I.e. I can brew the same coffee from each one) However, when Sweet Bloom's version was brewed in a cafe by an award-winning barista, the results nearly made me fall over. Just from a v60, standard recipe. I can't get that at home. So it's something in my set-up. Good, but not 'fall over' good. Yet...
                G'day dana_h

                Laser refractometers do exactly what they should. If you turn an evenly loaded sample around and the reading changes then the sample itself is irregular - i.e. crap in the case of a pulled shot.

                The old white paper test shows the same result in the case of grounds - just a small magnifying glass shows what it is like in terms of particle shape, size and variations. Most people are quite shocked at what it looks like out of a cheap grinder (whirling blade type). A dirty or poor grinder is not much of an improvement.

                Oh, and in both cases, just like high end audio gear, if it measures well it may still sound lousy - OTOH, it if measures badly there is no way it can sound accurate, merely pleasant via faking it well. The best example I can think of in coffee is the old aluminium "stovetop espresso moka pot" aka Carmencita. All coffee beans taste the same once the pot "develops its flavour" as the embedded oils & grounds (aluminium is porous) outweigh the flavour of whatever new coffee beans are used. Perhaps pleasant, however it is not accurate. A good, clean stainless Carmencita tastes like the beans you use - for better or worse. Another coffee example using an espresso machine: if the "barista" is not up to the task, the world's best roast which has been ground perfectly (well, properly at least) will still taste like rubbish... happened to me a few weeks back - a "Strada shot" from a top quality roast was possibly the worst non-instant I have ever inflicted upon my taste buds. Clueless operator negated the all that quality with one push of the button.

                Actually, calibrating a 480 (or any other grinder for that matter) to remove the side play (a really, really bad thing) and end play (only the "icing on the cake" unless it is a massive amount of slop) may be mostly done by eye and feel, although a wall full of test gear makes it faster. The main thing is to check the dynamic play, as the static play is an almost useless indicator - as soon as the grinder loads up it will move around anyway. Just watch the shaft spinning and take notes! To shim and centre is fairly simple (ask any handyman with a precision lathe). Even after calibrating a grinder, if the chamber is full the particle spread still goes out the window, ditto if it is dirty.

                Mahlkonig actually makes all the Baratza stuff which Lyle @ Baratza originally designed. Like most productive joint ventures it has kinda morphed - the various gen2's seem to be Ditting redesigns. In the US, they are sold as Baratza whilst in Oz they are Mahlkonig (apart from a few parallel "grey" importers that bring in Baratza's as a "one off" effort). To head off your next likely question, Mahlkonig (Germany) and Ditting (Switzerland) merged a while back and the Vario is actually a Swiss manufactured Ditting (re)labelled as a Mahlkonig / Baratza depending upon country. The Ditting steel burrs are one of the longest lasting that I know of (actually made of true tool grade steel, not "white metal"), and according to their own figures their ceramic burrs outlast their own steel ones by a factor of three. Hence my older Vario gen2 burrs are still unmarked after 100+Kg of coffee... far from a domestic toy, it is actually a Ditting commercial grinding module wrapped in a domestic package to save size & unnecessary cost.

                Enjoy your cuppa.

                TampIt

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Pete39 View Post
                  Jim Schulman suggests that laser diffractometers can only go so far with coffee because the particle shapes are not very uniform.
                  This might have been the case some years ago, but development of laser difractometry gear is much more advanced than the grinder industry is.

                  To deal with these difficulties, definitions of ‘statistical geometric diameters’ were established. They are statistical because they have significance only when averaged over a large number of measurements. An example is Martin’s diameter, which is the length of the chord that divides the cross-sectional shape into two equal areas. Another is Feret’s diameter, which is the distance between two parallel lines tangent to the projected cross-section.
                  Another approach was to extract a linear size dimension from the projected area of the particle; this is called the ‘area diameter’ and expresses particle size as the diameter of a circle that has the same projected area as the particle. Another was to determine the perimeter of the projected cross-section and assign to the particle the diameter of a circle having the same perimeter. If the volume of an irregular particle could be determined, the diameter of the particle was defined as the diameter of a sphere having the same volume—the volume diameter.

                  Source: Lab Manager Magazine



                  Sorry for OT

                  You might find another grinder which is similar regarding max uniform output.
                  There are some other grinders i.e Kenia, Guatemala lab, equipped with burrs for other brewing methods than espresso, it is worth a try if you get one 2nd hand.
                  The problem is mostly that you have to grind very close to the zero point to get a decent flow rate.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thanks. It's post like these that make the Internet!!

                    I've also been looking into software solutions for analyzing particle size distribution. There's one tool called ImageJ, an open source image analysis tool, that measures particle size distributions. There was a thread on coffeegeek about it. I might see how this works over various samples, to calibrate myself while using a refractometer (on the way). Wondering... if the software is useful I could fashion an iPhone app out of it, for convenience. Finally I might be able to quantify (maybe in more than one dimension) what particles 'like sand' or 'similar to sea salt' are like. This is one of my weakest links in brewing...

                    I think my ideal is that recipes would say eg 200g water at 95 deg, 12g coffee ground at a mean size of 800microns and a stdev of max 50. (Later, someone would write a paper on skewness and kurtosis and their impact on double blind taste tests and we'll know we've gone too far as a species.)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by dana_h View Post

                      I think my ideal is that recipes would say eg 200g water at 95 deg, 12g coffee ground at a mean size of 800microns and a stdev of max 50. (Later, someone would write a paper on skewness and kurtosis and their impact on double blind taste tests and we'll know we've gone too far as a species.)
                      That sounds like a challenge for you lot

                      Intuitively, skewness would matter, as a higher ratio of fines would potentially do more damage to the taste than a few larger particles.

                      Better get ready to condition your recipes according to the stage of the lunar cycle ('waxing gibbous' is rubbish for Guatemalan beans)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I find that South American beans roast beautifully when Venus and Uranus are in conjunction, next opportunity Wednesday March 4th 2015, should be a ripper.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by dana_h View Post
                          .................and we'll know we've gone too far as a species.)
                          I'm afraid that's already happened.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            "If I can just get beans from that perfect bush … with the ideal aspect … on that premium high altitude COE farm … after the perfect season … picked when they were identical in colour … then processed for the ideal length of time … graded in size with absolutely consistency … roasted to perfection … when the temperature, humidity and roast-master are all at the top of their game … then rest them for the perfect length of time … then grind them all to within 1/1000 of a micron on a very expensive grinder … very slowly to avoid them heating up … but not so slow they go stale, so under 3 minutes … then weigh, fluff, dose, fluff, distribute, fluff, level, fluff, tamp (no fluff) then polish with a press-fit tamper base made from diamond with a slight concave face … then brew with a PID triple boiler S-curve computerised lever machine made in that little Italian town by the machinist who used to be a Samurai sword-maker before studying under the latest WBC …*then perhaps I'll get the perfect shot I've been ………………………………………………… darn.

                            Forgot to warm the cup


                            I'm off for an Aeropress instead

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Sure is BS detector stuff, isn't it?

                              Go Nespresso. So much easier :P

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