Surely Bodum are the Apple of the kitchenware world. The Danish company seems to have an innate ability to combine the best in design with the best in functionality that makes many of its competitors seem devoid of inspiration. A quick glance around my kitchen reveals no fewer than 14 Bodum items loitering about, including but not limited to two French Presses, a Santos vacuum brewer, 4 Pavina glasses, an Assam tea pot, and a travel mug. You could say I’m a Bodum junkie. Specifically in relation to coffee, Bodum has been making their French Press in its various design refinements since 1974, and I have not come across a better implementation of this type of brewing. Of course to make a really great cup of French Press coffee (or any other type of coffee really) you need a good quality grinder. For people getting into making great coffee at home this is often the biggest obstacle, as while €300+ may seem to make sense for a fancy espresso machine, something that turns big bits of coffee into little bits of coffee doesn’t seem like as much value. In an ideal world I’d tell everyone to go out and buy a Macap or a Mazzer, but in reality most people will start with a €20 whirly blade grinder or maybe a €50 Krups “burr” grinder (burr is in exclamation marks for a reason). Normally I would say that the minimum you need to spend on a decent introductory grinder would be about €120, which would get you a Solis 166 (aka Starbucks Barista), or maybe an Iberital MC2. However, Bodum have a conical burr grinder called the Antigua, which can be bought new for as little as €60. This lead to a conflict in my thoughts: Bodum = good / €60 grinder = bad.
The Antigua is a light grinder, compared to my Macap M4 it feels like a toy. It is also about two thirds the height of the M4. In fact though, in this chrome iteration of the Antigua design it looks well beside the similarly chromed M4, and for most people the small size is a huge advantage, minimising the impact on precious counter retail space. The chrome effect is somewhat cheapened by the very light and plasticky grind collection bin at the front, although the plastic hopper is tamed by the chrome lid. Controls-wise there are two buttons and one knob on the Antigua, one power switch at the back left (as you look at the front of the grinder), one grind start/stop button at the front-right, and one grind time adjustment knob. The inclusion of timed grinding seems like a really good feature for a budget grinder, although the grind can be manually stopped by pressing the start/stop button a second time. The grind fineness is adjusted by turning the hopper clockwise (finer) or anti-clockwise (coarser). The hopper has a red indicator arrow attached which points to a scale on the body of the grinder indicating the level of fineness. The grinder is a stepped although unlike say a Gaggia MDF is does not rigidly click into these holes. Along the eleven point scale there are about 25 points of adjustment. This scale is very thoughtfully illustrated with images of a French Press, drip brewer, and espresso portafilter indicating the corresponding grind settings. The grind bin is held in place by a springy plastic nub underneath the bin, this seems to have been introduced in response to complaints in earlier models that the bin had a tendency to come loose mid-grind resulting in a mess of errant grinds. On that front it certainly seems to work as the bin did not budge once during grinding for me, however, it does make putting the bin back into the grinder a little tricky, requiring a wiggle from a particular angle. The hopper can be removed by rotation anti-clockwise past the coarsest setting, and then lifting upwards. This gives access to the upper burr which can be easily removed for cleaning.
Starting out using the Antigua, having read various consumer reports on coffeegeek and elsewhere my initial thoughts were concerned with whether it would grind fine enough for espresso. So I adjusted the setting to the finest and attempted to use the grinder like a doserless grinder by removing the collection basket and placing the portafilter under the grind chute and grinding directly into filter basket. This quickly brought on two realisations. 1. With a standard 58mm portafilter the space under the chute is too tight to get close enough to avoid stray grinds missing the filter basket. 2. From a factory set point of view the Antigua will not grind nearly fine enough for espresso use, in fact it will not grind fine enough even for moka pot use. While the former point is no great deal, the latter seems like a major falling down. There are eleven points on the scale on the grinder body, and although point 1 is marked for espresso and point 11 is marked for French Press I found that point 3 produced a grind that I would typically use for French Press, while all points above 6 produced massive boulders of coffee that would be useless for all common brewing methods. This result was not completely unexpected, and has been mentioned before on various online sources, indeed a workaround exists where the two halves of the body can be separated and the grind adjustment ring can be moved a couple of clicks tighter to in effect properly calibrate the settings. However, as you may notice from the pictures the newest model of the Antigua does not have a two-half outer body like the old models. Upon further investigation it turns out that this one piece body is held together by a tamper-proof security screw (triangular recess screw or TP3). I had nothing remotely adequate to try to open this, and although these bits can be sourced on the internet, they are not cheap and the delivery time can be long. I’d also question the merit of spending extra money on a €60 grinder, when that money could have gone towards a grinder that will perform these functions off the bat.
With espresso ruled out I considered the grind performance in French Press brewing. To my relief the grind was even, devoid of clumps, static and dust. In fact the grind quality is easily the equal if not better than my considerably more expensive secondary grinder the Nuova Simonelli Grinta grinder. The Antigua also grinds about twice as fast as the Grinta, and the timer and collection basket means you can be prepping the French Press while it is grinding and it will shut itself off when the time has elapsed. In the cup the brew was even and balanced and the sludge at the end of the cup was similar to that I’ve seen with much more expensive grinders. Another positive note is that the Antigua hardly retained any ground coffee. This can be a major pain in grinders costing far more than the Antigua, and this makes the grinder ideal for low volume home use.
The quality of grind that was evident for French Press brewing highlights that Bodum got the hard part right, namely good quality burrs. The major problem is that the machines are just not calibrated correctly. It would be so easy for Bodum to take this into account in the factory, it only requires tightening the burrs a couple of notches. As it stands more than half of the already limited grind range is useless. For €60 maybe you could expect these kinds of problems, but it wouldn’t cost Bodum any more to make that adjustment. Having said that if you happen to have a TP3 screw bit and don’t mind voiding your warranty you could probably make these changes yourself and end up with a great budget/starter grinder. If you only ever intend on brewing French Press, or you are looking for a second grinder to supplement an espresso-only grinder then I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Antigua. For most people though who want a versatile grinder it looks like we’re not quite there yet with the sub €100 dream.
Addendum (Jan ’08): Having in the past number of months, reevaluated grind sizes, mainly due to Square Mile Coffee’s excellent tutorial / videocast series – if you follow their instructions, the Bodum can adequately grind for filter, french press and moka pot. Separate to this, I have found it more than adequate also for Vac Pot / Siphon brewers. Though, it remains unable to get near espresso grind. For the price, however, and the grind quality, which I rate highly, it remains a bargain.