Orphan Espresso

Home > About Our Vintage HAND COFFEE GRINDERS



Does everything old again become new?   In the case of these Mid Twentieth Century Hand Made European Coffee Grinders, they never actually become old, they just became lost in the rush of technology!   But, why use a hand grinder?   The answer is both complicated, and simple... 

Some of the benefits of grinding your coffee beans by hand, both through research, and personal observations are: 

  • Quality of grind - these grinders give a very good distrubution of particle size which is important for good extraction
  • Dispersion - there is no clumping of the grounds when using a hand grinder
  • Burr speed - the slower burr speed of the hand grinder eliminates the heating, or 'cooking' of the beans while grinding
  • The best hand grinders are stepless, a feature found only on more expensive electric grinders, and the adjustment mechanism allows a very fine control of the setting
  • Size & portability - these factors are obvious!  Perfect for travel, and at home we'd rather use our counter space for espresso machines, not grinders!  A small shelf will do, but please, not above the kitchen range - where Grandma's sat for years.  Degreasing a hand grinder is not a pleasant task....
  • And, of course, price - hand grinders are far more affordable than a good electric grinder, and if you have more than 1 machine and like to have a dedicated grinder for each, this is absolutely achievable on a budget if you use hand grinders!
  • Additionally - no electricity is used, and though there is a bit of noise involved  in hand grinding it is generally a pleasant sound!

The simple answer, for us, is the quality of the espresso in our cup when the beans are ground by hand!   We love the big commercial hardware as much as anyone, but for us, we have concluded that we really don't NEED an electric espresso grinder.  We make about  10 cups of espresso per day and find that this does not rise to the level of justifying a big commercial grinder, or even a Rocky.  We now grind our beans for espresso exclusively with hand grinders, and I suppose you could say we swear by them!

These Hand Grinders originated in Europe - Germany, Austria, Holland, throughout the 20th Century.  The European Craftsmen following traditional methods of coffee bean grinding, and using high quality tool steel created an extraordinarily effective burr for grinding, and the artistry & craftsmanship of the hand mills compliments their efficiency & function.  They appear as small works of art, and when paired with the metallic Industrial nature of the Espresso Machine they provide a soothing counterpoint of old and new, wood & metal! 

Some of the better known Espresso quality hand grinders are Zassenhaus, Pe De (Peter Dienes), KyM (Kissing & Mollmann), and Armin Trosser.  From our experience the name alone does not guarantee a good Espresso Grind, but it does increase the probability of a grinder being a good one.  We've had a couple of pristine Zass grinders, that were lovely, but were underperformers - just didn't grind fine enough for espresso, and a PeDe or two that didn't make the cut either.  The Armin Trosser grinders are a classic design, and are very well built, and their performance for Espresso Grinding is spotty - when you get a good one, it's a VERY nice grinder.   We have also found that the grinders with "Mocca" or "Mokka" on the label are also not guaranteed to be Espresso quality - some are, and, unfortunately, some are not.   A common perception is that a grinder must be marked "West Germany" to be good one - again, some are, and some are not.  We are currently enjoying a pre-war Zass and a 1930's Pe De, both are absoutely excellent.  In addition, the build quality of the pre war grinders is superb - the wood is thicker, the joinery is excellent, the grind is fast and fine!   Another fallacy is that all of these parts were made in a central factory, or a very few factories - this is not the case.  The burrs are different, the design of the adjustment mechanism varies, handles are not interchangeable in most cases, and the performance is different.  

In an effort to quantify and evaluate our hand grinders we have adopted the criteria of TURNS/14 grams of coffee beans.   14 grams gives us a double packed basket in our Olympia Cremina and Faema Faemina, as well as La Pavoni and others.    We use this in an attempt to communicate grinding speed in a meaningful manner for your comparison of one grinder to another.  This will be the speed of the grinder when you recieve it, and it does not vary with burr setting.   Even when set coarser, the speed remains the same.

Much of your choice in a hand grinder depends on your taste - there are many differences in design both of the mechansim, and the case.  There are grinders are 'Fast', grinding 14 grams of beans in about 60 revolutions of the handle.  But, with speed, the handle is usually harder to turn because the burrs are VERY aggresive (the beans feed into the burrs quite fast).   Less strength is needed for a moderate speed grinder, grinding 14 grams in about 120 revolutions (about 2 minutes or so).  We have observed that some grinders are designed to grind slowly (and like the wheels of Justice, very finely) with 200 - 300 revolutions required for 14 grams of beans.  But, with these slower grinders the handle can be turned with very little effort - some of them will turn with one finger!  Slower grinders also require less hand strength to hold the base still while you grind.  The Knee Mills may be difficult for some to use - because of the size they really are designed to be held between the knees, though the slow knee mills can be held on the counter for use, and the larger knee mills can be used on the counter and were designed for this double duty.  

There is a wide variance in burr design and grinder function.  Some of the grinders, when set for espresso,  make no sound when turned while empty, i.e. the burrs do not touch.  The handle spins with no sound until the beans are added.  One would think that the setting is not actually fine enough until the resultant grind is examined.   These are capable of even a finer grind, all the way to Turkish.  Most of these mills are quite fast.  Other grinders are designed that the burrs touch when set for fine grind, resulting in a smooth ratcheting sound when turned while empty.  The newer Zass mills are a good example of this approach.   This burr touch does not damage the burrs and is an intended design.  As the burr is tightened on this type of mill the ratchet sound becomes stronger and there is more resistance in the turning, but the function remains smooth and effective.   Some of the lesser quality mills and ones that are pushed beyond their grinding capability produce a harsh and unpleasant sound when the burrs touch, due to inferior construction or wear.   Many of these grinders will perform reasonably well, but with a general lack of consistency and a definite reduction of one's personal  pleasure during use.

Another factor to be taken into consideration is the design of the top dome.  The larger high domed grinders generally have a larger hopper capacity, and the flat tops a smaller capacity.  Large curved top domes are a bit more confortable under the hand than the flat ones.   Some of the tops are made of wood and the doors swing out to either side. allowing the operator to fill the hopper either way.   Some mills have a heavy top strap separating the two sides of the hopper doors and this strap gives added stability to the top bearing.   Other mills have an obviously longer cranking handle, giving an extra bit of power to the turn.   Some of the design differences are merely cosmetic and flash, but others impart a range of functional advantage one way or another.

Each of these grinders is a vintage piece - they are not absolutely cosmetically perfect, but they are overall in very good condition.  Our Hand Grinders are all completely refurbished. We have yet to purchase a used hand grinder that did not require some degreee of restoration.  A complete restoration of the wood body of the grinder involves stripping, sanding, glueing, staining, and refinishing.  Some of the grinders have some cosmetic flaw such a a small area of varnish wear, a dark spot, or some other flaw that does not rise to the level of needing complete refinishing.  In fact, a few wear marks here and there can be expected from a 40 to 80 year old coffee mill, and the nice old patina would be lost in trying to remove each and every sign of age. This is the restorer's dilemma and is considered on each and every grinder.  All grinders have been diassembled to component parts, the burrs are scrupulously cleaned, all of the exterior metal parts are polished to a high luster, all bearings are lubricated properly, burrs are aligned in reassembly, and most importantly, each one is tested to evalutae grinding capability. 

To test the grinder we adjust the burrs reasonably loose from burr-lock, resulting in a smooth & moderately effortless cranking action, count the revolutions in turns per 14g beans, and test the resultant grind in our espresso machines.  We define an espresso grinder according to its ability to produce a fine enough grind to choke our Oly, La Peppina, Faema Faemina, La Pavoni, et al, in other words, we put these grinders through the paces to make absolutely sure that they will grind espresso fine.   We are absolutely ruthless in our evaluation of our grinders, and no matter how much we WANT a particular mill to grind for espresso, if it does not, we do not claim it to perform as an espresso grinder.  

Of course, our ESPRESSO GRINDERS can be used to grind coffee beans for other brewing methods by loosening the burr  the reverse is not true - what we refer to as our COFFEE GRINDERS will not grind fine enough for espresso.   The handiest thing is to have one for your espresso, making the usual daily adjustments to compensate for the usual changes, and one for your Vacuum, Drip, or other brewing methods! 

As you can tell we're really into hand grinders!  As much as we love the ones for sale on our website, we do not use them beyond the testing and evaluation phase.   We have restored about 250 grinders so far, concentrating on the mills which have the best chance of grinding for espresso, but also testing some unusual shapes and obscure brands out of curiosity.   And frankly, some are just plain beautiful or unique and are hard to resist...they alll will grind coffee at some level and it is a pleasure to restore them to bring out their full potential. 

For dosing using a hand grinder we know of people who have developed their own 'gadgets' to dose directly into the portafilter from the drawer,  others use the famous cut off yogurt cup or other improvised funnel to place in the portafilter.   These approaches can be pretty messy.   At first we emptied the drawer into a bowl and dosed with a spoon, but now we generally empty the drawer or catch cup into our scooper scraper and just pour the grounds into the basket...works great. 

It is not so much how the grinder looks but how it grinds...the results are in the cup.

For our hand grinders:  Click Here

 Please NOTE - we don't sell our hand grinders on ebay! 

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