When the team at Mahlkoenig set about designing a new grinder in 2014, they decided that the new model could not simply be an incremental improvement on
their earlier offerings – it had to redefine the standard set for high quality espresso machinery.
With almost 100 years of history, the German grinder manufacturer had already established itself as a leading producer of high quality grinders.
Today the brand and its products, such as the EK43 and K30, are distributed in over 90 countries. Along with this, the company’s grinders’ status as the official equipment used at the annual World Barista Championships mean that the brand has become synonymous with high performance in the coffee industry.
CEO of the Hemro Group, which is Mahlkoenig’s owner, Philipp Baumberger says that the company is unapologetically geared towards quality.
“If you look at the Mahlkoenig label, you find a crown there – ‘King of Grinders’,” Baumberger says. “This reflects our ambition in the market and we take pride in saying that the market feedback encourages us to stay on this challenging track.”
So when it came to designing their new grinder, the Mahlkoenig team decided it was time to further build on this reputation.
“We felt it was time to build the ultimate espresso grinder,” says Baumberger.
With this goal in mind the team threw out the usual rule book of product development to focus on one key goal – technical perfection.
“There was less rational thinking, less commercial mindset, it was a pure emotional must-have,” Baumberger says. “I remember well when we once discussed how many [units] of this grinder we might sell – our answer was: it does not matter if it is 200 pieces or 5000, let us demonstrate what we can do.”
Mahlkoenig is no stranger to innovation, having previously pioneered such grinder features as grind on demand, twin espresso grinders, hands-free portafilter detection, innovative grinding disc design, and the new grind by weight solution. But the task with the Peak grinder was to take this tradition of innovation and push it one step further.
“The technical development started with a few key questions,” Baumberger says. “What kind of material do we use for the grinding discs? What kind of ventilation? How many revolutions per minute should the motor have? How to get a fluffy coffee powder? What about the user menu and the display?”
Among all of this ambition, there was one limitation – the new grinder had to fit into the body of the K30 model – but other than that there were no limits put on the scope of the new design.
“We started analysing the feedback from baristas about what they were missing so far,” says Hemro’s CFO, Jochen Christoph. “It became quite clear after a while that the premium cast steel grinding discs such as those from the EK43 were crucial for taste, extraction, and sweetness, and we also decided to go for a slower motor rotation for high dosing accuracy.”
Other features that were included were double ventilation for enhanced heat removal, an adjustable spout to suit any size of portafilter, dose adjustment steps down to 0.01 seconds, and a more precise stepless adjustment scale for absolute repeatability of grind settings. Overall, the design team had set themselves a steep set of challenges to overcome, Christoph says.
“You can imagine that slow rotation, new grinding discs, a new built-in grinder chassis, new cooling units, and a new spout are a lot of new things to combine at once,” Christoph says. “Our engineers and product development [team] spent hours, weekends, and nights in the lab to figure it all out.”
At each stage of the product’s development, the team turned to its most important audience – experienced baristas – for feedback.
“Since we had learned our lesson from previous product launches, we paid extensive attention to field tests with world-class baristas,” Christoph says. “Every time something did not work out, we took it back into our lab and improved it.”
Added to this was the complexity of figuring out exactly what constituted the ultimate grinder. This was a job that came down to the cooperation of the engineering and the product development teams.
“Though we started from an ambitious engineering perspective – to build the best espresso grinder – product management added quickly the barista and market flavour into the development,” Christoph says. “You can view the best from different perspectives – a product can be perfectly engineered, but still not meet market demands.”
This meant the team took an acute focus on even the smallest elements of the new machine.
“A key challenge was to deliver perfect fluffy powder centrally into the portafilter, so we developed the adjustable spout and a special flapper design,” Christoph tells GCR.
“I want to illustrate the passion of the team for you, such as the amount of time it took to perfect the flapper within the grinder,” he adds. “Imagine a component less than the size of a one cent piece, then imagine two product management guys from two continents discussing the perfect shape after every field test, testing dozens of pieces to finally find the perfect shape and material.”
Then there was the challenge of fitting all of the new functionality into the body of the K30, a factor that ultimately led to more innovation, not less.
“We also faced limitations with the display, because the K30 body does not leave much room for a wider screen, but finally the new set-up, which eliminates the potentiometer by establishing a three-button principle, paved its way into our hearts,” Christoph says.
In the end it was the challenges along the way, combined with the grand ambitions at the outset, that resulted in the revolutionary product we see today, Christoph says.
“All these little steps made the best even better – there is no area where we have not achieved significant improvements.” GCR