Are you an entrepreneur starting your own coffee shop?
Or are you just trying to step up your coffee game from your blade grinder that you bought in college?
If so, you’ve come to the right place, my friend!
I’m going to break down the pros and cons of different grinder set-ups.
But first, let’s revisit some espresso brewing basics.
We all know this term to define the delicious shot of strong coffee with that delightful cream on top.
So is espresso the beverage? the bean? or the brewing method?
The simple answer is: all of the above.
Espresso, like all coffee, starts with a raw coffee bean, which is delivered to a roastery, “cooked down” and then packaged and sold both to coffeeshops and retail establishments.
From the get-go, roasters choose quality beans because they have the most potential to yield the flavor notes we look for in a shot of espresso.
But the real game changer is excellence of roast.
During the roasting process, the beans are changed on the surface level, ranging from light roasts to dark roasts like espresso beans. But that’s not all! It changes the chemical make-up of the beans themselves.
Under the heat of 395 degrees Fahrenheit, after around 10 minutes in the roaster, we have dark roasts.
The oils have emerged from within the bean, and the beans have developed that smokey, caramel-y taste that is prime for the espresso brewing method.
Method to the madness- a review pulling the perfect espresso shot.
The first step is grinding and it is absolutely pivotal.
If you haven’t read my piece on blades vs burrs, now would be the perfect time to hop on over and look at the exact science behind the importance of choosing the right grinder.
The gist of it is: consistency of grind is imperative to having a great cup of coffee.
Blade grinders chop at beans, leaving you with some huge chunks and some powder like fines. And this leads to mixed extractions and weird tasting coffee.
Burr grinders however, give you consistent grinds regardless of the shape (there are two types available: conical and flat).
Click here to learn more about the differences between conical and flat burr grinders.
So once you have your burr grinder, you’re ready for the next step:dosing.
Doses are the weight of the grounds that you tamp within the within the portafilter.
Underdose = underextraction a.k.a weak shots. This occurs because the water will be pressed through the puck too quickly.
Overdose = overextraction a.k.a bitter, sludgy shots. This happens when the water cannot flow through quickly enough and the coffee is extracted within the puck for too long.
The ideal pull time is 20-30 seconds.
If this is done correctly, we’re left with a bitter-sweet shot with a frothy sliver of crema on top.
Now let’s talk about how you can replicate this processes’ two most influential (and fickle) parts of the brewing method: grind and dose.
We’ve established that burr grinders are necessary for consistent grounds and therefore consistent coffee.
There are two types of grinder set ups.
The difference between the two is the presence of a doser.
A doser is a contraption made up of a container that catches all the grounds and a propeller hat separates them into pie-like sections.
If you choose a doser-grinder combo, you can have pre-set doses with a simple a pull of the lever.
As with everything, there are pros and cons of going with a combo, or a traditional grinder.
Let’s start simple- doserless.
Most grinders on the market come without a doser.
Pro: The lack thereof means that they are less costly. Doser-less grinders are usually priced anywhere from $50- $500, depending on the size, type of burr, materials used and motor. But the alternative is thousands on a doser combo. So that is definitely something to take into account.
Pro: The absence of a doser is often viewed as something to aspire toward. A lot of professional and home baristas prefer these because it makes the process more personal. You learn the art of the dose through practice without the convenience of pre-determined ground amounts. Some come with portafilter cradles that you can grind directly into, which is nifty when you have progressed to eyeballing dose amounts, rather than having to weight them out.
Con: The mess factor here is huge. Without the doser to catch the beans, it’s likely that you will either spill grounds as you transfer them to the portafilter or that some grounds will miss the portafilter, if you are dosing directly into one. This con brings us to our next.
Con: The wasted grounds add up. A little on the counter may not seem like a big deal, but it racks up to wasted shots. Not only do we have to worry about getting all the grounds into the portafilter, there is also the inevitable amount caught within the grinder chute due to static electricity.
Con: Crossover. Because of the static electricity, you will probably have stale grounds contaminating our new ones if we do not wipe the chute out after each grind. On top of that there is the probability of getting mixed extractions, should you switch grind to match brewing method.
All in all, doserless grinders are easier to find. They do have their inconveniences, but they do the job and they’re easier to repair. They allow you into a part of the espresso process that will help you hone your craft.
My absolute favourite doserless grinder gets you your bang for your buck. It is long lasting and super easy to use.
The Baratza Encore is a household item for the coffee elite.
It has an 8 ounce hopper equipped with a rubber seal to keep beans fresh and oils intact.
The design of the rotating hopper is intuitive, but marked for convenience.
There are 40 grind settings ranging from Turkish to cold brew.
It grinds at about 1 gram per minute.
It comes with a 5 gram grounds container from which you can dose with measuring spoons, if you are just starting out.
It’s made of hard plastic. So it is easy to move, but durable.
Here’s where it gets interesting: doser combo.
These babies are perfect for mid-volume shops (or the advantageous coffee addict.)
Pro/con: The added benefit of a doser will cost you a pretty penny. But is that necessarily a con? I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a pro, but if you are looking to maximize both your time and you grounds, I would recommend considering taking this monetary leap.
Pro: Having a doser built in is definitely convenient. You skip the step of measuring and weighing because the doses are preset. This means quicker coffee and happier you.
Pro: There is minimal waste in-between pulls because it stays within the container. If you spill any, you can just toss it back in and use it next time. (And if you purchase a doser combo, you’re probably an espresso guy or gal, so there won’t be too much variance in grind setting and no double extracting going on.)
Pro: The static is almost inexistent because the grounds won’t be traveling directly from chute to portafilter.
Con: This one is a biggie. Should you decide you want more controlled doses, the process is tedious. You’ll need all sorts of tools, elbow grease and knowledge to take the rig apart, adjust and put the thing back together.
The great example of a doser-grinder combo that is well worth your money is the Rancilio Rocky.
The Rancilio Rocky is a commercial grade rig that is also appropriate for home use.
Its flat burrs grind slow and steady which minimizes heat retention.
It has an 8 ounce tinted hopper to protect the beans from being damaged by UV rays.
It has 55 grind settings.
And the doser is preprogramed for 7 oz pulls. This is the exact amount that the Italian Espresso National Institute has deemed the perfect dose for 1 shot of espresso.
Made of stainless steel, this rig is durable and will last for years.
However, there is an alternative that would get you all of the pros of both set ups with minimal cons!
The best of both worlds: The Breville Smart Grinder.
Though this does cost more. It is arguably the best grinder available.
It has intuitive controls that are easy to use.
There are 25 grind options that range from Turkish to cold brew.
It has a huge 1 pound hopper.
The three nobs control grind level, dose and the amount of cups.
It looks sleek with the fancy LED screen.
It comes with both a portafilter cradle for your espresso needs, and a grounds catcher with markings to indicate typical measurements for different brewing methods.