The Reluctant Barista Dials in a Coffee Grinder on the Last Frontier
Lots of Seattle Coffee Gear fans watch our YouTube videos to learn more about coffee and espresso with our hands-on tutorials. But what if you don’t have internet or wireless service available? This summer, I carefully hand-carried a Rancilio Rocky Coffee Grinder to Homer, Alaska, a location often highlighted as part of the current ‘Alaskan Reality TV Show’ craze. Let me tell you about the reality I faced as I tried to help my family dial in their new coffee grinder without the SCG Crew there to help me.
First of all, my family lives on twenty acres located ten miles outside of town. Fair to say, it is a little remote. Tom Bodett calls Homer The End of the Road: Electricity is a new arrival at the house and my mom still cooks on a wood stove. Internet comes via satellite service, which is comparable to the dial-up systems of yore in terms of both speed and reliability. My step-dad unpacked this nice hand-built Italian grinder on the coffee table and fished around inside the box for instructions. I laughed a little at the old-fashioned notion of reading a user manual and pulled out my smartphone. The joke was on me when I had no cell reception and such limited wi-fi that I could navigate to YouTube, but not play a video! Then, the joke was on him because the poorly translated Italian-to-English instructions left us scratching our heads.
I love the Rancilio Rocky grinder. It is a home grinder, but it's made with commercial parts, so I knew it would be the right grinder to reliably produce the daily espresso needed to make my folks an Americano and a cappuccino. I reached deep into my memory bank to help set up this burr grinder. The one thing I clearly recalled was to make sure beans are ground through it as the burrs are adjusted lower so they do not grind against each other and cause damage. I wish I had seen Teri’s excellent video on how to dial in a Rocky before I left Seattle. We did find a written blog post by Kat years ago and used it to guide our efforts.
The part that frustrated me most about dialing in the new grinder was not the physical adjustment, but rather the amount of espresso beans used and time it took. Compared to the Baratza Virtuoso I have at home in Seattle, the process was night and day. By the time I ran through the recommended ¼ pound of beans on the Baratza I found my grind. With the Rocky, it took a full bag of beans plus the stopwatch app on my phone and multiple taste tests that left us all wired. The Rancilio instructions say that this process will never need to be repeated but I know from watching Kat and Gail’s videos that any time you get new beans or a new machine, re-calibration is required.
The Rancilio Rocky grinder is an excellent coffee grinder and the fuss of a more temperamental set up is rewarded with an ideal home espresso grind. My parents wanted a grinder that could be carefully maintained and serviced to last many years. In the greater scheme of things, an evening spent hopped-up on espresso shots was family bonding time and not actually wasted. Plus each morning thereafter was like Christmas as we raced to see who would get to use the new grinder first.
What is the takeaway from this cautionary tale? A) Don’t count on modern technology to work in the wilderness B) Be more patient than I am C) We put a great effort into creating the perfect home espresso station while there's still no thought of indoor plumbing. And that is the reality of life on the Last Frontier.