“I don’t know if I’m at step 15,” said Olympia co-owner Sam Schroeder, who was turning the tank to adjust the grind size. “That’s really sloppy.”
However, things improved after that. Sam operated the grinder and Olympia’s retail trainer, Reyna Callejo, operated the espresso machine while I sat back and watched the experts at work. Each time, the duo used 18 grams of Big Truck blend, working their way up to 36 grams of espresso. Grind size 15 was too coarse and 12 and 8 were too. Six was too nice and 7, as Reyna declared, “tastes like a big truck!”
According to Olympia baristas, that meant it was right where it needed to be.
Sam was still a little preoccupied with the off-center numbering, but that one dialing session told him a lot. “I don’t like the way the numbers don’t line up, but do I love the fine tuning.”
We all appreciated the taste of the coffee and enjoyed the body, something that conical burrs like those in ESP can often do better than their straight-edged competition. Flat notch grinders tend to be good at grind size consistency, but the coffee they make can be a bit more of a single note; it’s complicated, but in the end it’s usually a matter of personal preference.
“There is more variability in the size of the ESP grind, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Reyna said.
Heading into the meeting, Sam gave the ESP his blessing, calling it “pretty impressive for a $200 mill.”
Reyna took it from there as we explored coarse grinding options. She started pouring over the Kalita Wave, one batch based on the 28 grind size, one on the 25, praising her grind speed as she went. On a size 20 grind, she said it would be the one, and it turned out to be a damn fine cup.
We then cranked up the grind a bit to try Reyna’s current favorite brewing method, placing a Chemex filter in an Origami dripper, creating what was essentially a hybrid between a classic Chemex and pour-over coffee. At the 30 grind, it ground through the beans at what she called “turbo speed,” revealing a slightly different grind consistency.
“Boulders!” she declared, “Look at them all.”
A relatively large sediment rose to the top of the bed after she poured in the water, and Reyna said she would try a finer grind next time. We agreed that what she made was already pretty good, had a nice texture, and would be easy to refine to an even better cup.
“Variation in grind size is a personal preference,” she said, taking on the somewhat controversial issue of grind consistency, “Some are preferred, none too one-size-fits-all, but a lot can be a lot for some people.”
From there, we went to the far end of the grind options, exploring what fans of the French press and cold beer had to look forward to. For starters, she poured a spoonful of ground grind onto the countertop, where we noticed a fair amount of variability in the size of the grind.
“This might give you a more muddy French press,” she said, with what might have been a hint of disappointment in her voice, “but it’s also a more forgiving method.”
We got far enough in our testing that I asked Reyna if we had a truly versatile grinder that could do everything from a fine espresso grind to a coarse French press.
“Almost! You’re not going to have a good time grinding really rough.”
Man, we were so close.
At home I saw what she meant; it was a good but slower French print than I’m used to. As a regular drinker of the French press, I don’t mind a little sludge, but I wasn’t sure I’d want this much from here on out. Still, I found this machine to be impressive.
Overall, I didn’t have many notes about the machine because it was so impressively capable of grinding almost the entire spectrum of coffee types. If I were a regular home coffee maker who wanted to make espresso – and loved the simplicity of the drip, the meditation of the pour over and the coarser grind of the Chemex – it might not be perfect for a coffee shop. But as Reyna reminded me, “That’s what espresso does. That’s a lot.”