Rancilio SD Rocky Grinder review

buyer's guide



Rancilio (pronounced Ran-Chil-ee-o) is a familiar name to java junkies worldwide. They have made top of the line commercial coffee machines for over ninety years. As coffee became a home staple, Rancilio began developing commercial quality machines built for the home kitchen. 

These machines are beloved by espresso aficionados for their durability and consistent results.

The fanciest espresso machine in the world cannot cover up low quality coffee or tap water. As important, the best machines cannot make a good shot of espresso or even a simple cup of drip if the grind is inconsistent or wrong for the style you are brewing.

To get the most consistent, correctly sized grind, a high quality grinder is necessary. The Rancilio Rocky grinder is produced specifically to get the perfect consistency and grain size for your beans.


  • The Rocky packs a punch in a relatively small size. It measures 4.7 inches wide, 14 inches tall, and 9.8 inches deep. It is easy to store in a cabinet or next to its companion brewer.
  • The most important specification for a grinder is the quality of its burrs. Rancilio uses industrial grade tempered steel for the 50 millimeter burrs in the Rocky.
  • Grinders made for coffee shops use flat steel burrs for durability and consistency. The burrs in this home grinder are of the same quality. The casing of the machine is stainless steel.
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    This is easy to clean. It is handsome and will look perfect next to a nice espresso machine. 
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    Stainless steel gives an oddly elegant and polished look even if it has a more industrial vibe. Plus its neutral color easily matches most kitchen decor.
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    The Rocky uses a stepped configuration for its grind adjustments. It allows both macro and micro settings to give you precise control over grind size.

Best Features of the Rocky 

One of the overlooked aspects of coffee beans is their sensitivity to heat. An inadequately insulated grinder can alter the flavor of the resultant coffee through excess heat. As the grinder heats the beans get roasted a second time.

The Rocky rotates the burrs more slowly than most home grinders, protecting the flavor of your expensive beans. The motor is also well insulated to keep the beans from getting hot while grinding.

If you ask any serious coffee drinker, they will tell you a grinder that uses blades will give inconsistent results. one of the most important aspects of coffee is the consistency of the grind. Consistency brings out the more subtle flavors found in different varieties of bean.

The Rocky uses flat steel burrs. This design choice ensures a grind with minimal size differences between individual grains. It should be noted here, that no matter the quality of the equipment, grinds on the coarse end of the spectrum tend to have a wider variety of grain size. This is unavoidable.

Durability is another main feature. The Rocky is beautiful. The Rocky is solid. For a frequent drinker, a cheap grinder just will not cut it. Blades dull more quickly than burrs do. As they dull, the quality of the grind drops precipitously. Spending the extra cash up front saves you money in both beans and replacement costs.

The last great feature is the sound. As mentioned earlier, the motor in the Rocky spins the burrs at a slower rate. Not only does this protect the flavor of your java, it also keeps the noise level down while in use. Nobody wants to wake up to the sounds of loud machinery, especially before your first cup of coffee. 

The idea of drinking a cup in the morning is to ease you into the day. What is the point of that if your head is already ringing from a grinder that rivals a jet engine?

The hopper is tinted to keep the beans safe from UV rays. This is a controversial idea. Some people swear light affects the quality of the beans, others deny this notion. Sometimes is better to be safe than sorry.

The hopper fits about a half pound of beans. However, it is best not to store your coffee in the hopper, as it does not keep it fresh. Beans degrade in quality quickly even if kept whole.

Aesthetically this is a beautiful machine. If you pair it with the Rancilio Silvia espresso machine, you can buy a stand made for the pair. The stand is chrome and includes drawers to store your beans or your cleaning tools.

There is a bundle available at a modest discount with all three pieces if you are in the market for a machine as well as a grinder.


To Dose or Not to Dose?

If the topic was dosing caffeine, I think the answer would be a resounding yes from any coffee person.

However a doser on a grinder is a container that catches the beans and can be used for storage.This option is more of a personal preference, as the only difference between the two models is the presence of the doser. All other features are identical.

The biggest decision here is whether you prefer to grind directly into your portafilter. If you do them go with the doserless model. If you prefer to grind once then scoop the grinds, then the doser can be helpful.

This is true if you also prefer to grind a larger amount for use later. It is important to note here that as soon as coffee beans are ground, they start to go rancid. This is true even in an airtight container. If a little degradation of flavor is not a big deal to you, the doser can be convenient.

If you mostly drink espresso, the doser model is probably your best bet.


Which coffee is best suited for The Rancilio Rocky?

top coffee choice

This is where things get personal. Some people want a concentrated, bold shot of espresso. Others want a nice hot cup of drip with a little cream and sugar. The Rocky is highly adjustable, making it a good choice for those who like to mix up their styles regularly.

This grinder is best suited for finer grinds, but works well for brewing methods that call for a coarser product, such as French Press. It also works well for the mid-range grinds such as pour over cones.

Personally I prefer espresso and the Rocky works wonderfully for that. In fact, the Rocky is designed specifically for espresso. The grounds produced are perfect for that nice shot of intensity.

One important caveat here is that on its finest setting, the Rocky does not produce grounds fine enough for Turkish style coffee.


Tips for Using the Rocky

  • Experimentation is your friend here. Remember that the finer the grind, the more surface area is exposed while steeping. So if you like strong coffee, grind it a little more thoroughly. But taste is the ultimate personal preference, so feel free to try different settings to find your perfect cup.
  • This is a more general tip for any coffee drinker: use cold, filtered water. Remember, coffee is basically just flavored water. The purer the water, the more complex and clean the flavor in the end.
  • As strong as coffee flavor is, it still has a delicate complexity to it. Using unfiltered tap water will give you a muddled profile, ruining your beans grown carefully in Sumatra.
  • Clean the burrs and the hopper regularly. This is critical as the grinding process tends to leave grinds and partially broken beans in the burrs. The longer those remnants are exposed to air, the more degradation of flavor occurs.
  • Use high quality coffee. This seems obvious, but putting Folgers in a $300+ grinder does nothing to increase your enjoyment of your energy juice.
  • Grind your beans per diem. This point cannot be emphasized enough, the longer ground coffee sits, the more flavor gets lost. Worse than that, it can actually start to taste strongly bitter as more time passes. Do yourself a favor and brew immediately after grinding.

Tips specific to the Rocky will be discussed in the following sections.


Drawbacks 

The portafilter holder on the doser model is useless and gets in the way.

The chute can get clogged over time, thus cleaning out the unit regularly is important. Also, grinds tend to fly through crevices and notches within the doser. For a consistent flavor, removing these expired grinds is critical.

No product is perfect. Durability has been a hallmark of Rancilio machines since 1927. So this is strength of the Rocky. But it must be treated with care. This is a high end machine with carefully constructed components.

The Rocky must be calibrated. If it is not, grinds will be inconsistent. An uncelebrated unit will also not adjust grinds properly, leaving you wondering why all the settings produce similar consistencies. Follow instructions.

If you look at reviews of the Rocky, you will find mostly four and five star ratings. Perusing the one star ratings reveals an important point. To adjust the grain size, a clean unit is almost a must.

If you need a jolt before you have time to clean it, the grinder should be running while you adjust the size. If it is not running, the bits of bean and grinds stuck in the burrs will prevent the burrs from moving closer together, which negatively affects calibration.

Even those reviewers who rated the Rocky highly admit that it takes a little extra care to maintain than other available grinders. The burr assembly needs to be cleaned at least once a week.

The hopper should be cleaned every couple days. Of course this is subject to how much you use the grinder. But to keep it in top shape, you must clean it carefully and often.

The price is an obvious drawback here. At close to $400, this is an expensive piece of equipment. However grinders made specifically for espresso machines are much more expensive. The Rocky is actually a bargain comparatively. So if you mostly drink espresso and want to save at least $100, go with the Rocky.


Cleaning the Rocky 

This is an important aspect of owning this grinder. As stated above cleaning regularly is important. It keeps older grinds from spoiling your perfectly brewed cup. It also ensures that the grinds are consistent with the settings chosen.

Cleaning it requires pliers, a flathead screwdriver and a firm brush. The burrs must be brushed off. Little crevices in the doser and the hopper must be cleaned as well.

In order to perform maintenance, the hopper must be removed. this can be cleaned with warm soapy water and dried thoroughly.

To clean the burrs, the casing must be removed. This requires removing three screws and lifting the assembly out. Once removed, use the brush to remove grinds and broken beans.

Reassembling the burrs involves slowly rotating the threads into the setting until you hear a click, then carefully rotating until it is snug. When tightening the screws, the burrs must be kept stationary to keep the assembly secure.

The details in this section are light, because a visual illustration has more explanatory power. To that end, I have provided a link to a video from Youtube user Whole Latte Love that shows step by step how to clean and calibrate your Rocky. I highly recommend watching it prior to maintaining your grinder.



Checking out Rocky's Rival 

As highlighted before, grinders made for espresso tend to push $1000. But for a user who requires more versatility, the Rocky has one main competitor: The Smart Grinder by Breville.

rocky sd's competitor

The Breville looks a little more advanced at first glance. It includes a digital screen for setting adjustments. The Rocky features a knob that is turned to start the grinding process. If you let go of the knob, the process stops. 

The Breville has this beat.The push of a button starts it and you can walk away while it finishes the job. It also allows you to pause the process in the middle. Of course, by just letting go of the knob, you can do this with the Rocky as well.

The digital screen also allows you to adjust grind time and amount of coffee ground specifically in the settings. It tells you how many cups can be made with the amount of coffee you plan on grinding. This is particularly helpful if you use a percolator to brew.

The Breville is a little cheaper. There is a reason for this--the burrs are not as high quality. Also, if you do side by side comparisons ground coffee, you will find that the Rocky has the ability to grind both more coarse and finer than the Breville.

It also features smaller steps between settings. This is important for people who want a precise consistency to their coffee. The more precise the grind, the more adjustment you can make to flavor.

For really discerning coffee drinkers, even a small change in the size of the grains results in a much different depth of flavor. For those consumers, it is all about undertones.

Aesthetically the Breville is not nearly as attractive as the Rocky. It looks cheaper despite looking more technologically advanced. The Rocky is mostly metal. The Breville is constructed with plastic as well as metal on the exterior.

Durability also favors the Rocky. Not only is it primarily metal, it also has larger burrs and a larger motor. Because the motor is larger and spins slowly, means that the motor will not give out as easily. It is made to last for a long time.


The Final Verdict 

If you are more than an occasional coffee drinker, this is your grinder. The most beautiful, elegant wine glasses do nothing for a cheap bottle bought at a gas station.

Likewise the carefully grown, perfectly roasted coffee variety is ruined by a bad grind. The Rancilio Rocky pairs your expensive imported beans with a grind suited specifically to your tastes.

Spending a few hundred dollars on a grinder seems excessive. But if you are in the market for a high end grinder, you probably drink a lot of coffee. If this is the case, the price is worth it.

This is true particularly for espresso drinkers. After all, you get what you pay for. Your expensive coffee deserves the best. You deserve the best morning ritual you can get. Spend the extra cash and get the best on the market.