One Canadian outdoors company makes a coffee hand grinder that will stand up to almost anything.
BY JOSH TAVES
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Josh Taves
The coffee industry continues to expand its accessibility to all coffee drinkers by providing stellar café experiences everywhere. Every time I turn around it seems like there is a new awesome café or roaster right around the corner. Not only that, but with the advent of novel brewing equipment, it is getting easier and easier for me to make amazing coffee anywhere I want as well. No longer is “right around the corner” necessary, but now a mountaintop, rest stop, hotel room, or airplane can be an awesome café too. VSSL is a Canadian outdoors company that is new to the coffee game. Pronounced “vessel,” they have recently introduced a new hand grinder to the market specifically aimed at folks who want the best coffee no matter where they find themselves in the wild.
VSSL has been in the outdoor equipment industry for a while now, with the focus on an interesting niche that they have created for themselves. Focusing on rugged, packable kits and containers, VSSL equips outdoor enthusiasts with items like first-aid kits, compasses, and flashlights all housed in durable aluminum tubing. The VSSL vessels are waterproof and supposedly indestructible. Throughout VSSL’s website, you have the option to order your VSSL preloaded with a first-aid, camp supply, or flask kit, or you can customize to build your own unique survival tool. VSSL also sells an AeroPress Go travel kit and logo-branded Miir mug, so the addition of a rugged coffee grinder fits right in.
If you’ve followed along with the aluminum tube concept, and you understand what most hand grinders look like, you’re probably starting to connect the dots here. The VSSL Java struck me right out of the box as robust and durable in a compact package. For those of you following the hand grinder market, for reference, the VSSL Java is similar in size to the Porlex Mini but almost 40% heavier; this thing is a mini tank. The top of the grinder starts with a “Flip and Clip” design that allows the grinder handle to shorten, flip over, and screw into a terminal, allowing it to become a carrying clip to attach the grinder to your bag or backpack. This feature has the most moving parts of anything on the grinder, but it’s built so well that I can’t say I’m concerned about its durability. All in all it’s a pretty nifty idea. I will say that the small size coupled with the variable-length handle made holding the grinder during use a bit awkward at times, but no more so than most hand grinders similarly designed.
Below the “Flip and Clip” handle is an aluminum cap attached to the grinding chamber, which is easily removed with the push of a button. The grinding chamber holds about 20 grams of coffee and feeds it directly into 38mm-conical stainless steel burrs. The VSSL design team is proud of the quality of the burrs that are being used, and feels that their durability makes them some of the best burrs available in the hand grinder market. The grind chamber is too small to grind more than one cup’s worth of coffee at a time, but this fits the overall theme of a durable yet small construction.
The internal structure of the VSSL is where its hefty construction principles really seem to shine. Those of you who have been hand grinding for a while will remember the days of yore when drive-shaft wobble (causing burr wobble and subsequent grind size differentiation) was a big problem with most hand grinders. Today, most hand grinder manufacturers have solved this issue by using two sets of bearings that hold the shaft in place, which provides the necessary stability to keep your grind setting consistent. VSSL has followed suit in ensuring maximum burr stability through the use of an upper and lower “high-grade mini radial ball bearing.”
The grounds chamber is the final piece of the VSSL Java, with a sturdy base that screws on securely just beneath the grinding burrs. Upon removal, I was impressed with the easily adjustable grind setting knob, which allows smooth transition between 50 different grind settings. This huge range of repeatable adjustability ensures that you can find just the right setting for whatever type of brewing you’re tackling. The grind chamber also allows convenient storage for the removable grinder handle, which allows the “Flip and Clip” handle to be more easily accessible.
Through my virtual interactions with the VSSL design team, they continually emphasized the balance of functionality and durability. It is obvious that they took this into consideration with every portion of the Java grinder, from the whole-bean capacity to the construction materials used. If you’re looking for a seriously durable go-anywhere grinder that also has the chops to produce high-quality coffee, I’d recommend you take a look at the VSSL Java.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Taves has been working in the coffee industry since 2006 and has worked as a barista, trainer, QC director, profile roaster, and green buyer. You can currently find him (or not find him) roaming the Rocky Mountains wherever the wind takes him. He is also the inventor of the Rattleware Cupping Brewer and a 2017 United States Barista Championship finalist.