Good grinder for press or drip, but it falters trying to consistently grind for espresso. Make sure that you buy from a vendor with a good return policy.
Positive Product Points
-Fast grinder (compared to a Solis).
-Does not bog down or clog like my previous grinder (Solis Maestro).
-Very quiet operation and easy to adjust grind size.
-The manual is written very well and instructs you how to adjust grind size to get exactly what you need.
-Kitchen-Aid's customer service is top notch!
Negative Product Points
-Consistency not good enough for being an "espresso only" grinder
-Looks like a mixer (minor).
-Not available in a chrome finish (very minor).
I have updated this review a few times since my initial writing to keep everything current. The last addition was 4/4/07. Please read all the way down as my opinion of this grinder has changed in the months that I have owned it.
INITIAL REVIEW, 7/06: I broke my Solis (I have since rebuilt it and use it instead of the KA) and read the other reviews about the Kitchen-Aid. I had been saving for a Rancilio Rocky or other top of the line home grinder grinder, and saw the Kitchen-Aid in the local Williams-Sonoma. It looked good in the store, and most of the reviews on this site were positive, so I bought it for $200. The Rocky goes for at least $100 more, so the Kitchen-Aid wins there.
I opened the box and read the manual (the box says to read the manual before doing anything else). I cleaned it and put everything together, filled it with some coffee, and ground my first batch on the finest setting. It was too course, so I followed the instructions and performed the easy adjustment to make the coffee finer. The next batch on the finest setting was too fine for me to push any water through my Pavoni Europiccola. I backed it off a couple of notches and got the perfect grind for a 25 second pull on the Europiccola and got the best cup that I have ever had.
For me, the perfect adjustment is to leave the adjustment wheel at the point where the burrs are just barely touching and you hear the occasional metal on metal grind, put the machine back together, and then depending on the type of beans, leave it there on the finest setting for the "Sweet Maria's Liquid Amber blend" (the coffee beans prevent the burrs from touching each other during the grinding), or backing it off 1-2 notches to #7 for my "Sweet Maria's Classic Espresso blend".
This machine spits out coffee VERY QUICKLY compared to my old Solis Maestro and does not jam at all. The Solis almost always needs a little persuasion to not jam while grinding on the fine settings. I fill my portafilter in about a quarter of the time that the Solis took. The grind is very uniform and tamps down perfectly. I had always thought that I pulled good shots before I had this grinder, but now I realize I was wrong. The shots are exquisite now, with great taste and loads of crema. I was able to compare the grinders side by side and the difference is amazing.
The machine is built like a tank. It looks like a Kitchen-Aid mixer, unlike any of the European coffee grinders that I have seen. It seems to have been engineered to last a lifetime. It is easily adjustable to give the grind that you need, and seems to excel at the espresso grind requirements (see updates below!). It is easy to adjust and clean. There are directions on how to replace the burrs when they wear out and they can be ordered from Kitchen-Aid. The 2 year warranty is nice also.
It may not have the "snob factor" of owning a Rocky. I have a friend that insists that anyone who is serious about espresso needs a Rocky and nothing else will do. I beg to differ (see updates).
My wife thinks that I broke the Solis on purpose to justify buying this one (She'll never know...). I look forward to using this for a long time. Check back in 3 months and 1 year for follow-ups.
UPDATE 3/17/07: I wish I had purchased that Rocky or other true espresso grinder now. I am trying to get a consistent grind for my new espresso machine (Quickmill Alexia) and having a difficult time. I am able to get fairly decent shots but my grinds seem to be a combination of fine dust and larger "chunks". This is even with a newly installed set of burrs. Keep looking back here for updates as I have only had the Alexia for one week. Once I get it dialed in, either with this grinder or another, I'll let you know.
UPDATE 4/4/07: So I purchased a slightly used Mazzer Mini off of eBay and got to use the Kitchen-Aid and Mazzer side by side. Result? No Comparison!
I think that the Kitchen-Aid works well for my Pavoni lever because the grind has to be very fine and the consistency problem is not as obvious when it is set that fine. At the fineness level needed for the Pavoni, all of the grinds are roughly the same size as the dust that is created.
For the QuickMill Alexia, the necessary grind is just slightly more coarse than the Pavoni. The problem with that is that the consistency problem becomes obvious with large chunks and coffee dust plainly visible. I either seem to "choke" the Alexia on all of the dust if I grind too fine, or I get a lot of channeling through the puck if I try to make it slightly more coarse (visible with a bottomless portafilter). This is even a problem with the stepless modification that I have added to the Kitchen-Aid.
By comparison, the coffee from the Mazzer is obviously much more consistent. I even grind it extremely fine and still get an amazing shot from the bottomless portafilter. The shots using the Mazzer were the first ones that didn't send streams of espresso squirting all over my counter and machine from channeling. The looks and taste of the shot were like none that I have ever seen (MUCH better!)
I also rebuilt my Solis and added the upgrades that are available from baratza.com. The Solis now is much more consistent than the KA and I use it to grind for my Pavoni which I have brought to my fire station, for a little bit of civilization amidst the chaos....
So, final thoughts.... Save your money and get a Mazzer (or other very high quality, highly rated grinder). Yes, they cost twice as much or more, but are sometimes available as re-furbs or used on eBay for a good deal. The Kitchen-Aid just doesn't have the consistency needed for espresso, but would probably be good for drip.
Walked in to Williams-Sonoma, said "I want a Kitchen-Aid Proline in Chrome if available or Silver if not".
The employee said "Good choice". She went to the store room and came out about 30 seconds later. $213.15 with tax.
9 months later.....
Williams-Sonoma let me return the grinder after 9 months, even without a receipt. I was given an in-store credit for the full value. If you buy one of these, SAVE YOUR RECEIPT! Curiously, the clerk at W-S said that they only carry this grinder online and it is no longer available in their stores and if it is, it is being sold for a "blowout" price of $99.00. At that price, it might be worth keeping if you do not yet have any burr grinder.
Three Month Followup
Make sure to read the updates in the "Detailed Commentary" section as my opinion of this grinder has changed drastically.
I have been using this grinder for 6 months for an average three times a day (3 shots of espresso). The big negative that I have noticed over the 6 months is that I wish that the grind adjustment had smaller increments (see modification/fix below). Sometimes the 8 is too fine and the 7.5 is too corse. It doesn't happen often, but with some beans I wish there were more "in-between" adjustments. I also just had to replace the burrs because the old ones were worn to the point of being almost smooth.
I don't use the bottom glass grind catcher and instead just grind into my portafilter. I also removed the plastic plate that holds the glass container in place (remove with one screw) to keep the grinds in the portafilter better. I think that Kitchen-Aid could fabricate a replacement piece for this that would have a small chute to allow the ground coffee to land in the portafilter easier and in a cleaner fashion. It's just suggestion....
I hardly ever use this grinder for any other setting except for a fine espresso grind (for a La Pavoni lever). I have used the coarse setting once to make a pot of press coffee and there was a lot of "dust" on the bottom of my mug, but I hadn't cleaned the grinder in a while and it probably had some of the left-over fine grind in it.
Because of the wide grind increments and the difficulty of grinding directly into a portafilter, and having to replace the burrs after 6 months, I have lowered my "Usability" score to a "7". I also WOULD NOT buy it again if it was used exclusively for espresso as mine is used. I WOULD buy it again if used for drip or press coffee only.
(1/29/07): I just found a modification online (thanks to Shadow Meeks) that allows you to make the Proline into a "stepless" adjustment instead of the "clicks". This takes care of the problem mentioned above where I was unable to get just the right fineness sometimes. This mod is totally reversible if you do not like it.
How to do it:
1) Remove the face plate by loosening the two large thumb-screws on the front of the grinder, as if to clean the burrs. 2) Remove the large black plastic grind indicator cover, as if to adjust the high and low end grind fineness, by loosening the center 4mm allen screw. 3) Unscrew the white plastic grind adjuster and remove it. 4) Unscrew the two black 4mm allen screws on the back of the faceplate that hold the spring-pins out. Reverse the springs and pins and re-install the allen screws to hold everything in place and keep the parts handy and out of the way. 5) Wrap the white plastic adjuster in a few layers of teflon plumber's tape to increase the resistance of the screw and hold it tightly in place while grinding. Then re-install into faceplate. 6) Re-install faceplate onto grinder by equally tightening the thumbscrews. Adjust the white wheel by tightening it until the burrs just barely rub (as mentioned in the owners manual). 7) Re-install the black adjustment knob with the indicator as close to "8" as possible, but without the burrs rubbing. You now have a stepless, reversible, "infinitely" adjustable grinder.
I also want to give the Kitchen-Aid service a high rating. I called them up to order a new set of burrs. I was willing, and expecting, to pay for them. I talked to the woman on the phone and told her what I needed, she put me on hold for 2 minutes to see if they had some in stock, then came back to the phone, took my address and sent me the new set for free! The 2 year no hassle warranty is just that, NO HASSLE! Thanks again Kitchen-Aid.