The EK43 Part One

December 08, 2014

Why the Mahlkonig EK43 is better at making coffee smaller.

I’d like to start off by apologising for how long the various parts of this series are. It’s 4500 words and gets a bit heavy. Fair warning!

The Mahlkonig EK43 is a 30-year-old grinder, originally intended for grinding and milling coffee, spices and grains. The first application of this grinder in a specialty coffee venue (that I know of) was January 2009, at Café Myriade in Montreal. The business owners Scott Rao and Anthony Benda were among the earliest adopters of VST baskets and measuring extraction yield. They found that this grinder was giving them tastier brews at higher levels of extraction, and quietly went about doing their thing.

When I visited Café Myriade in 2011, I was confronted and confused by the sweetness and cleanliness of the brews. It was so incredibly foreign to me that I almost disregarded it. I left, back home, to keep doing what I was doing. This was a big error on my part.

My next encounter with this grinder was at the World Brewers Cup in 2011. I had taken an Uber Grinder with me to Vienna, but found that my coffee wasn’t tasting quite as complex or sweet as I would like. For my Brewers Cup routine I was sifting the grinds and achieving a very high extraction yield without bitterness or dryness, so I thought that it couldn’t be the grinder’s fault. Anthony Benda (the Canadian WBrC) recommended that we both try the EK43 sitting on the bench in the Mahlkonig booth. I conceded to that, and we both began to use it for practise.

Needless to say, I was blown away by how much better my coffee tasted, and was able to take home the World Brewers Cup Championship. Thanks goes to both Mahlkonig and Anthony Benda for that one!

Upon returning to Australia, I purchased an EK43 for St Ali. We started pushing our filter coffee extraction yields higher and higher, and found that we could get more sweetness, balance and flavour out of lighter roasts. This is of course the aim of many a specialty coffee professional – more coffee flavour and less roast interference – so we were ecstatic.

There is another problem that I was having around this time; and it’s one that I’m sure nearly every coffee professional with a palate has – espresso. It’s notoriously hard to extract an espresso well and consistently. I was struggling with espresso extraction, because it tasted so inferior to my now-delicious filter coffee. We were using Mazzer Robur E’s, as they are the industry standard for speed and reliability. With these grinders, we couldn’t extract an espresso above 19% without A) the strength dropping too low from dilution or B) the shot tasting totally awful. I was sharing these frustrations with Ben Kaminsky, then Director of Quality Control and Espresso at Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco. We would be sending each other screenshots of the VST mojotogo app when we were able to get our espresso extraction above 19%, considering it a major success.

One day I decided to try making espresso coffee with the EK43. I made a few shots and measured them with the refractometer. To my surprise, it became trivial to extract coffee above 20%. I sent these results to Ben, and he was of course very dubious, until he replicated the results with his own EK43. This was the very beginning of our espresso awakening.

After thousands of shots, tens of coffees and countless roast profiles, I began to understand how this style of espresso extraction could completely change the way the world thinks about espresso.

In the coming months I was competing in the World Barista Championships, and so the timing of these revelations was rather handy. I decided to base my routine around the real potential of the espresso machine and use this newfound knowledge to my advantage.

I decided to import Ben Kaminsky as my coach for the competition. Ben’s palate is one of the best on the planet, and his roasting skills are top notch. We had both been hunting for the same things, and oftentimes have very similar opinions about extraction. It was an easy decision to fly him over.

Ben and I both agreed that the only way to pull the routine off would be to go out all guns blazing. So, we decided to compile a coffee-only routine that utilised the EK43 and espresso machine to their full potential. That routine was an accidental advertisement for the versatility and consistency EK43. We were able to successfully extract 4 different coffees in 6 different ways with the same brewer and grinder; something never before seen in competitions.

Here is a brief run-down of the routine and how everything worked. Every coffee is from the same farm: Finca Santuario in Colombia.

Espresso Course –
Red Bourbon, Roasted on the lighter side of traditional espresso.
21g dose, 48g yield, 27 seconds, 9.5% TDS, 21.7% extraction.

Cappuccino Course –

Red Bourbon, Roasted with slightly more development and similar end temp.
21g dose, 50g yield, 27 seconds, 9% TDS, 21.4% extraction.

Signature Drink –

Espresso Component – Same as espresso course

Allongé – Bourbon, roasted slightly lighter and faster than the espresso.
20g dose, 100g yield, 25 seconds, 4.5% TDS, 22.5% extraction.

Lungo – Caturra, roasted halfway between traditional filter and espresso roasts.
19g dose, 150g yield, 25 seconds, 2.9% TDS, 22.9% extraction.

Coffee Shot – Geisha, roasted lightly, as we would usually for filter coffee.
18g dose, 300g yield, 30 seconds, 1.4% TDS, 23.3% extraction.

All of these extractions were very deliberate, and tuned for each roast style and strength of drink.

Needless to say, I’m extremely proud of what Ben and I achieved in terms of accuracy, repeatability and flavour. Unfortunately there were some scores that hampered the ability of this drink to perform well on the sheets, but that’s what next year is for.

Since that competition, many respected coffee professionals around the world have been adopting and praising the Mahlkonig EK43 for its ability to make their coffee taste better.

I urge you to join them.

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