I am currently using a Baratza Encore grinder with my Saeco Aroma espresso machine. I know that neither of these are very high quality products, but I really don't have the budget to upgrade. The Encore is able to grind sufficiently fine and I have been quite happy with it, however, I get a lot of clumping when grinding for espresso. It can be difficult to evenly distribute the coffee when you get these clumps, so it would be nice if there was an easy way to avoid this. Anyone have any suggestions? I've heard people say that a doser can solve this problem as the rotating sections will break up the clumps. This is a nice solution, but I don't believe the encore is capable of being upgraded to have a doser.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's not a very high-quality grinder, it does extremely well for the price. The clumping is an artifact of:
- Heat from grinding
- Type and roast of the bean
Grinders that produce almost no heat while grinding, to the point that they do it reliably enough for it to be a listed feature cost ten times the amount that you paid for your grinder. Heat during grind isn't an indication of a low-quality grinder, rather, little to no heat is simply an indicator of a very high-quality grinder. There isn't much you can do about this other than purchase a manual burr grinder and grind by hand very gingerly, which takes lots of time.
Tamping alone should be sufficient to deal with any clumps (at approximately 15kg of force) - if it's not, then you want to take a very close look at the beans you're using, and the level of humidity they're exposed to in storage. Is your grinder normally close to anything that produces steam? Is your kitchen air really humid? Are the beans stored in air-tight containers? If you have clumps that tamping won't take care of, you probably have a moisture problem.
It can also be the bean, some roasts just do not do well for espresso, no matter how fine the grind or how dry the storage.
Both Lavazza and Illy produce a very pleasant medium arabica bean that should work very well in your grinder. They are very consistent in production, delicious, and should give you a good baseline to select other beans that would work similarly well. You can get beans that weren't specifically produced with espresso in mind to work, but it takes a bit of tinkering. I recommend the above beans very often to people just getting started because they're delicious and very easy to work with.
Anyway, try one of those, see what comes out of the grinder. If you're still getting clumps that don't immediately break down when you tamp (tap the portafilter on the sides a few times before you tamp to help this) you could try cleaning the grinder, changing how you store the beans, or looking at a de-humidifier in the area that you keep them.
I have the Baratza Virtuoso myself, and I would stir the coffee up with a spoon in a separate vessel before distributing it into your portafilter. When distributing, generally lightly tapping the side of the portafilter with the palm of your hand until level - should break up anything thing remaining.