I feel that most people would do a much better job in articulating the technical aspects of coffee equipment. James Hoffmann, no doubt, could talk circles around me when it comes to his knowledge of coffee theory and equipment (if you don't believe me, check out www.jimseven.com). So, in light of that, let me pose a more philosophical question. What is the purpose of the doser?
Let me clear the air by letting you know that I have an amazingly superficial emotional attachment to my doser. I like the feeling of flicking my wrist rapidly and watching the coffee drop down from the chamber in neat little piles to the left in my portafilter basket; it makes me feel as if I have something very significant to do with the whole grinding process. Nevertheless, I have come to question its function as I spend more and more time in coffee.
As I understood it, dosing chambers were created with a very specific purpose; to make dosing consistent and quick in a busy shop. If a dosing chamber is half full of coffee, then, within reason, each click of that handle means a set amount of grounds dropping into the portafilter.
Now, if you have surveyed the technique of the modern barista, you find that the doser does not quite serve the same function as its intended design. As soon as the barista flips the switch or timer of his/her grinder, he/she begins what I can only describe as a percussive and violently fast dosing cycle. I, too, am in the habit of dosing this way. I believe we do this because, as our understanding of coffee freshness grows, we only grind exactly what is needed for our double shot so as not to let any residuals go to the wayside of 2 minutes without extraction. I heartily agree with this philosophy on dosing as it maintains a high standard for freshness, but what practical use or functionality does the doser prove in this situation?
I took a Mahlkonig K30 to the Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition and was met with wide-eyed stares of curiosity and wonderment. Amongst the towering, stately Roburs my short, fat K30 stood out like a steak at a vegan restaurant. I had many people come up to me and ask me about the grinder. Most had only heard of the grinder, and many met it with skepticism (though I'm not sure the skepticism was over the flat burrs and grind speed or the fact that it had no doser). With all the blank looks and confusion, I would have thought that such a thing as a grind-on-demand grinder would fit in the ranks of a super-automatic espresso machine in the minds of the American barista.
Yet the Europeans seem fairly comfortable with such an idea. Many people in the UKBC, The North Ireland Barista Competition, and others have been using grinders like the K30 with confidence in competition with great results. I even had the pleasure this year of feasting my eyes on Kyle Glanville's prototype Rubor doserless g.o.d. at USBC. His grind times were about 3 seconds with no waste, and he managed to win the competition using such a grinder. Even people using the new Anfims are modifying them to time out their dose like Billy Wilson did in competition this year.
Am I too progressive in my thinking? Maybe. Am I too quick to throw out a traditional element of coffee that has been integral to the preparation of espresso? Possibly. But I do know that the doser does need questioning. I don't think getting carpal tunnel is fun. I don't think it's fun to tear apart a 14 piece, spring loaded debacle to replace little plastic cogs from excessive doser usage. Whatever the case, I hope that people question the wheel every once in a while in hopes that tradition never becomes a barrier to progression in this industry.