Baratza Rescues My Starbucks Grinder… Again!

Starbucks EL60 Grinder Jammed

The Starbucks “Barista” Coffee Grinder, the EL60, is the grinder that just won’t die. It was a present from my beautiful, amazing wife many years ago, and it has truly been a gift that keeps on giving.

Now.. it’s survival isn’t just amazing because it’s really well made. It’s amazing because it continues to chug away despite years of abuse on my part! I’ve written previously about how Baratza helped me replace my broken hopper after the whole grinder took a nasty fall.

This time, it turns out that my fundamental ignorance of how the thing works allowed me to neglect basic maintenance to the point that it became nearly unusable. Here’s what happened.

One day not long ago, I dumped the coffee grounds from the EL60’s bin into my pour over and noticed that it seemed a little light. After years of doing this, I should’ve realized that my instincts were spot on and I was missing some grounds, but I didn’t think too much about it. That cup of coffee brewed up super quick, and was naturally quite weak.

I still didn’t think a whole lot about it until I went on to brew the next cup, and ground up some more beans. This time, the grinder just didn’t seem to ever finish grinding. I’m so in tune with the sound of this thing that the pitch it generates when the RPMs spin up to their max is my aural clue that the grind is complete.

So… I dumped the bin again, and this time I only got a few grounds and some powder.

Powder is a problem. This grinder is known for producing a highly uniform grind… especially for a consumer unit sold en masse by Starbucks.

So… I took the hopper off and peered into the grinder only to discover that there were still nearly untouched coffee beans in the works.

Disassembly from there was a little harder than it should’ve been, mainly due to the aforementioned years of neglect.

But… once I finally got the ring burr to let go of its grip on the holder for the main burr (below), I saw that the entire chamber was full of grinds and shards of beans.

Right away I knew that the motor was fine. It was chugging away just perfectly. The burrs themselves were still sharp—after all, I was getting grinds that were what I expected… plus powder! So that meant that something mechanical was out of whack.

After spending several days cleaning out the grinder chamber with a butter knife after each grind, I decided to completely disassemble the machine and see if I could figure out what was going on.

Here’s what I found:

Starbucks Grinder: Jammed with Coffee Grounds

That little black component is a “door” of sorts, which opens to allow the coffee grinds to escape from the grinding chamber into the little chute which feeds the bin. As you can see, the “doorway” is jammed with grinds… and powdery ones.

Since I’m grinding for a pour-over brewing method and not for espresso, you can imagine that I do not usually grind the beans to powder. So this was all quite mystifying to me.

So… I did what had worked well for me in the past, and reached out via email to Pierce Jens, who has provided outstanding support for me in the past.

Pardon Me While I Rave About Baratza

I’ll get back to the story (and the fix for my grinder) in a moment. But first let me insert a couple of thoughts about Baratza.

Baratza is a company I can get excited about. When I first needed help with my grinder some years ago, I was directed to Baratza by Solis, the European manufacturer that originally built my grinder, with instructions that Baratza was their US distributor and was responsible for support.

It’s unclear to me whether Baratza had anything to do with the original deal that allowed for Starbucks to private label the Solis grinder and distribute it in the US under the “Starbucks Barista” brand when my wife bought this grinder for me many years ago.

What is clear is that Baratza is currently the major supplier for Starbucks grinders, and that those grinders sold by Starbucks wear the Baratza label rather than a Starbucks private label.

So… maybe they made a little money on the original purchase of my grinder, maybe they didn’t. Even if they did, they were a distant 3rd party to the transaction and were completely unknown to consumers like me at the time.

In other words, they could have easily declined to expend any resources on supporting me with my grinder problems. This they did not do.

Additionally, Baratza has advocated quite publicly for keeping grinders out of landfills, a message which, as a jaded marketer, I’ll admit to being a little dubious about. After all, it’s easy to talk about concern for the environment, and it’s another thing entirely to align one’s business practices around it.

In the case of Baratza, I can tell you that they have proven to me through my interactions with them that repairing coffee grinders—whether to keep them out of landfills or to provide outstanding customer service or both—is something that their business practices fully support.

This is impressive.

OK… back to my story.

The Fix for My Jammed Grinder

I found an old email thread from when Pierce Jens, who is a support technician at Baratza, helped me figure out what to do with my broken hopper, and replied to it, including the photo above showing my grinder jammed with coffee grounds.

Ever the master of email support, Pierce waded through the superfluous details I provided and managed to troubleshoot the issue in one round:

Hi David,

Thank you for your kind words! I’m always happy to help troubleshoot, let’s see if we can figure this out. I think you may simply have a worn out paddle wheel. Check out the 3rd picture of the Troubleshoot guide attached. None of the other pictures apply to your machine. You should have an 8 blade paddle, and I suspect yours is worn all the way out. I also have the paddle wheel replacement guide attached and the part is $5 on our Solis parts page.

By the way, your write up about the hopper has made several fellow EL60 owners happy over the years: kudos for that!

What was funny to me was that I had spotted the paddle wheel on the Solis Grinder Parts page on the Baratza website, but assumed that it applied to a different grinder than mine… because I didn’t recognize it!

I knew right away that he was right. So… I placed the order. Within a couple of days, the new part had arrived and I disassembled the grinder once again.

Conical Burr from Starbucks EL60 Grinder
Conical Burr from Starbucks EL60 Grinder

In the photo, there’s the conical burr from my grinder, which I got removed from the machine according to the directions that Pierce provided.

There’s an 8 blade plastic paddle below there… can you see it?

I couldn’t either. Here’s why:

Conical Burr with Worn Paddle Wheel Blades
Conical Burr with Worn Paddle Wheel Blades

Sure enough, the blades were completely worn, which is why I didn’t recognize the part on their website!

The paddle wheel is responsible for sweeping the grounds out of the grinding chamber and through the shoot to the bin. After many years of use (in my case, anyway), the blades had worn down to the point where they just couldn’t push and grinds out!

I got the new one out of the package and attached it to the burr. Check out the worn one in the background!

New paddle wheel attached to the conical burr
New paddle wheel attached to the conical burr

Reassembly was a snap. The PDF guides Pierce sent me had plenty of detailed instructions and the whole repair probably took less than 10 minutes.

With the grinder back together, I’m now getting “good as new” performance from my machine.

A couple of lessons learned:

  1. I probably should take a cleaning brush to the burrs on a regular basis. I will admit to having lost my grinder brush many years ago and then forgetting about this whole maintenance step. Had I been doing this, I probably would have noticed the paddles wearing down. In my case, it had been so long since I had had the grinder apart (even enough to just inspect the burrs), that I had completely forgotten those white paddles had ever been there!
  2. Baratza has won my business. They make virtually nothing from selling me parts like this, because the resources they’ve expended to provide support are far costlier than the revenue they’ve generated from the parts (not to mention the profits). That they still provide support via email in this way, and that there’s someone smart enough to employ Pierce Jens tells me that they’re precisely the sort of company I want to do business with.
  3. The final lesson is that I’m probably going to go ahead and order new burrs for my machine as the supply of parts for my grinder is apparently starting to dwindle. Mine are still performing well, but after inspecting them up close, I could definitely see signs of wear that weren’t visible to me prior to completely disassembling the grinder.

Alas… I won’t be needing a new grinder any time soon. But when I do, I’ll be buying Baratza. I certainly highly recommend you do the same!

Oh… and if you’re having trouble with any Baratza grinders, check out their fantastic YouTube channel, where Pierce shows how to perform any number of repairs!

Starbucks Android App Finally Has Mobile Tipping

Screenshot: Starbucks Android App with Mobile Tipping

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Starbucks letting me know that their Android app was about to get a refresh.

This was good news, because for months now the iOS app has provided users the ability to tip right from inside the app. Since I never carry cash, I almost never leave tips—something I’d be more than happy to do.

The new version of the app was made available a couple of days ago, but today was the first time I’ve made it to a store to test out the tipping function.

The app has a beautiful new UI, which I checked out right away after updating to the new version.

Onboarding inside the app was easy and intuitive. The email a couple of weeks ago had warned that you’d need your password handy upon updating as login would be required. No problem for me, as I’ve been in the habit of reloading from inside the app, which (thankfully) requires the password anyway.

I immediately looked around for the tipping function, but couldn’t find it. It occurred to me after a few minutes of poking around that perhaps it wouldn’t make sense to “tip” until you “pay.”

So today I visited one of my local stores and checked out with the app as usual. This time, a notification appeared offering several options for a tip: $.50, $1.00, and a third option that equaled the balance I had on the card (I was close to needing to reload, so it was under $2). The notification also prompted me that tipping would be available until a time that worked out to be 2 hours after my transaction.

So, I tapped $1 and saw the following:

Screenshot: Starbucks Android App with Mobile Tipping
Screenshot: Starbucks Android App with Mobile Tipping

As you can see, the app also allows you to modify your tip if you accidentally bumped the wrong amount. Nice touch!

All in all, I’m very happy with the new app, although I was a bit wary of the new permissions required. Thankfully, I’m using cyanogenmod, so I have the ability to block permissions at a much more granular level, thanks to Privacy Guard. I’ll take a closer look at those shortly.

One other pleasant surprise, for the first time, updating the Starbucks app didn’t cause the “Default Card” setting in my account to get goofed up. That was a mildly irritating “feature” of virtually every other previous version of the app.

Great job, Starbucks!

Replacement Hopper for Starbucks Barista EL60 Grinder

Starbucks Barista Burr Grinder with New Hopper
Starbucks Barista Burr Grinder EL60
Starbucks Barista Burr Grinder EL60

A while back, my treasured Starbucks “Barista” Burr Grinder suffered a nasty fall.  It’s a long story. Not my best day.

The grinder itself was just fine, but the coffee bean hopper that sits atop the grinder didn’t fare so well. The “business end” of the hopper was ruined. I call it the business end because without the hopper installed, the grinder won’t run for safety reasons. It also is used to set the coarseness of your grind.

Broken Hopper for EL60 Burr Grinder
Broken Hopper for EL60 Burr Grinder

Locating a New Hopper

This should be no problem, right? I’ll just search Google for “starbucks barista grinder hopper” right?

Oh boy.

It turns out that Starbucks has sold a few different private label grinders wearing the “Barista” moniker. There were a number of results in Google that made me think I’d have no problem finding parts for my grinder. Unfortunately, though, it became clear pretty quickly from the photos on the sites that my grinder wasn’t the one they were selling parts for.

Starbucks EL60 Grinder
Starbucks EL60 Grinder

In the end, I turned the grinder over and located this sticker, which told me that I have the “EL 60” burr grinder specifically.

While that was nice for informational purposes, it didn’t seem to be much help online when hunting for parts.

Ultimately, I decided that my grinder was manufactured by Solis, a Swiss company which offers this model which appears (from the photo, anyway) to be identical to mine. Other searches revealed that my grinder had been sold as the “Solis 166” at one time.

Nice to know, but no parts.

After a few more rounds of Google searching, I decided that it might be worthwhile to contact Baratza, which appears to make (or at least import) the successor models to the EL 60—both for Starbucks’ “Barista” line and otherwise.

Prior to purchasing the replacement hopper from the Baratza website, I contacted their support department by filling out a form on their website.

I was very impressed with the great service I received—especially since I was only planning to spend $10 on the hopper (or, as it turned out, $14 including the lid). After inquiring as to whether or not they sold the replacement hopper I needed, I received the following via email:

Hey David,

Our hopper does not fit right onto the Barista. However, I did have one crafty customer modify one of our hoppers, he made a guide for doing the job. I have the guide attached- sorry it is in two parts, but the customer sent it to me already in PDF form like this.

Regards,

Pierce Jens
Baratza Email Support

Nice!

The PDFs that were attached were somewhat helpful, but unclear in some ways, so I decided to create this post as a way to “upgrade” the available information about how to make the Baratza hopper work on the Barista EL60 / Solis 166 grinder.

I ordered the grinder right away, and added the lid as well. I had a suspicion my lid (which was intact) would fit, but I could see that the Baratza hopper was kind-of a “smoke” color, whereas mine was clear. For $4, why not get the matching lid?

Opening the package, I decided the grinders Baratza sells today indeed must share some common ancestry with my grinder, as the hoppers are exactly the same diameter at the point where they come to rest on top of the grinder.

However, the “notches” that allow the hopper to adjust the grind—not to mention get “seated” properly in place—are not where they need to be on the Baratza replacement hopper.

EL 60 Grind Adjustment Notches
EL 60 Grind Adjustment Notches
Baratza replacement hopper as shipped
Baratza replacement hopper as shipped

So… I reviewed the modifications made by the generous and helpful person who created the PDFs that Baratza sent me, and went for it.

How I Modified the Baratza Hopper to Work in My Barista Grinder

The guides Baratza sent referenced a “rotary tool” which the customer apparently used to grind new notches in the Baratza hopper to make it fit. I’m guessing it was a Dremel tool of some sort, which I don’t have.

So I read and re-read the guides and decided that an super-sharp razor blade just might do the trick.

WARNING: Razor blades are incredibly dangerous. Seriously… use every possible precaution to avoid injury if you try this. Clear the area of any bystanders or spectators, and proceed at your own risk.

I started with 2 vertical cuts on the side that didn’t have anything in the way, as shown below. By cutting straight down, no body parts were in the “line of fire” (so to speak) in the event that the razor blade were to slip.

Baratza hopper mod: first cuts made with razor blade
First cuts made with razor blade

I was quite pleasantly surprised at how easily my sharp razor blade cut through the plastic hopper. If I got a little stuck, it just took a little forward or backward motion (not enough that I’d refer to it as “sawing”) to make progress.

I took my time, and when I had two nice vertical cuts, I very carefully made a horizontal one to finish out my notch.

Once that first notch was cut, I turned the hopper around and tried to discover what needed to happen on the other side. From what I could see, my hopper was slightly different from the one pictured in the guides I received. In my case, there was a “tab” that ran all the way to the “top” (when sitting upside down as it was when I was working on it) of the hopper rim. After some tinkering, I decided that at least part of it (enough to match the height of my other notch) needed to be removed. I decided not to remove all of it because it seemed like it may have had some purpose. Honestly, I’m not sure.

Baratza hopper mod: tab to be partially removed
Tab to be partially removed

Again, the razor blade really seemed like the ideal tool for the job. I worked very slowly and kept body parts out of the way in case of slippage.

Tab partially removed
Baratza hopper mod: tab partially removed

Once that was done, I cut a notch in the “rim” of the hopper just like the first one.

With both notches cut, I did a little comparison to even things out a bit, and ultimately cut both notches a bit “taller” than I had done originally. Once they seemed to match, I installed the hopper onto the grinder…

My Starbucks Barista grinder with its shiny new modified Baratza hopper
My Starbucks Barista grinder with its shiny new modified Baratza hopper

Voila!

The new hopper now works just as the original one did. By rotating the hopper, the grind can be adjusted from “coarse” (with the little tab above the french press as shown in the photo above) to “fine” just as before.

And… as before, the safety cutoff switch is activated properly only when the hopper is properly installed and rotated far enough to be “locked” into place.

Thank You to Baratza and the Unknown Crafty Customer

I wouldn’t have attempted this mod if it weren’t for the fantastic service from Baratza (thank you, Pierce!) and the anonymous Baratza customer who blazed the trail and wrote up the guide to the modification he or she made.

Hopefully, this guide is helpful to you. If I can answer any questions, I’ll do my best! Just add a comment below.

With this nifty mod, I plan to enjoy my Starbucks Barista EL60 grinder for many more years. It has truly been the best grinder I’ve ever owned! And… next time I need one, I’ll be buying a grinder directly from Baratza.

Enjoy!

Sarasota Coffee Shop Groupon

My favorite independent Sarasota coffee shop is currently featured as a Tampa Bay Area Groupon deal! Just wanted to give a quick heads-up to my Sarasota readers who are also coffee connoisseurs. Spend $6, and get $12 worth of stuff on your next visit. Here’s the Groupon deal. Get it now: it expires today!

While they also sell & service espresso machines (residential & commercial), their cafe on Bee Ridge has been a welcome addition since they opened last year. Great-tasting food, free wi-fi and lots of beverage options make The Beanz Man a fantastic choice. And, as we’ve mentioned before, they make the ultimate Almond cappuccino. Be sure & tell ’em I sent ya!

In Search of the Perfect Almond Cappuccino

Cappuccino
Mmmmm....Cappuccino!

Those who know me well — and shoot… even those who read this blog! — know that I’m a Starbucks fan. I carry the Gold card, I’ve unlocked the Foursquare “Barista Badge,” and I’ve had Starbucks almond cappuccinos on multiple continents.

However… in the famous revamping of 2008, Starbucks ditched a few of my favorite things. Some of them hit a little closer to home than others. The loss of the Bearista left me with one less source for cute little stuffed animals to bring home to my wife and daughter. That hurt. Thankfully, the Bearista is back this fall.

What hurt even worse, however, and what is not back… is Starbucks almond syrup. My eulogy to this personal favorite continues to bring visitors from all over the world to this site.

Starbucks has a consistent product… all over the world. That makes it worth counting on… no matter where you are.

However, since the demise of their almond syrup, I’ve taken to checking out local, independent coffee shops to see what treasures I might discover — especially here in Sarasota, Florida. Consequently, I’ve found that there are some places around town that produce some fantastic products. LeLu Coffee Lounge on Siesta Key is one such place. In fact, they make a mocha using genuine Ghirardelli syrup that makes my wife melt. +1 for LeLu!

But just yesterday I believe I may have discovered Nirvana. No… not the Kurt Cobain-fronted grunge band from the 90s. But the real deal… the ultimate almond Cappuccino. And it doesn’t smell like Teen Spirit!

Locals here in Sarasota may recall the name, “The Beanz Man.” We knew it as a dealer of a wide variety of personal and professional espresso machines. When their shop disappeared from North Washington Boulevard, I thought perhaps it was another casualty of the economic times, so to speak.

Turns out, they suffered a devastating fire. I don’t know the details, but apparently it forced them to relocate and start over. Imagine my surprise when I spotted their vans parked in the parking lot next door to my office on Bee Ridge Road a few months ago!

Well… not only did they move… but last week they opened a full-fledged cafe! They serve a variety of sandwiches and soups. I walked over to it for lunch yesterday with my wonderful wife, Jill, and had a prosciutto and fontina sandwich that was spectacular.

But… what do you get when you take an espresso machine dealer… one who probably knows the ins and outs of making espresso-based drinks as well as anyone else… and put him in his very own cafe?

You get the handmade cappuccino of your life… with the perfect amount of almond syrup to boot! (At least… that’s what you get if you’re me! You might order something else… that, I recognize. But that would be your loss.)

Actually… I’m sure that any espresso-based drink you could possibly dream up would be amazing at The Beanz Man Espresso Bar Cafe. Here’s a sure thing: I’ll be walking next door more often… a lot more often. Check out the cafe page on their website to download yourself a coupon, then head on over there yourself. Enjoy something to munch on at one of their nifty little cafe tables, or sink down into the cozy couch and fire up your favorite wi-fi device to do some surfing.

And be sure to tell ’em I sent ya!

RIP: Starbucks Almond Syrup

**Latest Update** It looks like Starbucks Almond Syrup is truly gone for good. The Fontana choice was good for a while, but it’s no longer on the market either. I’ve tried the Torani Orgeat Syrup, and it’s pretty good…. plus it’s in Amazon Prime, so… free shipping, right?!

**Update #3** Thanks to our reader Joyce, I did a little checking around and it looks like this Fontana Almond Syrup is the very stuff that Starbucks uses (Fontana is evidently manufactured for Starbucks) You can still purchase the Almond variety in a 4-pack.

The Torani syrup we mentioned in a previous update is also delicious, but not quite the same flavor as the Starbucks / Fontana syrup. Even the bottle on the Fontana syrup is an exact match!

Enjoy!

**Update #2** All my Sarasota readers: you can get almond cappuccino and syrup from The Beanz Man Espresso Bar Cafe on Bee Ridge Road (just west of Shade). Tell ’em I sent ya! sells and services fantastic coffee equipment (especially for commercial purposes), but no longer has a coffee shop. 🙁

*Update 1* I’ve been told that this Torani Orgeat Syrup is the exact product that Starbucks used to sell with its own label (turns out the Fontana syrups are manufactured for Starbucks… see the update above). You can grab it up inexpensively from Amazon and use it in your homemade beverages. Alas, since I don’t make espresso-based drinks at home, this doesn’t help me.

Don’t forget the pump!

Those who know me know that I’m an enormous fan of coffee. In fact, I have a book project that I’ve been dabbling with for a while that deals with coffee as a source of inspiration. It will eventually be finished. Watch for it. 🙂

As a true coffee connoisseur, I drink my daily brew black, freshly ground (in a burr grinder for consistency), and brewed (by the cup) in my french press. OK, I admit it. I’m a bit of a coffee snob. I certainly don’t mean that I look down on those who drink, say, robusta beans. It’s just that I personally have a well-developed palette where it comes to fine coffees.

(A.D.D. Moment: Want a really great book on the benefits of caffeine? Nab The Caffeine Advantage: How to Sharpen Your Mind, Improve Your Physical Performance, and Achieve Your Goals–the Healthy Way)

OK, back to my point: I have one guilty pleasure, as it were, where it comes to flavored coffee beverages. I know, I know… real connoisseurs don’t use any flavoring. But, years ago an astute barista who was a personal friend of mine made me an almond cappuccino.

Now, I’m not going to say that the skies parted, light shone, angels sang, and that I was enraptured by a glorious ecstasy as I partook… but it was close. Thanks, Mike, wherever you are.

Since then, I’ve been an addict. When Starbucks finally entered the Florida market, I quickly made the Grande Almond Cappuccino my beverage of choice… when in the mood for something other than a bold drip or a doppio.

I’ve partaken of this particular beverage all over the United States in Starbucks locations and even as far away as Singapore. I love it. It is truly a pleasurable experience that I enjoy.

So, imagine my dismay when the baristas at my local Starbucks announced that the almond syrup was being phased out. First, their ability to ring the drink up properly was taken away by a software update to their POS system. Now, they’ve actually told me that the syrup is gone. Some locations still have some, but almond—as a flavoring syrup at Starbucks—is basically dead.

I don’t spend enough at Starbucks to have the clout to pressure them to bring it back (despite whatever my wife may think about my Starbucks budget), so I’m not planning to mount any major campaign to boycott or ask people to join me. However, I am truly saddened by the loss. Most people stick with vanilla or hazelnut or one of the more popular syrups, I know. But they simply don’t know what they’re missing.

So… I bid the Starbucks almond syrup a fond farewell. And yes, every time I’m in a small private coffee shop (which I’ll admit I’ll be on the lookout for now more than ever), I’ll be forced to inquire… just in case they have some.