July/August 2011: Grinder Comparison Test: Rancilio Rocky vs. Hario Slim vs. Bodum C-Mill

“What grinder should I buy?”…a very popular question, and a very good one since there is such a large spectrum of grinder types, sizes and prices. You want to consider a couple of factors 1) how you brew your coffee; 2) how much coffee you need to grind; and 3) how much you want to spend.

Various grinders have different grind consistency, portability, price and ease of use. We decided to compare 3 grinders that represent 3 major types of mills: a Bodum C-Mill with a whirling blade, a conical burr hand-crank Hario Slim Mill, and a Rancilio Rocky Doser-less flat burr electric mill.

For our test, we ground Ethiopian Suko Quto in all 3 grinders on medium settings (or an approximation of that on the blade mill), brewed them in Clever Coffee Drippers, and compared the resulting coffee. We were impressed that all three did a good job but also noticed some differences between the grinds themselves and how they affected the coffee flavor.

All of the cups were very clean tasting, due to the fact they were brewed through a paper filter. If they were brewed in a metal filter or a French press, we would taste different degrees of fines from the grind; fines become suspended solids in the cup and add a bittering component to the flavor and gritty quality to the mouthfeel. Overall, the cups were comparable, though  the fact the coffee is quite nice added to this.

The coffee made from the Hario Slim Mill and Bodum C-Mill shared papery and tannic qualities that did not exist in the sweeter extraction of the coffee from the Rancilio Rocky grinder.

As an extra step, we put the grinds in a partitioned sieve that allowed the smallest particles into the bottom section and kept the largest in the top. The grinds from the Rocky and Hario Slim Mill were very comparable in grind size consistency. The C-Mill created a mix of grinds; some chunks too large for even French press brewing and some clumpy coffee powder.  A grind of this sort would not do to well in a French press but is okay when brewed through a paper filter since the filter catches all the fine particles.  Too many fines will clog up the filter and leave you with a coffee pool that never drains. The Rocky produced an even amount of super-fine, medium and course grinds. The big difference is that the fine grinds were loose and independent of each other. The Slim Mill produced separations very similar to the Rocky with a small bit of clumping.

So, is it worth it to spend nearly $400 on a grinder like the Rancilio Rocky? Well, – it depends on how you brew your coffee. If you brew espresso – a really good grinder is a must; your espresso machine is only as good as your grinder.

If you make French press regularly, you want a mill that does not produce so many fines. If you are making coffee outside of your kitchen quite a bit, the portability of a hand grinder similar to the Hario Slim Mill is the good choice.  But if you need to grind a lot of coffee, I think a manual mill is impractical – or maybe you don’t mind the one-arm workout. If you are always brewing with paper filters, and you have no need to control the size of the grinds, a blade grinder like the C-Mill is great since it won’t break the bank or take up much real estate on your kitchen counter.– Tom

What is it about June?

When I look back at early editions of Tiny Joy, this space used to be much more of a sounding board for Tom and his trials and qualms about running a small business. The past week or 10 days have made me think about reviving this practice.

Ten days ago, we received a coffee container contaminated with paint fumes; apparently the coffee was loaded into a freshly painted container and then sealed. So by the time we opened it at our warehouse in West Oakland, the coffee bags themselves just reeked of paint fumes. Thankfully, the coffee had shipped from origin in Grain Pro bags, the plastic liners designed to improve the storage life and quality of grains. They saved everyone’s butt this time, us, the producer/exporter, and the importer. What would have been a total loss became salvageable.

We quickly checked the coffee in the intact GP bags and found that they had done their job admirably; there was no trace of the paint smell or flavor in the coffee. Bags that had broken GP bags were not as lucky – the coffee clearly showed some taints and we were rejected them.

Our fabulous crew – Josh, Jose, Brian, Noah, Dave, Jeff, Mike and Miguel – worked to slit open the paint-fume jute bags, then slip the intact GP bag into another clean jute bag. This is like changing the diaper on a 132-pound baby – it takes four guys to do it. The stinky bags did not even make it into our warehouse.

Midway through this fiasco, the container of Clever Coffee Drippers showed up. Everyone helped out – Tom, Byron, Erica and Rachel from the office– so that we could get out our orders and get the two containers unloaded by the end of the day. Great job! When we put “2 for 1 Container Tuesday” as a holiday in the 2011 Dogs of Coffee Calendar, we had no idea it would turn out to be true! Ugh.

The next disaster came only a few days later when a big pool of water in the office turned out to have the worst possible cause: not a faulty drain or leaking toilet seal, but the supply line that brings water from the street, the one buried in the concrete slab under the office, sprung a leak. Oy vey!

So no bathrooms, no wash-up water, no coffee water until we cut open the sidewalk, excavated the pipe, and called the plumber. As I write this Tom is taking the saws-all to the ceiling in the office to make room for the new supply pipes to be plumbed up and over the office and to the bathrooms, kitchen and cupping lab.

So when folks say that life is an adventure, they really mean it, especially for small business owners. I suppose we could be the types who call someone and pay them to handle everything, but that has not been our way for 13+ years and it is probably too late to start now. So a big thank you to our wonderful staff for pitching in and doing what is necessary, even the stuff that no one can predict. – Maria