- Buyer's Guide
VSSL Java: Perfect Coffee in Your Pack and on the Road
Could the VSSL Java Coffee Grinder be your ultimate travel grinder? Find out…
If it wasn’t apparent from my last piece, I love coffee. I love coffee at home, and I certainly love coffee while traveling. My Google Maps profile has dozens (hundreds?) of pins dropped on roasters and cafes in every city I’ve ever visited. Most of the time, however, I’m grinding up my beans on my own from various roasters both local and national.
Grinding your own beans is the first step to better coffee. I can’t recommend enough making that change if you haven’t yet. The choice of grinder is also an important one. You want a burr grinder, not a blade grinder. And you want those burrs to be sharp, otherwise you’ll crush the beans instead of grinding them. VSSL is here with a new, somewhat unique entry into an albeit crowded field.
The VSSL Java Coffee Grinder is an impressive work of engineering. The entire body is aircraft-grade aluminum, with a full set of steel burrs. Often, you’ll find ceramic burrs on hand grinders, and I much prefer the durability of the steel here. VSSL makes a lot of claims about the durability of the grinder as a whole, and I have to agree. I feel like I can throw this thing down my driveway a few dozen times without ever making a dent or even affecting the grind.
One of the cool little features I first found myself enjoying was the design of the handle. When not in use, the handle folds up and turns into a (very solid) built-in carabiner. Other hand grinders often have handles that fold down to the side, or just require you to remove them for storage and transport. None of those options are anywhere near as ideal as what VSSL has come up with here. It keeps the handle functional no matter if you’re using or storing it, and it never gets in the way.
In use, the handle flips back out, extends a bit for some extra leverage, and accepts an aluminum knob that you store in the grounds container while in transit. It’s a pleasing experience as a user. The rotation of the handle is smooth, thanks to two sets of ball bearings, and there’s zero play. The cap, which the handle is attached to, releases from the body via the little orange button in the center. It reconnects simply by pushing the cap back onto the spindle.
The business end of the VSSL Java is just as impressive, if not more so, as the rest of the body. The steel burrs and adjustments are easily some of the highest quality I’ve seen on any grinder, hand or electric. Each adjustment point (there are ~50) clicks into place, with no fear of it bouncing out of spec while grinding or in transit. The directional and numerical etchings are also well done, and highly visible.
Inside the aluminum body, you can see the spindle which extends the entire length down to the burrs. All of this comes apart, easily, for cleaning. Just rotate the adjustment knob until it releases. It’s important to keep your grinder clean, as coffee oil can easily build up and add a slightly rancid taste to your brew. Thankfully, VSSL includes a little brush that you can keep with your grinder. Don’t use water, and don’t skimp on the cleaning schedule.
The body itself fits roughly 18g of coffee. You can obviously brew more – I aim for 24g – but you’ll have to do it in two passes. Thankfully, the smooth operation and sharp burrs make for a relatively short grind time, especially when compared with cheaper options on the market. I used to get my morning workouts solely from grinding coffee.
Not only is the VSSL Java built well, it also works well, which is the most important part at the end of the day. While there are 50 points of adjustment, you’re probably always going to be somewhere in the middle. The high end of that is way too large, and the tighter end is way too fine, to the point where you won’t even be able to grind anything through it. Personally, I recommend about 12-20 clicks out from the base, depending on how you’re brewing and your personal preferences.
The grind result is impressive for a hand grinder, with very little obvious fines (the smaller stuff that clogs up filters). I would wager that you’d be able to get an espresso-fine grind out of this pretty consistently. With cheaper hand grinders or even consumer-grade electric grinders, espresso-fine grind can be difficult to achieve, both from a size and consistency standpoint.
One important thing to note – don’t swing the grinder around when you’re using it. It might seem natural to rotate both hands to get the grind going. But this will result in uneven grounds and more fines. Place the grinder on a flat surface, hold it in place, and only spin the handle.
The downside of such a well-built hand grinder is that it’s heavy. It’s really heavy. Twice as heavy as any hand grinder I own. At 14oz it’s almost a full pound. So that means this becomes a ‘nice to have’ on the trail if you really need your creature comforts, and pretty much cancels this out for those of us who backpack light.
For me, it’s ultimately a car-camping, overlanding, or at-home grinder. If you want a grinder for the trail, I think you’re better off with one of the offerings from Porlex or Hario. Or even just (very delicious) instant coffee from Swift Cup. Keep in mind this grinder also won’t fit inside of an AeroPress, like some other smaller pieces. Perhaps a future titanium offering could solve the weight issue without sacrificing build quality. Though at $145 this is already an expensive hand grinder.
It’s not the only option out there today for a high-quality hand grinder, but the VSSL Java Coffee Grinder is definitely worth your consideration. It’s an absolute pleasure to use and to handle, and it can easily stand in as your sole grinder, at home or away. The grinder is not as cheap as some currently popular offerings, but it’s certainly better. And it still comes in cheaper than many other high-end grinders. If you’re looking to step up your coffee game a bit, and you’re buying pre-ground beans, do yourself a favor and stop that. Stop it. Get yourself a good grinder, maybe this one, and thank me later.
This article was written by BrandonVulaj. A remote-based software developer living in Western New York, Brandon spends his time on single track and fire trails, on bike and on foot. Brandon also co-manages The Perfect Pack and its community.