30 Days of Blog - Day 1 - Consulting and grinders

Welcome to Day 1 of 30, and thank you for reading what is essentially an experiment in self habit building. We might get off topic sometimes, but I hope the journey is worthwhile.

Today I am on my way to Los Angeles for an opening event, latte art throwdown, and a little education with Gavina Coffee at their new Don Francisco Cafe in Downtown LA. As I have been preparing for this trip I have been contemplating the nature of what I do as a consultant and educator. I get asked all the time "Pete, what are your doing these days?", which bothers me quite a bit! That means that no one sees all of the projects and events that I work on. Time to be more visible.

*Heart spilling moment about consulting* To be honest I started my consulting business after winning the WBC because I needed something to offer and I couldn't figure anything else out. A consultant is a role meant to enhance other peoples' businesses through the utilization of the consultants experience and knowledge. I have the knowledge and experience in vast quantities, but looking back on the past four years I would say it has been filled with competition training, lectures, coaching, and very minimally (in my perspective) actual collaborative consulting. 

To me this is a problem, as I consider myself a consultant but don't feel deep down that I have been fulfilling the role as I envision it. So I decided to analyze what has kept me going down the current path. In the end it all boils down to opportunities and focus. I am commonly approached for competition training and coaching because it is what I am known for, and quite frankly I'm really pretty darn good at it. Competition work is fulfilling and fun to me, but it is most often about the individual rather than the businesses behind them. So I will be pushing more into the realm of collaborative consulting with businesses, as I feel that I have more to offer than most. Enough self promotion for now though. 

Let's talk a little about coffee grinders. Mazzer, Simonelli, Compak, Mahlkoenig, and likely a few others are all racing to release their new weight based grinders. It is an exciting time for that and I think it is a very good step. We can remove the natural variability of the dose from our list of training and preparation concerns. Dose variability has been a flaw in grinder design, mostly because we took old doser based technology and added timers to the grinders in order to gain a level of consistency. Expect to see a lot of prototypes at HOST this year in Milan. If any of you manufacturers want feedback on your grinders you know where to find me! 

Another current hot topic, which seems to have been a topic for years now, is particle size and grind size composition. Ever since 2013 when a certain someone used the EK43 grinder to make coffee at WBC, baristas have been clamoring over eliminating fines and attempting to make superior espresso. 

I have to tell you this is a failure in many ways.

The original stated purpose of the EK grinder by Mr. Perger (at least as I recall) was to produce fewer fines when grinding, which has now been thoroughly disproven. He has since corrected this stance, which I applaud. That particular grinder produces a considerable amount of fines, and while you may have missed it, Matt poured fairly fast flowing shots in his presentation. This all makes sense when you think about it, since more fines with enough space for water to flow means that the coffee will extract faster, and will also over extract faster. Fast flow tends to lead to lower body, which some have begun to accept as the trade off for flavor clarity. 

What the EK grinder does do well is its ability to grind with fewer "boulders" and a generally more even sizing on the target/mean size of grinds. Interestingly I often find a lack of flavor complexity when the grind of coffee is too homogenous in size (like when the sizes are sifted and separated). EK grinders do seem to work pretty well for certain brewing methods such as v60, but their benefits dwindle for espresso. I have tasted shots on these grinders in competitions and cafes around the world and here is what I can conclude: 

It can make an equally good or bad shot (especially compared to the K30 Vario/Air/Peak), but rarely a superior one. It STILL COMES DOWN TO THE BARISTA! If the grinder on its own made a vastly superior shot, wouldn't it have won the WBC every year since and including 2013? For the record I won with the K30 Twin, a grinder that I consider superior in flavor to all of the other Mahlkoenig models to this day. I have seen numerous baristas come on stage believing their grinder will help them win, and they simply don't pull it off. The reason Matt performed so well in 2013 was

1) It was innovative in 2013 

2) He is a very good barista and he applied excellent fundamentals of espresso making to a very uncommon (at the time) technique. 

I don't want you to think I specifically hate on the EK43 grinder. It has merit as a pour over grinder (less so for large scale batch brew), it is good for slow selling single origin or decaf shots, and it has pushed the boundaries of what is considered a good espresso. Not too bad, but the main issue that I have is the wholesale acceptance and subsequent confusion made by these grinders.

The next innovation in espresso grinders, in my opinion, should be rethinking the nature of grinding. Heating or freezing the beans is interesting, and seem to generate results. Sometimes those results are positive. But the fact remains that we are still grinding using spinning blades that dull over time with use. Even the simple nature of blades dulling changes that composition of grind sizes and introduces inconsistencies. So if you want to work on a new true innovation in grinding I suggest figuring out how to make coffee beans more extractable in a more consistent way. That technology may be years or decades away, but I think it will be massive when it happens.

That's it for day 1. Hope you come back for day 2!

Pete

Posted on September 4, 2017 and filed under Blog.