Baratza Encore ESP Review: A Grinder for Almost Every Kind of Coffee
«I don’t know if I’m on step 15,» said Olympia co-owner Sam Schroeder, who was twisting the hopper to adjust grind size. «That’s really sloppy.»
Things got better after that though. Sam manned the grinder and Olympia’s retail trainer, Reyna Callejo, ran the espresso machine while I sat back and watched the experts work. Each time, the duo used 18 grams of Big Truck blend, working their way to 36 grams of espresso. Grind size 15 was too coarse, and 12 and 8 were, too. Six was too fine, and 7, as Reyna declared, «tastes like Big Truck!»
In Olympia barista parlance, that meant it was right where it should be.
Sam was still a little hung up on the off-center numbering, but that one dialing-in session told him a lot. «I don’t like the way the numbers don’t line up, but do I love the fine adjustment.»
We all appreciated the taste of the coffee and enjoyed the body, too, something conical burrs like those in the ESP can often do better at than their flat-burr competition. Flat-burr grinders are typically good at grind-size consistency, but the coffee they make can be a bit more one-note; it’s complicated, but in the end, it’s usually a matter of personal preference.
«There’s more variability in the ESP’s grind size, but that’s not necessarily bad,» said Reyna.
Heading out for an appointment, Sam gave the ESP his blessing, calling it «pretty impressive for a $200 grinder.»
Reyna took it from there as we explored the coarse-grind capabilities. She started making pour-over in a Kalita Wave, one batch based on grind size 28, one on 25, lauding its grind speed as she went. On grind size 20, she pronounced that this would be the one, and it turned out to make a damn fine cup.
Next we tightened the grind back up a bit to try Reyna’s current favorite brewing method, putting a Chemex filter into an Origami dripper, creating what was essentially a hybrid between classic Chemex and pour-over coffee. On grind size 30, it ground through the beans at what she called «turbo speed,» revealing a slightly varied consistency in the grind.
«Boulders!» she declared, «Look at all of them.»
Relatively large grounds rose to the top of the bed after she poured the water in, and Reyna said next time she’d try a finer grind. We agreed that what she made was already quite good, with a pleasant texture, and it would be easy to finesse our way to an even better cup.
«Variance in grind size is a personal preference,» she said, taking on the somewhat controversial issue of grind consistency, «Some is desirable, none is too one-note, but a lot can be a lot for some people.»
From there, we went to the far end of the grind size capabilities, exploring what fans of French press and cold brew had to look forward to. To start, she poured a tablespoon of grounds onto the countertop, where we noted a fair amount of variability in grind size.
«This could give you a more sludgy French press,» she said, with what may have been a note of disappointment in her voice, «but it’s also a more forgiving method.»
We had come far enough in the testing that I asked Reyna if we had a true all-rounder, a grinder that could do everything from espresso fine-grind to French-press coarse.
«Almost! You’re not gonna have a good time grinding really coarse.»
Oh man, we were so close.
Back at home, I saw what she meant; it made for good but sludgier French press than I’m used to. As a regular French-press drinker, I don’t mind a bit of sludge, but wasn’t sure if I’d want this much from here on out. Still, I found this machine impressive.
Overall, I hadn’t taken many notes on the machine because it was so impressively capable at grinding for a near-full spectrum of coffee types. If I was a regular home coffee maker who wanted to make espresso—and also liked the simplicity of drip, the meditation of pour-over, and the coarser grind of Chemex—it might not be coffee-shop perfect. But as Reyna reminded me, «It does espresso. That’s a lot.»