The coffee grinding experience is an obsession that daily practitioners struggle to perfect daily. Once fresh roasted beans come into our life it’s not worth burning or exposing them to the impurities of a bad grind.
If you cringe at the sight of a blade grinder, or worry about the effects of it’s harsh process, then perhaps it’s time to step up your coffee game. There are many great burr grinders out there, but let’s consider either of these impressive burr grinders from Seattle’s own Baratza grinder company.
Baratza is a strange word isn’t it? Well it’s a great name for a company! The word is Swahili for ‘place to gather and enjoy/drink coffee’. Sounds like a great place to work, spending day-in and day-out perfecting the art of coffee creation. They create the kind of coffee grinders that thrive in the underground circles.
Since they cater to the coffee obsessed it’s allowed them to focus on creating products that suit the most meticulous practitioners of the brew. We’ve reviewed many kinds of grinders but today we are going to be getting scrutinous between this brands’ grinder offerings and only look at the Virtuoso and the Vario grinders.
Both are facny grinders for sure but the Vario is twice the price of the Virtuoso. Check the Vario’s specs here if you are considering this big investment.
Why Grind Your Own Coffee?
First, it’s important to make the most of the beans. If you want bold taste, proper extraction of oils and caffeine grinding is important. Additionally, for those of us that like to experiment with varying kinds of coffee, it’s important to grind to a specific size. We discuss the difference between pre-ground and whole bean coffee more in-depth here.
If you’ve got a blade grinder and an espresso machine at home, the two won’t work well in conjunction. You’ need a fine grind size for the espresso to extract properly.
You might be wondering why the blade grinder is so shunned. To demonstrate just how powerful these two grinders are, first we should discuss why proper grinding matters.
The blade grinder, very affordable at only 10 and 20 dollars. These things are quite common too. They have a small motor that uses little energy, combined with a small hopper and a lack of actual grinding (they actually slice and whack the beans around to mock the grind process).
This is a recipe for failure. The small chamber and ‘grind’ create irregularly shaped bits and pieces and the immense amount of friction aid to burnt taste.The beans are essentially being compromised twofold. The flavor and the grind created aren’t optimal for any coffee making task.
That’s where these two grinder come in: Affordable and great for whatever task you need. Let’s dive into the specifics and see what set them apart.
The Virtuoso Coffee Grinder
This grinder boasts a big name, virtuoso referring to an absolute expert in every facet about a certain task. Well, let’s dissect it and see if the machine truly earns that title.
The Virtuoso is an appliance that has evolved from previous Baratza creations to diagnose issues that many grinders have. It’s a relatively small unit as well, using counter-space economically. Sculpted metal provides this grinder with a look sturdy and compliment any kitchen.
The design is one of a modern and clean aesthetic that is functional to boot! Like many user-experience experts will hail the iPod as a master creation due to simple and concise controls, they would be wise to hail the Virtuoso likewise. Only two controls on the frame of the grinder, yet each honed for specify tasks and complete control.
The front-mounted button sporting an Apple-esque look allows for pulse grinding directly into an espresso filter basket. On the other end of the spectrum while a 60-second timer means that it’s easy to replicate grind times for various batches.
The hopper is constructed of glass and thus makes use of it’s anti-static properties. A small detail but very important for coffee hygiene.
As the beans make their way down into the conical burrs they won’t incur a static charge and lose debris to the inside of the machine. Many coffee grinders are notorious for retaining grounds. You’re simply not going to have that issue with a Virtuoso.
Many grinders leave you worrying about the dose-to-yield ratio, but that simply isn’t an issue now.
Dose-to-yield refers to a measure of how much ground coffee you start with, and how much espresso is made in the result. Common ways to measure this are in numbers of shots: single, double, etc. This requires experimentation to get the hang of, but the Virtuoso will remain consistent whereas cheap grinders aren’t able to to.
Beans are going to be processed effectively and consistently. The Virtuoso uses 40mm burrs that are perfect for honing in your preferred grind size for whatever task. And at that, there are 40 grind settings. Specific grinds for various tasks are here to work with.
If prepping morning coffee is a supposed to be a zen-filled activity then you’ll appreciate the inner workings of this machine. The drive gear is made of 15% glass filled thermodynamic plastic which is quieter than metal gears, still durable and more shock resistant. During a rigorous testing process for this model stainless steel screws were thrown into the burrs, and in every case the motor/gear/burrs stopped immediately. This is thanks to the (automatically-resettable) thermal cutout switch, and gears remain intact.
If upgrading and customizing, and the ability to make repairs to your investment is high on your list of must-haves, then Baratza has you covered. They make it quite easy to find replacement parts or upgrades to keep the Virtuoso functioning.
The Vario Grinders
The Vario, on the other hand, is quite a different beast. The ease of timed dosing for coffee aficionados at home is aided by a simple digital display and a full range of stepped grind adjustments. This makes it easy to repeat grinds and doses if you find the sweet spot in your coffee preparation.
Many complain of the aesthetic design however, referencing the 1970s era panel, (even though it’s digital?) of defacing their kitchen counter. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re going for coffee serving and Stanley Kubrick decor. What should matter here is that the Vario features a unique setup, Mahlkönig ceramic flat burrs churn the beans rather than use gravity to feed the grinder. Additionally there are dual-cam grind adjustors with 230 settings.
What are dual-cam grinds? Well, The right-hand lever lets you choose what type of grind, coarse, fine, etc. The lever on the left lets you fine tune the grind within the range selected, thus giving the more than 230 grind settings available. Honing in the exact kind of grind for whatever kind of coffee you want will be no problem at all.
Here is a professional quality grinder that is made for domestic use. It’s got a powerful motor that turns slowly resulting in cool, super quiet grind sessions and permits extended grinding time without fear of burning or tarnishing grounds.
Additionally, the display keeps track of the weight of produced grounds. Precision is the main objective of this machine.
That leads us right into it’s electronic dosing capability. This machine can be set to grind only the coffee required for each shot of espresso you’re preparing.
The Vario eliminates the risk of ending up with stale ground coffee. We find that is a common plight in mechanical dosing units, where storage of ground coffee beans becomes a necessity.
Ceramic flat burrs help the Vario to produce it’s grounds. The flat burr (shown at the right) uses a flat disk with a series of teeth carved into it that rides against a grinding stone or plate. These are generally found in mid-range to higher quality machines.
What Materials are the Burr Grinders Made of?
Though some don’t see a difference in the material that makes up the flat burr, here are a few things to consider:
Ceramic material will last much longer than steel burrs before requiring replacement. Baratza rates theirs for 750 pounds of coffee, but reports indicate that they may be good for up to 2500 pounds. Ceramic features a distinct quality that many will tell you is great for producing the texture needed for espresso.Keep that information on hand if your go to is espresso!
Ceramic does have it’s disadvantages. Let’s say something gets mixed in with your beans, the flat ceramic can shatter if they hit a hard foreign object. This puts the machine completely out of commission until replaced, which is not cheap. Still their ability to maintain sharpness is what sets them apart.
Another important note about ceramic: consider ceramic dish-ware, this is a quickly cooling material. Thus it works great for grinding beans without having to worry about them taking on burnt flavors.
The circuitry is equipped with an automatic reset thermal switch as well, just in case something were to start overheating.
The motor here is particularly impressive. Direct drive power are generally found in “prosumer,” professional, and industrial machines. This is because they feature heavy duty, low speed, high torque motors that drive the grinder either by belt, or driveline.
Despite all the power, it’s still possible to produce an early morning grind without waking the rest of the house.
What Kind of Grounds Should be Produced?
Every kind of coffee is able to be honed in and created with variable grind sizes. If you’re making espresso or drip coffee, these are jobs that require a fine and a coarse ground, respectively. Perhaps you have a favorite, that may help sway your decision between these two titan grinders:
- Automatic or manual brew
- French Press
How to Clean A Conical Burr Grinder
With such a great precision instrument there comes great responsibility: to take care of it. Cleaning your burr grinder means more than running a damp cloth across the sturdy metal frame.
Regular cleaning should happen bi-weekly. This simply means running uncooked white rice through the grinder. The idea here is that what little stray grounds are caught in the machine will be pushed outward with he rice or easily revealed by the white dust remnants. This is a checkup on the grinder to make sure everything is function. Conical burr grinders are high-end grinders that rarely develop a ton of buildup.
Thorough cleaning should occur as often as bi-monthly. This means taking the grinder apart to restore it to immaculate condition:
- Remove the hopper: You should notice that it can be easily removed when the nubbins are aligned. Wipe any residue from the nubbin and place this along with the hopper to one side.
- A Clear View: With the hopper removed it is now easy to see directly into the grinder and take note of any residue or debris.
- Cleaning the Burrs: Some grinders feature a small gasket which must be removed first. Directly underneath the top gasket and in the very center, the burr and holder is the most important part of the configuration which needs to be cleaned. You can take this out and then use a soft brush to remove excess grinds or residue (we recommend a toothbrush!). When finished cleaning this part, again, leave it to one side.
- At no point should you turn the machine upside down: Doing so can cause the mechanical components to shift, and this results in a mess.
- Brush away all excess in the machine: Ensure that the parts are clean and reassemble. Having placed the hopper back on top of the grinder, also double check that you have not missed any parts and the machine is ready to be used.
Additionally Baratza will recommend using Urnex cleaning tablets to unclog loose debris within the machine. It’s just important to remain consistent to avoid clogging the grinder unnecessarily.
If you’re grinder already appears to be clogged, make sure it is grinding the vast majority of your beans. Chances are, if it’s grinding only a third of what goes in, there is a greater problem at work.
To troubleshoot, first inspect the gasket, once the hopper is removed this will be the first piece you can inspect for damage. Sometimes this seal is broken and aids to improper function of the grinder.
The Vario or the Virtuoso: Which to Buy
The Vario offers us the convenience of weight-based grinding accuracy with it’s digital control panel, while the Virtuoso feature a timer it and a pulse control for small doses, the two really differ here.
Real time adjustments of weight based grind was only a dream up until recently. Though the digital control panel of the Vario may not suit the design junkies, it does provide solid functionality. Weight based grinding means that one can repeat dosages easily.
The Vario benefits from a small footprint, macro/micro adjustment, ceramic burrs, and a broad range of grind settings. While the Virtuoso is similarly functional, the grind consistency can’t be beat. There are a plethora of grind options to choose from and repeat previous successes.
Between these two grinders you’re sure to get an effective grind. The real consideration here is looking at price and what coffee drink you intend to make with the grinds. These are exceptional grinders on the ‘prosumer’ market. Make sure you peruse our gear while you’re at it.