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OE Coffee Grinder Project

Our current offerings of the OE Pharos and the OE Lido 2 evolved from a long term involvement in all kinds of coffee grinders and in particular manual coffee grinders.  When we began our formal business as Orphan Espresso we were focused on vintage espresso machines from the 1950's forward and as a sidebar the grinders and gear that went with machines from the analog era.  One of our fascinations became the vintage, and we mean OLD hand cranked coffee grinders made in Europe from the mid 1800's until the 1970's or so and we began restoring grinders from this wide span of manufacture.   Most were wood box mills,  from the oldest large format "lap mills" to the increasingly streamlined and industrial German grinders from Zassenhaus, Dienes, KyM, and others….French Peugeot mills and Italian Tre Spade…modernist grinders of the Art Deco period, wall mounted grinders, the wide range of shapes and styles that is so typical to find in any area of manufacture from the days before standardization.   

Working with these old hand grinders we began to note certain design elements that were generally present in the best mills (and by best we do not mean best looking but best grinding and by best grinding we mean producing the most consistent grind for a particular brew method)…very simple concepts such as stable dual bearing systems to fully support the burr axle and step less grind adjustment mechanisms…attention to burr size and geometry in relation to the intended grinding profile of the mill…an actual high level of purposeful design.  
And at one point, of course, everything changed.  One after another of the European grinder manufacturers closed or were absorbed into other companies and the remaining companies began to all produce basically the same mill and this design was missing one of the important bits that make for a consistent grind…the dual bearing system.   Though fully functional for espresso (if step less) and fine grinding the current grinder manufacture lacked sufficient burr axle stability for consistent medium or coarse grinding to produce good brewing results in our current range of extraction techniques.   

As the European hand grinders became more and more expensive an attractive alternative emerged from Japan in the form of the Hario Skerton and Mini as well as the Kyocera and Porlex models and others.  These mills were basically tea grinders repurposed as coffee grinders and the central design theme was/is the ceramic burr and small format.    The ceramic burr (though a crushing burr, not a cutting burr) could be cleaned by washing or soaking in soap and water as could the entire grinder body and other parts.  Though a good entry level grinder, these all use a stepped adjustment format and again, lacking a dual bearing system for good grind consistency for anything but the finest of grinds.  The lack of spare parts availability makes these grinders basically a disposable unit when given hard or heavy use.

So, we are painting a pretty grim picture here as far as  modern manual coffee grinders go, so why bother?   Well, there are certain benefits to a hand mill vs electric…  portability,  noise,  power consumption, longevity, cost vs quality, size, or just plain because.

OE PHAROS   2011

Our first hand grinder design is the Pharos, which is basically a commercial 68mm conical steel grinding burr with a frame built around it and a mechanism to turn the burr installed into the frame.  The central principle of the grinder is for the burr axle to be fully supported with a dual bearing system to avoid burr wobble.  Since these large conic burrs are well regarded for use in commercial espresso grinders we knew we were making an espresso centric machine rather than a large batch grinder and used this to enable the Pharos to be built as compact as possible to contain or withstand what we speculated could be fairly large forces needed to turn the burr when fully loaded with beans.   All of the force put into the grinder by the arm had to be countered by the structure of the mechanism and spread through the frame so it could not be built spindly in any way.    When brainstorming the Pharos we did not know with any confidence that a large burr like this could be used in a hand grinder, could be turned using only hand/arm power, or would it just tear apart under the forces required for grinding.   Somewhat like the engineers at NASA not knowing if the thing will fly or just blow up on the launch pad, we over engineered it.

So the Pharos at that point had a large conic burr, dual bearings, stout over engineered build, but to actually build it required that it was economically feasible and what we like to think of as buildable.   The most costly part in the Pharos is the burr set so that was a fixed cost.  From the burr we moved outwards in all directions with the long axle held by bearings on each end.   End plates to hold the bearings.  Center plate to hold the outer burr.  A method to fasten it all together.   An opening to load beans.  A system to remove grounds.  We added each functional component in such a way as to not weaken the central engineering issue…burr stability from the dual bearing system.  To keep costs down we used as many standard off the shelf parts as possible in a design that required no custom tooling.  We made many of the parts ourselves from standard plastic pipe and tube.  The result was the Pharos, pretty much in the same form as you see it today.  All the parts of the Pharos have  equivalents in even the oldest of hand mills:  of course the obvious crank handle and knob, but the top abs ring functions as the old style large funnel, the rubber disc equals the closing slider door on the chrome top mills,  the polycarbonate hopper equates to the inner funnel,  the lower hopper acts as the grounds drawer, but on the Pharos the functional parts are reversed…what is integral on the traditional grinder is removable on the Pharos and what is removable on the traditional grinder is integral on the Pharos.

So there is then the issue of buildability.   Each Pharos is built individually from start to finish due to, again, the concept to the dual bearing system….the burrs floating in space idea.  When building the machine, the grinder is assembled from the top down.  Once fully assembled "loose" the frame with bearings acts as a jig to allow the alignment of not only the axle and bearings but also the jig to allow the alignment of the burrs in relation to the plates and all of the other components of the grinder.   Some users advocate cutting the axle off and installing a cup in place of the current inner funnel and other severe modifications of the basic structure of the Pharos but this not only destroys the harmonious symmetry of the machine but also negatively impacts the buldability of the grinder.  
During the course of building Pharos grinders we have made many small changes to address build and parts stability (sourcing or manufacturing) issues, and to make it a better grinder.   We are constantly evolving the Pharos in small ways, tweaking the parts or adding some change that has been seen as an improvement by coffee people, but as we approach Pharos #1000 it is still overall the same as the prototype we have been using for over 3 years.

OE LIDO 1  2012

About 6 months after the introduction of the Pharos hand grinder we began a new project with the working name LIDO.   The inspiration for the name Pharos was the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  The name Lido is much less grand…it was the name of the plastics company that made small multi part children's  puzzles in the 1950's.  Our original design much resembled a large puzzle…

The Pharos was, and is, viewed as an espresso grinder.  This makes sense since the burr is the type used in the "Titan Class" of commercial coffee grinders common for use in espresso prep.   Conical grinding burrs naturally produce a bimodal grind distribution and the bigger the burr the bigger the "sweet spot" for espresso grinding.   These burrs are known to be very forgiving when used to grind for espresso and many people consider them to be the preferred burr for espresso.   When used in a hand grinder this burr, though great for espresso and fine grinding, has some limitations for the coarser grinds used in some extraction methods.   The reason for this is not only burr geometry but grinding speed.  In an electric grinder the beans and fragments are fed through the burrs by not only gravity but also by centrifugal force.  When powered slowly by hand the centrifugal force component drops out and some of the larger fragments simply drop through the burr opening resulting in an inconsistent mix of target particles and boulders.   With the LIDO we wanted to find a way to overcome this fault in the Pharos, as well as to produce a grinder that was a bit more conventional since people seemed to either "get" the Pharos and love it, love the grind quality but grumble about ergonomics, or just plain not get it at all.   

The LIDO uses the same design and engineering ethic as the Pharos.   Dual bearings, stacked repeating forms, flat cut plates but with a slightly rearranged format and a more conventional catch jar design.   Again, a combination of off the shelf parts and fasteners with a minimum of custom machining.   Parts requiring high tolerance manufacturing were machined, such as the burr carrier and the top collar ring.  The step less burr adjustment system was placed under the burr and the second bearing was moved to directly above the burr vs below as in the Pharos.   Basically the LIDO was a rearranged Pharos, but with a MUCH small burr…we used a 38mm burr and as the Pharos has an attack dog of a burr the LIDO was much more of a nibbler.  The smaller burr allowed the entire grinder to be reduced in size and the grinding action was much easier to use and hold.   

The design of the LIDO (what we now call the LIDO 1) allows a very consistent grind through the entire range and is a competant espresso grinder as well, though the shots may to some people  lack some of the sparkle of the Pharos shots.   It is all in the burr after all so this is not a surprise.   One major observation concerning the LIDO 1 was that people generally  just got it right from the beginning.  They understood the design and how to use the grinder.  The controversial aspects of the Pharos were not present in the LIDO 1….it just worked and people just used it to grind coffee and brew coffee.  We could see the beginning of what we wanted in a hand grinder…for the grinder to just disappear into the process and have it be all about the coffee, not the grinder.  

 OE LIDO 2   2014

Building the Pharos and LIDO 1, along with the challenges of design and supply was a good experience but we had hit a wall with these two grinders…we had two great coffee grinders but were not moving forward as people or as a business so something had to change.   We decided to "up manufacture"  the LIDO.   We teamed with an industrial designer to help us with the design and took all of the "opportunities" to heart to make the grinder as straightforward and user friendly as possible.   One opportunity has been to guide the use of the grinder through the design of the grinder.  The proportions of the Lido 2 drives the user to hold and turn the grinder in a certain way…we call it base supported grinding.   The most comfortable way to hold and use the grinder is to support the jar against a counter on a towel or pad while holding the grinder at an angle, hold the jar against the hip while standing, or hold between the legs at an angle while sitting.   By directing the use of the grinder in this way we can reduce the whirring and shaking of the grinder and achieve a more even through grind of beans, eliminate bean flyouts without the use of a lid, and guide the user into a more pleasing grind experience…all through some simple design decisions.

Manufacturing the LIDO 2 in Taiwan has been a dream come true for us.  All of the die casting, plastic injection molding, machining, box manufacture, and assembly are done in Taichung City, Taiwan at factories within about 20 minutes from our assembly factory.  The grinding burr is made in Italy and is shipped directly to Taiwan.  The manufacturing of parts using casting processes from permanent tools has enabled us to create a grinder of high precision repeated throughout the build and our on site presence through the entire process has enabled us to build, test, and constantly tweak the grinders.  As of this writing (spring 2015) we have made a number of small changes in machining to make a good machine even better as the LIDO 2 is constantly evolving and improving.  

The Lido 2 design goes back once again to the Pharos dual bearing burr axle format  with the lower bearing moved below the burr.  This opens up the space above the burr for non stall bean feeding.  The 2 is very feature forward with the easy to load funnel/handle, the clear throughput of beans, simple take down for cleaning, and the external ring burr adjustment system but  it remains same as the LIDO 1 and the Pharos…burrs rotating in space.

OE LIDO 3   2015

The goal of the LIDO 3 project was to use the same bearing system and grinder format  and apply our tooling and ideas to a more travel friendly machine.   We viewed the LIDO 2 and a home grinder that can travel (although at 1600 grams a bit heavy for some) and the LIDO 3 a travel grinder that can also be used at home.   In our view there were a few non negotiable concepts and one of those is overall hopper size/capacity.  Even though many 3rd wave coffee enthusiasts only grind 14-20 grams at a time for a single cup pour over brew, many people prefer a grinder that can hold enough beans to grind for a full 8 cup french press...the size of our grinder is a bow to inclusiveness for all coffee lovers and remains a fairly large format grinder, even for travel.  Another point is that any and all changes resulting in the LIDO 3 must retrofit onto the LIDO 2.    LIDO 2 owner feedback led us to develop a soft grip knob that requires no break in period for easy turning right out of the box.  The main project challenge has been weight reduction.

To achieve reduction in weight we replaced all of the zinc die cast parts of the LIDO 2 with aluminum and redesigned the adjustment ring to use the smallest amount of metal possible (and know this, one cannot make any change without making more tools).   The glass jar was replaced with a plastic jar and due to the threading that we chose way back on the LIDO 1  we had to make the jar ourselves.  This leads to the big problem to overcome, which is static dissipation.  If you think of those plastic based clothes coming out of the dryer, how they static cling all over everything, ground coffee in a plastic jar is worse.   We were fortunate enough to be pointed toward RTP permastat ABS, which is literally a conductive plastic which  has enhanced static dissipative properties....the drawback (and there is always some trade off in manufacturing) is that the native color of this plastic is light purple, made less obvious by tinting.  Our original idea for our travel grinder was that it would be all black (we had called it The Blacktop originally, for the travel tie in) so the black on black on black look fit well.   To reduce size a bit more we designed a folding handle system (a nod of sorts to the oldest of all travel grinders, the Turkish mill).  This size reduction allows for the use of a zip shut travel bag and a much smaller box for shipping economy.   

Using the prototype LIDO 3 grinder for months (and the LIDO 2) gave us some motivation to come up with a top hopper cover of some sort and our designer, David Littrell really did a great job designing a solid rubber stopper that not only works but goes well with the overall look of the grinder.  

At this point, the OE Grinder Project has meshed seamlessly with what could be called the Barb and Doug Life Project as the two overlap quite a bit.  The Life Project part has been meeting more people in the industry and being more and more a part of manufacturing, coffee, and the world in general.   One of the people to whom we owe so much is Kyle Anderson of Baratza, as he not only encouraged us but connected us to his manufacturing factory in Taiwan, where our grinders are made.  Through Kyle we met Christian Etzinger, who has assumed to role of supplier of the Baratza burrs.  These unexpected connections led to the major change in the LIDO 3 grinder...changing the burr set from made in Italy to made in Lichtenstein by Christian's Swiss grinding burr manufacturing company.  The Italmil burr is good but the Swiss burr is just lovely...high precision manufacture and a special design to make the burr much easier to turn by hand.   Of course, tradeoffs again, as easier to turn means less aggressive which means more turns for the same amount of beans.  It is not slow by any means but compared to the Italmil burr is is slower and definitely easier to turn.   We like the new burr very much and moving forward we will slowly introduce it into the LIDO 2 as well as make it available as a retrofit into the LIDO 2 for anyone wishing to be able to compare the two burrs and chose which one they want to use....but Italian or Swiss, Pharos, 2 or 3 it is still burrs rotating in space.