VSSL tackled the one missing component to excellent camp coffee: the daily grind.
Ruining coffee is one of the easiest things you can do. Buy cheap commercial beans. Store it with the bag open or in a clear jar. Or just keep using that “holiday blend” on your summer campouts. Coffee is as delicate and perishable as any piece of produce (it is, after all, part of a fruit).
But in fairness, some people don’t care about coffee quality. If you like old, burned coffee served from a pod, power to you! This review is not for you. This review of VSSL’s new JAVA hand grinder is strictly for those who truly give a damn about their coffee. And that goes double for anyone who feels relegated to drinking subpar joe at the campsite.
I’ve been using the JAVA for months, at home, on road trips, and at a few campouts. I’ve been a GearJunkie writer and editor for 5 years, and that was after about a decade working as a coffee roaster and wholesale manager. Suffice to say, when VSSL announced a travel-friendly coffee grinder for adventurers, I was only too happy to put it through the paces.
In short: With the JAVA, VSSL makes a big advance in the camp coffee game. Often overlooked, freshly ground coffee is critical to a flavorful cup. This grinder won’t fit true backpacking requirements, but campers with some extra pack space will have a durable, versatile option to enhance a variety of coffee brewing methods.
Except for one small design issue, the JAVA worked like a dream. But the $145 price tag may be tough for all but the most discerning palates to swallow.
Why Grind Coffee at the Campsite?
First things first: Why would you want a coffee grinder for camping when you can buy or prepare ground coffee instead? Because ground coffee goes stale much faster. There’s a ton of science behind why this is so — degassing, volatile compounds, and more — and you can learn all about it through the Specialty Coffee Association.
Unfortunately, what most people think of with that generic coffee flavor is really just dead coffee. Fresh coffee has myriad notes and nuances — and yes, you can snob out over all of it. I’m not going that deep. But freshly ground coffee will always taste better. Period.
VSSL JAVA Design
The VSSL JAVA uses a cylindrical metal construction that fits easily in the hand. The brand designed an articulating arm — the “Clip and Flip handle” — that serves as the crank or, in travel/storage mode, attaches to the lid (screw-on) to form a clip. You can slip a carabiner through this or use the crank itself to pass through a gear loop.
Aluminum makes up the body and bulk of the materials in the JAVA. But VSSL uses a harder stainless steel on the burrs — the two conical metal blades that adjust to dial in grind size (more on that later).
The top sports a push-button quick release and houses the bean chamber. When the crank is flipped open and grinding starts, the beans gravity feed through the burrs and the grounds collect in the bottom chamber. When grinding is complete, this chamber unscrews from the base.
VSSL JAVA (Camp) Hand Grinder Review
I have used a variety of electric and hand-powered 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 through many uses.
But the stainless burrs on the JAVA are less susceptible to damage from the drops and rough use of outdoor pursuits. And after a few months of use, grind size has remained consistent. I expect the burrs to last for years before any issues present. And yes, I dropped the JAVA a few times and have experienced no consequences.
VSSL advertises a 20g capacity for the JAVA. This makes it a perfect grinder for a single-cup brew method like an Aeropress. In fact, I used the JAVA most often with my Aeropress and eyeballed the coffee amounts by simply filling the grinder chamber rather than weighing (after all, we’re roughing it).
But I also used the JAVA to grind coffee for a 32-ounce French press and a 12-cup automatic coffeemaker. For these applications, the JAVA is both good and bad. On the plus side, VSSL built in 50 different grind settings — from very coarse (cold press) to very fine (Turkish coffee) — that are consistent and reliable.
And these settings are easily adjusted with an indexing dial inside the bottom chamber. Easy-to-read setting numbers and visual aids help you identify which setting to use for your preferred brew method. Of course, you need to know ahead of time whether your method requires a coarse, fine, or middle-of-the-road grind. But if you stick with one brewing technique, you can set it and forget it with a little trial and error.
On the flip side, however, the JAVA‘s single-serve capacity makes it less ideal for multi-cup brews. The saving grace here is the VSSL’s small capacity and smooth action allow you to finish a grind in under 10 seconds (I timed it).
Next to the finished product — precisely and consistently ground coffee — the highest praise I can give the JAVA is its intuitive design. Out of the box, you get the JAVA grinder, along with a magnetized hand grip and a cleaning brush (full disclosure: there’s a good chance I’ll lose one or both of these accessories).
Without reading any instructions (after all, we’re roughing it), I was able to navigate the quick-release top, Clip and Flip handle, knob attachment (for easier cranking), and grind adjustment dial within about a minute.
For hikes, the JAVA was super easy to store in a pack. But if space is a real concern, the JAVA easily accommodates daisy chains and gear loops for external carry. The whole thing weighs under 14 ounces. But you could ditch the knob and save an extra ounce.
- Dimensions: 6″ L x 2″ W
- Weight: 13.8 oz. (with hand grip) / 12.7 oz. (no grip)
- Capacity: 20 g
- Grind settings: 50
- MSRP: $145
One Small Problem
While I loved the coffee I got out of the VSSL JAVA, on a couple occasions I wasn’t too thrilled with what it took to get it. After a few uses, I learned to be mindful of how I held the grinder — or specifically, the crank.
VSSL designed the Clip and Flip handle to telescope outward. This gives the user a little extra leverage and makes grinding more efficient.
However, I have pretty big hands, and at least three times sliced a knuckle on the corner where the crank arm telescopes. I actually asked VSSL about this, and the brand told me it was aware of this and would “soften that profile/edge going forward.”
VSSL JAVA Grinder: Who Should Buy
I know the market for camp coffee grinders is relatively small — or at least, I thought so. VSSL raised nearly $300,000 for the JAVA‘s Kickstarter. But the good news is that the JAVA is a great coffee grinder anywhere. I still mix it in for home use when all I need is a single cup.
And sure, the $145 price tag is high, even among other precision hand grinders. And no, we’re not comparing this to electric blade grinders, as those don’t grind beans, they rip them. Again, this review is for those who really take pride in their coffee.
But for the high price, the JAVA provides excellent grind quality and superior durability. So where other premium grinders use glass construction or place more emphasis on aesthetic over utility, the VSSL JAVA demands heavy use and abuse. And as long as I have a fresh bag of beans on hand, I intend to do just that.