The KitchenAid ProLine of appliances is now far ranging, but the first three out of the gate were the ProLine Espresso machine, the ProLine Coffee Maker, and the ProLine Grinder. This first look will give our initial impressions of the grinder.
Out of the box
As you would expect with a major appliance maker, the ProLine Grinder comes in a very professional and attractive package. CoffeeGeek's test unit was shipped "double boxed" which ensured it would ship safely, and it did.
The machine is protected by form-cut Styrofoam, and arrived very secure. Inside the boxe was the grinder and a very detailed (and in many ways frank) instruction manual. In fact, this is easily the best product manual I've ever seen with a coffee appliance, and that includes the superb Capresso manuals. I take delight in reminding you to RTFM (read the freakin' manual) when purchasing this product, and in this case, I think most of you, even the hard core "I don't read any stinkin' manuals cuz I'm smart!" types will enjoy reading this one. (ProLine Manual, 500kb PDF file).
The machine itself is pretty impressive in looks, materials, and even the weight.
Our test machine was in the "gunmetal gray" colour that the line initially launched in. The glass bean hopper on top can hold 200 grams of coffee (roughly 7oz, tested). It has a lid with a silicone ring that provides a semi-airtight seal but is easy to remove. This won't necessarily prevent aging and oxygenation, but every little bit helps. It screws onto the top of the grinder, and can be removed for cleaning - it is dishwasher safe.
| Glass and Metal |
The grinds catcher is made of glass, and surprisingly durable.
The grinds catcher, or "bin" is also made of glass, and at first seems slightly flimsy and possibly prone to breaking, but stands up well and is surprisingly strong.
The grinder body is all metal and has a protective clear coat coating. The grind control dial is right up front, and features 15 settings (if you really want a stepless grind, you can hold the grind dial in between one of the "clicks" while grinding). The side body features vents for the motor, but the motor is sufficiently far enough way from the grind burrs (and on the horizontal plane, not the vertical plane like most espresso grinders) to keep the burrs fairly cool.
The base of the grinder features rubber feet that prevent it from sliding.
The on-off switch is located on the right side of the grinder, and has a nice tactile feel.
Taking apart the front assembly of the grinder (and the manual is very helpful in describing how to do this), you see the interior features an auger that transports whole beans to the vertically stacked 57mm flat burrs. The ground coffee falls straight down a hole into the grinds catcher. It's a very intriguing design that should leave almost no ground coffee between uses, and the auger design helps keep a constant flow of whole beans on a horizontal path to the grinder, and helps avoid the "popcorn effect" of beans jumping off the burrs when the grinder is almost empty.
KitchenAid also includes a burr cleaning brush in the box. Nice touch. Can't think of too many grinders, including $750 Mazzers, that do this.
First Use of the KitchenAid ProLine Grinder
KitchenAid suggests washing all surfaces of the grinder before first use, including the glass bean hopper and catcher, so I did just that.
I set the grinder to its finest factory setting, then ran the grinder a bit without any beans (this isn't in the manual ;)). I could hear burr-on-burr contact, so I eased it off a bit. I put beans in, and while running the grinder, dialed it back to the finest setting.
Right away, I noticed something about the grind. It was fluffy!
Yes, fluffy. I didn't know what I was looking at (at the time), but I thought for sure this wasn't a fine enough setting for espresso - the ground coffee was all puffy and looked, at a distance of maybe a foot or two, to be too coarse.
A closer examination revealed something different - the "fluffyness" I saw was actually nice little curls amongst the ground coffee, and lots of airspace between the grinds. I thought about this a bit, and came to the (very unscientific) conclusion that the vertical fall of the ground coffee, without a horizontal path (like 95% of the grinders out there) to travel meant the coffee didn't have a chance to compress and flatten out.
I was excited by this - this meant that the first true compression of the ground coffee would come from me - using my tamper.
So I loaded up the portafilter on CoffeeGeek's lab La Marzocco, and went to go pull my first shot. I dosed approximately 17 grams into the LM double basket and tamped the coffee. Woah. All of a sudden, the ground coffee looked very fine. I knew what would happen next, and I was right - the KitchenAid ProLine grinder choked my La Marzocco machine. After 40 seconds of brewing, I barely had a drop or two in the espresso cup. Interesting stuff.
I dialed the grinder back to "7" on the selector, and tried again. This time, I got a bit of a gusher - which showed me there was quite a bit of variance between one full click (two half clicks) on the grinder.
Third try, I set it to 7.5, dosed the same, and got a reasonable volume (roughly 50mls in 27 seconds). But if I wanted it to be say 60mls in 25 seconds, or 75mls in the same time, I would have to figure out a way to keep the grind selector in between clicks. Or... I could just turn the dial back and forth while grinder. Hrmm.
Once I had the espresso side more or less figured out, I dialed back to 2 on the grinder to see how it would fare for a press pot grind. The grind particles were fairly large! Almost too large, so I went to a 3.5 setting, and liked what I got.
In the manual, they say that the SCAA's ratings of 250 microns (for espresso) or 1500 microns (for press pot) can be achieved by the grinder, but out of the factory, the range from 1 to 8 is 1350 microns to 350 microns. Hrm. If 1 on this grinder is 1350 microns and the SCAA recommends 1500, I'd say the SCAA is way off on the size of particles for press pot, because on this grinder, with the factory settings, the "1" setting delivered really big chunks of beans - slivers as much as 1mm long.
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| Finger Guard |
Sometimes beans get held up by the edges of this all metal finger guard inside the grinder.
| Notches |
The notch dial behind the black grind dial. This can be adjusted by the user.
| Auger |
This is part of the burr assembly, and you can see the auger that feeds whole beans to the burrs.
| Dial Assembly |
This thing is surprisingly heavy and beefy for what it is supposed to be.
Grinding for Press Pot
| Compared |
The Solis Maestro Grinder and the KitchenAid ProLine
| Side View |
Side view of the two grinders.
So, after fooling around with the range of grinds, I decided to try a press pot first, grinding at 3.5 on the dial. I was amazed at the grind - to be frank, it was not like anything I've seen before from a consumer grinder. Very even particle size, no dust to speak of (did the old "rub it between your palms lightly" test and only trace amounts of coffee stayed between the ridges (same things as fingerprints) on my palm). Very promising stuff.
The first brew was nice - a cleaner cup than what my mainstay press pot grinder delivered (Solis Maestro Plus), though there was some "mud" at the bottom of the cup of coffee once I finished. Clarity was better too, but it was press.
Taste? I put the Solis Maestro Plus vs the KitchenAid in head to head in 350ml (12oz) press pots, using the identical weight of coffee (21 grams).
I've been working with my palate as of late, and found ways to slightly improve it to detect slight differences in taste, and I was able to notice a slightly cleaner, yet more complex cup with the KitchenAid sample, brewing Los Delirios from Intelligentsia. This isn't to say the Solis was bad - it's not - but the KitchenAid was a better even grind that provided a slightly better cup.
I asked one of my regular testers to sample, and they did notice a subtle difference, but only after I pointed out a specific flavour (apricot in the finish, which was not apparent from the Solis cup.
On espresso, in the first few weeks of testing, I didn't do a lot, other than about a pound of Black Cat from Intelly. Mainly I was testing the grinder with the La Marzocco in our lab, and it was proving difficult to get the "ideal shot", but don't read into this much - I need more time to dial in the finer points, fool with my volumes and doses.
For drip, I was having great success. I was using this grinder early on with the Technivorm Moccamaster, and a Melitta Clarity brewer. I used a SwissGold permanent filter in both, and with a setting of about 5 or 5.5 on the KitchenAid, I was getting an exceptionally clean cup given the filter I was using (SwissGold filters tend to give a muddy coffee), and I just felt the entire brew was extracting a lot of the sample beans' more elusive flavours and tastes.
As always, I have to remind you this is a very preliminary look at the grinder. This is by no means conclusive, nor should it be read as such.
With that said, the early look at this grinder is very promising. I think I'd like to see how the grinder looks with a sharper set of burrs, to see how speed or the even-ness of the grind cut is, but out of the box, it's an extremely capable grinder.
The manual is darn near perfect and full of what would be called "insider info" if it were any other grinder manufacturer - the kind of stuff that they typically don't want you to know, like how to take the thing apart - it's all good.
The construction is first rate, with very little to complain about. I did notice that some of the whole beans will "hang" in the top bean cup where the finger guard is, but it's not a serious inconvenience.
Overall, we're very pleased with this grinder as a first look. It's also usurped the Solis Maestro Plus as our "cupping" grinder (as I write this, it's a month after we finished the "first look"), and it's holding up well. At $199, (buy it at Amazon using our affiliate link, and help the site out), it's about $55 more than the Solis Maestro Plus, but at this point, it looks to be money very well spent.