In it, I pointed out that while billed as a near commercial level grinder, it was unable to grind fine enough to make espresso in my Rancilio Silvia. I recently cleaned and re-calibrated the unit, and a selecting 5.5 on the 1-8 setting dial delivered chunky, uneven pieces, perhaps suitable for a French press.
I blamed the burrs, which in my opinion were not sharp. They seemed to be made of a soft metal that did not keep the edge. I ordered a replacement set and comparison of the two burrs will come up in a future entry.
Anyway, after further fiddling, I found I could create a decent DRIP coffee grind at about 6.5 out of 8. This made a nice drip cup and worked well in a Kurig as well. But the point is made: If I have to dial it to 6.5 out of 8 to get a grind fine enough to just make a decent drip coffee, there is no way this device can put out a fine espresso grind, new burrs or not.
I will prove myself right or wrong in a future entry when I install the new burrs. Meanwhile, the KitchenAid ProLine Grinder is more of a wood chipper than a coffee grinder.
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.
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”.
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.