"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2005 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cost of Grinder Frugality
One of the shocks that is often encountered by new adopters of the espresso method is the investment needed to get started. generally speaking, the second biggest yet most important important investment is the grinder. With grinders available in department stores selling for as little as $15 to $50, it can be difficult to accept that a $300 investment in a grinder can be necessary. Without going into all the minute details, when making espresso, the size of the coffee particles is critical in the process, and we are talking about differences in the .00125" range and less. To obtain that takes a solid, well designed machine that can hold the burrs in precise alignment. That is usually done with masses of metal, heavy bearings or bushings on the motor, and precision machined burr sets.
Here is the Cuisinart CCM-16PC grinder that my wife recently purchased at a membership store for just under $30. To put that into perspective, that is approximately $10 less than what you might pay for a replacement burr set for the Rancilio Rocky. The Cuisinart is a generally nice looking appliance, giving the appearance of solidity, but appearances can be deceiving. The Cuisinart weighs in at just under 4 pounds. In cpmparison, the motor alone in Rocky weighs 12 pounds, or about three times the weight of the Cuisinart. What matters, of course, is what it does for (or to) coffee. That takes place between the burrs. The top burr is mounted to the bottom of the bean hopper which can be completely removed by simply unscrewing the entire hopper.
Here is the upper burr. Note the lack of finishing. They are apparently installed directly from the stamp or casting with possibly a bead blasting or other similar treatment. Compared to the large 58mm (2.28") burrs in better machines, these measure 38mm (1.5") across with about .375" of actual grinding radius.
Here is a side view of the burr showing the depth of the cutting teeth, such as they are. I was able to press my thumb against them and rub it fairly roughly against the cuttings edges and suffered no ill effect at all. They feel about as sharp as they appear- maybe less. Make note that images are of burrs as they came out of the box, the machine having never yet been used. Over time they will only become less effective.
These economy grinders can serve sufficiently in a number of situations. For drip they would suffice, and for press pot they would work, although the amount of dust they create would cause the user to sip carefully at the bottom of the cup. But even ruling out the minimal cutting ability of the burrs, with only 17 settings from fine to coarse it is unsuitable for espresso, and the amount of dust created would make it equally unsuitable for vac pot. But for a backup grinder or in a small office situation for a drip machine it would suffice if it was all that one could afford.
So why did we buy it? I am certainly not going to allow my Rocky to be used for grinding flaxseed!