Starbucks Barista Burr Grinder (Solis 166) Review

September 5, 2005

Solis Maestro Conical Burr GrinderIt’s no real surprise that when people “step up” from blade grinders and poorly built home-store grinders, they often end up with a Starbucks grinder. Starbucks is omnipresent in most parts of the US, and although I’m ever more disenchanted with their coffee, they do sell some quite nice equipment.

The Starbucks Barista Burr Grinder is essentially a rebranded version of the Solis 166 Conical Burr Grinder. Solis is a well-known manufacturer of coffee and espresso equipment, and they make a nice grinder, particularly if you’re more interested in drip brew or press-pot brewing than high-end espresso. Solis has updated this grinder slightly in their own line, and market the updated version as the Solis Maestro (pictured above).

I spent about 6 months with the Barista Burr Grinder and was in general quite pleased with it.

The grinder is small, and has a nice heft to it. The clear plastic bean hopper will hold around a half-pound of whole coffee beans, and includes a lid to keep them fresh. The grind is adjusted by turning the hopper (and the adjustment ring attached to the base of it) clockwise for coarser, or counter-clockwise for a finer grind. The adjustment dial is marked with suggested grind sizes for press-pot, drip brew, and espresso.

The “on switch” is a mechanical timer that controls how long the grinder runs. Varying the grind and the grind time, you control how much ground coffee is dropped into the grounds chamber.

The grounds chamber is made of clear plastic, and slides into the front of the grinder, leaving a more-or less flush surface.

I found that the drip brew setting was about right for my purposes with a drip brewer and a paper filter, and about “two clicks” coarser was about right for using a metal filter (such as the one that comes with the Starbucks Barista Aroma brewer.)

Good points — Given the ubiquity of Starbucks, this is a quality grinder that’s easy for most anyone to find and purchase. It’s small, stylish looking, and reasonably well built. For non-demanding home use, it will probably last you several years, easily, as long as you maintain it properly. Starbucks provides a two year warranty, and reasonable support via their customer service phone line.

Bad points — The cleaer plastic bean hopper and grounds chamber tend to carry a lot of static electricity, particularly when new; this is annoying as ground coffee clings to it everywhere. Fortunately, this tends to settle down a little with use.

The grinder is a little fussy with extremes of beans — very hard beans (such as a “Strictly Hard Bean” or SHB origin) can tend to not want to go into the burrs of the grinder, causing you to have to rock the unit back and forth a little to get them ground. I ran into this a lot with a SHB Costa Rica Tarazzu Dota.

At the other extreme, soft beans or very oily dark-roasted beans can tend to clog up inside the grinder right where it dumps the grounds into the grounds chamber. This usually requires you to remove the grounds chamber, and get out something pointy (I used the metal probe from a cooking thermometer) and dig out the clog. It’s not difficult, just annoying.

You’ll rapidly come to know if you’ve hit either condition by the sound of the grinder (whirring at high speed if hard beans aren’t feeding properly, or slowing down with a clog).

Another annoyance is that a little bit of grounds always tends to drop into the grounds chamber after you pull it out; after a few times, this makes it difficult to get the grounds chamber shoved all the way back into the grinder. You need to brush this out (with your finger is fine) every few times you grind.

These are all minor annoyances, however, and it does tend to do a nice job otherwise. The only other bad point to speak of is the price — the grinder goes for $125 at Starbucks, unless you hit it during one of their annual sales, where it tends to be down closer to $100. They do however throw in a pound of beans of your choice (or at least they did for me), which is fine if you like Starbuck’s beans (which I don’t).

If you’re buying online, you may wish to consider the updated version of this grinder, the Solis Maestro, which is usually available for around $99.

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2 Responses to “Starbucks Barista Burr Grinder (Solis 166) Review”

  1. richard dow on May 9th, 2010 6:23 pm

    Don’t ever buy a starbucks burr grinder. Mine was three years old when I lost a part. Starbucks couldn’t tell me anything helpful about finding the part. They had not a clue as to who made it. Ihad the serial number and the manual etc. Starbucks doesn’t care , if you’re off warrenty. The grinder said only “starbucks barista ” with no other manufacturing clues. Must be a very poorly run part of their operation.
    I used to get(many years ago) quick live help for my Barista espresso machine. They even sent me a part for free. The machine was off warrenty at that time.

  2. vashti on February 3rd, 2011 1:15 pm

    Mine was never great and then went downhill from there. From the start I couldn’t figure out why the grind didn’t reflect the setting!! Went online and discovered other people with the same issue. Starbucks’ advice as a workaround was to use the grind markings as loose general guidelines. Hmm, ok. So it wasn’t my imagination.

    The static created a daily annoyance, ok fine, I can deal with static; but add to this that the *vibration from the grinding would cause the grinds container to inch its way out*, so that the static-charged grinds could jump out during the grinding while some also fell *behind* the container. This added to the daily clean up and required FOUR workarounds–we kept it on a platform to contain the mess and make cleaning easier; tilted the platform up to help deter container from creeping forward; stood by and tapped it to stay snugly closed while grinding; cleaned out behind the container area as well as the vicinity (as noted in review above!).

    Over time, friends have brought gifts of pre-ground coffee, and the grinds were far more consistent than my own. Gee, wasn’t this the point of forking over extra $$ for a BURR grinder?

    Life is too short for a life with this grinder in it. Even if it had been FREE instead of PRICY, the workarounds are a waste of anyone’s time and I’m left feeling stupid to have put up with it as long as I did. What changed? I just got a new burr grinder (Breville BCG800XL) and the difference is so huge that I’m embarrassed!

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