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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.

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    You could use a toothpick or something similar to break up the clumps. Tamping should then do the rest. – Niko Sep 27 '15 at 19:52
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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:

  • Humidity
  • 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.

  • Great overview. +1 for "type and roast". My burr grinder (which is of lower quality) has a difficult time with darker roast beans, with the oils causing a buildup at the chute. Lighter-roasted beans, with less surface oils, cause less of this buildup. Humidity is certainly a factor in my case also. – hoc_age Sep 29 '15 at 14:32
  • Anecdote, Lavazza appears to be the first espresso brewed in space - It really does work in almost every setup :P – Tim Post Sep 29 '15 at 16:42
  • I agree that the Encore is great for the price, I was simply trying to avoid the "upgrade your grinder" response. I hadn't thought about ambient humidity. My apartment is quite humid in the warmer months (which we are in now), so it will be interesting to see how this changes as things cool off. I've found that in the meantime, grinding into the grinder container, instead of straight into the portafilter, and then shaking the grounds around, breaks clumps up relatively effectively. Thanks. – Matt Sep 29 '15 at 22:13
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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.

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