Wednesday, October 5, 2011

After The Grinding Disaster, The E160B Restores My Faith In Coffee Grinders!

The Good: Generally easy to clean, Durable, Easy to use/intuitive, Stores easily, Small, Color
The Bad: Parts are slightly difficult to clean, Still no stainless steel, Price
The Basics: I've begun a new relationship with an old style coffee grinder, this time in a color I can tolerate, even with the new price!

I am a coffee nut; I love coffee and I'm always thrilled when I get to grind my own. Coffee is one of my few true vices, but I accept it as part of my all-liquid eating disorder, er, diet, I'm developing. Right now, I'm drinking a cup of fresh ground Vermont Maple Crunch coffee from Wegman's which is being overpowered by a slosh of Coffemate Chocolate and Raspberry flavor creamer. And the reason I can enjoy said coffee is that I've gotten myself a new coffee grinder!

The saga of my coffee grinders goes thus: I had a coffee grinder which I was quite happy with, the Hamilton Beach Proctor Silex E160 electric coffee grinder (reviewed here!). Because it was white and did not so much fit my color scheme, I decided that I would hand it off to a friend who needed something to grind flax seed. This opened the door for me to buy a stainless steel Cuisinart coffee grinder (reviewed here!) that might better fit my decor. And despite the wonderful look of that grinder, it functioned poorly (it's designed poorly, for starters) and I returned that puppy. This put me back in the market for a coffee grinder and I decided to go with what I know, the Hamilton Beach E160 series.

What separates the E160B from the E160? The color. The "B" denotes "black," despite what any pictures around here might indicate. All E160Bs are black, so this review is instantly reminiscent of the climax to the episode of The Simpsons that features Malibu Stacey. "It's just the same figure with a new hat!" "She's got a new hat!" This is the exact same product as the white E160, save that it is black, not white.

That said . . . I had my old coffee grinder for five years before giving it away and so far I've found no difference with the operation of the E160B. Since picking the E160B up earlier this week, I've already used it three times.

The black base of the grinder is approximately six inches tall, making this device about eight inches high when the dome is put on. The E160B is about three inches in diameter, so this is a fairly compact device. I notice this a lot more now given the comparison to the Cuisinart grinder I got rid of. This is so much more of a space saver!

One of the nicest aspects for those who do not like clutter is that the E160B has a three foot retractable electric cord. Whenever I have the grinder near water, I simply twist the bottom to bring the cord into the grinder. All that remains exposed is the plug. This minimizes the possibility that the cord will get wet causing electrocution.

Using the coffee grinder is rather simple and it's an intuitive device; I learned without reading the manual. Simply place the coffee beans in the dome, push the top onto the base (the only way this can go on is the right way because of the descending pulse button that activates the grinder) - which I usually do by picking up the base and connecting the two parts upside down and flipping it over to prevent any spillage, and push the button.

The activation button is a descending lever on from the dome that has limited flexibility. This insures that the device does not activate except when the button is pushed. The E160B grinder works like a blender, with a central spinning blade in the base that rotates only when the button is pushed. Because this device works rather instantaneously, the blades start and stop with the touch of the button, with no spinning when the button is not depressed.

But more than that, this device is ridiculously safe. The lever has a tiny flap at the bottom. The plastic flap fits into a slot in the base, which along with the contours of the lever and two side ridges insure there is only one way this grinder can come together, and that is what activates the blades in the base. The thing is, when the dome top is not on, it's virtually impossible to activate the blades unless you're playing with something about the size of a pin. This makes it very safe to have around children as the risk of one activating this while unsupervised is virtually nonexistent.

Back to the use. A constant grinding for about one minute ought to pulverize a capful of coffee beans, resulting in approximately five tablespoons worth of ground coffee (enough for one ten-cup pot). I recommend picking up the grinder while grinding and rotating it with your natural wrist motion (so the E160B moves from perpendicular to a counter to parallel) back and forth two or three times in order to insure universal quality of the coffee grinds. This basically insures that all off the coffee grounds will be fine, as opposed to an awkward collection of fine and coarse bits.

Getting the coffee beans out is easy; simply turn the device over (so the dome is down) after unplugging the grinder, and pull down on the dome. The dome acts as a convenient repository for the ground coffee. I usually whack the bottom of the device once and that sends any of the ground coffee that is below the blades into the dome before I detach the dome. Otherwise, upon flipping it back over, the grinder will often have the most powderized grounds underneath the blades.

Cleanup is fairly easy. After unplugging the E160B, simply wipe the base out with a damp cloth. Ideally, the device would have blades that could pop out to make this much easier. I've found no drop in performance when I simply fill the base up with soapy water and really scrub it (I do between grinding different flavors of coffee to prevent the flavor of the prior batch from influencing the new flavor). This should not be submerged, but the grinding area in the base is well-sealed from the electrical components beneath it in the base to allow a heavy cleaning like that. For day to day cleaning of the base, a wet cloth works just fine.

It is somewhat trickier to clean the dome top. Because of how stiff the plastic is, I've always cleaned the top with an exaggerated sense of caution, being especially careful with the little flap at the bottom that I know activates the device. I've never broken the flap, but I was always most cautious about that. Coffee that is very finely ground often gets trapped between the clear plastic dome and the descending black lever, a condition experience has taught me is likely to get slightly more pronounced with age. This is just a pain to clean quickly, but it often cleans up easily when one is patient with it. I've resorted - whenever possible - to simply throwing the dome in my dishwasher and that gets the job done.

So this is a great way to get coffee ground up and the black is nowhere near as bad in my stainless steel kitchen as the white was. Still, I find myself wishing they'd make this in stainless steel.

My only other note is that the price of this wonderful little device seems to have doubled in the past five years. I remember buying my original E160 for $8.99 on sale. Granted I didn't buy the E160B at the cheapest place in town (gift card, so . . .) but the price was now a somewhat shocking $19.99, not on sale. For a coffeephile, this is not a bad investment, but for a device so small, it might seem pricey.

The price, though, is justified - if experience has taught me anything - because the blades on the E160B are unlikely to ever dull. And as far as style goes, the black matches my Hamilton Beach Coffee Maker (reviewed here!), so that's a plus.

Ultimately, the E160B is an easy to use, efficient grinder for coffee that may allow the user a greater range of one of life's true little pleasures . . . coffee! Fresh-ground coffee!

For other coffee-related reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Cuisinart Supreme Grind Coffee Grinder
Kahlua Mocha Coffee
Tim Horton's Fine Grind Coffee


For other kitchen appliance reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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