This is a first look at the Innova Grinder (website) which now (as of April, 2006) goes under the name of Ascaso. These grinders can be found at Zaccardis online, and two models are currently available. The I-1 Model, which features the flat burr grinder, goes currently for $319. The I-2 Model with conical burrs, sells for $250.
The grinder is for the prosumer/light commercial espresso crowd, but different models allow for different uses. It is primarily for a consumer / domestic market, but could also see adequate duty as a second grinder in a light to medium commercial setting, or as a decaf grinder. It is a direct competition with the venerable Rancilio Rocky grinder and in this first look, we will bring up the Rocky frequently.
Out of the Box
The well illustrated manual (in six languages including Spanish, English, Italian, and others) claims this product weighs 4.2 kilograms, or about 10 pounds. I'm sorry, that almost must be a typo - it seems to weigh a lot more. And trust me, that isn't a bad thing in grinders - more weight is almost always desirable. It keeps the grinder from sliding around, and the more weight in a grinder, the more beefy the burr group, frame, and body is. For our full review, I will do a dry (without beans) weight.
The Innova is available in 5 configurations - a doser and doserless flat burr model, a doser and doserless conical burr model, and an automatic doserless conical burr model. Further, two colours are currently available, red with black highlights, and black with black highlights. A third choice in colours is on the way - natural (aluminum) with black highlights. We received a flat burr model with doser, red with black highlights.
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| Right side of the Innova grinder, with the doser lever and micro-grind selector dial. This red is close to reality. |
| Left side of the grinder with the power switch and doser assembly prominent. Red is not accurate in this picture. |
| Doser assembly. It's fairly basic, but much tighter fitting than the Rocky's doser. No stray grinds in there. |
In the box is the bean hopper and lid in its own box, product manual, and the main grinder body in a separate packing area of the box. I have slight concerns about the packing of the heavy grinder body - the grinder is set in the box inside a plastic bag with only cardboard inserts to "protect it", and they are not very form-fitting. A Styrofoam cutout or much more intricate cardboard holders are needed, especially with the reputation some courier companies have for treating boxes like footballs. My unit arrived unscathed, save for a small problem with the grinding fineness knob, which was easily remedied by the vendor.
After a visual inspection of the grinder, and a quick disassembly / reassembly of the grinding area, plus a complete read through of the manual (something I completely recommend always - RTFM people... read the freaky manual), I was ready to put this grinder through its paces.
Setting the Grinder Up, and Dialing it In.
I highly recommend that everyone who buys this grinder takes the time to really inspect it first before usage, and understand how the gearing system (worm drive, I'd like to call it) works, especially in regards to how a 360 turn on the grind selector dial moves the actual burrs by a very small amount. This, again is a good thing - the fineness controls on this grinder look very promising.
I also recommend that you take the time to inspect the burr sets. I discovered that there were some metal shavings burred up in a dense tiny ball in between some of the burr teeth during my inspection. It was no problem removing - I used a stiff bristled toothbrush (dry, no soap, no liquids) to brush it away. I also used canned air to blast away any other possible shavings. My main concern is that people might try to grind right away, and drink that first shot which could have metal shavings in it. You should never drink the first few beverages from ANY grinder, you should consider those shots or coffees brewed to be test / garbage brews, but I just know some people will not heed this advice. Perhaps in the future, the factory that makes these grinders, or the importer can do a test run with beans to clear out any possible metal shavings or residue from the manufacturing and assembly process.
After inspecting the burr set, I assembled it again, turning the big, beefy top burr holder until it touched the bottom burr assembly, then turned it back two full revolutions. I screwed the worm drive assembly back in place, and and prepared to grind and dial it in.
Initial dial in took over a pound of coffee, mainly because I had to get familiar with how how super fine the adjustment knob is - a full revolution is, by my guess, the equivelant of a quarter click on a Solis Maestro grinder. Again, this is a good thing - I only wished I knew this going in (and now you do), because I wasted a pound of decent coffee :)
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| Another look at the doser assembly. Nice and solid, but small. |
| This does plug up, unfortunately. The grinds do always move, but they compact, sometimes a lot. Fish them out every use. |
| The burr assembly seen from the top. That's a big bit of beefy brass in there. There's no finger guard on the hopper. |
Here's a tip for quality grinder resellers out there. Include 2 lbs of coffee with your grinder sales, as a gratis, "welcome to grinder nirvana" unknown bonus to the consumer. One lb will be labled "garbage beans - drink at your own risk" and will be freshly roasted, but very cheap arabica beans, roasted to a decent medium roast. Explain with a card insert (or on the bag) the purpose of those beans is to dial in the grinder, get the grind producing a decent shot.
The second lb of beans will be your "Good" beans for the customer - the beans they can put in the grinder after it is dialed in initially. Explain, with your insert / label that the first few shots with this good bean stock should also be for dialing in, but then, drink away, hombre!
Lastly, the dial in process is a lengthy one, please understand this. Initial dial in is just to get the grind working with those specific beans you're using. A long lasting dial in process is dialing you into understanding the nuances of this grinder. It can take months, and it should.
As part of the dial in process, I discovered how great this grinder's potential is, but I also discovered a nuance that it shares with the Rocky.
The great part comes from the true stepless grind selection ability, and how super-fine the adjustment can be. We're talking leaps ahead of the Rocky here. We're talking Mini Mazzer country. At this stage, all I can state is you can do a grind for a shot, do your normal tamp, brew when your machine seems right, notice it's off by that all to frequent "tad"... where you get a good shot, but not a great one. With most consumer grinders, you'd fiddle with your tamp, fiddle with "temperature surfing" on the espresso machine, and vary the total dose of grinds to try and find that "tad". One thing you couldn't do was go up a click, or down a click on the grinder because you knew, that "tad" wasn't big enough for a full click to compensate, even a Rocky (who still does rock). But with this grinder, you get that variable. You can get that "tad" by doing a quarter or half turn on the adjustment knob, do all the other things - dose, tamp, brew temp the same as previous, and wallah, your good shot became great.
By the time I was on my second lb of beans, I really did notice this. I prepped about 15 double ristrettos with this grinder in the first day, and by the 13th, 14th, and 15th, thanks to the stepless and superfine adjustment, I achieved consistency in the shots. When I put another bean type in the grinder, After the first three shots, I was able to, only by adjusting the grind fineness, get right back up to great, consistent shots.
| You have to unscrew the worm drive to get to the burr assembly. Not a problem at all. Assembly inside is first rate, and the aluminum doesn't feel like, well, aluminum. It's strong and thick. The entire body of this device reeks of quality - chalk another up for metal :) |
| Here is a closeup of the "worm drive". A full revolution of the knob does not turn that gear much at all. Great, super-fine tuning, all stepless, all the time. |
| Big, beefy. The way I like it. This burr plate holds a 58mm cutter and is a substantial chunk of metal. You're seeing what is essentially a scaled down Rossi burr set, except this is stepless! While I cannot measure for sure, I believe the Rocky's top burr plate is slightly bigger, but not enough to make an impact. |
This first look will wrap up with some initial notes on build, performance, and operation of the Innova grinder.
Build: I loved almost everything about the Innova in terms of build, save three things - one a minor complaint, and two that are very minor. First, the fork that holds the PF is a tad too high... my portafilter sits almost touching the doser chamber. An adjustable height for the fork would be a boon to the design of this grinder. My second complaint is the size of the power switch on the left is too small for my meaty hooks. The third complaint is the location of the power cord - straight out the lower back area of the unit. The base is a curve - there are no angles, but because the extra thick cable juts out of the back, this grinder cannot be pushed against a back wall - it has to sit about an inch, two inches out.
The pluses are numerous. The Innova weighs a good amount, and with the addition of rubber feet does not slide around. The doser is what I would call "consumer grade" but while it is also smaller than the Rocky's doser, it seems to be much more thought out than the Rocky's "afterthought doser". The doser is non-adjustable, unlike most commercial grinders, which are, and the Innova's doser version holds a relatively small amount of grinds - by eye, I would guess at maybe 75 grams of coffee when full. Each lever pull gives you around 7 or 8 grams of coffee, and where it also wins out against the Rocky is in the tight fit of the doser vanes - almost no coffee is left behind as you clackity clack.
I'm also impressed with the build of the burr group (a 58mm burr set looks like a scaled down version of the burr set in my commercial Rossi grinder) the good use of thick aluminum for the frame and shell (it is thick!), and the beefy brass all around the burrs. I would put this on par with the Rocky in terms of beefed up materials used for the body and burr group.
I'm neutral about the bean hopper, which is fairly light weight plastic that looks like it could scratch and cloud over easily, with time. We'll see on that one.
Performance: The grind particles produced by this grinder are extremely even. Extremely so. Maybe it's brand new burrs, maybe it's attention to the dialing in process, but I was seriously impressed with the evenness of the grinds.
One thing I was not so impressed with was how slowly the grinds came out of the chute. In fact, they kind of plug up, and clump because of the compaction. This is also a problem that plagues the Rocky - you have to use a stick or spoon or something to fish out the grinds in the Rocky between each use, otherwise you'll have several grams of stale grinds. You also have to do it with the Innova to avoid the same problem. I use the pointed end of a plastic bodum spoon to clear it out between uses. The bonus is, you can easily operate this grinder without the doser lid on - it will not spray. Grind by viewing the amount ground, and once you turn the grinder off, fish out the chute to get an extra 4 or more grams of coffee. I'm really not sure how they can solve this problem - save a gear-reduced sub-burrplate vane system for shooting out the grinds (which would spray, like commercial grinders do).
Operation: The Innova is a slow grinder, unfortunately. It's slower than the Rocky, and much slower than my Rossi commercial grinder, by an order of 2 or 3 times slower for producing the same amount of grinds. But that's not a huge deal - in fact, as long as it can produce the grind needed for a double in under 30, 40 seconds, I'm fine with that. Some will see this as a plus - the slow even movement of the flat plate burrs allow for a very even grind (outlined in performance above), and keeps the heat down.
Noise was a non issue. Empty, this grinder is noiser than the Rocky is (which is probably one of the quietest grinders made). I did find it very interesting that the Innova was quieter than my Rossi commercial grinder when empty. With beans, they all average out to about the same noise level.
There is strong resistance to both turning the grind fineness knob and to using the doser lever. Both are complete perks in my book - you don't want that knob to move too easily - otherwise it might float while grinding. The strong resistance on the doser lever gives it a very solid feel, and indicates to me that the spring will last a long time.
Overall, I am very impressed with this first look at the grinder, but time will tell, and I need to give it a full evaluation before stating any kind of complete recommendation on it.
Look for our detailed review on Innova Grinder very soon on the CoffeeGeek website, where we will expand on this first look, rate the product more fully against direct and indirect competition, and more.