After living for years with my "upscale" Krups whirley style grinder (and an awful Braun burr grinder a few years back), thinking that it was good enough for French Press coffee (by the pulse and shake method), i started noticing that French Press coffee at my friends' house (using the same beans) tasted better using their Rocky doser grinder. While i do have a cheap espresso maker at home (more later), I wanted to get a consistent grind for my press pot coffee. I should also note that while I'm not wealthy, I also have an tendency to sometimes just "buy the best" so that I don't have to revisit the purchase a few years later. I value things that last and don't need to be replaced. Therefore, I knew I wanted a decent enough grinder so that if I ever got a better espresso maker, I wouldn't have to upgrade again.
I started by reading tons of reviews on Coffeegeek and narrowed things down to three candidates, admittedly in disparate price ranges: the Kitchen Aid Pro, the Rocky (doser and doserless), and the Mazzer Mini. the KitchenAid seemed perfect for french press, but the reviews for its espresso grinds were mixed. Then there was the Rocky (dosered) which I was familiar with having used it many times at my friend's house (they have had theirs for ~8 years). it worked well, was built well,
and gave a nice even grind. its only shortcoming seemed its doser which wasn't very practical (like most doser grinders, IMHO) for a few shots in a given day-- either you wasted coffee by chucking out lots of extra grinds, or basically clicked the doser over and over until you got the right amount in your portafilter. the Mazzer Mini: expensive (compared with the KA and Rocky), but seemingly worth its extra fit and finish: built to last forever, beautiful machine work, and arguably created a more consistent grind than the Rocky. A co-worker owns the Mazzer Mini, so I was able to consult with him on its performance. It seemed for espresso, the Mazzer produced a slightly evener grind (which was questionably noticeable with espresso to our undiscriminating palates) but it too, had some of the same doser issues as the Rocky with doser: stale or wasted grounds in the doser, and a marginally useful doser for doing just a couple of espresso shots in a session.
So, while tempted, the extra $150 higher price tag on the Mazzer Mini didn't seem like it offered any advantages for this French press coffee user and future "small session" espresso guy. It seemed that i really needed to find myself a doserless grinder which would work well for my press pots and also be useful for my occasional espresso making. so after a lot of reading, talking, and deliberating, I gave the doserless Rocky (ruled out the KA since i couldn't play with it locally as well as the mixed reviews about its abilities to do espresso level grinds) a serious look and eventually ordered it from ChrisCoffee.
Perhaps, reviews are just a reflection of the author's expectations and whether they are met or missed. Well, for me, the Rocky doserless met my expectations. Using it with my filtered water in my press pots, i make a great cup of coffee. The grind is very consistent on the coarse end of things (i'm not quite on its coarsest setting) and works well with my french press pots.
I've done some head to head comparisons with some "Krups ground" pots and found that the Rocky allows for a more consistently good brew. I think most notable is that i was pulsing my grinds very coarsely using the Krups. This required me to use more coffee to achieve a brew
strength i liked. With the Rocky, i don't need to use this extra coffee (rounded vs. flat scoops, respectively). In addition, i think my cups are much more consistent day to day now since i'm not "estimating" my grind time/consistency using the chopper type of grinder. i can get the exact same cup time and time again. very nice! The Krups brewed pots were far from bad, but I now have a reliable pot each time around and i don't need the extra coffee to get the strength to my liking.
Unexpectedly, what the Rocky has done is elevate my 13 year old pump based Krups espresso maker to unbelievably decent new heights. Sure my home brewed espresso can't compete with a great baristas at the local Barefoot cafe, but i dare say i consistently make a better espresso than one can buy at $tarbuck's. perhaps that isn't saying much at all, but overall, i think i can make a decent espresso at home now. great, no. but decent, better than the random coffee shop, and enough to satisfy nondiscriminating guests and very good for milk based drinks. This doesn't mean a Silvia or something nicer isn't in my future, but it's nice to know that i don't have to chuck this old faithful Krups espresso maker quite yet.
So, is this the perfect grinder.? No, it has some flaws, but fortunately, not fatal. (1) the plastic coffee "spout" is defective on my unit and it cracked (slowly growing in time) without me doing anything abusive or removing it. Chris at Chris Coffee told me that mine isn't the first with such problems and will send me a replacement. hopefully Rancillio will figure out this problem or hopefully i'll get one from a different batch from Chris in the coming days. (2) People have long complained about the dumb finger guard. it presents two problems: it makes cleaning (vacuuming) difficult, and beans get caught in the screw holes. i agree with the first comment, but the latter is an issue with or without the guard in place. beans get stranded on top of the screws holding the hopper even if the finger guard is removed. Following the suggestion which i read somewhere, i now keep the finger guard in place, but put some foam earplugs (cut to size) into the offending holes of the finger guard plate and i no longer have beans getting stuck. i can't vacuum the grinder easily with the guard blocking the main throat of the grinder, but overall, i think the grinder performs better with the guard in place. beans seem to get better channeled into the throat/burrs without stray beans getting left behind. (3) some coffee remains in the chute even if i pulse the grinder. one could presumably knock the extra gram or so free after each grinding, but that's not worth the effort to me. so what i do is keep a ramekin near the grinder. for each grind session, i pulse a second of grinds into the ramekin before putting my press pot carafe underneath the grinder to brew my pot. sure it wastes a smidge of coffee, but it reduces the amount of stale grinds finding their way into my new pot of coffee.
Is this the ultimate grinder? no. neither is the Mazzer Mini from what i understand. As with my other crazy passion (high end audio equipment)...there isn't the perfect cup of espresso or coffee. it's a never ending quest. I don't know if this will be my last grinder ever (assuming the Rocky works without failure in the years ahead), but it might be. it seemed to reach a sweet spot in my budget and desire for something built to last and performs well. Perhaps if i really get into making my espresso at home (and buy a Silvia or better machine), i'll find it inadequate and start looking at the Mazzers or something else. But i do know of a few people who have lived happily with their Rocky's for many years in spite of upgrades in their espresso makers. so, maybe there's hope for my wallet.
In short, if you're like me: make only a few espresso at a time, a doserless grinder like the Rocky doserless may be just right for you. It's neither cheap nor ultra expensive if you consider it in the scheme of how much you spend on coffee beans each year.