The Grinder Era…?


I’ve spent most of my time in coffee complaining about grinders. They are so crucial to what we do but for as long as anyone can remember all of the focus in development seemed to be on espresso machines. Whenever I get asked for advice by people opening coffee shops I always advise them to break the bank on grinders and just get a decent machine. Grinders are that important.

I recently posted this about the EK43 grinder that we put on the bar at 3fe and to be honest you’d be best reading that first or this might get a little confusing.

The EK43 became our weapon of choice on bar at 3fe and what we saw was a massive leap in quality in our espresso drinks. We minimised waste, extracted more from our brews and improved the taste of our espresso across the board. It seemed like the answer to all of our problems, and in a lot of ways it was.

We put it on bar in July/Aug which is traditionally our quiet period and after a sketchy start its seemed to take off. What we lost in workflow and efficiency we seemed to be gaining in quality and consistency. What definitely became obvious was that we weren’t going back to our old grinders. We began to challenge our preference for espresso and how we did and ask ourselves if we could manage to run a busy cafe with a pre-dosed service. The answer was a resounding “almost”.

Unfortunately there were some downsides too and as the shop got busier the cracks started to appear. In fairness to the staff at 3fe, we actually did pull it off but my fear was that we could never get any busier and in the next year we envisage getting twice as busy.

So am I against EK43s being used on bar? Quite the opposite actually. Most coffee shops worth their salt these days do a “guest coffee’, namely another option for usually a few cents extra. In my experience this coffee is usually quite disappointing. It’s not dialled in properly, there’s not enough in the hopper and what is in there has probably been sitting there for a few days.

Even if you were to get a decent shot of it the barista would probably have to purge the guts of 50g through before crossing her fingers that the grinder is behaving something similar to what it was when it was dialled in 4 hours ago. The upshot of this scenario is that the customer takes a risk on “specialty coffee” and gets an expensive, disappointing experience. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m saying it can’t be done efficiently.

I see the Ek43 as the perfect solution to this problem. I reckon most “guest” coffees amount to 10% of a shops sales and using the EK43 for your guest coffee is not just achievable but would mean you can pretty much guarantee a delicious espresso every time. Add to that the fact that you can use the EK as a bag/filter grinder means that you’ll save yourself a fortune by having to only fork out on 2 grinders instead of 3. You could also use it for coffee shots, if you’re that way inclined*. It’s also worth noting that if yours is a shop that goes the low volume/high quality route, the EK43 is the grinder for you.

If I was opening a shop tomorrow I would prioritise a purchase of an EK43. It can be used for decaf/guest/filter/bag grinding all for the cost of one grinder. If you need further reasons why you need one, you have more problems than just grinders. I am very much still an EK43 fan boy, just not for full-blown service.

This week we made 50 more coffees a day than we usually do and that would have been impossible with only an EK43 to make coffee with. The staff wouldn’t have had the time to pre-dose the coffee, the service would have been slow and the frustration of the customers would have made everything awful for everyone. Everyone.

Which brings me to my next topic, the grinder that replaced it. I was loath to take a step back and go to another grinder that had hugely varying doses/grinds/temperatures and hope everything worked out tickety boo. It wouldn’t be.

It was lucky for us that we took delivery of a brand new toy that I’m pretty excited about, the Nuova Simonelli “Clima-Pro”.  At this stage I should probably disclose a few things;

  • I do a lot of work with Nuova Simonelli, coming to a town very near you
  • I was involved in the project that spat this grinder out
  • I count the people at Nuova Simonelli amongst my favourite people anywhere
  • I shall be at HOST in Milano next week making coffee with this bad boy

I thought it important to get those facts out there before I told you that this is one of the most exciting things that’s happened to grinders in quite a long time. Now, before you raise a suspicious eye-brow at these claims I feel it’s also important to note that;

  • This is the 5th incarnation of this grinder that I’ve tested for NS
  • None of the previous grinders have lasted more than a few hours on bar before being removed by angry people
  • NS grinders have never been my preference at 3fe for grinders, where we use Anfims, Mahlkonigs, and Uber Grinders

What the Clima-Pro was able to deliver was a consistent dose, basket distribution and temperature throughout service. Without stealing the thunder for next week, the latter is achieved not just with fans to keep the temperature up but also with a heating element (yes, you read that correctly) to keep the temperature up. To clarify, you now have to wait for your grinder to come to temp. Yep.

Coffee at room temperature can be brewed to taste delicious and coffee that’s ground hot can be brewed to taste delicious. The problem is brewing ground coffee that goes from cold to hot and back again in the course of a service is very difficult. I thought for a long time, like many, that keeping a grinder cool was the answer but once we did a bit of research it became obvious that keeping it consistent was the key.

Look at it this way. You’re grinder grinds coffee at 16°c and when you hit brew the water temp is 93°c. In reality it probably takes about 15 seconds before everything inside your portafilter is 93°c. Thats not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just the reality.

Now consider that grinders I’ve used in the past have spat out coffee at closer to 60°c when its busy. Once its dosed and the brew button is pushed, we’re looking at something closer to 8 seconds before everything in the portafilter is at 93°c. Again, not necessarily bad, just different.

This temperature jump makes our insistence on temperature stable espresso machines seem laughable when the grinders are giving us one hoot of a problem to deal with when it comes to variance. Whats 1° in the water temp when your ground coffee is giving you 45°c jumps?

What this grinder is doing for us is maintaining the coffee temperature at about 35°c to 50°c and as a consequence the taste of the espresso throughout the day is far better for it. I usually taste an espresso at the end of the lunch rush as this is when our equipment is hottest and the machines are at their dirtiest. This gives me a good indication of the espressos lowest ebb all day. I’ve never had better espresso at 3fe at this time as I do now, and  this for me is the biggest victory.


Whats happening now is that we are currently yielding comfortably and consistently around 18% to 19.6% extraction. Consistently. I have a separate post to do this week on extraction disclosure but that sort of range on a consistent real time actual basis is very, very good. I also think we can improve on it. It pains me to say it but thats a significant jump more than what we were getting before the EK43 arrived, outside of dialling in.

The fact that we can use the portafliter hook to walk away from the grinder is an added bonus which has given us a double win in terms of workflow and efficiency. Its been a long time coming but this grinder is the biggest step towards end game that I’ve seen.

I’m excited about this grinder but also by the fact that Mahlkonig no doubt have a plan in place for the EK43 and that Mazzer, Compak and the other manufacturers will be encouraged to innovate and push more momentum into grinder development like we’ve all be wishing for so long. If there’s hype to be made people, make it now cause we will be all the better for it once the market drives more innovation.

The Clima-Pro is a really exciting grinder for us to use and I feel that what we’ve been asking for is starting to become a reality.  I’m also slightly reluctant to disclose much more at this stage because I don’t want to steal their thunder, but I’m pretty sure if you’re the type of person who was interested enough to read this far you will love this grinder.

The last post I wrote made it clear that the EK43 was not an end point and in truth the Clima Pro is probably a few steps away yet. There can be huge leaps again with a few design tweeks, burr testing and a more wide scale analysis of what it does. In the meantime we at 3fe will continue to make more and more daft mistakes and let you know how we’re getting on.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Beckett

*I am not.

**we are all individuals

5 thoughts on “The Grinder Era…?

  1. David Walsh says:

    This is a interesting way to look at approaching this problem.

    Can’t wait to see it in action.

    My only comment would be the usual – let’s remember the difference between heat and temperature.

    The specific heat capacity of water is quite high, the specific heat capacity of ground coffee from all estimates I have seen is relatively low. Long story short, a big difference in coffee temperature is not going to have as big an impact on the temperature of the coffee bed.

    That isn’t to say it won’t have any impact, but it is not a direct 45 degree swing, it may be more like 5 degrees over that wide range (and do you ever get down to 15 degrees? or does it fluctuate more in between those ranges…??).

    The other factor to bear in mind is the heat capacity and mass of the portafilter, which is not insignificant in this equation. So if properly heated will also lessen that swing.

    I would be interested to see NS’s data though, and I like the lateral thinking.

  2. colinharmon says:

    I believe some will be available in the not to distant future for public viewing. I’d also suggest that in the meantime you come play.

  3. So you’re saying… wait to buy new grinders?

    Also, can you make a compelling case as to why one shouldn’t just leave a pre-brewed puck in the grouphead to get the puck up to temperature before brewing as a cheaper work around? Most argue that doing so burns the coffee until you add water. Is that an unfounded claim? Theoretically, if you could wait for thermal equilibrium with the precise grouphead temperature you might see extractions even higher, if what you’re saying is true.

    Either way, I’m excited to see more work on grinders beginning to surface.

  4. […] actually practical. spoke extensively about this new grinder with Colin Harmon, who actually broke this story himself on his own personal blog a few days […]

  5. Thanks for sharing your work with everyone Colin, your a true ambassador. Best to Petsey and the crew.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: