The pursuit of perfection defines us. "Coffee," broadly construed, makes this clear as day. In the land of single-serve, for example, people often ask what machine they should buy that can make both great espresso and great drip coffee. There is no such machine, of course*, but we're driven to seek one out nonetheless. Still, the best evidence of our relentless perfectionism that I've encountered recently has to be the Pharos, perhaps the ultimate manual coffee grinder. Behold what the good folks at Orphan Espresso have created:
video (version 1): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHNRX8NG0sk&feature=player_embedded
video (version 2): http://www.home-barista.com/marketplace/pharos-manual-grinder-by-orphan-...
Doug and Barb's guiding principle in engineering the Pharos was simple: "dead center alignment of the burrs with no wander, shake, or shimmy." Any frills or amenities that might have interfered with their single-minded adherence to this principle seem to have been tossed underfoot like peanut shells at a baseball game. And hardcore coffee enthusiasts are drooling all over the internets as a result. Why? Because a consistent grind is surprisingly difficult to achieve. Let's use Hario to illustrate with the understanding that there are many other manufacturers (past and present) of coffee mills out there.
Do some research on the Hario Skerton, and you'll find pretty quickly that its lack of support for the burr shaft has inspired all kinds of delightfully geeky mods, e.g.
Not up for that kind of work? Well, Hario makes a smaller manual grinder, the Mini Slim, that's more stable. And yet users find fault with it, too, resorting to fixes involving tape spacers and post-it note shims, e.g.
And on and on and on...
If you like to fiddle in this way, by all means go for it. If not, and if you have the cash, consider buying a Pharos. It's the closest you can get to manual grinder perfection right now as far as I can tell. And what good is perfection? Three words: uniform particle size, giving you total control over extraction. The assumption is that such uniformity should lead to more excellent coffee every time, but testing that assumption is a subject for another day.
*Maybe the Caffitaly system (sold in the U.S. by CBTL) is a contender, depending on one's definition of "great," but that's a story for another blog post.