Back to the grind

Some years back, I bought my first home espresso machine, a basic model from Italy’s Gaggia. It was a faithful kitchen companion for several years until it gave-up the ghost, but I digress.

To make espresso, you need a decent grinder, and that means getting a burr grinder. At the time, I made an “adequate” choice, namely a KitchenAid model—a choice made as much for décor reasons as functional ones. In its defense, it lasted longer the Gaggia, but it too recently needed replacement as plastic parts began to break, and were not replaceable. It was also clear that the burrs needed to be replaced, but were no longer made for the specific grinder model I owned.

The espresso machine I own today has its own built-in burr grinder (I’ll save details of that for another column), so the regular grinder sees all of its use these days to grind the morning batch of drip coffee. But I still wanted something decent, and something capable of espresso grinding should the need arise later on. After doing some research and deep consideration of budget, I ended-up deciding on something from the Baratza family. This Seattle-based company seems to embody a lot of qualities I like, including making the machines easy to clean and easy to service—things that clearly weren’t high on KitchenAid’s list for their grinder.

The next consideration was budget, and in the end, cheaper won, which meant the Baratza Encore was the target. Selling typically for between $130 and $140, for most people, that’s still quite an investment for a machine that does nothing other than grind coffee. But there are some reasons to make that investment instead of simple (and much cheaper) options:

  • Consistency of grind. This is necessary to ensure consistent extraction, and thus, consistent flavor in return for consistent measurement. In other words, ensuring that 70 grams of coffee at any given grind setting results in a predictable cup of coffee out the bottom of the brewer. There’s nothing like crap coffee one day, and perfect coffee the next, and wondering what the heck happened.
  • Speed of grind. It seems a little far-fetched to think the impact is huge, but the speed of the grind can make a difference in the cup. Having a grinder that’s properly designed and properly geared ensures that the speed is optimal to avoid impacting the coffee’s flavor—not to mention making undue noise, or contributing to static build-up in the grinds (that then end-up dancing and flying around the kitchen counter).
  • The aforementioned serviceability and cleanability—versus buying a cheap, throw-away kitchen appliance.

Baratza have clearly designed the Encore with the focus primarily on the important, working parts. The burrs are finely engineered and European-made, and great care has gone into the “gearbox 2.0” gearing design. But the outside construction is plastic, and the assembly is done in Taiwan, keeping the price in the “generally reasonable” range.

Another factor that tipped the scale (literally) in Baratza’s favor is the availability of the Esatto accessory for the Encore (and other grinders in the Baratza family). The grinder mounts on top of the Esatto, and in short, it allows you to grind by weight. For my drip coffee maker (a Technivorm model), I know that 70 grams of coffee is generally the amount needed for a full pot for most types of coffee. While I’ve not bought an Esatto just yet, I plan to, and look forward to pressing a button, and getting the exact amount of ground coffee I need—reliably, every time.

As for the Encore itself, my experience with it has been favorable. My only complaint is that it doesn’t seem to sit quite level on the countertop (it rocks a bit), but a little adjustment to the rubber feet will soon cure that. The grind of the coffee itself is indeed very consistent, the machine is reasonably quiet, and looks decent sitting on the kitchen counter between my Technivorm drip coffeemaker and the Breville espresso machine (if perhaps not as exotic looking at the KitchenAid).

If you value as consistent and quality coffee experience as much as I do, I think it’s definitely worth the investment to get a decent grinder, and the Baratza Encore is definitely worth considering to fill the bill.