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In Search of the Perfect Daily Grinder for the Home Barista

27/04 2018 / Words & Photos by Ian & Caspar Steel

"Beans or ground?" This, the most Frequently Asked Question in the shop over the last 180 years or so, has lead us in search of the Perfect Daily Grinder for the Home Barista.

The consumer coffee market can basically be divided in two segments: OOH & AH. We sometimes refer to the two revenue streams as 'wet' or 'dry' coffee. To elucidate: OOH stands for consumption Out Of Home and AH for At Home. For roughly the first 170 years, from 1837 to 2007 Atkinsons sold coffee over the counter for generations of Lancastrians and visitors to enjoy at home. When we introduced the first tiny café tables in the shop back in 2007, we became a little bit OOH and still a lot of AH…!

OOH is a far bigger market than AH as everyone these days seems to have gone out for coffee. We now have three cafés The Music Room, The Hall, in Lancaster and The Mackie Mayor in Manchester, so we can really see the fruits of our labour though to completion, from farm to cup. In the process, of course, we have become much better informed in the dark arts of brewing coffee, information and expertise that we can reliably pass on to Wholesale and Retail customers alike.
With Atkinsons having continuously traded for all this time, Lancaster became an oasis for fresh, locally roasted beans, in a world increasingly swamped by soluble coffee. For all these loyal customers it was as if instant had never been invented. In the time-honoured ritual of buying coffee, weighed out on the same 18th Century scales that we still use to this day, there is one question that will have been asked more than any other. Having chosen a coffee, Single Origin or Blend and decided on a weight, nowadays 125g, 250g or 500grams, the customer will then be asked this all important question: “Beans or Ground?”

It is at this point that we determine whether the customer has their own grinder or not. In an ideal coffee world everyone would be grinding their coffee on demand just before they brew it. This would then double their enjoyment, as they get to smell the wonderfully complex aroma of those 1,500 flavour compounds being smashed into the volatile aromatics that are released on grinding the beans. These aromas are so fugitive that they escape into the atmosphere, which is why ground coffee is staling 50 times faster than beans. Also, as we receive around 75% of flavour perception through our sense of smell, you could argue that it represents more than half of the coffee experience. So it behoves us as responsible purveyors of the noble bean to encourage every customer to buy a grinder!

The problem is that good engineering doesn’t come cheap. Our shop grinders would set you back about £2,000. There are some excellent hand grinders with conical ceramic burrs that are perfect for the devotee but not exactly convenient for the desperate coffee drinker! There are cheap electric blade grinders, which are basically nut-choppers and breadcrumb makers. Basically with the cheaper domestic grinders you get a very uneven particle size, what we call in the trade: Boulders, Grinds & Fines. So, what is our recommended solution to achieving a perfect solution of evenly extracted coffee grounds in water?
Hailing from Norway, the Svart V2 grinder is the result of a colab between filter coffee specialists, Wilfa and World Barista Champion (and general coffee don) Tim Wendelboe. Wilfa have been making electric appliances for the home since 1948 with a vision to create ‘a better experience of everyday life’. What better way is there to do this than starting each day with a beautiful cup of coffee? As well as winning the World Barista Championships, Tim Wendelboe is the founder of a world-class roastery, green bean trading company and even a coffee farm in Colombia, so this pairing can only mean good news!

Two of the main factors of brewing great coffee are grinding fresh as you brew and having an even particle size. This second point has always been the missing link for home brewing as it usually requires very expensive grinders, which is why we were so excited when we found the Wilfa! We feel that the niche of an affordable yet very high quality domestic grinder has now been filled.

Using high quality steel conical burrs and a low RPM it minimises heat whilst grinding and produces an even particle size for a clean tasting brew. Retention and static are also minimal due to the slow grind speed and the materials used, this gives you consistent dosing and again aids a good quality grind. The design is slick and compact so it looks good on the kitchen worktop but doesn’t take up too much space, with the hopper and grinds bin fitting in the main body.

Grind adjustment is done by twisting the hopper and there are some handy little indicators to suggest what to grind it on for different brew methods. Grind sizes range from coarse for a French Press or jug to very fine for a strong Mokka Pot. There is also a nifty little timer function, this allows you to fill the hopper up and when you want your morning brew, just hit the ‘grind’ button and it will dose out automatically. Alternatively for a more accurate approach you can just pre-weigh your dose.
Quite often we have customers coming into our shop from the café next door, having just had the best tasting coffee they have ever experienced. They often ask what can they do to to brew something as good as this at home? The answer is simple. Get a good grinder and grind-on-demand. This is the single biggest improvement that the home barista can make to seriously transform the quality of their brewing at home. It's the next step, after having sought out a good speciality roaster and bought some beans with a recent roast date, just a few days off-roast to allow for resting and de-gassing. After all, grinding is the penultimate step of the journey for this much-travelled bean, tucked between roasting and brewing.

There are 140 steps along the way, from seedling to enjoying, to ruin a cup of coffee, (more on this in a future blog!) Having got this far, with one step to go, it seems a shame to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar! So, collect all your halfpennies and invest in a good grinder for home. Then the next time you're asked: "Beans or ground?" you can hold your head up and say the magic word: "Beans...!"
Prototype Espresso
Stone Fruit / Floral / Caramel
Wilfa Svart
Coffee Grinder / Black / + Free Bag of Coffee
Versatile / Lightweight / Coffee Maker
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