This is a nice grinder. It looks good, it works well (works “good” too if you’re not a stuffy Yankee "gramaticalphile" from the east coast), and I plan to own it as my sole coffee grinder for as long as it lasts (which looks to be years). My wife and I use it primarily for espresso–about 5 double shots for lattes/mochas in a.m. and 4 or so double decaf shots every other night or so. I previously owned a Pasquini Lux stepless grinder, and prior to that purchased and almost immediately returned a couple other lower end "burr grinders" from a couple of other mfg's who I won't mention (of course I’ve still got our original Braun blade grinder which still grinds up herbs and spices better than ever). Much of my comparison here will be with the Pasquini Lux which is another doserless grinder. The Rocky is head and shoulders superior to the Lux (in my opinion) and is a lot of grinder for the money.
(1) Grind Adjustment: You depress a little release button on the top of the grinder and instantly adjust the burrs anywhere between a powdery "rock polish" to pea gravel. All you do is rotate the bean hopper. There is a numbered scale on the bottom of the hopper. Each graded step has its own click, and apparently there are 55 individual steps (I haven’t counted them all). I've ground espresso anywhere between 7 and 11, and for me I can't imagine needing more adjustments (from choke my Gaggia Twin to 55, 45, 35, 25 second shots). You find the grinder's "zero" point by rotating the dial with the motor off until you feel the burrs touch (that may or may not be the number 0 on the dial--on my grinder, the burrs touch at about -2). You can adjust between Espresso, Drip, French Press, or stove top (Cuban) back and forth in a matter of seconds. On the stepless Pasquini Lux, grind adjustments took "forever" and because there was no numbered dial as a reference point, you never knew where your grinder was set--if one of your kids turned the knob because it was there to turn, you'd have to spend "hours" getting your grinder back to where you wanted it (of course only after cursing about what initially came out of the shoot). The Rocky is not stepless. I am glad it is not.
[On 3-month follow-up, I charted the following "time of shots" for successively finer grind adjustments. I used Trader Joes House Blend Espresso (Colombian-Sumatra). I endeavored to use the same amount of coffee with consistent tamp pressure. My machine is a Gaggia Baby Twin--a machine I'll write about another day and won't be recommending--even though I'll continue to use it and enjoy using it everyday. For me, the Rancilio Rocky Doserless has more than enough quick grind adjustments, and I can finer tune the shots with tamp pressure. Again, however, if you want to dial it in even tighter, you'll probably want to purchase a stepless grinder. Also, different beans require different grind settings. I find most decaf beans need a 7-9 setting. Because my Gaggia water temperature is on the low side, I get better shots with a slower extraction--40-50 seconds.
Grind Setting Time of Double Shot
7 90 seconds
8 65 seconds
9 50 seconds
10 45 seconds
11 40 seconds
12 33 seconds
13 25 seconds
14 20 seconds
15 18 seconds
16 16 seconds ]
(2) Doserless. I say that's a good, because I vacillated between the doser and doserless versions before purchase. I'm glad I got the doserless. You can quickly grind right into the portafilter with the sturdy, removable, and well designed metal portafilter holder, or remove the holder and grind into a bag or bowl. It's easy to just grind the amount you want if you are making coffee for a number of shots or for drip or French press--you can always quickly grind some more if needed. You don't have to empty out a doser every time you're done making coffee to avoid stale grounds. Some people have suggested the doser version is convenient if you have a party and want to let your guests make their own coffee. Seriously, how often does that happen and are you really going to let your guests tinker with your expensive espresso machine without you being there to watch every move? And if it's a trusted guest, then presumably they already know how to properly use a doserless grinder, so there you go. Others have also praised the doser version because there is theoretically less counter mess. That may be true. With the doserless version, if you grind right into the portafilter, there will invariably be some counter spillage. Three thoughts. First, the Rocky has significantly less counter spillage than other doserless grinders I've used like the Pasquini Lux that sent grounds almost in every direction. Second, I always place two paper towels below the grinder onto which I also wipe the portafilter after each shot of espresso, and clean-up is a snap–I just throw the paper towels away. Third, I question whether there's more counter/paper towel spillage/waste than would typically be left over anyway inside the doser version that people say they have to throw out anyway after each use. But again, I don’t have the doser version, it might be magnificent, I’m just glad I purchased the doserless version.
[On 3-month follow-up: The 2 paper towels folded and placed below the chute really works well--I never have grounds on the counter, and I wipe the portafilter on one edge of the paper towels after each shot. Another way to cut the spillage down even more is to fill the portafilter 2/3 of the way, then tamp the grinds down with just the weight of the tamper--then grind till the filter is full and then tamp with 30-35 pounds--there won't be any wasted grounds or any counter mess.]
(3) The removable portafilter holder. The removable portafilter holder on this grinder is slick and works well. It fits and firmly holds my Gaggia portafilter, so I assume it holds most others. The holder is metal. Compared with the Pasquini Lux–well there is no comparison. The Pasquini Lux has a flimsy plastic portafilter holder that as far as I can tell doesn’t firmly hold anything. In other words, you can “clip” your portafilter onto the Rocky below the chute, let go of it, and grind away without having to hold onto the portafilter. It won’t fall off or tip. The reality is that I typically hold onto the portafilter and gently move it back and forth a little as it fills, because otherwise it won’t fill evenly–the grounds don’t always slide smoothly down the chute like grains of sand in an hour glass. The holder is metal and so too are the reinforced grommets or holes it fits into–the removable holder set up does not give the impression that it will wear out or get loose if continually removed and replaced. The holder is easily removed and reinstalled for grinding into a bag or bowl.
(4) Noise. The Rocky is not a loud grinder. It’s not exactly quite either. I’m sure that someone with a commercial grade grinder might notice the noise with a frown. But compared to other and lessor burr grinders I’ve used (including the Pasquini Lux) the Rocky is significantly quieter. Let’s put it this way. You can grind and have a conversation in your kitchen at the same time. That wasn’t the case with the Pasquini Lux or the other burr grinders I’ve used which were like turning the vacuum cleaner on–“What??”
(5) Build Quality. The grinder is sturdy, heavier than it appears, and gives me the impression that just like the 1950's Osterizer blender I got from my Dad, that my Rocky too will last forever. Thirty years from now I might be telling my sons, “here’s your grandfather’s Osterizer, here’s my grinder–pick which one you want.” I can’t think of any other appliances I own that I can say that about, except perhaps the KitchenAid mixer–but that’s my wife’s.
(6) Static. While I’m sure there’s static due to the plastic chute, and while you can see that a few grounds get stuck up between the burrs and the chute, it’s not that big of a deal. I’ve never felt compelled to clean out the chute for fear that I might have a few noticeable stale grounds in my cup tomorrow. There are not that many up there. That’s not true with the other burr grinders I’ve used which I continually cleaned of stuck grounds.
THE NOT SO GOOD OR “COULD BE IMPROVED’
(a) Non removable plastic bean hopper. It would be nice if the hopper were removable. It’s certainly big enough to hold a lot of beans. However, because I like to grind different beans and often make decaf espresso in the evening, I find I only put as many beans in the hopper as I intend to grind. Otherwise, I have to pick up the entire grinder and dump them out to change beans. For a man whose still got his strength (if not his mind), that’s no big deal. However, my wife would struggle to pick up and empty the grinder every day. Every time I pick it up is one more chance that I might drop the grinder and break the plastic hopper. However, the fact that the hopper is permanently attached may be what allows the hopper to also serve as an integral part of the grind adjustment system. I like the Rocky’s grind adjustment system much more than I dislike the fact that the hopper is not removable. Other consumers might not feel the same. Additionally, because the hopper is plastic, I imagine that it could be prone to oil residue build-up that I’ve seen on other (even commercial) grinders with plastic hoppers. I haven’t had that problem yet (perhaps because it’s not removable so I never put more beans in than I intend to grind, so there’s not time for bean oils to leak and stain–there you go :-) However, if the hopper ever did get stained, it would be a chore to clean.
(b) No timer and has a spring loaded grind button. There are three buttons on the machine. The button on the top unlocks the grind adjustment. The button on the right side of the grinder controls power between the outlet and motor. The spring loaded button on the lower front left controls the drive between the motor and the burrs. That button must be continually depressed to grind. That’s not necessarily bad, because it keeps the grinder from being left on so long the burrs overheat. However, it does mean that to grind into a portafilter, you basically have to use two hands–one to press the button and one to gently hold and adjust the portafilter as it fills. So if you’re one who likes to grind into your portafilter and wipe up the counter at the same time, you should chose another grinder. I don’t miss a timer other than to the extent one would free up my other hand to wipe up the counter.
(c) Beans do get caught between the hopper and the burrs. I do have to occasionally stick my fingers into the hopper to get the grinding going–there is a plastic finger guard over the burrs which I believe also serves to help direct beans into the burrs. Once grinding gets going, the beans do seem to flow pretty well (“good” in Oregon) without additional help. In all fairness to the Rocky, compared with other lessor grinders I’ve used, this is not as big a problem. With the Pasquini Lux, I basically had to continually plunge the beans in the hopper to get them to grind–not so with the Rocky. At the same time, the Rocky is not going to grind as continuously and smoothly as a big commercial Mazzer, Rancilio, or Pasquini which seem to suck the beans into the burrs like a vacuum cleaner. But, the Rocky is also about half the price.
COMMENT ON MERCHANT
I purchased my grinder from Seattlecoffeegear.com. I’ve purchased from them online before, and I fully intend to purchase from them again. I’m sure there are other great internet merchants out there (many of which have been evaluated on this site). I’m not going to say that Seattlecoffeegear.com is better than any of those others. I will say that I cannot imagine how another merchant could be any better than they are. Their sales and support staff (both via email and over the toll free phone line) are knowledgeable and actual users or even repair technicians of the products they sell. As an example, when I purchased my grinder I had a question about a particular espresso machine that I was not purchasing–the guy put me on hold while he ran down to the shop to ask another repair technician if he knew the answer. They stand behind their products, and the whole outfit is a class act from start to finish. I honestly cannot think of anything critical to say about them (other than that there must be something critical about them, because they’re from just north of Seattle, traffic up there is a nightmare, and it rains even more than it does here in Oregon).