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I have come to the conclusion that there are too many variables involved in making a beautiful shot of espresso to add trying to guess the perfect grind to the mix. I can say this now, having ground my teeth through nearly a year of attempts to perfect a good pour with pre-ground beans. “This batch is perfect!” I would shout to my significant other in the next room, and we would huddle around the machine oohing and ahhing as the crema poured like silk. Far too many batches of really lovely beans were wasted in that year, either ground too fine yielding bitter, slow dribbles or so coarse that we often gave up and just tried to pretend we had meant to make a barely passable Americano. These days every shot is glorious, and instead focus on a more pleasant coffee-snob quandary: should I have a latte or cappuccino today?
Photo right - the side by side on the venerable Rocky!
There are more perks to grinding your coffee freshly than simply the perfection of your shot. The aroma of freshly ground coffee in the morning is truly intoxicating. Often, when I wake up I feel like a character in a Folgers commercial. Roll over, one-eye creaks open, stretch and mid breath… mmm, the lingering odor of the fresh grounds brings a peaceful smile to my face and motivates me to get up more days than I really want to admit.
The Gaggia MDF has been a solid performer as a companion to our Rancilio Silvia machine. Although the formal description claims it is “quiet” it was a bit startling at first, but the pitch is low enough not to cause too many heart palpitations when someone makes an unexpected coffee while you are dozing off watching Doctor Who on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The "hardened-steel" burrs do a good job, although I have to admit when we pre-ground a little extra for camping trips and such I felt a little nervous about overheating the beans by grinding for too long. I was hyper-aware of any variations in temperature or odor and would let the machine cool down after dispensing more than a few doses. This may have been paranoia about breaking the thing as much as anything else.
The variations between different grind settings is perhaps a bit more drastic than I would prefer, although I think with a bit more technique to our tamp we could probably overcome most of that difference. We have noticed that we find ourselves adjusting the settings between different brands of beans, or even batches within the same brand. This explains why we were having such a hard time getting a grind consistent enough when asking the coffee shops to pre-grind the beans for us!
Image at right - The Gaggia MDF has a solid doser mechanism and lever - good for thousands of doses.
There are a few things I would change if I were to design the MDF to be 100% perfect, although they are purely critiques of usability not functionality. Firstly, although the window on the doser portion of the machine is somewhat clear, it quickly becomes hard to see with coffee residue. At counter height we often find ourselves either removing the opaque lid or crouching down to peer at how much coffee has actually been dispensed. Since we have only ever used a dosing machine we are not totally sure which side we will end up on in the whole doser vs. doserless debate just yet so I can't comment on the efficiency of this in comparison to a doserless grinder.
The hopper on top comfortably holds a half-pound bag, but stops shy of holding a full one-pound bag. I am sure there is a logical rationale for this and I am guessing that it relates to the fact I should be buying smaller batches of beans in order to reach optimum freshness. However, the fact is that many of our favourite coffee shops sell their beans in one pound bags as the default. This really has no real ill effects other than the occasional martial discord about the proper storage method for our beans.
Although our Rancilio machine is marketed as "going with" the Rancilio Rocky, is listed at a whopping $200 more. I am sure there is a bump in quality between the two, but for the amateur coffee nerd like myself I remain unconvinced that the significant price difference is that worth it. It is safe to say the MDF ranks very high on the value scale.
Jen Reiher is a reluctant caffeine addict, food nerd and aspiring food writer & blogger. Her take on the Victoria local food scene can be found at the Victorian Food Guide - victorianfood.blogspot.com