pedeI received my Peter Dienes (aka “PeDe”) hand grinder from Orphan Espresso yesterday and it is well worthy of a mini review. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out much about the Peter Dienes company for this article. As far as I can tell with very little information the company seemed to be based in the Netherlands around World War II. I saw some references to “post-war” and “pre-war” and I know a fair number of these grinders are from the 1950’s. The company doesn’t seem to be in existence today, and beyond that I couldn’t find out much after about an hour of research online.

That said, I’ve been looking to improve the quality of my home espresso setup. I have a decent espresso machine (Gaggia Espresso), but was relegated to using canned pre-ground espresso (usually Alessi or Medaglia d’Oro). While this setup isn’t amazing by any stretch, it makes a serviceable cup, particularly for the very occasional latté I drink, or the more frequent Americano. The big factors I was missing out on is fresh beans, and, as an essential component of fresh beans, a good grind.

To review, a good espresso grinder is generally going to run in the $250+ range, generally closer to the $400 mark. That’s a lot of money for a one-trick pony. I happened to be reading the CoffeeGeek forums last week and came across a discussion about using hand grinders for espresso. As it turns out, a good hand grinder can give a good electrical grinder a serious run for its money, usually at a fraction of the cost and, in my opinion, a much higher cool factor!

The main issue, though, was that there is a huge range in quality of vintage coffee hand grinders. Some are great, some are terrible, some work for espresso, some don’t. In this discussion the name of a company, Orphan Espresso, came up. One of Orphan Espresso’s products and services is to find vintage hand grinders, clean them up and recondition them, and then test them for acceptability for different brewing methods. The company classifies whether a grinder is acceptable for espresso or not and sells them as such, guaranteeing their work. 

So, I visited the site and fell in love with the PeDe wall-mounted grinder you see in the photo above. It has a cool, ’50’s-ish ceramic hopper painted in white and gray. The burrs of the grinder are in a repainted cast iron housing, and the original glass grounds catcher is still intact. The grinder and Priority Mail shipping cost me $110, which is a far cry from $250-$275 for a basic entry-level electrical grinder or more! Plus, the Dienes looks cool, and, to me at least, there is something satisfying about hand grinding my coffee.

The grinder, including the glass cup, is about 12″ tall, so this is not huge or obnoxious in any way. The mounting board is maybe 7″ wide. The hopper can hold a lot of beans, I’m guessing about a pound if not more, but the glass cup will hold about 2.5 tablespoons of beans (whole or ground, un-tamped of course). The hopper has a plastic lid that fits snugly to the ceramic to create a bit of a seal. 

After mounting the grinder last night I ran to Whole Foods and bought two kinds of beans: Bel Canto and Sierra. I knew Whole Foods does their own roasting right on site and also labels when the beans were roasted, so I figured that was a good reference starting point. The Bel Canto was labeled as being bright and fruity, a Northern Italian style roast good for espresso or drip while the Sierra was much darker and more oily.

Before grinding the good stuff, I ran a couple tablespoons of some cheap coffee through it. I tried to visually compare the PeDe’s grinds to the canned Medaglia I had, and thought it looked a little coarse, so I tightened the burr adjustment knob about 1/4 turn, then ran two tbsp of Bel Canto through it. I put it in the double basket, tamped and ran the machine. It choked the Gaggia. Not a single drop of espresso came through!

So, I turned the knob out about 1/4 turn, tried again, and again choked the machine. I turned it out another 1/4 turn, maybe a little more, and this time got a nice double shot in about 24 seconds. Eureka!

The Bel Canto made a pretty nice espresso with lots of crema. I know it isn’t “perfect” but it is SO far beyond what I was doing that it’s amazing. The Sierra ground a little finer than the Bel Canto did, and pulled a little slower and with less crema, so the key will be to stick to one type of coffee for a while as a lot of playing with the adjustment knob on the PeDe will lead to inconsistency.

In any case, I couldn’t be happier with my PeDe or the product and level of service offered by Orphan Espresso.