Grinders are the unsung hero of the specialty coffee industry. They may not be as sexy as a new espresso machine or a custom made kettle, but without them even the best barista wouldn’t get very far. We caught up with the man who makes sure those burrs keeping spinning: Kyle Ramage of Mahlkönig USA.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do at Mahlkönig?
So, yeah firstly we are a really small company here in the US. Despite our huge footprint in the US there are only 3 sales folk, one book keeper, and one full time technician. That being said, I do a little bit of everything. Sales, Service, Marketing, Social Media stuff, Custom Shop work, and I do a good bit of the espresso grinder tech work and trouble shooting. I really dig it. I am always busy, and things never get too repetative. The Custom stuff has been great fun.
How did you get started in the coffee industry? At what point did you want to make this a career?
I worked in a little Mom and Pop coffee shop back in Mississippi where I grew up. It wasn’t until Jubala Coffee in Raleigh that I worked in a real Speciality environment. I caught the bug. Since then my mind has been constantly broken for what coffee can/ should be.
It was somewhere around the Jubala days that I realized this could be a thing. I had so much encouragement from the staff at Jubala and the amazing people at Counter Culture Coffee to pursue coffee as a career.
Durham is home to two of the biggest companies in the American specialty coffee industry. To an outsider, it seems like a rather unlikely East Coast Seattle. What’s it like working in Durham?
I know, right!? Durham is a wild place to live and work. Some of the greatest minds in coffee live and work here. I love that if I have any questions there are usually 2-3 people I can call. From equipment to Sourcing, there are people who have the knowledge in my town.
Most baristas have had the terrifying experience of grinding a rock. What’s the worst damage you’ve ever seen done to a grinder?
The way we build grinders rocks and bolts typically don’t do too much damage. We build in parts that are built to break under those types of conditions. Lately we have had a few people grind up Allen wrenches in there EK43s. That is pretty wild.
The worst damage has come in shipment. Countless EKs have been damaged. One in particular was pretty interesting. We shipped a grinder to a gentleman in NYC. He received a grinder that was not his, and the guy had to ride the subway to come get it from him. Also, around a week later his grinder showed up at CCC Durham HQ totally broken and scratched. It took a ton of parts to fix it. It is actually the grinder I am using in [the Big Eastern Barista] competition. It lives!
The EK-43 has taken on an almost cult-like status since Matt Perger’s routine-heard-round-the-world. Do you use it for espresso? Or do you prefer the K-30?
I do use the EK for espresso and filter. The EK can do some magical things to coffees. I didn’t believe it for a long time, but then I had an amazing shot, and that sent me down the rabbit hole of EK nerdom. I really love them both honestly for different things. The K30 is killer for finding sweetness, and does great job on everything that is not super light. If I opened a cafe tomorrow I would have K30twins and Ek43s.
Does Mahlkönig have anything coming down the pipeline that you’re excited about?
We are always working, sadly most of that stuff is for internal discussion only. I hate to be a buzz kill, but I don’t want to make promises that I can’t keep. Just be certain that the things we have learned from the EK43 have heavily impacted the way we look at particle distributions, extraction, and the future of coffee grinders. We have great engineers around working, and are consulting with great coffee people all over the world.