Posted Sun Aug 12, 2012, 8:17pm Subject: Big Grinder Follies (long)
Someone reading between the lines, assuming they were interested enough to be following every post on CG, would probably have figured out that I picked up the Gaggia MD85 grinder that was posted recently in BST. This, I guess, makes me a member of the RBBC (Really Big Burr Club), as the 85mm flat burr set on the MD85 is positively ginourmous, as can be seen in this post.
It's also really fast as the combination of those huge burrs and a 1/2 horsepower moter can pump out 17 grams of very nicely ground coffee in ~2.8 seconds. This is quite a change from the leisurely 14 grams in 40 turns of my old Dienes Mokka grinder (30 seconds if I'm in a hurry) or the positively stately, and amazingly fluffy, 14 grams in 300+ turns of the first no-name hand grinder I picked up from Doug and Barb at Orphan when I got my Caravel in the realization that grind quality (fineness, modal distribution, etc.) is the one element of good espresso that has the least wiggle room. All five of the hand grinders I've accumulated over the years, (the two aforementioned, a Trosser and two Leinbrock's Ideal) are fine espresso grinders, and I'll probably continue to use them, if for no other reason than that they make switching between different coffees much easier, and they're handy for traveling. But, with the recent acquisition of a venerable Nuova Simonelli Ellimatic, it just seemed as if a somewhat more modern grinder was called for.
I had dipped my toe into the world of non-manual grinders with the Craigslist purchase of a E. Bregant-manufactured Obel Junior. The 50mm burr set was decent, the doser swept pretty clean, the chute was short and easy to clean, and I had no trouble dialing in my home roast or the first part of a bag of the current version of Handsome's Scout's Honor. Truth be told, I was doing okay with the Obel, especially considering that I'm still figuring out the eccentricities of a home HX machine like the Ellimatic, but the opportunity to pick up a professional grinder that could very well last me the rest of my life was too good to pass up (or so I told myself).
I picked up the MD85, all 46 lbs (21 kgm) of it, from Russel at the end of a morning shift at Cafe Demitasse in Little Tokyo near downtown L.A., on a day that just happened to be both my birthday and the last day of a long-overdue vacation (side note: If you're in the L.A. area and haven't tried Demitasse yet, do. They feature coffee from multiple roasters and do a great job with all of it. Plus, they have some of the coolest house mugs I've seen, the David Pier Lux-Delux design. I picked up a pair at the Espresso Charrette there a few months back) along with a bag of the house SO espresso, currently a Guatemalan roasted for them by Equator, figuring that I needed something to use for dialing in the grinder. I'm real good at that kind of rationalization, apparently.
Got the grinder home and plugged in, then figured, what the heck, let's see what happens. I did a quick purge, cleaned out the doser chamber, pulled the top burr and carrier for the photo I posted in the previously mentioned thread, gave the burr chamber a quick hit with the Dust Devil, put everything back together, and transferred the last of the Scout's Honor from the Obel to the hopper of the Gaggia, and hit the go button. Now, how many things can you count in the above two sentences that could have led to disaster? I've got at least four I can think of. Luckily, the coffee spirits must have been watching over me, as the first shot I pulled on the Ellimatic was 16.5 gram dose, 25 gram yield in 26 seconds with nicely mottled crema and the combination of bright citrus and caramel that was not far from the shot they'd pulled for me at the roastery when I'd bought that bag. So far, so good.
Of course, I'd run the grinder for a little over 10 seconds, so I had roughly three more shots worth of expensive coffee in the doser, staling even as I sipped the first. The next three shots were made post-haste and, since I was alone in the house, consumed by me. Except the one sink shot, where I'd been in such a hurry that I'd forgotten to do a cooling flush, and scorched the coffee pretty badly (As I said, I'm still learning the ins and outs of the HX world after several years in the quiet, contemplative land of hand grinder and Caravel) they were reasonably close. At that point, however, I was sufficiently over-caffeinated, the day was moving along, the Scout's Honor was gone so I'd have had to start a new bag of something, and I had other stuff to do, so I did a quick clean water backflush on the Ellimatic, brushed out the chute, emptied the crumbs from the doser chamber and wiped down the grinder before shutting down the station for the day,
My weekday schedule starts when the alarm goes off at 5:30 am, and I'm out of the house by 6:20, so there's generally not time for leisurely morning espresso until I get to work and get the Caravel I have at my desk fired up and ready to go. Besides, 50 minutes would barely give the Ellimatic time to get fully stabilized, and me to pull a couple of shots, clean things up, and get out the door. As a result, all week long, it was come home, turn on the Elli, start cooking dinner, and pull a shot or two after dinner trying to dial in the Demitasse SO Guatemalan. Probably due to the scattered nature of my approach, I just wasn't quite finding the sweet spot for that particular coffee. I'd catch hints of something nice, then overshoot on corrections or not quite get the temperature nailed and keep chasing those echoes of cocoa and cream that occasionally tantalized me from around the corner. I guess that's what happens when you make wholesale changes in your setup all at once.
By the time Saturday rolled around, I'd killed most of the bag trying to nail the coffee. The last three shots of it I pulled were, finally, right where they were supposed to be. I hadn't had time to roast this last week, so it was off to Paper or Plastik Cafe on Pico to pick up a bag of beans. Paper or Plastik is a nice 3rd-Wavey kind of place in front of a dance studio that's almost always buzzing. I'd been by there a few times when they were getting started and Tonx was helping them get stuff dialed in, pulling shots behind their Synesso. They're usually pulling Black Cat or Scout's Honor and have beans from several roasters available. I came away with a bag of Scout's Honor that's just 3 days back.
This is where things went south, or, as our British brethren say, "pear-shaped." I figured that I'd be a responsible equipment owner and do a weekly cleaning of the grinder as I was having to load new beans in, anyway. So off the the hopper, remove a plate, undo the toothed cog the worm gear adjustment moves, remove the upper burr, brush, toothpick, vacuum, brush again, wipe, vacuum again, clean out the doser, replace the top bur... wait a second! Where was this set? If I zero the burr, the numbering on the indicator won't be in alignment anymore (and did I think of this the first time I took all this apart when I first got it home? No, I didn't). So tighten down the top burr, set the grind intidator to "1" (no "0" here, just "1" to "14"), reattach the toothed cog, etc... I've got a few Ethiopian beans that are about 10 days off roast. Let's check with those before we dump in the $23/lb coffee, shall we? I decide to try a single dose approach, popcorning be damned, so I coarsen up from my zero point by what I think is an appropriate amount, from "1" to "2.2", drop 20 grams of natural process Limu I roasted to City+ right down the grinder throat, and throw the switch. And see nothing appear in the doser. The grinder sounds good, just nothing in the doser. I try and coarsen it a couple of notches while it's running. Still nothing. Did I break it?
Turning off the grinder, I look down the throat. Yup, that's coffee that's been macerated by something, but nothing's coming out. Break out the Dirt Devil, suck up as much of the beans as I can, pull the hopper and disassemble everything again. The burrs are clogged and there's a plug of extremely finely ground coffee forming a little blockade at the mouth of the chute, I'm talking beyond Turkish fine, here, and being ground so finely, it's clumping together trying to turn back into a whole bean again like the Casimir Force that's active between very small particles at very short distances. As I'm busy toothpicking the gunk out of the burr channels and cleaning up the grind chamber for the second time in half an hour, I'm thinking to myself, "I'm going to have to coarsen this up a lot."
After reassembling, I open the burrs up to 3.2, put in 20 grams of Ethiopian, and let 'er fly. Brushing out the chute and emptying the doser as completely as I could, I've got 19.2 grams of coffee (hey! Not bad for retention). I load the double basket with 16.5 grams of coffee and get a complete choke. Wait, at the last second, just as I turn off the Ellimatic's pump, a single drop of a thick, vaguely coffee-like substance oozes out of the portafilter and goes "splat" at the bottom of the cup. Hmmmmmm. Open the grind up to "4".
Ahhhhhh, 28 seconds, 25 grams of espresso. Nice mottling, excellent aroma, sweet open, a little citrus brightness with a light floral note, and some chocolate in the fade. My luck has returned.
Document I should have been taking pictures at every step of the disassembly and reassembly. Heck, I should have noted where the indicator was set when I first put the grinder on the table next to Elli. Lacking experience with pro grinders and documentation, photos are your friend. They show you where stuff is supposed to be, rather than where you think it should be.
Ask questions By simply asking, "On your stepless big-burr professional espresso grinder, how far is your espresso setting from your zero point?", and comparing a number of answers from people with actual (gasp) experience of such things, I could have probably saved myself a couple of minutes of panic, and some coffee.
Be methodical I know, it's been said a thousand times, and will probably be said a thousand more, at least - Unless you have a really good idea of what you're doing, don't futz with more than one variable at a time. It's real easy to lose track of just what you've done and haven't done, tried and haven't tried, if you don't apply some thought and method to it.
At the end of the day, I understand the equipment a lot better for having made a number of these mistakes. But many of them could have been avoided. So, the next time you see me talking about picking up some new piece of gear, remind me that I wrote this post, will ya? I'd greatly appreciate it.
calblacksmith Moderator Joined: 25 Nov 2007 Posts: 7,949 Location: Riverside, Ca, U.S.A. Expertise: I live coffee
Espresso: ECM Vene. A1, La Cimbali M32 Grinder: Azkoyen Capriccio, Major Vac Pot: 40s era Silex Drip: Msl. Com. brewers Roaster: gave it a try, decided no
Posted Mon Aug 13, 2012, 11:18am Subject: Re: Big Grinder Follies (long)
LOL I feel the pain! Been there too! I have found that it really isn't mandatory to disassemble the grinder when changing beans, just use your vac in the inlet to the burrs and at the exit, the few grains that may be left are not a big deal either way. I don't even use a vac, I just clean out as many of the old beans as I can then put the new on top and grind for a couple shots. Then again I do use the hopper and grind with a volume of beans above the burrs. YMMV!
In real life, my name is Wayne P. Anything I post is personal opinion and is only worth as much as anyone else's personal opinion. YMMV!
Feed the newbs, starve the trolls and above all enjoy what you drink!
russel Senior Member Joined: 12 Mar 2010 Posts: 458 Location: Los Angeles Expertise: Professional
Espresso: Conti Princess 2grp, GS/3... Grinder: Super Caimanos x2, Forte BG,... Drip: V60, Kalita Wave, Clever,...
Posted Mon Aug 13, 2012, 7:51pm Subject: Re: Big Grinder Follies (long)
Oh man...when I started reading this I was so worried that you has found some sort of strange operational flaw in the MD-85 that I have missed, and I that I had sold you some sort of dud. I have, on several occasions, had the experience you had. Commercial grinders are surpisingly precise instruments, having a lot of machine focused on a very small space in and around the burrs. Full disassembly and cleaning should be done carefully, thoroughly, and rather infrequently. Basic cleaning is what Grindz are for. I agree with Wayne that changing coffees only sort of needs the vac.
I'm glad the grinder is working for you. It's a strange beast. I always thought of it as the Death Star of big flats. I should have warned you about the speed...my bad.
No worries. I''m loving it. The grind itself is pretty flawless and the speed is a real bonus, though it's fortunate that I didn't have a lot of the Scout's Honor to dump in when I first got it home. I've got one of the Auber timers on order, and I'll be documenting that setup and experience as it happens. I'll have to get a few pounds of "beater" coffee somewhere and experiment with documenting hopper load effects on timed grinding. There may even be a thesis topic buried in there somewhere.
If you insist on a mea culpa for not warning me about the amazing speed of the MD85, you could let me check out any new levers you might happen to come into possession of. :-)
Posted Sun Aug 19, 2012, 10:31am Subject: Re: Big Grinder Follies (long)
I picked up one of the Auber ASL-51 Timers. which seemed a good deal, being roughly half the price of the Delta and Omron 1/16 DIN timer/counter/tach modules I've seen available, along with one of the project boxes they sell to fit. As the rear panel of the project box is a little thicker than my handheld sheet metal nibbler can deal with, mounting the IEC power cable socket and panel mount grounded outlet in the back will have to wait until I can get access to more capable tools. Not willing to invest several hundred bucks in a set of Greenlee knockout punches at this time, unfortunately. Maybe when I'm able to get a shop set up again. Despite this, I got it all wired together and made sure it was working properly by hooking up a table lamp and making it shut off afer 3 seconds.
It's not pretty (yet) until I get the back panel properly cut so there are no longer wires and sockets dangling from the back of it (all properly insulated and such - I've been knocked on my butt by high voltage electricity a couple of times when I first started working on tube amps, and have no desire to repeat the experience), but it's working nicely. The MD85 is fast enough that 2.65 seconds gets me 16 grams (±.1) or beautifully ground coffee.
So, the Auber timer is recommended if you're thinking about adding a timer to your grinder and you have any DIY gene yourself.
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