Got a New Grinder Today… From Baratza!

Got a new grinder in my mailbox today.

I’m actually really excited about this thing. And sorry – I normally don’t make this rants thing over here at spiffle into any kind of coffee news or rant stuff (I usually rant about coffee over here), but this is a bit beyond coffee… lemme explain.

But first, this is one aesthetically pleasing grinder. Translation: it rocks the casbah, my friend. It looks great on the counter. Sure it’s plastic, and I have a normal aversion to any of my coffee stuff being plastic, but this casts one fine sillouhette on the counter, and the paint job over the plastic is great – gritty, textured. It also does a fine job grinding, but I’m reserving any further comments on that until I do a week’s worth of torture testing (my poor Rossi Grinder will be ignored for a week).

Now why this is written here, at Spiffle Rants. See, this product is the result of a lot of bloody hard work by a couple of friends of mine. Kyle Anderson and Kyra Kennedy over at www.baratza.com . They’ve worked their tails off to get this grinder out the door, and a lot of politics and the evil empire of Starbucks were involved. Here’s the back story most people don’t know (even those in the coffee biz).

Once upon a time, a company by the name of Solis made a grinder. It was called the Solis Grinder, later renamed the Solis 166. They sold it in Europe. They planned to bring it to N. America, but at the time, their Solis rep in N. America, well, sucked. Then Kyra and Kyle founded Baratza and got the exclusive American rights to Solis products. But in the meantime, Starbucks was expanding their product line, revamping it, and chose Solis’ 166 grinder as their new “Barista” line grinder. Of course Solis wasn’t going to turn them down – the income potential is staggering.

Once Kyle and Kyra got Baratza going, they said to Solis – okay, we have your super autos, we have your normal espresso machines, etc etc, but we need the grinder. Solis said, take our 166. And Baratza did. And they sold it, and it sold well. One thing they did to differentiate their grinder from Starbucks’ was tweaking it – Kyle would hand tweak every Solis 166 grinder to grind finer, so it could work with a machine like a Rancilio Silvia. Good stuff. Grinder sales picked up, and they were moving out the door.

Then the evil giant sent out its little minions… uh lawyers. They threatened tiny little Baratza and issued cease and desist orders on the sale of 166 grinders. The thing that made Starbies notice them was this – Peets, a small but popular chain, started selling the 166. Starbies secretly lusts after Peets’ clientele. This made them notice. “WTF is our grinder doing on PEETS shelves!” they must have asked themselves.

Long story short, Baratza got no backing from Solis on this, so had to drop the grinder. Solis’ only offer of help was to develop a NEW grinder for Baratza to sell. But they weren’t very serious about it, and didn’t give it much attention. The 166 sold in Europe still, and Starbies was selling them like wildfire in the US. So why bother spending time and R&D on a new one, they were thinking.

The result was the Solis 177, nee Mulino grinder. A decent grinder, on par in performance with the 166, but ugly as sin, and noisy as hell. And it didn’t match the aesthetics of any Solis product. Baratza was in a quandary.

So they decided to do it themselves. In an example of what is truly American, they decided if Solis wasn’t going to do it, they might as well do it themselves. And they did. They spent a year designing, chasing down development funds (Solis did help out), flying all over the place – Europe, Taiwan, the US, everywhere, and they came up with a winning design – the new Solis Maestro grinder.

I’m proud to say that I had a tiny bit of involvement in the development. One of my suggestions dating back to the Mulino — giving two different switch types, a timer and an on/off switch that can be used while holding a portafilter in place — was implemented beautifully in this grinder. But all the kudos, congrats and admiration goes to Kyle and Kyra. They worked their tails off to bring this product to market, and guess what – in this age of vaporware (the coffee world is full of it), they did it on schedule, even with Sept 11 being a major obstacle.

Congrats Kyle and Kyra! Awesome job!

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