Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My New Grind: Cuisinart Grind Central Coffee-Grinder Fits In With My Decor, But Little Else.

The Good: Stylish appearance, Easy to use, Easy to clean
The Bad: A little bulky, It takes longer to make finer grounds, Problematic cord storage, Additional cleanup.
The Basics: While it looks (generally) good and works competently, the style aspects are overcome by substantive issues with how well it operates and generally poor operational design.

With my infrequent writing excursions outside the media categories, I've made it fairly clear to those who read all of my reviews that I am a lover of coffee and I am quite proud the look my kitchen is developing. It's all coming up stainless steel as far as the appliances go. The big exceptions have been my coffee maker (reviewed here!) and my very convenient Procter-Silex coffee grinder (reviewed here!). While I will doubtless not be in the market for a new coffee maker anytime soon, a friend's need to grind flax seed made me give up my coffee grinder. No, the old grinder probably isn't rated for flax seed, but it worked perfectly for my friend and it gave me an excuse to go out hunting for a new coffee grinder. In a rare stroke of luck and fortune, I found one on my first attempt that met my needs as far as the look went. It was the Cuisinart Grind Central Coffee Grinder.

The Cuisinart Grind Central Coffee Grinder is a pricey little gadget that looks like it's being marketed toward an upscale market, but I was able to buy it anyway. Unlike my discreet, former coffee grinder which used space quite efficiently, this is a coffee grinder that is big, bulkier and screams "Look! This person grinds their own! I'm a coffee grinder! Look how big I am!" With its top on (which is necessary to operate it and it's impossible to save more space by removing it) the Grind Central grinder is eight inches tall, four inches wide and four and a half inches deep. It leaves quite the footprint.

On the topic of how much space it takes up, the Grind Central coffee grinder has a supposedly retractable electric cord. The thirty inch cord is supposed to be able to fit into the base of the unit by nothing so sophisticated as shoving it into the base. Yes, there is no mechanism, just a hole in the side of the unit's base that - according to the manual - allows the cord to be shoved into the base. I've had my Grind Central grinder for less than a week and I've not yet gotten the cord more than 2/3 into the base. The cord is stiff, the hole is small and there is no guidance so the cord often seems like it is tangling itself up. At the very least, it is pushing against itself and it is definitely doing that because when it comes time to pulling the cord out there are similar problems. This function of the coffee grinder is a complete dud. In fact, I've stopped trying to get the cord retracted because I'm concerned it will damage the cord.

So, it's bulky and the cord does not retract easily. That's the negative. Everything else about this little device is pretty wonderful.

First, the look of the Grind Central is very modern and it will fit in with any current kitchen. Yes, the stainless steel looks great and even though the front of the device is a walking advertisement for Cuisinart (I wish my kitchen did not look like a billboard advertising every major appliance's stainless steel line) with its name in pretty bold relief on the cover. From all angles this looks like a very modern, very hip coffee grinder.

The Grind Central comes with four parts: the base, the cover, the grinding bowl and the storage lid. Everything but the base is dishwasher safe and as such ridiculously easy to clean. The storage lid is stored in the side of the box when first taking the unit out and Cuisinart is kind enough to point this fact out, suggesting they became tired of fielding calls for a replacement when people inadvertently tossed them. The lid is a simply black rubbery plastic lid, like what one finds on a tub of soft margarine. It is black and is designed to cover the removable stainless steel grinding bowl when it is detached from the base. It fits fine and has the explicit goal of keeping ground coffee fresh and it does seem to do that just fine. As well, it does not seem to retain the scent of various flavors of coffee, so this makes it wonderful for using even if one does not have a chance to clean it properly between grinding various coffee beans.

The base, as previously suggested, is a solid, sturdy bottom to the unit, covered in stainless steel panels. It rests on the countertop on four rubber feet making it difficult to tip or knock over. This is sturdy and good looking. The top of the base has a concave portion with the motor rod in the center. This indentation is where the removable bowl fits in. The bowl locks into the base with a quarter-turn once it is in the base. The base is marked with a simple arrow to direct users who might forget or need to detach the bowl.

The cover is just that. This plastic and stainless steel cover is a blockish segment that mirrors the base, but allows the user to watch the coffee being ground. This segment also has the button needed to activate the grinder. The Grind Central is operated by pushing down on a black button on the top front of the cover. It is spring loaded so when it is not being pushed down, it pops right back up to its off position. This is a decent security feature as it prevents the unit from operating without supervision. As well, the button adds safety to the device because the only way to easily use the Grind Central is to have the cover on. In order to use the Grind Central with the cover off, one would need a small, pen-like device to poke into the hole the cover's button utilizes. This makes it impossible to activate this device accidentally without the cover on.

As a final note on the cover, it is very easy to clean as it is dishwasher safe. I recommend wiping it out between uses because otherwise, after using it each time, the grinds get up in the top of the cover. If you simply set the cover back on the base after the bowl has been removed, coffee grinds will get into the base and gum up the works. My real problem with the cover is that it only has a 1/4" lip over the top of the base, making it a very flimsy connection. There is nothing that seals the cover to the base - the cover is removable by anyone quite easily - and with cats in the house, I'm waiting for the day they knock the top off. This is a legitimate concern because the cover comes off that easily and the worry is reasonable because the cover is made of hard plastic that looks like the type that would crack with a fall from the countertop to the floor.

This leads us to the stainless steel removable bowl. This is where the magic happens. This little bowl is like a mixing bowl, save that it has gradations on the outside - presumably the number of cups of coffee yielded by the beans ground up to that level. The MAX line is supposedly equal to enough ground coffee beans to make eighteen cups of coffee, but as I never need more than twelve in a day, I've not tested this too rigorously.

The bowl is like a mixing bowl with the exception that in the bottom of the bowl, it has a hole through which the rod which rotates the grinding blades is stuck and there is a black plastic base attached to the bowl reminiscent of a blender base. When attached to the base, twisted in, the bowl is solid and virtually unmovable. This lends itself to the impression that this is a very safe device to use.

And it is. When everything is attached (it took me one minute, literally, out of the box) it is simply the press of a button and coffee beans that are added to the bowl are being ground. Boom. That easy.

Sort of.

The Grind Central is poorly designed as far as functionality goes. Sure, it does grind the coffee beans and it even grinds them quite fine if you are patient enough to let it. Unfortunately, it takes forever to get really fine ground coffee and that's where the poor design comes in. The bowl is big and the widest point is at the top (because, you know, it's a bowl!). The blades are in the center at the bottom. This means that as the coffee beans are ground up, they become lighter they get buoyant and they have someplace to go; the upper edges of the bowl. For sure, the grinds accumulate and fall back into the blades, but a good number of them are simply mixed and not ground. The only way I got the best results out of the Grind Central was by removing some of the well-ground grinds and continuing to grind with the grinder until it became more fine. A well designed grinder uses gravity to encourage the beans to continue to go back down into the blades over and over, usually by using a dome shaped cover.

Which leads us to the last problem. The Grind Central is poorly designed as a matter of function with the bowl for more than just its primary function, which is grinding up coffee beans. No, the storage aspect of the Grind Central is buggered by rod going through the base which moves when it is no longer attached to the base. This means that when removed from the base and used as a storage bowl, the bowl will leak coffee grinds out the bottom. Cuisinart is classy enough to supply a storage lid, but didn't think of some sort of lid for the bottom. That's disappointing because everytime I take the bowl with grounds out of the refrigerator, I have to wipe off the counter and the shelf in the refrigerator.

Wow, that didn't go quite the way I thought it would. Sometimes, we start a review and don't know quite where it will end up but I'm sitting here looking at my Cuisinart with a bit of disdain now. I guess I miss my better-designed, less expensive Proctor Silex coffee grinder. Maybe I was just happy to have a coffee grinder that worked again after so long (since giving my preferred one away) that I overlooked all the flaws and extra work this Grind Central model had. Maybe I was just thrilled that it matched my Cuisinart Waffle Maker (reviewed here!), but in an objective analysis, this product is not all that wonderful.

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


For other home and garden product reviews, please check out my index page for an organized listing of all I have reviewed in this category!

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

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