Is it really all about the grinder or is that an exaggeration?

Is it really all about the grinder or is that an exaggeration?

If you read any espresso obsessed message boards, blogs, or articles you will almost certainly hear someone say something along the lines of “It is all about the grinder” or “it is the grinder stupid” or some other variant.  I am guilty of this statement, too, and I certainly have gotten better grinders a few times in my life and it has corresponded to producing better espresso, but there is a problem with my claims.  I also have gotten a better espresso machine and I have gotten better technique.  

I decided to test and see if going back to my $120 burr grinder that at the time I thought was outrageously expensive would produce great, good, reasonable, or terrible espresso.  At the time I thought it was fine, but I did think the jump to a Macap M4 was dramatic.  

I tried 3 shots.  The results were horrible.  It was nearly impossible to dial the coffee in, and even after breaking out the WDT, which I have not needed for years I could not salvage shots that I thought were worth drinking.  I am happy to confirm that a great espresso machine (in this case an Elektra HX machine) together with a cheap grinder is not the way to go if you are deciding on how to spend a fixed budget.  It would be far better to get a decent grinder and a cheaper espresso machine than spend almost all the money on the espresso machine.  

It was a bit humbling, though, to see how bad the espresso I pulled was.  I thought all the study I had done of coffee would mean I could do reasonably well on any equipment, but alas that is not true.  

This is the irony of most “beginner equipment” – it is much harder to use well than advanced equipment, it is just labeled beginner equipment because it is cheap, not because it is easier.  

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