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Thread: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

  1. #1
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    Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Gene Cafe Coffee Roaster $850 - Free Beans Free Freight
    Hi all. If youve seen my recent thread, you know that Im having trouble with my Sunbeam EM5800/EM0480 combo. (See here if interested.)

    My question: (All other things being equal) Will a finer grind more easily allow the water to pass through when pulling a shot, or a more course grind?

    Background:
    I thought the problems I was having were with the espresso machine. However, I took the grinder to my brother-in-laws house on the weekend to give it a try with his machine. He has a Breville 800ES coffee machine, which I guess is about on par with my EM5800. Anyway, we experienced the same trouble with his machine as with mine, whereby the machine could not force the water through the PF basket.

    So, I called Sunbeam Customer Support today to ask them about the grinder. They recommended I should use the grinder on a setting of 5. They also said to tamp quite firmly, and to fill the PF basket up so that the coffee fills to only around 1mm from the rim of the PF basket.

    This all surprised me, as my thinking was that a courser setting would more easily allow the water to pass through. [Isnt the general idea that you start with a course grind, time the shot (which should be quite quick), then gradually work towards a finer grind to aim for a 25-30 second shot time??] As such, I have never tried my grinder set at anywhere near as fine as 5. I started at around 12, then tried 16, 20 and 24. And, I thought that filling the basket more (ie very close to the top) and tamping more firmly would all make it HARDER for the water to pass through, not easier.

    Is my thinking correct, or is Sunbeams? (Ill try Sunbeams advice at home tonight, but wondered what the learned CoffeeSnobs folk have to say about it.)

    (Extra background: I have had the EM5800 for around 4 months, and currently have on order some replacement group seals and non-pressurised Krups PF baskets to see if they will help with my troubles. I had been using a cheaper blade grinder with no troubles, but when that died a couple of weeks ago I purchased the EM0480 grinder after reading great things about it. However, since getting the EM0480, I have had no end of trouble with the machine popping, whereby the water and grounds burst out the top of the PF basket. I have tried soaking the baskets in citric acid to clean them out, but that didnt seem to make a difference.)


    On a slightly different note - to other EM0480 owners - can you feel or see a noticeable difference in the grinds when using a very fine setting than when using a very course setting?

    Thanks for any assistance you can offer.

    Cheers,
    CoffeeMike.

  2. #2
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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    From my limited experience with the machines youve mentioned, I feel that the grind should always be on the coarser side. These machines are incapable of generating and maintaining enough pressure to push through finely ground coffee (assuming the tamp and dose are kept constant).
    In any case, coarser will allow water to pass thorugh more easily than a finer grind. You might want to try dosing a little less if youre having to use a very coarse grind and still finding that theres little water passing through.

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    Super Moderator Javaphile's Avatar
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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    With all else being equal (the same pump pressure, tamp pressure, basket filled to the same level etc.) the coarser the grind the less resistance the puck offers to the water and the faster the pull will be.

    Java "Sometimes its fine to be coarse" phile

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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    For the answer to your question, see Javaphiles post.

    I thought that I might be of help by outlining the grinder dialling in process. I do it in exactly the same way, whether Im using a $10 Sunbeam and matching grinder or a $16000 Synesso and a $3000 Mazzer. Actually, most peoples techniques are just a variation on a theme:

    Step 1: Establish a constant dose level.

    This is HUGELY important and often completely overlooked. Many top baristi that I know say that this is the single hardest part in the espresso making process. The biggest change in flow times usually comes from differences in dose. Half a gram is often the difference between a gusher and a choker. Exactly how much you dose will vary according to basket, blend and machine. But lets not go into any of that. Lets keep it simple. There are a variety of dosing techinques to chose from. I suggest this one as a good way to get a relatively repeatable dose:

    (a) grind slightly more than you need to fill the basket with fluffy grinds
    (b) use a straight-edged tool, like a knife or spatula, or your finger to push the pyramid of grinds towards the portafilter handle, then push the mound off away from you. dont apply downwards force when doing this
    (c) rap the portafilter four times against the counter to settle the grinds. the exact number of times that you rap doesnt matter, just make sure that its the same number each time. you will notice that the grinds settle to allow you more room
    (d) grind a bit more on top, then repeat step b

    You are now ready to tamp

    Step 2: Tamp

    Again, there are a variety of techniques here. But the most important thing is that you are using a tamper that fits your basket very well. If you have one of the sad plastic thingamabobs that is about 2/3 of the size of your basket, you might as well stop trying until you get a decent tamper.

    For my $0.02, I simply neaten up the edges then tamp down exactly once, without twisting to polish.

    Step 3: Clean up your basket

    A quick brush over the bayonet lugs and the upper lip of your portafilter will stop you from mashing grounds into your gasket, which would then have to be replaced more frequently.

    Step 4: Extract your shot

    You mentioned 25-30 second shot time, so Im guessing that you know what youre aiming for. Just make sure to actually use a timer when first dialing in a grinder.

    Step 5: Adjust grinder

    If it took less than 25 seconds from button press to extract 30 ml (or 60 with the double), move one notch finer. If it took longer, move one notch coarser. (And if it was waaay out, do the same, but, maybe, go a couple of notches instead)

    Step 6: Purge old grounds

    Every single grinder holds old grounds inside it, even if it is doserless. Make sure to run your grinder for a few seconds to clear out the old stuff, otherwise you will have grounds at the old setting dosed into your portafilter.

    Step 7: Go to step 1

    Now, newbies often ask what setting should I start at? The answer is usually that grinders are not manufactured such that settings on one are comparable with another, even of the same model. One trick that Ive heard is that at your starting point, the grounds should clump together when you squeeze them together, but split apart into grounds when you then drop the clump on the table.

    If you keep your dose consistent, you might - and probably will - find that a setting of X will produce a shot that comes out too fast and a setting one finer will produce a shot that comes out too slow. That is the price you pay for not buying a stepless grinder. The problem can be solved, to some extent, by dosing a little more (to slow things down) or a little less (to speed things up), but you can only do this if you are able to dose somewhat consistently in the first place.

    These machines are incapable of generating and maintaining enough pressure to push through finely ground coffee (assuming the tamp and dose are kept constant).
    Im no plumber, but Im pretty sure that this is absolutely incorrect. From what Ive seen, most domestic machines, from a $50 Krups to a $2300 Expobar, use a vibratory pump manufactured by ULKA (or a chinese knockoff). These pumps are not adjustible; they simply pump at 19bar or whatever. Pressure regulation is usually achieved through an overflow pressure valve (OPV), which siphons excess pressure off back into the water reservoir. In some machines, the OPV is adjustable. In cheaper machines, it is not - the OPV is really just there as a mechanism to protect the pump. Often, the machines will be sold as having an 18 bar (or whatever) pump because it sounds impressive, but they could deliver anything, from 12 to 15 bar of pressure (numbers are just a guess). Unfortunately, pressure this high is far from a good thing. Im pretty sure that the higher the pressure, the more exact one must be with their grind/dose/tamp regime in order to get a decent shot time. Worse still, at higher pressures, shots seem to go blonde earlier than at lower pressures. On the weekend, we took Nims (rice) expobar to St Ali with the intention of playing around with some temperature control. Unfortunately, we got the pressure measuring portafilter and found that it was running at 13 bar, so we wasted a lot of time dialling it down to 9. It seemed to be a good deal more forgiving after that.

    Cheers,

    Luca


  5. #5
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Hi CM,

    Lots of great info above, thats for sure. If I was you though, Id wait until you receive your new Krupps non-pressurised baskets.... until then, you are just going to keep chasing your tail and really getting nowhere fast..... as you seem to be saying :-?.

    I know its going to be hard to wait, but at least when you have real baskets to use instead of the crappy ones youre trying to use, everything will start to fall into place a lot more easily and make a lot more sense. Trying to grind, dose, tamp with pressurised baskets to achieve acceptable espressos is a complete waste of time.... been there, done that >:(. These baskets are made to work with coffee from supermarket stale bricks, not real, freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee.

    Do yourself a big favour and be patient, itll save you a lot of heartache and unnecessary frustration....

    Cheers,
    Mal.


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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Thanks for the replies and advice, especially to Luca for the detail you put into yours. Its very much appreciated. I didnt think that what Sunbeam told me was correct, so its nice to have confirmation from people who know what theyre talking about.

    I tried a few more combinations last night with no success, so will take Mals advice and wait until I have the Krups baskets, then put some time into following Lucas steps.

    Cheers,
    Coffee(but not at the moment)Mike.

  7. #7
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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    These machines are incapable of generating and maintaining enough pressure to push through finely ground coffee (assuming the tamp and dose are kept constant).
    Im no plumber, but Im pretty sure that this is absolutely incorrect. From what Ive seen, most domestic machines, from a $50 Krups to a $2300 Expobar, use a vibratory pump manufactured by ULKA (or a chinese knockoff). These pumps are not adjustible; they simply pump at 19bar or whatever. Pressure regulation is usually achieved through an overflow pressure valve (OPV), which siphons excess pressure off back into the water reservoir. In some machines, the OPV is adjustable. In cheaper machines, it is not - the OPV is really just there as a mechanism to protect the pump. Often, the machines will be sold as having an 18 bar (or whatever) pump because it sounds impressive, but they could deliver anything, from 12 to 15 bar of pressure (numbers are just a guess). Unfortunately, pressure this high is far from a good thing. Im pretty sure that the higher the pressure, the more exact one must be with their grind/dose/tamp regime in order to get a decent shot time. Worse still, at higher pressures, shots seem to go blonde earlier than at lower pressures. On the weekend, we took Nims (rice) expobar to St Ali with the intention of playing around with some temperature control. Unfortunately, we got the pressure measuring portafilter and found that it was running at 13 bar, so we wasted a lot of time dialling it down to 9. It seemed to be a good deal more forgiving after that.
    Youre most probably right. I was however, just commenting based on my experience with cheaper domestic machines - Breville, Krups and the like. Generally I found that I had to grind a good deal courser in order to extract a 25sec shot. Often when using the same grind setting as I did with the Silvia nothing would come out of the cheaper domestic machines at all.

  8. #8
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Hi TMC,

    This sort of problem is related more to the use of pressurised baskets than anything else.... once you get past a certain particle size, you reach a critical point where the baskets pressurising orifice and the resistance of the compressed coffee compound the resistance to flow out of the basket. Thats why most people, once they realise what the problem is, try to get hold of non-pressurised replacements :),

    Mal.

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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Thanks for the info Mal. Would these pressurised baskets be related to the "crema enhancing" properties that these machines boast? Physically, what is the difference between the baskets?

  10. #10
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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Yep,

    It is indeed related to that claim....

    Basically, the manufacturers of these types of machines(Sunbeam, Breville, DeLonghi, etc) had to come up with a method that gave the impression that their machines were capable of producing "crema" that was apparently the same as that produced with commercial machines at commercial premises. Also, since they are marketing these machines, in general, to the uninitiated would be coffeesnob, they had to come up with a method that seemed to produce "crema" when using the stale brick coffee that the "would bes" buy from supermarkets.

    The only way that this can be achieved when using the pre-ground stale brick coffee, is to force the resulting coffee brew through a small orifice that will emulsify the available oils into a thin floating emulsion that gives this impression of real crema. Of course, it all falls apart once you have the opportunity to compare this thin pale substitute with the real thing.

    I dont even know if cutting the orifice plate from the bottom of these baskets will fix the problem(as one of the members has done), since they are not designed with the idea that the coffee cake and the "few" holes in the remaining section of the basket will be adequate to produce the required pressure and flow rate to facilitate the production of real espresso. In the end, I think you have to have the equipment that is designed to get the best out of freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee and the Italians have been getting this right since the origins of espresso making, so I tend to stick with what is proven.

    I used to have a Sunbeam years ago :-[ and after I acquired a good grinder and started to roast and grind my own coffee, the shortcomings of the pressurised basket design really came to the fore.... it was just impossible to reliably produce good quality espressos on this machine with the baskets that came with it. Thats when I bought my current machine, the Mokita, and I havent looked back since 8-),

    Cheers,
    Mal.

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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Quote Originally Posted by toomuchcaffeine link=1141611970/0#6 date=1141825974
    Often when using the same grind setting as I did with the Silvia nothing would come out of the cheaper domestic machines at all.
    ... yeah, machine pressure settings can be pretty variable, Silvia included. You would do well to get hold of one of the pressure-pf jobbies pictured above to see what youre running at. Its not uncommon for silvias to run at 15+ bar ... one of the reasons why people say theyre so damned finnicky. (High pressure seems to give you a smaller grind/dose/tamp window and also seems to make shots blonde faster)

    Cheers,

    Luca

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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Quote Originally Posted by Mal link=1141611970/0#9 date=1141912769
    Yep,

    It is indeed related to that claim....

    Basically, the manufacturers of these types of machines(Sunbeam, Breville, DeLonghi, etc) had to come up with a method that gave the impression that their machines were capable of producing "crema" that was apparently the same as that produced with commercial machines at commercial premises. Also, since they are marketing these machines, in general, to the uninitiated would be coffeesnob, they had to come up with a method that seemed to produce "crema" when using the stale brick coffee that the "would bes" buy from supermarkets.

    The only way that this can be achieved when using the pre-ground stale brick coffee, is to force the resulting coffee brew through a small orifice that will emulsify the available oils into a thin floating emulsion that gives this impression of real crema. Of course, it all falls apart once you have the opportunity to compare this thin pale substitute with the real thing.

    I dont even know if cutting the orifice plate from the bottom of these baskets will fix the problem(as one of the members has done), since they are not designed with the idea that the coffee cake and the "few" holes in the remaining section of the basket will be adequate to produce the required pressure and flow rate to facilitate the production of real espresso. In the end, I think you have to have the equipment that is designed to get the best out of freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee and the Italians have been getting this right since the origins of espresso making, so I tend to stick with what is proven.
    Mal, heres my take on the pressurised basket thing:
    1) most users of cheaper machines will probably be using supermarket coffee, or at the least something stale thats relatively incapable of producing crema.

    2) such coffee will also probably be too coarsely ground to produce sufficient backpressure in the puck to slow the flow to the necessary rate.

    3) cheapy machines still use basically the exact same Ulka pump that more expensive models use. As such, the relationship between backpressure and flow rate should largely be the same. The implication then is: get the backpressure right, and the flow rate (and hence shot time) should be right.

    4) in light of the above, a pressurised filter is a good way to generate the necessary pressure to slow the flow, with the benefit that it also produces "crema" by emulsification.

    5) If you can run fresh, crema-producing, finely-ground beans in the filter, then that alone should produce enough backpressure that a pressurised filter is unnecessary. (ergo my modified filter trials)

    of course all of this is a bit of engineer geek speculation, and may not be at all true (likely given my average coffee production so far).

    Id really love to get a decent home barista (or pro even) to go over my machine and help me dial it (and me) in to producing the best shots possible. whens the next Cafe Day?


  13. #13
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Hi Matt,

    What you say is pretty well "on the money", so long as the coffee grind is coarse enough to allow the restricting orifice be the main resistance to flow all will be well, things only become more complicated when the coffee grind is set too fine.

    That being said, Im sure it would definitely be worth your while to attend the next "workshop" convenient to your location and would be even better if you brought your equipment along to help you "dial it in". As to when the next one will be..... just keep an eye out under the "Coffee News" header as this is where such notices are posted. All the best,

    Mal.

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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Quote Originally Posted by luca link=1141611970/0#10 date=1141944412
    ... yeah, machine pressure settings can be pretty variable, Silvia included. You would do well to get hold of one of the pressure-pf jobbies pictured above to see what youre running at. Its not uncommon for silvias to run at 15+ bar ... one of the reasons why people say theyre so damned finnicky. (High pressure seems to give you a smaller grind/dose/tamp window and also seems to make shots blonde faster)

    Cheers,

    Luca
    This has been exactly my experience with Silvia: a narrow grind/dose/tamp window with early blonding or gushing if Im a little bit out. The Pullman tamper Ive been using for the last couple of months has been immensely useful for ensuring consistency in this regard, and now 4 out of 5 shots are as they should be.

    - Rob

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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    I cant remember the Silvia being particularly finnicky although I think it is more finnicky than the Bezzera I have now.

    I have a portafilter with an integrated pressure gauge and I used it to set my Bezzera to 8.5bar which is the recommendation by Barazi who are the agents. I find this pressure works very well so I think Barazi know what they are talking about.

    It is an interesting numbers game trying to convince people that more pressure is better but as you say, less pressure may be better.

    Grant

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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Just to add another spin on this thread....What do you all think when adjusting the grind to suit the bean size? Should one go coarser or finer when the batch of beans become larger? (I ask, because I have noticed that the grind setting goes way way off when I switch from the Ethiopian Yurg. to God Mountain from Bali, which is a at least 1/3 bigger than the Ethiopian bean...)

  17. #17
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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Nine bar is what Ive seen commercial machines set at.
    And at around 130 lbs per square inch thats still a hefty pressure.

    Not sure I agree that taking the Silvia towards its pressure limit is necessarily conducive to a bad shot, though.

    Ive produced some really tasty shots with overly-fine grounds, with the extraction taking about 40 seconds or so as the machine ramped up the pressure to overcome the resistance.

    Robusto


    Robusto

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    Re: Course vs Fine Grind to solve problems

    Quote Originally Posted by robusto link=1141611970/15#16 date=1142149064
    Nine bar is what Ive seen commercial machines set at
    Yeah, 9 is the standard. Id adjust mine to 8.5, personally, but thats just me ... probably overly pedantic, though; you can get great espresso on lever machines at like 6bar!

    One little trick that I like on La Marzocco Lineas (probably works on a bunch of other machines, too) is to flip the switch on another group if you think that your shot is speeding up too much. Drops the pressure a few bar and stops the extraction from accelerating as much.

    And at around 130 lbs per square inch thats still a hefty pressure.

    Quote Originally Posted by robusto link=1141611970/15#16 date=1142149064
    Not sure I agree that taking the Silvia towards its pressure limit is necessarily conducive to a bad shot, though.
    ... guess this is really more a question of extent. You can get good shots at very high pressure, but I bet you that if you had two silvias side-by-side, one at 9bar and one at 15, and just pulled a whole bunch of shots, the 9bar silvia would be more consistent.

    Cheers,

    Luca



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