Gear Review: The Handground...Hand Grinder
The story of the Handground coffee grinder and my relationship to it is an interesting one. Unlike most pieces of coffee gear that you simply buy off the shelf or online, Handground came to the public's awareness as a dream. To be precise, it was a Kickstarter dream that went live on January 15, 2015. And on February 3, 2015, I became a backer of this Handground dream. And today, 2 years and 13 days later, I held in my hot little hands an actual Handground.
So more than a mere gear review, this post is going to reflect on the entire two year process, because in my twisted mind it's an interesting case study in social media-driven product development and manufacturing as much as it is simply using the thing. So here goes...
Those halcyon days
When I backed the Handground two years ago, Ross Street Roasting Co. didn't legally exist. I was, however, in the process of transitioning my home-roasting hobby into a full-fledged business. So the Handground story is very closely intertwined with the Ross Street Roasting story. The Kickstarter project that these guys put together was pretty amazing, and it worked. They had done a great job generating interest before the project even went live, so they drummed up a lot of excitement before you could even hit "Back this project" on Kickstarter. When the project did go live, it was fully funded in short order and they went on to hit a number of their stretch goals.
I was impressed by their savvy in the early stages and continued to be impressed once the project moved from funding to R&D and on into manufacturing. Backers of the project were provided regular updates and were even consulted multiple times for feedback on design decisions that fed directly into the process. During manufacturing, there were hiccups encountered that produced delays, but the Handground team always communicated these to backers, and continued to elicit feedback on certain issues that arose during manufacturing. I learned more about product manufacturing than I ever thought I would, which was pretty cool.
I even joined "Team Handground" and got involved in the group of people that generated content for their website in the days leading up to the grinder's release. My contributions that saw the light of day are in their brew guides to cold brew & iced coffee, published last November.
S#!t gets real
Finally, the big day arrived in mid-November: Handground grinders had hit the US, were being handed off to Amazon fulfillment services, and backers were going to get the first wave of them. And then I waited...and waited. In mid-December backers received their final email update that all grinders had either been delivered or at the very least that everyone should have received tracking information from Amazon. (Yes, I checked my spam folder.) Nope, I had received no tracking information and no grinder. So I emailed the team and we discovered that when backing the project I had used my pre-business Gmail address, but in the shipping confirmation process I had used my newer @rossstreetroasting.com email address. Mismatch, mix-up, my mistake. Makes sense....kind of.
That's my first critique: The process of confirming backers' addresses using email addresses should have kicked out a list of "unconfirmed" people and those people should have been contacted proactively. But I waited a month then reach out to them. I'm a relatively patient and accommodating kind of guy but from a customer service perspective, that was a dropped ball on their part. I realize it was my mistake but there are ways to catch customer errors like that and help keep your peeps informed and happy.
To compound matters, I continued to not receive any information for the next two months, so I emailed again earlier this week and we discovered that while the error was discovered back in December and that I'd been promised it would be fixed and I'd get my grinder...that fix didn't actually happen. So the team shipped me one post-haste and it showed up today. *sigh*
Which brings me to the actual gear review!
The Handground in action
I'll just be right up front: I was not prepared for how big this thing was gonna be! Granted, my only frame of reference is my Hario Slim whose name is an accurate description of its size. So relative to the Slim, the Handground is big (pics below). Let's just say you won't be seeing it appear in any camping/hiking+coffee pics on Instagram. For my purposes at home, I was a bit put off by the fact that it doesn't fit in my overhead kitchen cupboard where I store all my home coffee gear. So we'll see how my wife likes it sitting out on the counter all the time...
But size does have its benefits (resisting Michael Scott impulse...). The Handground is sturdy; it feels hefty. While most of the unit is made of sturdy plastic, the removable bottom piece where the grounds go is made of glass, adding yet more heft to the unit. Factoring the heft along with the sticky pad on the bottom of the grinder, the experience of holding it on the countertop and grinding is satisfying and, as far as I'm concerned, superior to "mid-air gyrating/grinding" that I've become accustomed to with the Hario Slim. I will miss the dances that I sometimes do while grinding...
Re: grind consistency - I did some side-by-side visual comparison of grinds from both the Handground and the Slim at similar settings (see below), and noticed that grind consistency does seem to be a bit better on the Handground, but I did spot some inconsistencies. There seem to be more fines from the Handground than "boulders," and vice versa for the Slim. I don't have one of those cool Kruve things I've seen other roasters showing off on social media, so I can only go by visual assessment. For an $80 hand grinder, I'd say this does a pretty good job, slightly better than the $30 Hario Slim. Worth the $50 difference? Well, since I paid $50 for it as an early bird backer two years ago, that's not for me to say...
What about the coffee?
My brew tests were not super thorough. I did two pour-over brews before sitting down to write this, and I used my typical morning coffee routine: 8oz cup, Kalita Wave 185 brewer, 1:15 ratio (15g coffee:225g water), Stagg pour-over kettle, iPhone timer, bloom pour & wait for 30 seconds, then 25g pours every 15 seconds until about 2:15. Fin. Enjoy.
On setting 4, which is what the handy fridge magnet guide suggests for pour-over, the grounds were way too coarse for that method and I was able to see that before even brewing. But I completed the brew anyway and sure enough it finished way faster than my pour-overs typically take (around 4:00 to 4:30). The cup it produced was too weak, so after a few sips I dumped it out and started over on grind setting #3, closer to what they recommend for AeroPress.
That did the trick. Despite the picture below showing a Burundian coffee from the fine folks at Brandywine Coffee Roasters, I used our own Burundi Gacokwe Station coffee on the last brew and the timing lined up exactly to my routine, and the flavors in the cup showed their colors better.
A more thorough test would be to brew two cups of the same simultaneously using the Handground and the Slim, but I didn't do that. Maybe this weekend. :)
I feel like writing this post is a form of therapy for a strange relationship with an inanimate object and a team of people that I've never physically met. Two years is, after all, a long time in some respects - especially in internet time. I enjoyed being part of the whole process from the start, but was pretty disappointed with the transition from manufacturing to fulfillment. The grinder is here now and I'm going to use it at home regularly for the foreseeable future. I'm not going to recommended it or not recommend it, as I hope my reflections above are adequate for anyone who's wondering about whether the Handground is right for them. I am always happy, though, to chat over email or social media about it.