for those who don’t like scrolling through comments… a response to response

This is going to be an interesting write–I hope it’s interesting reading–it may display as many contradictions, apologies, errors and assumptions as in the original post… this is primarily due to the contradictions, conflict, and fights occurring in my very little head!

I was flattered by the fact people read, discussed, commented upon and shared my post.* I put it out there as it felt more constructive to publish than discuss privately; I did not expect or even (I think) desire agreement with my thoughts and no offense is taken at any response. I’m sensitive in a very attractive 21st century male way, but not that sensitive…

Strong criticism from smart people: how to respond?

I’m going to respond in long paragraphs – I won’t touch on every point but hopefully I’ll be able to nail most of my thoughts here.

My Motivation

In the comments above Ed asked what I was trying to say

The title of my post was We Need To Talk About EK43s, not EK43s Are Shit or Some People Are Silly. Although my writing may have been a bit rambly for some to follow, my ultimate conclusion was this: I think there is value in waiting to see how things develop before rushing out to embrace the new. Even if they didn’t agree with the rest of my post, most people seem to agree with me on this one (and most important) point.

The goal of my post was not to directly attack the new ideas being presented, their creators, or the early adopters. The goal of my post was to question the assumptions made by those excited by their work, to offer a contrary voice to what I felt were a limited set of responses, almost exclusively endorsing the use of the EK43, and offer a counterpoint challenging some of the techniques.

Part of writing things here is a learning tool for me – I’m much more comfortable being someone who asks silly questions than someone who does something he doesn’t understand – I reserve the right to be stupid, to be wrong and to change my mind on some or all of what I write – If I learn something along the way then I win**

My Lack of Direct Knowledge

As I said early on in my first post (and as James points out similarly early in his), I didn’t attend any courses or sessions relating to the EK43. However, if my main point (as I’ve clarified above) is “I think that there is value to see how things develop before rushing out to embrace the new,” my lack of direct knowledge shouldn’t affect my ability to make that point.

I think, again, I need to clarify the reason for my post–I think some might have felt that I was personally attacking them for ‘jumping on the bandwagon.’ The people who have written about the EK43–James, Colin, Jeremy–they have all participated in the courses, they have experimented with the grinder, and they understand, 100%, that this is a work in progress that is specific to their shops. They’re not jumping on the bandwagon, they are the bandwagon.

I wrote this blog post for people who will not have benefited from attending the limited course opportunities offered to get a stronger idea of these concepts. I’ve received a number of enquiries on grinder prices, lead times and usefulness–only one of these enquiries came from someone who had attended the courses. Multiple 2 hour plus conversations about your opinions on a subject during the working week seem like a strong case for a written account to me, the value people place on my opinion is up to them

any misinterpretation of the proposition and it’s purpose can easily be mine alone – but i think it’s fair to say that whilst the full knowledge remains with a small few yet some results are presented on a global scale, misinterpretation is unavoidable – a joy of our interconnected age

I feel like some people have interpreted the sale of courses and appearance of grinders in a small number of locations as these concepts being generally accepted as the direction in which speciality coffee should be going. Colin’s post clearly defined 3FE’s interpretation, reasons for adoption, and caveats on replication, but I felt like some readers may have skipped the last, and very important, points.

I agree I should go to the course if I’m able, excitedly and with an open mind, I will endeavour to taste coffee brewed multiple ways with multiple grind profiles on the EK and let people know my thoughts as clearly and honestly as I can (dates are being diaried now) some tasting occurred last week, but what I experienced was not a scientific test or controlled by proponents of the ideas***

The benefit of smaller grind particle distribution

I believe we all agree that a more uniform grind size will allow better control and more consistent extraction. It’s much harder to determine whether we agree that this results in better tasting coffee.

I have no issue with the suggestion that coffee brewed outside the BCC’s 18-22% ‘box’ could be better tasting than coffee from within that range. I’ve certainly experienced this with more conventional grinding equipment and varied coffees and I’ve always believed that the box can have the ability to cage us.

James says that some/many espresso grinders have a hard limit on extraction. This may be true though my numbers differ (I’ve experienced tasty shots beyond 20%, and found water quantity to have a huge bearing on this, more significant perhaps than grind distribution) – Another question – Is it suggested the EK43 has no limit on good extraction at all?

Suitability of the EK43 as an espresso grinder

I understand Ed’s points above (with a question – that have we all been looking for grinds of similar size? have we told grinder manufacturers this?) so maybe a little clarity here – I’m not questioning the EK43′s ability to produce a grind fine enough for espresso, I’m questioning it’s suitability for use in a busy commercial environment

I challenged its cost, working on an assumption that this would be an extra spend replacing functioning existing equipment and that purchasers would want this investment to add more sales to their bottom line (not just alter where the money from existing sales ended up going).

If you’re going to buy a new grinder anyway then this is a different story. James makes the case for buying a more expensive grinder well, but it’s only when we reach the waste part that we’re looking at something specific to this proposition. There are grinders that dose more inconsistently than others, at both high and low volume; there are grinders that carry more doses within chutes than others leading to increased wastage when you adjust grind. If your business has grinders that suffer from the most extreme of these ills, your wastage will be significantly higher than otherwise, so it’s very hard to generalise on a % saving here.

My issues with using the grinder for espresso production is that the entirety of the machine has been designed for a different style of use. Yes, this is speculation on my part. However, I would ask similar questions before I bought a Smart car to race the 24hr Le Mans, especially if that car was the only one I was buying for my driving needs.

My comments on burr age and cost are badly worded – I’m not trying to imply that these burrs wear less well than any other, but it is my understanding that sharpness is part of what allows greater uniformity, so I’m assuming that the benefit the grinders are being purchased for will diminish with use and if all the coffee you are grinding on site goes through one set of blades, all the wear will occur there too

In terms of labour, I can live with pre-weighed shots. It’s the moving of ground coffee from cup to portafilter with jam funnels that strikes me the largest bit of extra work. Ed commented that he felt like the EK43 method was faster than any of the methods we currently use, but after my limited experience with the EK43 method, I don’t think I understand how that could be possible.

James says no one is proposing this grinder as a final solution. This was my point; I’m glad he emphasised it!

Critisism Of Coffee Shots

I agree: my critisism is unfair and untested. I’m skeptical of the idea but open to being proven wrong. A shop has chosen to replace some of their filter offering with drinks made this way–it’s a bold step for a cafe, but it’s an incredibly bold step for other cafes to start replicating without the wealth of testing and thought that those individuals put into it. If I was planning to open a shop today, I would be very hesitant to choose creating brewed coffee this way over a more conventional (and understood) automatic brewer or manual brewing that, for all its flaws, is capable of making delicious tasty coffee.

My RO comments were wrong! I didn’t think of drinks replacing other methods but only the change in what was happening within an espresso set-up–silly me!

Were we all wrong?

James calls my points here a Straw Man – that I’m creating a fictional position that no one has raised – I get his point but again I feel that this is something people have inferred from others adoption of these techniques – I really like the fact that we all agree this investment in new tools is not neccesary to serve delicious drinks, i think it is a point worth making again and again

are more delicious drinks possible? perhaps
will customers value the extra tastiness inferred? perhaps

will this be easier to talk about in 6 months time? yes it will

Against Innovation

I don’t feel I’m against innovation. In fact,

“I’m proud to work in an industry that has many people, trying many new things, and I can’t wait to taste them all—Innovation is good, taking (calculated) risks is good, following your nose, pallet, or gut is good.”

I am however against advising my customers, who trust my judgement and shout at me when I get things wrong, to do something I think only a handful of people understand at this point. I’m working on increasing my understanding–I think we should all do that–and then make the choices we feel are right for our contexts.

I want to be extremely clear: I do not think anyone is ASKING me or ADVISING me to advise my customers this way. I simply find it difficult to convince those who haven’t yet taken the class that the work being done with the EK43 is still a work in progress when all of the cool, innovative kids are excited about it.

I’m not going to stop any of my customers buying this grinder or trying any of these things out, in fact I look forward to working with the first ones that do, but it will be on the basis that this is experimental, a financial punt and we may all want to try something different next year and some of these grinders will be retired when a more evolved machine becomes available–I don’t think anyone will disagree with me that this is an understandable position to take.


*the joy of twitter spreading thoughts faster than man can blink, means things can also pass me by, very quickly – most people commented outside the comment function of this blog – If you said something that I’ve missed ping me a message and I’ll get it linked in here
** a great video on the point of arguments

*** syphon brewed coffee ground via EK43 – brewed to a goal 21% extraction – very tasty, followed by a blind taste of 2 well made espresso, same coffee, one ground ek43 and brewed to recipe set out in Col’s blogpost- both nice. The one preferred by both me and barista, not from the EK43 (more intensity, plus changing layers of sweetness in the finish than the other simpler tasting shot) , this proves nothing :)

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