Commercial quality, with a unique doserless design that works.
Positive Product Points
The construction grade is commercial and very heavy, almost over-engineered.
It has the largest burrs and motor in its class.
Unique 'hybrid doserless' design dispenses a timed dose of coffee direct to the portafilter via a funnel enclosure that minimises mess.
Fits on most benches beneath overhanging cupboards - 38 cm high.
It's not too noisy (for a grinder) - 77 dB in operation.
There are 55 grind notch settings, allowing small incremental adjustments in coarseness.
Excellent grind consistency.
Easy to access and clean.
Negative Product Points
It looks as tough as it is, black and perhaps a bit too industrial for some tastes. Made in Spain, rather than Italy, its style might clash with some shiny stainless steel espresso machines (although I found it fairly unobtrusive next to my Silvia once I got used to it).
The dose size can vary a little between grinds. At 12g max, it can't be set for a double shot in full size portafilters.
About 2 g of coffee remains in the grinder chute after each shot.
The doser timer should be knob adjustable, rather than the screwdriver setting that it comes with.
Grind settings aren't numbered. If you change settings for different styles of coffee, manual marking of the dial would be necessary.
Speaking of manuals, Cunill's is on a single A4 sheet of paper - and that includes the Spanish version as well as English! The translation is awful - and that's coming from a Silvia owner who thought manuals couldn't get any worse.
Having recently been given a Rancilio Silvia, and reading carefully about how fussy a machine it was on the alt.coffee newsgroup, I had an exhaustive search for a grinder before settling on this one. I came across the El Cafe Tranquilo early in the search, but shunned it at the time - I was after a shiny steel work of art, or one of the legendary grinders with more street cred.
My real buying priorities were these:
(a) I wanted a durable, commercial quality grinder that turned out fine, consistent grounds for my Silvia.
(b) I disliked the idea of a doser, which in a home situation simply seemed to be a recipe for drinking stale coffee.
The problem was, most 'doserless' grinders were at the 'domestic' end of the market, relatively cheap and lightweight. I showed some interest in the Lux/Isomac Gran Macinina, the Nuova Simonelli Grinta and the soon-to-be-released Rocky doserless. Then I heard one too many horror stories from alt.coffee on the mess doserless grinders can generate, particularly when there is low humidity and static.
Suddenly, the El Cafe Tranquilo started to make sense. I researched further and discovered that, on paper at least, this grinder was up there with the 'gold standard' grinders many people on this site aspire to. By way of example:
(a) The Cunill has 60 mm flat burrs. The Mazzer Mini's are 58 mm, Pasquini Moka 55 mm, Rancilio Rocky 50 mm, and Innova flat burrs are 49 mm.
(b) The Cunill's motor is 285 watts, with thermal overload protection. By comparison the Mazzer and Innova motors are 250 watts, Rocky is 160 watts and Pasquini Moka is less than half the Cunill at 120 watts.
(c) In terms of sheer weight, both the Cunill and Mazzer weigh 22 lb, followed by the Moka at 19 lb, the Rocky at 18 and Innova flat burr at 9.2 lb. Bear in mind that the doser assembly on all the other grinders adds weight that the Cunill doesn't have.
All of the above suggested that this grinder would be a long term performer. The only 'cheap' thing about it was the price. The retailer explained the difference in terms of origin - the Cunill is made in Spain and doesn't command the sometimes undeserved high prices of the Italian names.
Better still, Cunill's 'hybrid doserless' dispenser seemed a great idea. Basically the grinder throws the grounds into a covered plastic funnel, from where they drop into the portafilter. This would hopefully eliminate the spraying of grounds over the bench that can apparently occur in other doserless machines that dispense down a simple chute. In practice this feature worked well. There were few leftover grinds in the funnel (which can be easily cleaned by removing the lid).
Dialling in the grinder took about 200g of 'junk beans' to perfect. Thanks to Alan Frew for that tip - I knew supermarket beans had some purpose! Changing grind settings was easy, and having 55 of them seemed more than enough to zero in on the right espresso fineness.
Adjusting the dose size was a bit harder. This required a small plain screwdriver to adjust the length of time the grinder would switch on for, each time the dose button is pressed. Theoretically the dose size can be varied from 5g to 12g, but no grinder I know of dispenses by weight. Doser grinders dispense by volume, and this Cunill dispenses by timing the grind. A knob adjustment would have been more convenient than poking a screwdriver into a hole to adjust the dose. Having said that, once the dose is set it doesn't require much tinkering unless your choice of beans varies radically.
A bit of trial and error got me to 7g per shot - you obviously press the button twice for a double. Each dose takes about 6 seconds to grind. The dose size is fairly consistent - bearing in mind that the first 2g or so of each shot consists of grinds left over in the chute from the previous shot. Still, I figure that 12g of fresh coffee per 14 was a lot better than 14g of stale coffee from a doser.
Before long I was pulling 60 ml shots in 25 seconds. Not bad. Not bad at all.
So far I like the El Cafe Tranquilo. It has a dopey name and it's no good looker, but once the settings are right it really has it where it counts. The quality of the grind seems the same as the Mazzer Jolly I use at the office, and the doserless design means that I can have both a commercial quality grinder AND fresh coffee in a low volume home environment. When you add the low price into the equation, it's almost like cheating :-)
Four months on, and I've grown even happier with the Tranquilo. I've actually adjusted my ratings up marginally for aesthetics (6 to 7, call it familiarity) and quality (from 9 to 10). It makes the best coffee I've ever drunk, and its performance is flawless in producing fine, consistent, dust-free grounds.
Some posters on alt.coffee have found that static can cause grounds to stick to the inside of the dispensing funnel. Not me. 99% of the coffee falls cleanly into my portafilter. The remaining 1% doesn't worry me. It doesn't build up and it doesn't need cleaning.
One fine point (which I find fascinating more than finicky) is that you need to tweak both grind fineness AND dose timing settings when you change beans. Some beans just take more energy and time to get to the desired dose and consistency. Generally, the lighter the roast, the finer the grind and longer the timer setting will be needed. Once the settings are perfect, though, I find the level of control superior to using a doser. It's great to work towards the proverbial 'God shot' using a mix of dose timing and fineness.
Given the chance, I'd buy the Tranquilo all over again. It really fills that niche in the market for those who want the highest quality grind from a durable machine, ground fresh with each shot. The electronic dose size and dosing funnel puts it way ahead of the Rancilio's doserless Rocky for consistency and convenience. I can't recommend this grinder highly enough.
One Year Followup
One year on, and I've upgraded my espresso machine (from a Silvia to a San Marino Compact CKXE), but not my grinder. One benefit is that the San Marino is volumetric (i.e. the machine regulates the shot size). Pairing that with the Cunill, which regulates the grind size, and I am achieving a consistent 60 ml of espresso in 25 seconds.
One small disadvantage I've noticed is that the grind dose size will decline marginally as the bean hopper becomes nearly empty. Perhaps this can be expected from the reduced downward pressure on the beans. It's not a big deal though - the change isn't so great that I'm prompted to change the grinder settings to compensate.
Having looked at the doserless alternatives that sprung up in the market through 2003, I'd still buy the Tranquilo if I was shopping today. Nothing else matches its timed doser, dosing 'funnel', heavy duty strength and consistent high performance.