When I first stepped into the world of coffee-as-a-hobby, my gear of choice was Gaggia. It offered an approachable price point and seemed to be a few rungs up from the espresso machines available at big box appliance stores.
The Espresso DeLuxe was a fine little beginner’s machine, and soon I lusted after a grinder that could do more than my “chopper” grinder’s whirling blades. I wanted something that would give me that fine, magic powder that would extend my shots and yield that mythical crema.
I stayed brand loyal (for cost reasons) and bought a Gaggia MDF Grinder. It was stout, heavy and had that mid-1990’s look and feel to it. It had the built in doser that I never really ended up using, but most importantly it had what seemed to be endless click stops for adjusting the grind. It wasn’t cheap – I recall $299 USD price tag. All reports I read indicated it was made to last, so I took the plunge
Losing My Steps – The cleaning accident
The MDF performed well for me, grinding both store bought roasts and my own attempts a roasting. I learned my way around the grind settings, picking my favorites for French press, drip, and espresso. I made a point of cleaning the MDF fairly often, as many of my favorite beans were oily and left a good bit of residue in the machine. During one cleaning, an accident happened. Once could say it was a “mis-step”.
The Gaggia MDF comes apart easily. Here are instructions on how to do it.
I had taken off the hopper and unscrewed the heavy brass carrier that holds the top grinding plate. As with all grinders, there were pockets of packed coffee grounds stuffed in the corners. I turned the unit over and shook out the old bean dust. Unfortunately, that’s when the accident happened. An essential part fell from the grinder and into the trash. Two indexing pins (they sort of look like dark metal bullets with a spring in the back) dropped out and I didn’t notice they were gone until I reassembled a few days later. Of course, the trash was long gone by then.
I looked around on line and found the part at Whole Latte Love. For some reason I didn’t actually order them at the time. I’m not sure why I didn’t, perhaps my interest in coffee was on the lull, or I was making due with a KitchenAid Proline Coffee Grinder I had gotten hold of. I would try to use the once proud MDF every so often, but I had to now HOLD the hopper at the correct grind number while grinding, something that never gave good results.
The Gaggia MDF wound up sitting in my parts box for about six years.
I recently experienced a rekindling of the coffee hobby with the gift of a Rancilio Silvia espresso machine. I tried using store-bought ground coffee, but found myself unhappy with the resulting too-fast shots and lack of crema. I went back and dug out my old Gaggia MDF.
I knew I had to fix the indexing problem. The indexing “bullets” were still available, but the compression springs were not. I had to try and hunt around at hobby shops or online to find these tiny springs. Wanting to get this grinder back in service, I chose to try a “mod” or modification that coffee forums had suggested. It allowed the MDF to become “step-less” and do away with the indexing bullets.
The method is described here in a 2009 post on home-barrista dot com. It involves disassembly of the unit down to unscrewing the upper plate carrier, cleaning all the coffee dust and oil from the actual grinding area, and then wrapping the fine threads with teflon pipe wrapping tape. The teflon tape is wrapped around the threads 5 layers deep so the act of screwing the upper plate carrier (and thus adjusting the fineness of the grind) requires a good bit of hard twisting. This stiffness will keep the grinding plates at exactly the spot you selected, making it possible to grind at 2.5 steps or 3.75 steps.
I did the mod (after a complete cleaning of all parts and surfaces) in about 10 minutes. It was truly easy and works exactly as billed. Now, I have my grinder set to about a 3.25 setting or so and getting store-bought whole bean coffee to yield great flavor and amazing crema.
If you have one of these grinders, they are worth cleaning and putting back in full service. Do this modification if you dare, so for my results have been worth it. If anything CLEAN your grinder by taking it apart, as there is no substitute for a detailed wipe down and wash. Your coffee will thank you for it.