Rancilio Rocky Review- a “Coffee Grinder with Design Issues”

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Rancilio (one of the most popular espresso grinders on the market) makes two products that are legendary in the world of espresso: the Rocky and the Silvia Espresso Machine.  They go so well together in fact, you can buy a chrome stand that holds both of them along with a couple of small drawers down below (or whatever you would put in some very small chrome doors).

[quote_box_right]As previously mentioned, the Rocky is the most popular espresso grinder on the market.  As far as I know, that’s true, and with very good reason.  It’s the cheapest good grinder that you can buy. [/quote_box_right]

For those uninitiated in the freakish ways of espresso, describing nearly $400 as cheap might seem a little off, but that’s pretty cheap.  Unfortunately, you do make some concessions, which I’ll address later.

It’s equally unfortunate that other major espresso companies haven’t yet responded to the call to lower their prices.  The Rocky is basically still the only grinder for a major company that’s below $500.

Configuration

You’ve got the doser on front, the hopper on top, and everything else you’d expect in an espresso grinder.  You will find a knockbox and espresso machine sitting on either side of the grinder (required espresso gear).

➡ I’ve also ditched the included grind tray and replaced it with a paper plate, from which I’ve cut a grinder-sized segment.  It works like a charm- does a much better job of preventing my counter from turning into a dirt pile than the original tray.

[quote_box_left]You’ll also notice that I’ve removed the porta filter holder.  It’s terrible.  Since the doser chute isn’t very long, the grinds will just get pushed to the left as you wack them out, and the only way to compensate for this is to move the porta filter around (which you can’t do when the holder is in place).

Two screws and it’s gone.. good riddance!  The grinder is easier to use and more enjoyable without it.[/quote_box_left]

The hopper doubles as a grind adjuster as can be seen by the numbered marks.  The plastic is tinted, supposedly preventing UV and light damage to the unground beans, which of course is a total lie.  The hopper doesn’t do jack squat to prevent degradation of the beans.  They’ll go stale just the same.  I recommend you add them as you use them.

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 ➡ Adjusting the grind is easy.  You press down the little lock-in button and rotate the entire hopper.  It goes from 0-50 with a screw preventing you from grounding out the burrs.  While it goes all the way up to 50, you’ll rarely if ever use that.  For espresso, you essentially have 10 steps (1 through 10), any higher is useless.  I generally keep mine in the 5-9 range, really dark or stale beans as low as 3 and super fresh beans as high as 10, but those are basically the extremes.

rancilio

When you open up the grinder to clean it, you’ll find that the stopper guard (as I mentioned preventing you from going past 0), is nothing more than a bent wood screw.  I mentioned concessions for the price, but this was just unbelievably ghetto.  Rancilio should frankly be ashamed.  Moreover, I wish that the grinder was either stepless or had finer steps.  While you can compensate during drink preparation by tapping the porta filter (more or less) and futzing with your tamp pressure, essentially only having 5 settings is quite a limitation for fresh beans.

[quote_right]It might be the cheapest, but it’s far from the fastest grinder on the market.[/quote_right]

Grinding 19 grams of beans (enough for a double) takes over 20 seconds.  In a fast paced environment that’s essentially an eternity.  To be fair, if you’re running a very light duty shop, where espresso is only a secondary element to your business, this is more than fast enough.  Even then, if you can afford it, I recommend getting something better.

There are also problems with this grinder in a home environment.  The chute from which the espresso falls is not angled downward.  It relies on momentum from the grinder to fling grinds out of the doser.  This inevitably clogs up the chute and a shocking amount of grinds are left behind.  Where a commercial environment would move beans through quickly enough (where the leftovers would never get stale), at-home users might make as few as one drink per day- that means cleaning it out after every use!  Thus, I have my handy dandy little metal skewer, which I use to fish around in there.  Really annoying, but not a deal breaker.

An Issue with the Design

The doser blades don’t come anywhere near the edges of the doser wall, resulting in a persistent wall of grinds.  In general, all this has no effect on the quality of your coffee since the wall of grinds forms and keeps all future grinds within reach of the blades, but it’s a lazy design.  It’s also functionally problematic if you lived in a humid climate, since the grinds will start to form mold after a few days of inactivity.  Unfortunately, the doser on the Rocky (no matter how pesky), is all but necessary for espresso.  [quote_box_center]If you were not making espresso, the doserless is fine, but it’s not a good option for espresso (especially freshly roasted or dark espresso).[/quote_box_center]

The hopper presents more design problems.  The screws that hold the hopper in place are open air, meaning that beans will inevitably get inside, preventing you from easily getting to the screws (which you need to remove to clean the grinder- something that you should be doing regularly).  A simple set of plastic caps would have done the job, but no.  You either have to force your way in with a screwdriver, blow them out with compressed air, or try to pick them out with a skewer.

Also of issue with the hopper is the guard.  It’s too big, too low down, and just generally crappy.  Dark roasted, oily beans will get perpetually stuck under the guard, in excess they need a good wonk on the side of the espresso machine, or you’re actively pushing of the beans down in the burrs.  Neither option is very elegant (both are annoying when you have a porta filter in your hand), and you would be well served to simply bust out your adrenaline and cut that bastard out entirely.

We’ve finally come to the point of the grinder- the grind.  It’s not a quiet grinder, but it’s not horrifically loud either.

The One Functional Issue I Don’t Like with this Grinder

 ➡ Static– the grinds can form into a pile and look like cat food.  This is the reason why the doser is necessary.  With it you can rapid-fire with whack away, thus going much of the way toward breaking up all of these clumps.

You can also do what I did.  I took one of those fake credit cards that everyone gets in the mail, cut one side with the edge of a large bowl creating a curve, and kept one side flat.  This helps chop up the coffee grounds, level it out, and also flip the card around to adjust the dose with the curved side if I feel the need.  This isn’t much of an issue with almost any prep method you could imagine like aeropress, pour over, or siphon; but for the high pressure,  super-fast production of the espresso, clumps like this can kill a shot.  You need evenly distributed coffee particles.  Basically if you’re in the market for a Rocky for espresso making, get the model with the doser.

You can also see the amount of grounds that get stuck in the chute after you stop grinding.  Again, with my trusty skewer, I venture in.  Even doing a half-assed job generated enough grinds to half-fill a single.  That’s significant, and fixing down the design would not have had a negative effect on cost.  This is annoying.

The grinder forces you to go spelunking inside to retrieve all the beans that you would carefully measure, and thus achieve an accurate weight in your dose.  At least it’s ground espresso, which is certainly a plus.

[quote_left]Much of what’s in this review has the Rocky in a negative light, but I see that as part of what makes a critic a critic.  A critic should be picky, it’s their job.  I don’t mean to indicate the Rocky is crap.

I opened this with you by saying it’s the cheapest good grinder that you can find, and that’s true.  It has commercial grade guts for under $400, and aside from the static issue, it does everything that it’s meant to do well.[/quote_left]

The number of fines (very small particles that can clog up porta filter), is a non-issue and that’s certainly an issue with a lot of the other cheaper grinders.  Once the static is eliminated, the grind is very even.  The internals are built like a tank, and it’s decently attractive.

Final Thoughts

Truly, it’s a good grinder; but while $400 in the world of espresso is low, in the world of non-insane people it’s pretty freaking high, which makes many of the design issues stick out like a sore thumb.  Worse still, these are problems that are persistent for years.  The Rocky has been on the market since the early 2000s, indicating that Rancilio simply has no desire to fix them.

➡ If you’re a home user, and you’re on a budget, this grinder should be at the top of your list.  If you can afford to bump up the price category, around $200 more, say a Macap M4 or a Mazzer Mini, I wouldn’t recommend it.  That eliminates absolutely every criticism I have of this machine.  They’re better designed, more attractive, quieter, basically better in every conceivable way.  And the same goes for a commercial environment.  Even if you produce few espressos per day, the easier operation, cleaning, and maintenance of those more expensive models will pay dividends in the end.

But, as I said, the grinder does what it’s supposed to.  It produces espresso-ready grounds consistently, it looks good on the counter, and it will last for years of household low-level usage before needing maintenance.   The issues of poor design choices and static are really the only two major issues of this grinder, which are in the end a reasonable trade-off for the lower price.  I still recommend that if you can afford it, or even wait and save up, to go for a better grinder.  If you decide on the Rancilio Rocky, well, your coffee will get ground.  And I guess, what more can you ask for?

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