VSSL has tackled the one missing component of excellent camp coffee: everyday life.
Wrecking coffee is one of the easiest things you can do. Buy cheap commercial beans. Store with the bag open or in a clear glass. Or just keep using this “holiday mix” for your summer campsites. Coffee is as sensitive and perishable as any piece of product (after all, it is part of a fruit).
But in fairness some people don’t care about coffee quality. If you like old, burnt coffee made from a pod, power is in you! This review is not for you. This review of the new VSSL JAVA hand grinder is only for those who really care about their coffee. And that goes double for everyone who feels that they drink below average on the campsite.
I’ve been using the JAVA for months, at home, on road trips and on some campouts. I’ve been a GearJunkie writer and editor for 5 years now, after about a decade as a coffee roaster and wholesale manager. Suffice it to say, when VSSL announced a travel-friendly coffee grinder for the adventurous, I was only too happy to put it through its paces.
In summary: With the JAVAVSSL is making a huge leap forward in the camp coffee game. Often overlooked, freshly ground coffee is crucial for a tasty cup. This grinder doesn’t meet backpacking needs, but campers with extra packing space have a durable, versatile option to enhance a variety of coffee-making methods.
Except for a small design problem, that’s JAVA worked like a dream. But the $ 145 price tag can be tough to swallow for everyone but the most demanding of taste buds.
Photo credit: Adam Ruggiero
Why grind coffee at the campsite?
First things first, why would you want a coffee grinder for camping when you can buy or make ground coffee instead? Because ground coffee stalls much faster. There’s a lot of science behind why this is – degassing, volatiles, and more – and you can all about it through that Coffee specialty association.
Unfortunately, most people think of this generic coffee flavor only as dead coffee. Fresh coffee has tons of notes and nuances – and yes, you can try anything. I don’t go that deep. But freshly ground coffee always tastes better. Period.
VSSL JAVA design
The VSSL JAVA uses a cylindrical metal construction that is easy to hold. The brand designed an articulated arm – the “clip and flip handle” – that doubles as a crank or is attached (screwed) to the lid in travel / storage mode to form a clip. You can slide a carabiner through this or use the crank itself to go through a gear loop.
Photo credit: Adam Ruggiero
Aluminum makes up the body and most of the materials in JAVA. However, VSSL uses a harder stainless steel for the burrs – the two conical metal blades that can be adjusted to the grinding size (more on that later).
The upper part is equipped with a snap fastener and houses the bean chamber. When the crank is turned up and grinding begins, the gravity of the beans is directed through the ridges and the soil collects in the lower chamber. When the sanding is complete, this chamber is unscrewed from the floor.
VSSL JAVA (camp) hand grinder rating
I have used a variety of electric and hand operated coffee grinders. The gold standard for many coffee shops is an industrial electric burr grinder with ceramic burrs. Ceramic is very hard and can hold a razor-sharp edge in many applications.
But the stainless burrs on that JAVA are less susceptible to damage from drops and harsh use of outdoor activities. And after a few months the grind size has remained constant. I assume the ridges will last for years before problems arise. And yes, I dropped the JAVA a couple of times and experienced no consequences.
VSSL advertises a capacity of 20 g for the JAVA. This makes it a perfect grinder for a one-cup brewing method like an aero press. In fact, I’ve used the JAVA the most often with my Aeropress and inspected the amounts of coffee by simply filling the mill chamber rather than weighing it (after all, we rough it up).
But I also used the JAVA to grind coffee for a 32 oz French press and 12 cup automatic coffee maker. For these applications the JAVA is both good and bad. On the positive side, VSSL has built in 50 different degrees of grinding – from very coarse (cold-pressed) to very fine (Turkish coffee) – that are consistent and reliable.
And these settings can be easily adjusted with an indexing wheel in the lower chamber. With easy-to-read setting numbers and visual aids, you can determine which setting to use for your preferred brewing method. Of course, you need to know beforehand whether your method calls for a coarse, fine, or middle of the road grind. However, if you stick to one brewing technique, with a little trial and error you can set and forget about it.
On the other hand, however, the JAVABecause of its single-serving capacity, it is less ideal for multiple cups. The salvation is the low capacity of the VSSL and the smooth action that allows you to end a grind in less than 10 seconds (I timed it).
Photo credit: Adam Ruggiero
In addition to the finished product – precisely and consistently ground coffee – the highest praise I can give JAVA is its intuitive design. The JAVA sander is shipped with a magnetized handle and a cleaning brush (full disclosure: there is a good chance I will lose one or both of these accessories).
Without reading any instructions (after all, we’re roughing it up), I was able to navigate through the quick release top, clip and flip handle, button attachment (for easier starting), and the dial for grinding within a minute.
The JAVA was super easy to stow away in a pack for hiking. However, if space is a real problem, the JAVA can easily accommodate daisy chains and gear loops for external transportation. The whole thing weighs less than 14 ounces. But you could drop the button and save an extra ounce.
VSSL JAVA grinder
- Dimensions: 6 “L x 2” W.
- Weight: 13.8 oz. (with handle) / 12.7 oz. (no handle)
- Capacity: 20 g
- Grinding settings: 50
- RRP: $ 145
A little problem
While I loved the coffee, I got out of the VSSL JAVAOn a few occasions I wasn’t too keen on what it took to get it. After a few uses, I learned to pay attention to how I was holding the grinder – or specifically the crank.
VSSL designed the clip and flip handle so that it telescopes outwards. This gives the user extra leverage and makes the sanding more efficient.
I have pretty big hands, however, and I’ve cut an knuckle at least three times at the corner where the crank arm telescopes. I actually asked VSSL about this and the brand told me they were aware of this and “would soften this profile / edge in the future”.
VSSL JAVA Grinder: Who Should Buy?
I know the Camp grinder market is relatively small – or at least I thought so. VSSL raised nearly $ 300,000 for them JAVAKickstarter. But the good news is that the JAVA makes a great coffee grinder anywhere. I still mix it in for home use when I just need a single cup.
And sure, the $ 145 price tag is steep, even among other precision hand grinders. And no, we don’t compare this to electric knife sharpeners, as they don’t grind beans, but rather tear them apart. Again, this rating is for those who really take pride in their coffee.
For the high price, the JAVA offers excellent grinding quality and excellent durability. So where other premium grinding machines use a glass construction or place more emphasis on aesthetics than on usefulness, this is VSSL JAVA requires heavy use and abuse. And as long as I have a fresh bag of beans on hand, that’s exactly what I intend to do.