Being a coffee drinker who grinds for both espresso and French press brewing, I decided to go with the doserless version of Rocky. A doser, while possibly convenient for making espresso, would only complicate things when grinding larger quantities for any other destination. I also pre-measure my beans before grinding, so having a doser would not have added any convenience. With this model, I can grind directly into the portafilter and my 32-oz press.
Rocky arrived double-boxed. Rancilio's packaging, while sturdy, is meant for retail shelves, not shipping. WLL was good enough to repackage into a heavy-duty shipping box with plenty of foam peanuts. No damage to the external or internal packing was noticed.
Liberating the grinder box from the peanuts, one may notice that (at least as of this writing) Rancilio is packing the doserless version in boxes picturing the white doser model. Perhaps they're using old stock before ordering new boxes from the printer. Inside the retail box is the grinder, packed with stiff cardboard blocks and collars that hold everything snugly in place. No damage or shifting of the contents was noted. This is very encouraging.
The machine comes mostly pre-assembled. The portafilter holder and instruction manual are the only things packaged in separate plastic bags. The hopper lid is taped down to the hopper itself, and the entire machine is wrapped in plastic. Basic setup consists of removing all the packing, peeling off the tape holding the lid and hopper in place, and plugging in the unit. The portafilter holder snaps securely into mounting holes provided in the front of the unit.
Next comes the process of "zeroing" the grinding burrs. Basically, you want to note the point at which the burrs begin to physically touch, so that you never grind at or finer than that point. Again, this is a fairly simple procedure. Dial the hopper back to somewhere in the middle of the scale and turn on the motor. Gradually turn the hopper clockwise to move the burrs closer. When one hears the first high-pitched hint of metal spinning against metal, back the burrs off one notch. One does not want to grind any finer than this to avoid damaging the cutting surfaces. Stepping through this takes a couple of minutes at most.
It's also a good idea to let the grinder acclimate itself to the ambient temperature and humidity of your house, to prevent condensation and clogging. Let the unit sit for 3-4 hours before running the first beans through.
The Rocky is a substantial piece of hardware. There is very little plastic used in its construction - the majority of the machine is substantial-gauge sheet metal or cast parts. The front panel is black enamel, and the rest of the body (as well as the base) is brushed stainless. The motor and gearbox is rather hefty, and the carbon-steel burrs are held in cast/turned heavy brass mounts.
The power cord is heavy duty, and is plenty long. A flush-set angled plug would have been nice, though. The switches and internal wiring appear solid and should last a lifetime.
The portafilter holder is chromed steel rod stock (8 ga.?) bent into a shallow "U" shape. It is also a substantial piece of metal, and should never break or deform. The discharge chute and hopper are tinted clear acrylic plastic.
The Rocky's grind scale is numbered from "0" to "40", but actually has many more than forty settings. A stop screw keeps the user from turning the hopper more than one complete revolution in either direction, but it can be removed if desired. The grind setting is held by a spring-loaded pin latch on the body that locks into small holes around the bottom edge of the bean hopper. Changing grind settings is as easy as depressing the lock button and spinning the hopper in the desired direction.
In the doserless version, grounds exit via a plastic chute. I would prefer to see a metal piece here, both for static reasons as well as durability. I tend to rap on the chute to get the last bit of grounds to drop, and am worried that the plastic will eventually crack. This might not be a big deal, as the screws that hold the chute onto the grinder are accessible externally, and replacement is very simple and easy.
There are two power switches - a master switch on the side, and the motor switch on the front. The motor switch is spring-loaded. The grinder runs only as long as you keep the rocker depressed. Thus, grinding is almost always a two-handed operation. This may or may not matter to you.
The first annoying thing you will notice is that the plastic finger guard inside the bean hopper (meant to keep fingers out of the feed chute) has deep and uncovered screw pockets. Guess where beans will immediately wedge themselves and become very difficult to remove. I immediately removed the finger guard from my machine, and now even though beans tend to hang up in the remaining screw holes, it only takes a flick of a finger to dislodge them.
The feed throat to the burrs is a little narrow, as well. You will find that particularly oily beans will have a tendency to stick to each other, and refuse to feed from the hopper. A quick bump of the grinder usually starts them falling again. However, there are occassions when they become obstinate and you must stop the grinder to reach into the hopper and break the clog.
Grind "holdback" in the burr chamber and chute is moderate, typically around a teaspoon's worth. Bumping the grinder at the end of the cycle gets most of it out. I typically "sacrifice" a couple of fresh beans to push the older, possibly stale, grounds out.
Operation is very quiet. Even at the finest grind settings, the motor does not bog down in the least. Grinding 14-15g for espresso takes about 30-35 seconds - not blistering fast, nor painfully slow. Coarser grinds, of course, are faster.
Quality of Grind:
At coarse settings, the grinds are very consistent in size and emerge at a steady rate. There is little in the way of small particles or dust. Grind size does not vary as the hopper empties.
For finer grinds, such as for espresso, again the Rocky produces very uniform particles. Examining the burr set explains a lot. The burrs are of carbon steel, have very regular cutting surfaces, and are mounted in heavy brass collars. There is no flexing or wobbling, and the cutting edges are very sharp.
Fit and Finish:
Almost perfect. The Rancilio name sticker on the front panel is a little cheap looking and slightly crooked. The numeric grind scale is also a sticker and is slightly cheesy. Molded numbers and a metal nameplate would be nicer, but that's merely a cosmetic issue, and a minor one at that.
The frame is solid. The external housing shows no gaps where parts join and all joints are properly overlapped. The power cord is properly grommeted for strain relief. All screw holes are into solid metal or are backed with hefty bushings, and are perfectly machine-tapped. The burr mountings are HEAVY and have been cast/lathed to tight tolerances. The removable portafilter holder is solid and securely clicks into its mounting holes. Even the plastic parts are of sufficient thickness to give the impression of durability. The only complaint is that the bean hopper lid fits rather loosely and tends to rattle during grinding.
Couldn't be much easier. On a regular basis, you'll want to brush out the bean hopper and feed throat and wipe any oils off the inside surface of the hopper. The enclosure is all metal, and cleans up with a damp rag or a mild cleanser (Simple Green works well for fingerprints and smudges).
For complete cleaning, it's a simple matter to remove the plastic parts for washing (5 screws). Cleaning the burrs is a matter of removing the hopper and unscrewing the top burr collar from its housing. A 1" bristle brush is perfect for cleaning the grinding chamber, grind chute, and brushing off the top burr. You will need to re-zero the machine once re-assembled, but even a thorough cleaning takes less than 10 minutes.
The motor and gearbox is sealed and permanently lubricated.
I am impressed with this unit. The sole disappointment is the difficulty feeding stubborn, oily beans, and that's a minor drawback compared to this machine's excellent performance. It is solidly built, and should last a very long time provided it is properly maintained.