I read all of the reviews here at CG with great interest before buying this product, and I have waited 6 months after purchasing it to write this review. I have used the item daily, exclusively for brewing Turkish coffee (finer grind than pump espresso).
I'll try to address some of the negative points I had read in other reviews.
In general: I have never been happier with another burr grinder for Turkish coffee. Many burr grinder brands simply cannot get a fine enough grind ( indeed, the grinds settings of even some major brands barely edge into pump espresso territory, if at all).
Some general comparisons: Also other burr grinders are noisier, and most importantly require a great deal of cleaning, or wil actually jam with an oily bean at a fine grind. Also other burr grinders will tend to burn the coffee with such a fine setting-- the smaller the pieces of coffee, the more any generated heat will negatively affect the taste. The gearing of its gargantuan motor makes it rotate the burrs deceptively slowly, generating very little heat-- you can tell because the pitch of the sound is much lower. Another benefit of the huge motor with torque gearing is that I have not had a jam, or even a hint of a slowdown in the entire time, even when not cleaned for several months of daily use at the Turkish setting.
Top glass hopper area:
I read other reviews noting beans get stuck in two areas. They are right, however in only one case does it really matter. 1) Hopper Sill: The top glass hopper bowl (hold the whole beans) is removable and twists on or off-- but the rim where it is attached has a sill that is too wide (much wider than the thickness of the bowl it holds) and bits of broken beans will always get stuck in there. To clean it, you need to twist off the top glass hopper, in order to access that area, and even then you may need to invert the entire unit. Whole beans will also balance on the seam, so at the end of a grind, you'll have a bunch of beans just sitting there in a ring-- easy enough to just tip them in with your finger, but it's the little broken bits that fall within the sill itself that bother me, but not enough to dislike this grinder. 2) Hopper entry area: Just before the beans fall into the rotating burr area, (below the metal sifting tabs at the bottom of the hopper) there is two-part funnel area, and beans can lodge here. I am not sure if this regulates bean flow into the burr area, but I definitely turn off my grinder before dislodging beans here, since it is very close to the burrs. However I like the fact that it obstructs a clear and broad path to the burrs, so my fingers (or a stirring utensil) are safe when brushing beans stuck at the higher sill area described in 1. Perhaps this area should have been designed with a steeper angle. OVERALL: it is very little bother to tap in any stuck whole beans. Bean fragments stuck inside the glass hopper's sill are annoying, but not a deal breaker.
Also, not attaching the cap to the top hopper is just fine, if that is how you like it. Failing to attach the cap during grind doesn't result in a backspray of bouncing beans, fragments, and grounds even at the end of a batch (unlike many other burr grinders that do so), and the unit is fairly quiet to begin with, so the noise reduction of adding the cap is noticeable but not important. For some people this may be a convenience issue.
Bottom receiving glass bowl:
Other reviews have mentioned the appearance of breakability, and I was very worried as my kitchen is bump-and-accident prone. I am happy to report I have not had any accidents, largely due to two features that make it difficult to dislodge from the grinder. I had been afraid of knocking the table or the grinder unit itself, causing the receiving bowl to fall. However, there is a wide band of a rubber retaining ring at the bottom plate, that holds the bowl due to pressure from a spring-loaded plug of plastic at its top. Thus the plastic pushes the bowl very gently down, so that the rubber on the bottom does its job. It's very subtly done with so very little pressure that I didn't even notice the spring-loaded plastic part until after nearly a month of using this product. Note that this plastic also seals the top so that grounds are not spilling out during grinding. Combining these two features with the overall weight of the entire unit has resulted in not even one close call in 6 months of use in my crowded kitchen. Also the glass bowl is blown thicker than it appeared from photographs. The unit also came with information on where to get more parts for the machine (culinaryparts.com), which I assume would cover the glass bowl.
Most importantly, the glass bowl reduces static cling to essentially zero. Several burr units I have owned or used have plastic containers, and they are always marked with coffee ground sticking all over to the corners, sides, and bottom-- especially if the container is not a bowl, but rectangular with dust-trapping corners and edges. With time, if these are not cleaned up (a virtual certainty in the long term in many households), this results in noticeable yellowing of the plastic from the oils in the coffee-- very unappealing! I had read about this in other reviews, but had dismissed it as irrelevant. I was wrong. It is simply wonderful to have ALL of the coffee just slide out of the bowl-- every last speck-- cleaning is not required! It is wonderful that the bowl is simply transparent in real life after months of real-use, just like the box photo, and not covered with coffee dust, and not yellowed and stained.
While we're talking about parts, I must mention that I found it amazing that the user's manual mentioned that it was possible to order (direct from KitchenAid, not the website above)replacement burrs after they had been used into dullness, apparently at around 600-800 lbs. It's nice to know I can have this unit for years.
As mentioned above, the motor runs with a gear reduction system, resulting in a slower speed of rotation, which means less burning of the beans. This is not some elitist phenomenon, anyone can easily taste the difference, so depending your current grinder, even if you are very happy with it, the KitchenAid grinder might make you reappreciate your current coffees, if not give you an outright revelation of new taste-- all that from a grinder upgrade. I repeat, you will likely taste the difference in a way that is immediate and obvious, even if you are not trying to compare taste.
In my case, I was bowled over by the new taste of coffees from familiar sources. The gear reduction also results in an increase of torque, and remember the power is coming from this truly monstrous motor-- I don't know how many amps it's rated, but the underside of the unit notes a 150W rating. The motor is run at a slow speed, and along with the gear reduction for the burrs, the sound produced by this unit is much less, and of lower pitch, than most other burr grinders I have used. The quieter operation is also surely due to the metal construction of the product, just like plastic pump espresso machines are louder than metal ones. The manual mentions that the burrs are of 2 1/4 inch diameter, which it calls "large," and I believe that because the ground coffee seems to drop leisurely into the bowl at a slow pace, but actually the total flow is actually quite fast and comparable or faster than other grinders that expel out a smaller stream at a faster velocity. The manual also claims that the slower rotational speed for the burrs results in less static cling. Of course, the huge motor with gear reduction means unstoppable power. I've used some other burr grinders (e.g. DeLonghi DCG-3) that if set to such a fine grind (Turkish or even pump espresso), it would eventually run slower and slower each day until finally jamming, especially with a full city/french roast set at Turkish. There are no worries with the KitchenAid unit, and not even a hint of a slowdown no matter the bean or the grind setting. The superb taste and the grind consistency support this notion.
Rotating the faceplate easily changes the grind settings, which are numbered from 1 to 8 with detents (click stops) at half steps for a total of 15 levels. However, these levels can be skewed upward or downwards (by increments of 1 whole detent) by adjusting the grind control gear inside the dial (easy instructions are in the manual). Hence if you wanted a grind coarser than the coarsest setting out of the box, or finer than the finest setting out of the box, you can do so. One odd thing is that "1" is the coarsest grind, and "8" is the finest-- which is the opposite of what I expected. The manual claims the settings can meet "stringent Specialty Coffee Association of America grind-size specifications," such as 250 micron for espresso, and 1500 micron for French Press.
As noted above, I purchased this unit for Turkish coffee. Out of the box, the finest 8 setting was just a hair too coarse-- acceptable but just slightly off of my preference. Therefore I followed the instructions to adjust the grind control gear. The manual states that if you set the control gear too far towards fine, the burrs will actually touch, and you will hear the resulting rubbing/grating sound-- this of course is bad and the burrs will begin to wear themselves out. I found that if I set the gear two settings tighter than factory, I heard this grating sound. However at 1 setting tighter, I got a subtle intermediate sound, as if the burrs might be touching momentarily at only one point in their cycle. I chose to go with this setting (1 setting tighter than factory), and have been happy.
However I do wonder if there are slight variations between different units, and at what detente level they are set at the factory, and exactly where the increments fall, such as between detents of another unit. Perhaps on another unit, setting the adjustment to 1 tighter than factory may not result in even an intermediate sound, whereas on others perhaps this setting would touch the burrs completely. I don't know. This may explain why some reviews note that the grind fineness doesn't get to pump espresso levels, whereas I am pleased with its use for Turkish at a setting which would surely jam my old Espresso Gaggia. Also, it is possible some reviewers who complained of too-coarse grinds at the finest settings did not attempt to open the unit to tweak the adjustment gear, so it would be worth posting a comment to those reviews to ask the authors to confirm this point. In the CG comment thread to the "first look" review of this unit, there is some suspicion that some units may have defectively-aligned burrs that do not grind fine enough for espresso.
Grind Setting Consistency:
I noticed some disagreement on this matter at other reviews here at CG. As I am brewing for Turkish grind, I immediately notice any grind inconsistency because I can actually feel (or see) larger pieces in my drink. This pretty much never happens. The only exception are if 1) I pour the bottom of a bag of coffee directly into the grinder, which inevitably includes some crushed small pieces of beans and dust; or 2) if I set the grinder to a coarser setting (press or espresso), and grind some coffee there, then return back to the fine Turkish setting. Some grounds are undoubtedly left in the burr area, then are ejected later. The amount I am talking about here is very small, and would probably be unnoticeable in your drink if you are doing this for espresso or drip coffee-- I only noticed because of my use for Turkish style, where the grounds are in the serving itself and I will notice even if there are only 4 or 5 particles on my tongue. At any rate, cleaning the burrs eliminates the problem if you are jumping to drastically different coffee grind settings, and I imagine going through several shots worth of grinds would solve the problem for espresso users. Due to my Turkish-only habit, I have not yet tested for consistency at the larger espresso or press grinds (grain size, looking for dust, etc.), but will take a look for an update, but things look promising especially due to the augur-feed (think a drill bit with deep grooves) of the beans to the burrs.
Also it is worth mentioning that due to the weight of the unit, and the easy design of the grind setting dial, you can adjust the settings with one hand; several other burr grinders I have had require two hands: one to hold the unit still, and the other to turn the adjustment device. This is really a nice change! Using a friend's burr grinder (Bodum Antigua) recently reminded me that I should be grateful and not take one-handed convenience for granted. Also one-handed is the easy removal of the bottom receiving bowl-- there is no awkward locking mechanism. And of course the on/off operation of the heavy toggle switch is secure with one handed use, because of the bulk, inertia, and rubber bottom of the unit. These little conveniences may seem like nothing when reading about it, but in daily use, I found it really adds up and makes a big difference in my enjoyment of my coffee routine and my enjoyment of this product.
Unlike any other unit I've owned, the burrs are meant to be accessed, and easily! Cleaning is thus (relatively) easy-- at least it is a straightforward task. Just use a flathead screwdriver on the two big screws visible to the left and right of the faceplate dial. Yes, only two, and they are oversized, you can see them easily in photos, and with another nod to convenience, they are meant to be twisted with your fingers once your screwdriver unlocks the pressure on the threads. The manual states that it is important not to actually wash the parts with water. The unit comes with a brush for burr-cleaning, and it works fine. One negative: when reassembling the unit, the manual shows the unit on its back. This universally results in clear oily lubricant leaking out the rear side of the seam between the neck and the motor. This result is unpleasant, and makes me wonder if I have shortened the life of the motor. I no longer lay the unit on its back when reassembling the burrs after cleaning.
This is the cleanest grinder I have had the pleasure of using. I already mentioned the importance of the non-clinging glass receiving bowl and the spring-loaded plastic seal at its top. Thus the bowl itself is always clean. The coffee falls vertically, rather than being expelled out laterally, which makes the exit area from the burrs very clean as well-- all of the lateral-expulsion burr grinders I have owned/used have a very messy area right at the exit, and the burrs stick all over the receiving receptacle. With the KitchenAid, the grounds simply fall with gravity in a “straight line” path from the burrs, so they are not kicked around, and the exit remains extraordinarily clean. As mentioned earlier, there is no “popcorn” backspray from the top hopper to your countertop due to the augur feed of the beans to the burrs. After a month, there might be a bit of grounds on the bottom plate (below the receiving bowl), but there are no grinds strewn around the grinding area of the table top. I am a messy cook, so this is really saying something.
Also I always try to grind through 100% of what I put in the hopper, so that the grinder is not stopped mid-grind with half-crushed beans in the burrs. Hopefully this keeps the burrs cleaner between disassembly & cleanings. Note that you should visually check that no more coffee is falling, rather than relying on sound only, since the motor will sound "clear" even if a last bit of coffee is still falling. My initial negligence of this fact is probably what resulted in the extremely tiny bit of mess on the bottom plate mentioned in the previous paragraph-- even this was about 1/2 tsp after a month of daily use.
It is worth noting that there is no automatic doser. To me for personal use, a doser just results in more mess, and more ground coffee sitting unused-- and now that I no longer drink espresso at home, it's a non-issue. Also there is no plate to flatten your dosing spoons-- in my experience these are not really useful enough to justify the greater surface area (usually of static-prone plastic) for grinds to stick to and cause a mess to clean. If you're in an office with a dozen espresso addicts drinking the exact same bean, or running a small business, then perhaps the lack of a doser is an issue, but then again you've probably already noticed from photographs of the unit.
This is about almost-intangibles. The unit looks great, huge, and professional. I don't get the feeling that I have wasted money on a name, or only on construction quality, or materials. It looks great, it feels great, it has great heft (10 lbs), great fit & finish worth of a tank, and has great performance. Everything is solidly made of metal, and it will certainly last well over a decade (and probably longer), unlike some plastic-framed product-- no wonder there is information on replacing the burrs. I'm almost embarrassed to mention it, but even the Pro Line user's manual makes me feel good, with a two-piece metallic + transparent cover, with a flat real book binding, with a three-part rivet reinforcement, and metallic ink on the printing inside. The warranty (2 yr) and information on support (800 number) also give me comfort. The design of the unit is great, the profile is unique and classic, and there are neat design cues everywhere, for example the shapes cut out of the ring surrounding the heavy duty toggle power switch echo similar shapes in the faceplate dial, and the motor's vents are in metallic grille. The metallic pieces are subtle, not screaming chrome, but rather a more subdued pewter-like metallic. Of course there is the KitchenAid Pro Line logo. However due to my table/stove configuration where it is used, and due to the short power cord, the unit is turned so that the logo is not visible. The manual mentions the short cord is an intentional design feature for safety, but I think it could have used another 12 inches and still be considered "very short," as it barely reaches from the table to the powerstrip which must be placed nearly directly beneath the grinder-- it is only 42 inches. Above all, perhaps, is knowing that I can replace the burrs after their expected lifetime of some 600 odd lbs of coffee gives me a feeling that KitchenAid has tapped me into a pro-like habit-- a lifetime product that I can maintain for many happy years, rather than a buy-then-toss mentality of other consumer products.
My experience is as a consumer. I don't have experience with other grinders at this price range (e.g. CG mentions the Solis Maestro Plus, Baratza Virtuoso, & Rancilio Rocky) nor with more expensive commercial coffeeshop grinders. I've used a range of perhaps a dozen consumer burr grinders of about the $40-$100 range, and that's what I've been comparing the KA to. As noted, this review was with using the unit daily for Turkish coffee only-- in the 3 month update to this piece, I will try to include results with French Press and Espresso.
- Manual: For a better idea of what burr cleaning and grind-setting gear adjustments entail, see the online PDF manual: Click Here (www.kitchenaid.com)
- Colors: Apparently this unit now also comes in a Red color (in addition to the typical metallic charcoal).
- CoffeeGeek: Check out the "First Look" review from Mark Prince. He talks about the consistent curled shape of the grounds, which results in "fluffiness" and great response to tamping for espresso. The comments thread to this article is worth reading, as there are some user mods to turn the unit into a stepless grinder, which I may attempt and review in my update.
Click Here (www.coffeegeek.com)
- More expensive home grinders: Mark Prince also posted pro reviews of two "ultimate" commercial-for-home models, at double the price for the KA Pro Line (~$400). For me the price is a matter of diminishing returns, and the KA Pro Line lies in the sweet spot, and I use my grinder primarily for Turkish. However if you want the best 'home' espresso grinder (with a pro doser), you may want to take a look at his reviews:
Mazzer Mini: http://www.coffeegeek.com/proreviews/detailed/mazzermini
Macap M5: http://www.coffeegeek.com/proreviews/firstlook/macapm5
I've tried to list all of the possible bad points, but in the end, I love this product, as it still comes closer to my idea of perfection than any other burr grinder I've used or owned:
- You may have a revelatory improvement in taste in your current fine-grind brews (espresso, turkish) due to the slow rotation (rpm) of the burrs
- The motor size and gearing makes for unstoppable torque (it never slows or jams even at fine settings)
- The cleanliness of this product in real-world use is great
- The accessibility and replaceability of the burrs is great
- The consistency of grind for Turkish, which is even finer than pump espresso, is what has sold me.