Innova I-1 flat burr doserless grinder - second look
"Mazzer grind quality at a bargain price...?."
The allure of micrometrical infinite grind adjustment was just
too much to resist.
I ordered the polished aluminum model from Morala Trading in Ottawa.
Morala is the primary distributor of Innova products in Canada.
[NOTE: this grinder was not submitted to CoffeeCrew
for review and testing. It was strictly a private purchase
by a CoffeeCrew Staff member.]
The grinder is packed loosely in a cardboard box.
The hopper and hopper lid is packed in a separate box and both of these
are all packed in one larger box.
There was no styrofoam in any of the packaging.
Although this system might be good enough for container shipping,
it did not stand up to the rigors of courier shipping.
The first grinder arrived damaged.
The adjustment knob was broken and the plastic lid of the
grinder(not the hopper) was damaged as well.
Worse, the loose lid had somehow mangled the brass worm gear. I didn't even bother to fire the grinder up, so I shook out the broken plastic pieces,boxed up the grinder and filed a claim with UPS[as advised by Morala Tading].
For anyone filing a claim with UPS, you know this is not a fun time.
The unit would have to be shipped to another city for a indeterminate
amount of time to be inspected by a UPS inspector.
A second plea for help to Morala Trading in Ottawa resulted in their shipping me a replacement grinder next day. I canceled the damage claim with UPS.
Unfortunately the second grinder was damaged as well. The fine outer threads of the worm gear were bent and chipped. The top panel was partly off the grinder body and a plastic tab was broken. Morala, with a bit of coaxing, sent me a replacement gear mechanism free of charge. It took all of 60 seconds to install the replacement.
Innova's claim to fame is its micrometrical vernier worm gear which allows for an infinite grind range adjustment.
Unlike the conical burr I-2 model, the I-1's flat burr guts appear to be all metal and brass. The grind adjustment is by means of a horizontally mounted worm gear.
The hopper appears to be a fairly rigid plastic and it sits loosely in the burr collar. The 'Crew has reported a hopper splitting problem with another identical Innova grinder that was reviewed within the last year. There was no evidence of hopper splitting with this unit though.
The fit and finish of the hand-crafted cast aluminum body is very good however the plastic bits do show some molding marks and signs of rough trimming. The polished aluminum finish looks quite attractive. Polished aluminum will cost you an additional $25 Canuck bucks though.
The grinder with hopper fits quite easily underneath the kitchen cabinets.
There is not much to a doserless grinder and the badly translated manual is useful only for the burr set disassembly instructions.
The I-1 has two electrical switches; one on/off switch with built-in LED and a push button switch located just above the portafilter fork. The idea is to push against the button with the side of the portafilter in order to actuate the grinder. An electronic timer model is available as an option.
Theory and practice are two very different things. Grinding directly into the portafilter just doesn't work very well. The fork is too close to the spout and my Gaggia portafilter just didn't fit well resulting in a lot of clumping of grounds in the PF. Clumping means the potential for channeling in my book.
Unfortunately, the fork is not height adjustable, so I decided to remove it completely. Be warned the the two screws that fasten the holder to the aluminum body are really bolts and after loosening them I heard the double plink of the two backing nuts fall to the bottom of the grinder. Invert the grinder and shake them out. ( You did turn off the power -right?) It looks like it will be a difficult task to re-attach those bolts without doing some additional disassembling. Now that there was more room, I decided to try grinding directly into the portafilter once again. A little better, however clumping was still a problem. With the portafilter held a bit lower, "overshooting" became a problem. The end result is that you may just as well grind directly into a container of your choice and spoon the grounds into the filter basket.
The I-1 is no speed demon and due to it's glacially slow 700 rpm motor, a double takes about a half minute or more to grind. On the other hand, slow is good and no heating of the grinds was evident.
There are some problems though. Like many other grinders, a lot of grounds remain in the exit chute of the grinder. You will have to fish these out with a grinder brush or improvise with some sort of tool. Next time you use the grinder you should run the grinder for a few seconds in order to push out any remaining old stale grounds.
I noticed a crack in the plastic spout after a week's use and the cracking became progressively worse with each use. Cause unknown. Vibration perhaps? The cracks were underneath the spout were it meets the aluminum body and were also evident around the screw that is attaches the spout to the grinder. I was dismayed to find sharp shards of plastic in my coffee grounds. A couple of weeks later the spout was ready to fall off. Yet again, the grinder had to be returned to Innova for repair and as a final insult, the newly repaired grinder was damaged yet again by the courier trip back.
Can we start to see a pattern forming here?
The gasketing material that is supposed to seal the around the exit chute doesn't quite do the job. Some coffee grounds have managed to find its way into the interior of the grinder.
The worm gear's "feel" is a bit odd. It is not completely smooth as you turn it. You will feel more resistance and then less resistance as you continue turning. I am not a mechanical engineer, however I suspect it could be the different pitch of the worm gear as it moves through its travel. Even so, there is a tendency for the worm gear to bind slightly and lift the edge of the top burr carrier.
The outer brass threads of the worm gear are razor sharp and are very fine, soft and delicate. Treat these very gently when you are transporting the grinder or disassembling the burrs for cleaning.
I was very disappointed to see that there was considerable "slop" in the top burr carrier. I could easily wiggle the top burr carrier back and forth horizontally and vertically as well. If you back off the worm gear slightly you can hear the top burr clunk slightly as it falls back into place.
Attractive aluminum finish
Infinite grind tweakability with micrometrical worm gear.
All brass burr carrier.
Factory packaging is totally inadequate.
This is a espresso only grinder as there is no way to go from coarse to fine settings and back again with any repeatability.
Brittle plastic spout.
Lots of leftover grounds in chute.
Burr carrier free-play sloppiness
Build quality a question mark
The soaring Euro has increased prices of these grinders. However, despite the appreciating Euro, recent price decreases[in Canada] of the Rocky doserless makes it [the Rocky] a tempting alternative for just a few dollars more. And most unfortunately, if you want Mazzer-like quality, you will have to get a Mazzer!
I am going to give this grinder a NOT RECOMMENDED rating due primarily to build quality question marks and service issues. Burr carrier sloppiness, suspected excessive vibration problems and a litany of other problems do not inspire confidence.
Innova Canada, after some discussion, has agreed that packaging is a problem. They have changed their shipping policy and have promised to double box for courier shipping from now on.
Innova Canada has replaced all the parts that were damaged in transit - 2 top panels, 2 gear assemblies and 1 spout. However, on the last repair, a careless technician tightened the two burrs tight together(why?) and forgot to back them off before shipping the unit back. Unpleasant things happened when I fired up the grinder for the final test review. I have asked Innova Canada to replace the unit. We are looking forward to Innova's response.
UPDATE: Alas, the newly repaired spout lasted just a few short weeks. It has started to crack once again...
Price: $325 CDN (polished aluminum)
Glenn S. is a senior financial consultant with a successful firm in Southern Ontario. He works and lives in Waterloo and is the most prolific member of CoffeeCrew.Com.