A machine that looks the part,
but fails to deliver.
KitchenAid is a brand that evokes a sense of heavy duty service and product overdesign. Anyone over 40 has their mother’s KitchenAid
Mixmaster processor up in the pantry or on the counter, possibly the same unit they watched in action as a little kid. KitchenAid products are highly regarded and command a premium price at stores.
Based on the legacy of the brand, a buyer might expect KitchenAid to produce a coffee grinder that’s the best of the best, ready for generations of grinding.
Unfortunately, they have not.
The KitchenAid ProLine Grinder is a flawed machine, and the flaw comes down to the design and manufacture of one important part.
Let no one say that the grinder itself isn’t a beautiful design. It lifts styling cues from the Mixmasters of the past, and uses a hopper and container system that reduces static fly-away issues and keeps the device looking really clean. It is darned heavy as well, just like your Ma’s Mixmaster.
But users will notice that this is not the machine for grinding espresso. Not even close. Espresso requires a very fine grind, in some instances just microns sort of a fine powder. It also needs to be very uniform in consistency or the pressurized water will sneak by the “boulders” in the puck and yield a watery shot. This machine was never able to grind to anywhere near this fineness. Even after several attempts at re-calibration, the very best I could get was a chunky grind applicable for drip coffee. If you’re interested, here’s KitchenAid’s page on cleaning and recalibration.
So what’s up with this problem? An assembly problem? No, it’s a beautiful machine. An issue with the hopper? Nah. It all comes down to what may be the very heart of any coffee grinder: the burr plates.
The burr plates are the teeth of the system. They break up the coffee beans into small, hopefully uniform particles of ground coffee. The grinder has a powerful, slowly rotating motor that will smash the beans as they fall between two burr plates. One plate is spinning, the other is fixed. A good set of burr plates will cut into the beans instantly and pulverize them to a specific uniform consistency.
But not in the KitchenAid. The edges of the cutting pattern has very little of the sharpness needed to bite into the beans. As discussed on several internet forums, the plates seemed to be cast from a metal that loses what little edge they have very quickly. I noticed my grinder outputting a coarser grind within a few months of use. Cleaning and adjusting did no good, and after a recent tear down for cleaning it seems the burr plate is no more than some textured ripples in the metal. This is after only moderate home use.
For the record, some 3rd party vendor sites indicate the burrs are made of stainless steel. I have examined the ones out of my machine and they are made of a completely different metal than the ones from my Gaggia MDF, which are clearly made from a very hard steel that holds its edge.
I have found a replacement set of burrs for the KitchenAid on an auction site. In a later blog entry I will compare new and old burrs and update the grinder’s performance.
The only other comment I have currently on the KitchenAid ProLine Grinder is the fragile ground receptacle. This small customized bowl fits perfectly under the grinding chamber, minimizing static flyaway. It also looks really nice as part of the overall design. The down side is the bowl is made of rather thin glass and will crack or chip with a forceful bump. Think wine glass sort of thickness. Because this bowl is constantly being handled, chances of cracking this vessel is pretty high. It’s not cheap either. A scan of online parts resellers show prices between 25 and 35 dollars in June of 2019.
We’ll see how the new burrs help, but if you’re considering this grinder for 200 dollars, I suggest holding out for another 100 dollars and getting a Barzata Sette or even a Rancilio Rocky. The extra dollars are worth the trouble.