Operating the Innova grinders on a day-to-day basis is like many other grinders on the market. You put your beans in, you dial the machine in, you grind, and you dose. And like many other machines on the market, there are tweaks, quirks, and "things" you just have to put up with.
Take the grind chute issues I documented on the previous page. This problem is not unique to the Innova line. Almost all grinders on the market leave some grinds behind in the exit chute between burrs and doser (or chute, or grinds catching hopper). With the Rocky, my daily routine was to grind, use a small stick to fish out the grinds from the chute, then dose. The issue with the Innova is it leaves more grinds behind than almost any other grinder I've used, except for maybe the Solis Mulino.
I have to admit, I found this a pain with the Innovas. The short size of the dosing chamber meant I couldn't use the same "stick" I used for my Rocky grinder - I had to find something shorter. In the end, I was using the handle portion of an Illy spoon, and I spent quite a bit of time fishing out all the remaining grinds. The fact the grinds compact in the chute didn't help matters.
One pleasant aspect of using the Innova is the lack of grinds left over in the doser itself after you clickety click your grind volume into a portafilter. Taking the Rocky routine above, I left out one step: with the Rocky after I dosed out the grounds, I usually used a grinder brush to sweep clean the remaining particles, sometimes as much as a gram, into a blind filter that I rested on the dosing fork. You don't need to do this with the Innovas.
Dialing In an Innova Grinder
Some people will love this part, some won't. By the very nature of the Innova's worm drive system for selecting grind quality, you're in for a serious dial in period - a learning and tweaking period where you get to know exactly how much variance one or two revolutions on the grind dial will give you.
"Dialing in a grinder" is actually a complex thing in the espresso world. For those who are seeking the proverbial "God shot" experience from their kit, getting to know exactly how your grinder works and produces, knowing how your espresso machine functions, knowing how it may work in the morning, in the afternoon, in high humidity or not, even knowing how the age and roast level of your beans will affect the grind and shot... these are all part of the dialing in process, one which requires you to super fine-tune your own barista skills.
Some people go through the more extreme end of "dialing in" because their preferred shot is the ristretto double, a notoriously hard shot to pull off because you're threading the needle between a perfect restricted shot in 25 to 30 seconds, and outright stalling your espresso machine.
Because the Innova offers such an amazing finite control over your grind particle sizing, dialing in the grinder is a labourious and time consuming process, even more so than with other grinders that offer less control. So why bother? Because this super fine tuning allows you to get a greater number of perfect espresso shots, once you're "in tune" with your equipment, beans, and other variables.
There's also an added bonus: With my Rocky or even with the Mazzer Mini, some days I may just go through 2 or 3 shots before getting one that is acceptable to me; in between, I'm adjusting the grind minutely, or my tamp, but I always seem to overshoot my adjustments. This wasn't a problem with the Innova grinders - a full revolution on the Innova grind dial seemed like the equivalent of 1/6th or 1/8th a click on the Rocky. No overshooting here. Once I got more or less "in tune" with what the Innova would give me, at most I'd waste one shot before getting that great espresso pull, as long as I kept all my other prep variables constant.
This aspect alone makes the Innova grinders a great tool for the ultra-serious home espresso enthusiast. But it also comes with a caveat: this super fine-tune ability also makes it nearly impossible to use this grinder for non espresso grinding in any practical sense. Changing the grind from espresso to press pot would take many, many revolutions on the grind dial, and finding the perfect espresso grind after changing it back and forth would result in a lot of wasted coffee.
The Innovas are a bit messy. Let's start right here. Because of the slightly poor fit of the doser to the body, some grind spray is inevitable and will eventually leave you with stray grinds on the back of the fork, on the base, and around the grinder. I didn't find it overly annoying but no matter how careful I was dosing into a portafilter, grinds would stray. A brushing or cleaning in and around the base of the grinder is an almost daily routine.
Every few weeks (up to a month or so), I disassemble my grinders and give them a thorough "dry" cleaning, and I did so with the Innovas after torture testing each unit for a few weeks.
| You can see the caking grinds left behind, and this example is only after about 5 doubles' worth of grinds. Note the lower portion that shows large amounts already compacting. Click to enlarge. |
| The Rossi burr group exhibits the same thing. Note the highly compressed ring of stale grounds left behind after a months' use. Click to enlarge |
I was initially surprised to see that a very large amount of grinds are left inside the grinding chamber (where the burrs are), especially with the conical burr. A very thick and compacted amount of grounds are left behind after a few weeks' use. The design of the conical burr's assembly leaves this big gap all around it that invites about 10 or more grams of stray coffee to park itself, waiting for your next clean up.
I say initially surprised, because the same phenomenon happens in a $500 Rossi RR45 grinder (see accompanying photos to the right). While I find this to be a poor design fault in the Innova, I can't totally blame them since other, more "professional" grinders do the same. Still Ascaso should consider retooling the resin mount for the conical burr to eliminate this large cap and grinds-collection area.
I have no idea on whether this influences the overall operation of the grinder or if any of those old and scary grinds make it into the doser from time to time. I do have to say that other grinders, including the Rocky, Mazzer Mini, and even the Solis Maestro all leave a lot less of this stuff behind because of better design engineering and planning that goes into the burr groups and how they fit. This helps to eliminate these kinds of large gaps.
Cleaning the grinder is not a big deal otherwise. Simply remove the hopper which is only seated by friction and gravity. The black plastic "cap" around the burr area snaps off (lift from the back), exposing the burr group area. Two phillips screws hold down the worm gear drive, and are easily removed (be careful not to over-torque these when tightening them back on). You then unscrew the the top burr assembly, removing it from the bottom mount.
Get your can of compressed air and a grinder brush, carry the grinder outside (or somewhere you don't mind getting stray grinds spread around), and go nuts. It's no easier or more difficult than most other grinders.
The real tough part is re-dialing in the grinder after a cleaning. But remember, this is the price you pay for such finite control over the grind.
The best method I found was this: screw the top burr assembly back into place, spinning it down until you feel the resistance of it rubbing up against the bottom burr. Turn it back a full revolution of the burr group. Reassemble. Now turn the grinder on, dialing the grind finer until you hear the whisper of the burrs touching. It may take quite a few revolutions of the dial. Once you hear it, back off at least 8 revolutions. Load your beans, try grinding. If the grind is taking forever to come out or the beans don't seem to be falling into the burr area and grinding (you can tell by sound), dial it coarser several more revolutions. Remember, a lot goes a little way with that dial.
I found that on average, it took me about 3 or 4 doubles' worth to get the grinder back to where I could get a decent espresso shot. Then I could work on the super fine tuning aspects over the next few shots, and get back to that happy happy joy joy state of having a superb tool for producing an excellent grind.
A Few Caveats
Most of the following is not based on actual experience, but more on perception and assumption.
Because of the apparent fragility of the doser and the hopper, take care in using them. Seat the hopper firmly into the grinder, but don't push so hard as to break it. When using the doser, you'll note the doser lever's spring is pretty tight, but be wary of completely going to town on it. A little care and attention to what you're doing will ensure a long life for this product.
I found early on that because of the high spring tension in the doser lever, I could easily slide around the unit, even though it has a good weight. Later on as the spring "broke in", I found I was doing this less and less. Normally the unit is very secure on the countertop, but I got even better results by supplementing the feet on the grinder with some extra ultra sticky rubber feet I bought at Office Max (for around a buck for 8 sticky white rubber half "balls"). After I put these on the grinder, it was holding very firm on the counter.