My daily grinder for my espresso machine at home is an older Baratza Vario (serial number 0749). I've had this grinder for about 5 years and while it is a great grinder the daily use has taken its toll on the pulley and belt that turn the burrs. Also the burrs had worn down from putting hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds through it. So, last week I was conducting a silly experiment trying to grind a non-coffee product which would up seizing the burrs which made the drive belt slip on the plastic drive gear and ultimately melting the belt and the gear! Thankfully Baratza's customer service is great and the replacement belt, pulley and burrs shipped right away but international shipping can take a bit so I was left with no espresso grinder to get me through a 2 week period. Baratza is also constantly improving their products so the plastic drive pulley is now made of metal.
What's a guy to do?
The only other electric grinder in the house (another Baratza) is dedicated to the drip coffee maker so that one wasn't available for espresso duty so that left the Porlex hand grinder. Normally the Porlex is assigned to grinding while travelling or for Chemex - which is a medium grind coarseness. When I first purchased the Porlex a while back out of curiosity I tried it on the espresso machine to see if it would grind fine enough and I remembered it could do it.
Using the Porlex for espresso
So, how does the Porlex work for espresso? In one word "passable". The coarseness adjustment on the Porlex is done by adjusting what is essentially a nut on a threaded rod in order to move the burrs closer or farther apart. The "nut" clicks at various intervals so you can have some repeatable settings. On my particular hand grinder it took 8 "clicks" to get from my Chemex grind to my espresso grind.
The good, the bad and the ugly
The good part is the Porlex can grind fine enough for espresso and it got me through my 2 week period without my Vario. The bad is that there is only one setting "click" that is fine enough for espresso so any adjustments you want to make to your espresso pour will have to be done by tamping harder/lighter or adding more/less coffee. Also, to my taste buds, the espresso produced by the Porlex is sourer and has less sweetness than that produced by the Vario. There really isn't any ugly - except maybe the time it takes to turn the crank by hand to grind 18 grams of coffee for espresso!
The Porlex is $68 whereas the Vario is $670 so overall I'm very happy I had the Porlex so I could keep drinking espresso while my Vario was down but I'm also happy that my Vario is up and running now better than ever! In conclusion, if you have to use the Porlex in a pinch for espresso it's good to know you can but I wouldn't want to do it on a permanent basis.