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Grinder questions - conical burr vs flat, channeling
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tedsudol
Senior Member


Joined: 10 Aug 2012
Posts: 2
Location: Alaska
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Fri Aug 10, 2012, 11:54pm
Subject: Grinder questions - conical burr vs flat, channeling
 

My first burr grinder was a big step up from the chopper I was using. I couldn't believe there was that much of a difference. The grinder I got was the Breville 450. It's not the most expensive grinder but when you are at first skeptical that a grinder really makes a difference your first step is a baby step. When I first learned about using a burr grinders I was told you needed to get a conical burr grinder. But in looking at burr pictures for some of the most highly rated grinders like the Rocky Rancilo they appear to be flat. Was I given the wrong information that conical burr grinders were the best or is my image of conical meaning cone like the wrong picture I have in my mind for the burr shape.

Although I was a Breville fan all of the 6 Breville products I've owned have failed and it seems like this grinder is following the same path to an early death so I'm looking for a replacement.

I'm using a Breville 800 espresso machine which is still working after a liberal application of epoxy that is potable water safe. The portofilter has the inner basket you fill with coffee and tamp down, At the bottom of the portofilter there are two nozzles - one for each cup of espresso. No matter how evenly I think I am packing the coffee I very rarely get an equal flow between the two cups and end up shifting the cups back and forth while brewing to equalize the coffee in both cups.

I've read some posts that if the grind is uneven that the water will channel through and you won't really be getting water through all the coffee in the basket. Is that what is happening? Is it the fault of the grind? The fault of my packing? Or some other reason?  I've seen videos from people who have a lot of experience having the same thing happen so I'm not sure if it is something that I can correct or just the nature of things.

Any recommendations for my next step up in grinders? Thanks in advance for your help.

All the best,
Ted Sudol

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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 654
Location: Calgary, AB
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3
Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A
Vac Pot: Looking to buy
Drip: Manual
Roaster: Considering?
Posted Sat Aug 11, 2012, 1:11am
Subject: Re: Grinder questions - conical burr vs flat, channeling
 

tedsudol Said:

No matter how evenly I think I am packing the coffee I very rarely get an equal flow between the two cups

Posted August 10, 2012 link

I have the same problem. I know it's because of an uneven tamp. I don't really find that it affects the taste of the coffee that much, but what do I know.

What I find helped me with this was to buy a tamping stand to put the portafilter on, then moving my arm so it's completely at a 90 degree angle to the portafilter and tamping straight down.

tedsudol Said:

I've read some posts that if the grind is uneven that the water will channel through

Posted August 10, 2012 link

It is my understanding that to determine if your puck is channelling, the easiest way to find out is to use a bottomless portafilter. I'm not knowledgeable enough to know how to stop it.
I believe it has everything to do with grind consistency, clumping and tamping method. Whether or not it affects the taste of the coffee, I wouldn't know.

tedsudol Said:

Any recommendations for my next step up in grinders?

Posted August 10, 2012 link

While I don't personally own one, I've seen lots of good reviews on the Baratza Vario. It's most likely what I would have bought had I not picked up a used Rancilio Rocky starting out.

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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GVDub
Senior Member


Joined: 25 Jan 2008
Posts: 862
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Londinium I, Arrarex...
Grinder: Gaggia MD85, Dienes Mokka,...
Drip: Behmor Brazen, Abid Clever
Roaster: Behmor 1600+
Posted Sat Aug 11, 2012, 6:32am
Subject: Re: Grinder questions - conical burr vs flat, channeling
 

Many professional grinders have flat burr sets. Some of the very high end ones use conical burrs sets or a hybrd system where a conical upper feed a flat lower (like the Mazzer Kony). This has been shown to create a more consistent grind with a better particle distribution (the ratio between very small (fines) and larger (but still small) particles of coffee. having both is necessary for the best and most consnstent extraction.

There is an interesting discussion of the merits of large flat vs. large conical burrs here. And there is a good explanation of the different burr types and how they work here.

Just a friendly tip - you'll want to change your signature if you're going to hang around here much. The residents here at CG are not fond of commercial plugs and links in signatures.
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emradguy
Senior Member
emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 3,113
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Duetto II; Twist v2
Grinder: M Major, Macap M4 x2, VDD...
Drip: Espro presses; Aeropress
Roaster: H-B "List of Favorites"
Posted Sat Aug 11, 2012, 7:26am
Subject: Re: Grinder questions - conical burr vs flat, channeling
 

^ +1

to add another point.  You mentioned the Rocky as one of the "highly rated" burr grinders.  You should look around this board some more.  Over the past couple of years, there have been innumerable posts discussing the gross limitations of the Rocky, and frankly, I haven't seen anyone recommend it in the past year.  As a former Rocky user, I have chimed in on several occasions adding to the plethora of not so great reviews.

For entry level "highly rated" burr grinders, i think you should look at Mazzer Mini, Macap M4, La Cimbali Jr, and a few others

read the following comparison:

http://www.home-barista.com/espresso-grinder-reviews.html

There was another comparison article here on CG that included two other grinders in the class.  Also, take a look at the Baratza Vario and Vario-W.

If those are all over your budget, look at the Baratza Preciso...but yeah, you should upgrade your grinder for sure.  I think you'll see another huge improvement in your espresso.


Yes, channeling can cause areas of overextraction and areas of underextraction that will adversely affect the taste of your espresso.  Water will follow the path of least resistance, so if you have a nice open path (channel) it will divert the extraction to that area preferentially.

There are several things you can do to assess your grind and distribution (and ultimately your extraction).  first and foremost is taste, don't ever let that fall below anything else.  That's what it's all about, right?

As mentioned above, I fully agree you should upgrade your grinder.

The next thing I would recommend to assess your puck (not a proponent of puckology, but you do have to pay some attention to it) is get a bottomless pf handle (as Qualin pointed out).  It allows you to see the extraction as it's happening.  You'll immediately see if you have channeling or ares that are underextracted.  Also, if all the espresso is going into the same cup, there's no real reason to divide it through the spouts (although some very advanced tasters say they make a conscious decision between the taste of spouted and bottomless pfs).

This third thing is to read articles or books.  Read this article "EASY GUIDE TO BETTER ESPRESSO AT HOME" on www.espressomyespresso.com  It's number 12 under "how-to" (about midway down on the right hand column).

Now, if you're still having trouble after all that...consider the following (in no particular order)...seek professional help (i.e, take a barista training course/class or, even better, hire a barista to come to your home), watch You Tube videos and then re-read article 12 above, post a video of your own and ask people to analyze your technique.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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genecounts
Senior Member


Joined: 21 Jan 2010
Posts: 84
Location: virginia
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: LaSpaz, Olympia Cremina
Grinder: Zass, Baratza Vario,...
Vac Pot: Bodum
Roaster: Gene Cafe
Posted Sat Aug 11, 2012, 8:44am
Subject: Re: Grinder questions - conical burr vs flat, channeling
 

^^+1 and ^+1

And if you have visited the posts above and the associated links notice the Baratza Vario is generally acknowledged as one of the better inexpensive grinders on the planet.  And the hand operated OE Pharos
is considered one of the best values out there.

I still fondly recall my conversation with Chris at Chris's Coffee almost two years ago:
I had saved over $1400 and wanted to plunk it down on a Compak K10 Grinder.   Told Chris,  "I have your Vario but have read that the K10 is better."

Chris, "I'll take your money but advise you to put in back in your pocket.  You want the basic K10 for single dosing but you won't notice enough difference in taste to warrant such an expenditure.
The Vario will serve your needs just fine."

The grinder is indeed the most important factor in great espresso.  And there are some great coffee minds out there and honest people to help you with free world class advice.
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tedsudol
Senior Member


Joined: 10 Aug 2012
Posts: 2
Location: Alaska
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Sat Aug 11, 2012, 8:55am
Subject: Re: Grinder questions - conical burr vs flat, channeling
 

Thanks for all of your advice. I particularly found the links emradguy included to be very helpful. I learned that I was overpacking the portofilter, how to test for the right packing level, and also the fact that my grinder was probably also contributing to the problem. It would seem that bottomless portofilters offer a much easier way to see exactly what is happening. Are they universal or brand specific? Since the Breville is not a highly regarded machine and based on the dismal experience I have had with the reliability of Breville products and the fact that its already patched together with epoxy. (I found the tip for repair of the Breville here from another user with the same problem.) I wouldn't want to invest in a bottomless portofilter that would only fit the Breville. Are they interchangable? This may sound crude but could I slice off the bottom of the Breville portofilter, cutting off the nozzles and pressure chamber and thus convert it into a bottomless portofilter?

Although I've been making espressos for about two years I've learned from this forum that I'm just a newbie when it comes to the level of expertise here. Thanks again for your help and advice.

All the best,
Ted Sudol
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emradguy
Senior Member
emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 3,113
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Duetto II; Twist v2
Grinder: M Major, Macap M4 x2, VDD...
Drip: Espro presses; Aeropress
Roaster: H-B "List of Favorites"
Posted Sat Aug 11, 2012, 9:09am
Subject: Re: Grinder questions - conical burr vs flat, channeling
 

tedsudol Said:

I wouldn't want to invest in a bottomless portofilter that would only fit the Breville. Are they interchangable? This may sound crude but could I slice off the bottom of the Breville portofilter, cutting off the nozzles and pressure chamber and thus convert it into a bottomless portofilter?

Posted August 11, 2012 link

Glad we could help!

No, the bottomless is not universal (even for the same basket diameter - say, 58mm for instance), so if you were to purchase one, you'd have to make sure it fits your machine.  Lots of people convert theirs just like you said, so no that's not crude.  Most I think use a hole saw that fits the inside of the pf handle and cut down through it, then file or in some other way polish off the cut surface to avoid sharp edges (probably with a dremel).  I bought the two I have, but before doing so, I made sure they fit the machine I was/am using.  I was fortunate that I had a Rancilio Silvia, and their pf handles fit the Izzo Alex Duetto I have now.

One thing I forgot to mention before...consider getting a scale calibrated to 0.1g accuracy.  You can find them anywhere from about $15-$40.  A lot of people use www.oldwillknottscales.com particularly because they have a huge selection and great service.  There are several ways to weigh beans for consistent shot dosing, but I think most common are either dry weight before and after grinding.  when I weigh mine, I tare my pf basket, then fill and tamp it, and then put it on the scale.  I've done it enough times that I really only use it occasionally to make sure I'm still dosing where I need to be, but it's a great way to get started, until you figure out 1) how to do it the same every time, and 2) figure out what dose you like best in your cup.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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