Is Grind Particle Size the Elephant in the Room?

With the proliferation of new or revitalized coffee (e.g. pourover, vac pots, Chemex, press pot, etc.) and espresso (soft preinfusion, pressure manipulation) brew methods, one can now enjoy a wide array of taste profiles on the same coffee prepared in different ways. In conjunction with innovations in green coffee supply chain, this is even more relevant. However, there appears to be a lack of standardized preparation methodologies and standardized assessments (both qualitative and quantitative) for these popular brewing methods. This has led to a wide degree of differences among common industry practices and resulting cup qualities.  One of these variables is grind particle size.

For whatever reason, coffee grind particle size has not been “as” fiercely discussed in the spotlight as many other topics e.g. PID, much less a common conclusion. Yet, appropriate grind size can be the limiting factor to a quality beverage. There are no grind size standards or protocol for various brew methods set forth by leading industry groups (though there is a brief grind size specification on SCAA’s cupping protocol). Worst of all, the grind size markings on any grinder are inconsistent (grinders among same brand or even in the same model), non-standardized, and non-transferable. Further, the markings become even less relevant as the burrs wear down over its lifespan.

There are Rotaps and other sieve shakers available for the purpose of grind particle size and distribution analysis. Unfortunately, they are inherently expensive, bulky/heavy, and prohibitive in wider adoption (they’re meant for labs).

Coffee grind sizer

Alas, there is the Coffee Grind Sizer. This mini Rotap first made its quiet debut a few years back but, for whatever reason, never made a splash. The beauty of this product are its relative cheap price tag and portability. Exporting refined brewing parameters from the roasting/cupping lab to retail environments can be done with exactness and ease.

To use, pop open the cap and fill it with coffee, then shake it like a rainstick (dancing to music might help). You will end up with coffee grinds separated by size in 5 compartments. Such particle size distribution by weight profile can be used to, for example, compare grinder consistency, burr wear, standardize brew parameters, etc.

More post(s) on usage and applications of the coffee grind sizer will come in the near future. In the meantime, if you have an extra $200, check out one of these and see what you can come up with.

What’s Next?

It’s been almost 3 years since Stumptown has opened their beautiful roasting facility and cafes in Seattle. No matter which roaster you work for or which coffee you prefer, it’s undeniable that Stumptown has had a profound influence over Seattle’s coffee scene. Without getting into who’s coffee is better and whatnot, it’s fair to say that everybody has been upping their game for sure. To that, more power to them all.

Stumptown Seattle's Mistral.
Stumptown Seattle’s Mistral.

This brings up an interesting question – with the proliferation of 3rd wave coffee, what’s next? 4th wave? What are the parameters of this next stage of evolution?

With the way things are brewing (bada bing!), direct trade and ultra attentive sourcing will result in brewing methods that highlight such extensive work. These may include single origin espresso and single origin coffees by the cup via various methods e.g. pourover, chemex, press pot, etc. Equipment-wise, this means new coffee brewers and espresso machines that enable greater control over soft preinfusion and pressure profiling. Though there has not been an entire industry consensus on merits or standards of soft preinfusion and pressure profiling (whether on a Mechanical Paddle La Marzocco, Synesso, or Slayer), things are trickling in.

Advanced soft preinfusion (soft preinfusion with pressure manipulation) in its various forms have shown what’s possible to date. It doesn’t necessarily work on all coffees and, in the end, it’s still in the tongue of the beholder. In words, it’s hella debatable! The results have been impressive for us – espressos tend to be much more softer and rounded, without sacrificing its core delicacies e.g. brightness, acidity, etc. Hopefully, as more advanced soft preinfusion machines (Mechanical Paddle La Marzoccos and Slayer) find their way onto coffee bars, a better consensus can result.

However, advanced soft preinfusion is but only an incremental step towards total control a.k.a. true pressure profiling (that is, infinitely variable pressure from zero to your desired maximum brew pressure throughout the extraction process). Whatever the technology (or the lack thereof) that will get an espresso machine there, more power to it. After all, it’s all about what’s in the cup that truly matters. Well, it’s also about reproducibility as well. It’s rather difficult to use either advanced soft preinfusion or pressure profiling to make every espresso shot in a busy cafe. It’s just not practical!

To date, no production machine has been able to truly enable true pressure profiling. To that end, La Marzocco is working on a brand new, true pressure profile machine. A prototype was shown at this year’s SCAA on a down low basis and there’s field tests/feedback going on to get maximum input and feedback from those that will ultimately use it. All we can say is, watch out for it in 2010!

Good Bye, Jacob!

In the saddest post on this blog to date, we are sorry to announce that Jacob Ellul-Blake is no longer with La Marzocco. For the past 4 years, Jacob has been LM’s North American R&D and end user liaison, effectively translating real world feedback into practical product development. Chances are that you may have worked with him on upgrading your machine or hung out with him at various barista competitions/jams.

You may have also seen Jacob gracing the front cover of Barista Magazine, the issue that was passed out at this year’s SCAA. Jacob’s recent project was working with industry leading baristi and LM Italy on the new, full pressure profile espresso machine prototype (as shown in the banner above this blog), which is due out sometime in 2010.

Jacob gracing the front cover of Barista Magazine

If you’re lucky enough to know Jacob personally and still have his cell phone number, you might be able to bug him about PID questions. For everybody else, LM Tech Support is here to help.

We wish Jacob all the best in this and all his future endeavors!

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