In my research, I learned about the differences between the moka pot and a machine. To get the ball rolling, I ordered a refurbished Krups pump espresso machine ($50) and ground the beans at Costco. Very entry level, but you have to start somewhere. It was exciting, and I even made my own tamper out of Padauk wood for it! Being able to taste the difference was nice. Pleasant and smoother than the bilge from the moka pot. Though this was nice, I was aware the grind at Costco was insufficient. I learned all about the importance of the grind from my Karate buddy, who also happened to have a passion for espresso. He had a Mazzer Mini and a Krups steam machine, which was cheaper than mine. Spending an evening at his house (yes, we had an espresso supper) made me realize that the grind was even more influential than the machine! He was getting shots comparable to local coffee shops, all with a cheap steam machine and a high end grinder churning out perfect grind from fresh beans.
The grind I was getting at Costco was still a long way from God Shots, but was I gonna spend over $500 on a grinder? I didn’t think so. Though I could afford it, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that much on anything that wasn’t musical (though the sound of a grinder crushing beans is music to my ears now). Being that I was dabbling in the stock market, I figured I’d wait until I could finance my espresso endeavors through stock profits. But then the market took a plunge and I realized another way was needed to make espresso money, or else it may take 5+ years to get enough through stocks.
Meanwhile, the burr grinders at Costco had degraded so much that even grind from Turkish setting tamped with my full body weight yielded a 2oz shot in 10 seconds. Something had to be done, so In Sept. 2011, the Espresso Fund was started for the purpose of funding a high-end home espresso bar, solely with money made from music gigs.
In four months time, it accumulated enough to cover the Mazzer Mini E burr grinder!
There were two grinders I was looking into – the Mazzer Mini E, and the new Compak 10 Fresh. They’re relatively similar, except the Compak was about 1K more. So I called up the wonderful folks at Chris’ Coffee Service, who sold both grinders. Wow, the saleswoman was *very* knowledgeable about everything espresso-related, and explained everything clearly. I told her that I was looking into a HX machine, and asked if the Compak was really worth the extra cash. She said that unless I had a dual boiler, the Mazzer would be more than sufficient. That was very nice to hear. You know someone is being honest when they encourage you to get the lower-priced product. (Since then, I’ve decided to go with a dual boiler)
To get the grinder first, or wait and get the machine first? That was the question. Having done mucho research on espresso, I knew that without a doubt, getting the machine first was the best way as it would enhance the flavor from our crappy machine while we compile funds for the Alex II. However, Papa was attracted to the shiny machine, and thought it would be better to get first, as something to look at. Granted, the Alex II is easy on the eyes, but come on. “Just get the coffee ground at Costco.” said he.
Because he also pooled his gig money with mine in the Espresso Fund, he had an equal part in the decision, so I needed to prove the importance of the grind to him. I made espresso from the moka pot and Krups machine, using two grinds done at Costco– coarse drip setting and Turkish setting (which is just as coarse). If the grind was sufficient, the Turkish grind from the machine should taste noticeably better (or at least, different).
Results? Though we could both tell a *slight* difference between the moka pot version and machine version, the difference was very subtle. Needless to say, he agreed to get the grinder first.
The moment the Mazzer arrived, I couldn’t wait to get some beans in it. In my frenzied excitement, I maintained enough composure to read the instructions first. After all, I spent too much to potentially ruin it by an uninformed error.
Well, the first run was a little interesting. I tried it on the preset position, and a nice grind came out, though too coarse for espresso. Then I turned it to a finer setting, but still too coarse. Then I turned it much farther (forgetting that it’s ideal for the burrs to be moving while adjusting) and turned it on, but nothing happened! Did I turn it too far to where the burrs locked against each other? Who knows.
I still couldn’t get coffee out, so I turned it to a very coarse setting to clear it out. Now back to square one, I started the burrs going and I slowly tightened the “throat” until the burrs started chirping. Then I marked that notch with a sharpie (hopefully that won’t void the warrantee). I moved it a few notches coarser and tried it again. Barely a thimbleful came out and then nothing. What to do next? Call (well, text) my espresso/karate buddy, who mastered the Mazzer. He suggested checking the chute. Sure enough, it was clogged like a … well, it was clogged.
I also noticed the thin safety mesh got in the way of coffee dispensing. So I cleared the chute, snipped off the mesh, and ever-so-slightly made the grind coarser until coffee finally came out. Filled up the portafilter and gave it a go. It’s the first time my crappy machine handled truly fine grind, so I was kinda worried about it exploding or something. Anywho, nothing came out, so I had to redo it with a slightly coarser grind. Oddly, it kinda tasted like shit. (Not just like it, but definitely not as good as I thought it’d be) Maybe still too fine? Who knows, but at least we’re heading in the right direction. Up until getting the Mazzer, my grind was always too coarse, so I was happy to finally be able to make the grind “too fine.” The next step is to find a happy medium.
Now we come to the Present (about a month later). My oh my, I’m getting in tune with the Mazzer and am just loving it. Yes, I always *heard* people say how great the Mazzer is, but now I see what they actually mean. It’s truly verifies the phrase, “You get what you pay for.” (Or in my case, “you get what you play for”) It’s shy of a thousand bucks, but it just is such a solid piece of machinery that does one job, and does it splendidly. The whole thing is so well made. Case in point: I noticed that the white paint on the plate (which catches the grinds) was peeling, and thought, “That’s rather shoddy for such an expensive product.” So I wrote Chris Coffee and told them I needed a new plate. They responded, “The white exterior is meant to be removed.” My jaw almost dropped. The protective coating looked as good as the real thing!
Final thoughts: Though my failing machine can barely handle the grind, my espresso is finally tasting “fruity”, (it doesn’t taste “brown” anymore). The moka pot espresso is also much more delicious and tasting fresh. Having the ability to adjust the outcome of the shot adds a whole new element of fun to the Art of Espresso.