Symptoms: No ground coffee! Grinder spins, but nothing grinds. Not a way to start a busy breakfast shift!
Equipment: Espresso or coffee grinder (or the grinder section of a superautomatic coffee maker like the Astra Super Mega 1 - gotta love that name - we use at Sly's) This is for professional, burr style espresso grinders, not the simpler "blender" types.
Often the cause of the problem can be beans that are so oily they clump together and block the grinder. Depending upon the design of the grinder, it's sometimes difficult to even see just why the grinder doesn't work. If you've ever gotten a batch of excessively oily coffee beans, you'll probably understand what we're talking about!
So, you can completely disassemble the grinder, clean it all, and then put it all back together - or you can use this fast, simple and cheap cure from Bäckermeister Dietmar Eilbacher whose bakery, D'Angelo Bread in Santa Barbara serves a must-experience breakfast (In addition to some of the finest breads you'll ever have).
Dietmar's solution? Simply run some popcorn through the machine. No, not the popped kind you eat at the movies - the whole kernels of uncooked popcorn. You don't really need a premium product like Orville Redenbacher of course. And you probably don't want expensive "hulless" popcorn - it's probably the parts that stick in your teeth that help clean the oily coffee out of the grinder burrs. Just the cheap generic stuff from a local grocery store will work fine.
According to Dietmar, "It's a technique I learn at the bakery I worked at in Münich. We ground most of our flours ourselves, and if we ground something softer like oats, the grindstones would gum up pretty good. The solution was to grind some popcorn, and clean the stones right off."
We've tried it, and it works. A great solution to an occasional problem in the biz.