After months of frustration with trying to use my Virtuoso for espresso, I bit the bullet on a new Baratza Vario this morning. Hoping it gets here in time for our Christmas Party this weekend.
I sold my Virt about two weeks ago and have been going through heavy coffee withdrawal since then. (I've got 1 lb of Kona peaberry and 2 lbs of "Competition Blend" from Fratello waiting for me in the freezer. I've almost resorted to chewing on the beans.)
I'll post a first impression when the unit shows up.
In response to Colin's question posted in "Gaggia Espresso Pure, Baratza Maestro":
Colin wrote "... would like to hear more about your Vario experience
and what drove you nutty about the Virtuoso."
I'l post my initial thoughts on the Vario in a few days, once it arrives.
My frustration with the Virtuoso was largely with the size of the steps. It is impossible to dial in your shots based on grind alone. For example, with most blends, setting the grinder on, say, 6 would deliver a shot that ran a bit too fast (maybe 18 sec.) and, as a result, was thin bodied, and sour. Going one step finer would yield a very slow shot (like about 45 sec.) that often tasted very bitter and burnt. So I had to choose one or the other, and compensate in other ways (usually dose, & tamp). Since the only way to dial in a dose for a particular blend and use it consistently was to weigh it, I ended up weighing every shot prior to brewing. ( I could have made the grinder stepless, or ground 1/2 a basket at one setting and 1/2 at another.)
So my routine looked like this:
1. Place portafilter on the digital scale and zero it.
2. Grind into portafilter
3. Place portafilter on scale
4. Watch scale time out and go blank
5. Curse at scale
6. Repeat 1-3, only faster this time.
7. Add or remove grinds to achieve desired dose
8. Use WDT to remove clumps (Oh yeah, that's another thing. To get decent extractions, you MUST WDT)
9. Employ somewhat elaborate Tamping technique to compensate even more for grind quality.
11. Drink a shot of espresso that's drinkable, but rarely enjoyable outside of a Latte
I also wondered about the quality of the grind with the Virtuoso (i.e. the consistency of the particles themselves) since I would often pull shots that were a mixture of bitter and sour. So, perhaps some of the grinds are being over-extracted, while others are under-extracted.
All this has limited me to using relatively forgiving blends to minimize bitter or sour flavours, meaning Single Origin coffees were out of the question. Which is another annoyance, since the point of this hobby should be to explore different coffees and appreciate what each one brings to the cup.
The Vario, on the other hand is virtually stepless, has a timer to control dose (though I'll probably weigh every now and again for reference), renders WDT unnecessary, does not require elaborate distribution or tamping techniques, and is reported to have a grind quality on par with the big commercial Mazzers, like the Super Jolly.
Last edit: 10 years 5 months ago by brokemusician77.
Been using the Vario for a week now. Wow! What a difference. It is way easier to dial in my shots with this grinder (230 grind settings that all vary by about 4 microns will do that). I also love having the digital timer to adjust dose. I've used my scale a few times for reference, but now I rely exclusively on the timer to keep my dose consistent between shots.
So far, I've put about 2.5 lbs of coffee through it, and am really enjoying the results. The shots are far more balanced than with the Virtuoso. This makes dialing in a shot so much easier. The shots with the Virtuoso were always a mixture of bitter and sour, making it hard to know whether to grind finer or coarser (although you were pretty much locked into one setting with the Virtuoso). Since the shots tend to be either bitter or sour now, it's a lot easier to know which way to adjust to find the sweet spot.
That said, even the worst shots I've pulled with the Vario are far better than the best shots made with the Virt. Like I said, they're more balanced, but there's also a lot more clarity in the cup. I'm not sure if that's the right word to describe what I mean, but it's far easier to discern the various flavours and nuances in the cup with this grinder. To be fair, the shots with the Virtuoso were complex, but the flavours seemed to be muddled together. With the Vario, all the notes are a lot easier to identify and appreciate, even in milk drinks.
I've only tried the Vario for Press Pot once. I'm not a big press pot guy, and I'm never really sure I'm doing it right. I will say that the pot I made showed a similar improvement in clarity over the Virtuoso, as I saw in my espresso. I was a little surprised that I actually noticed more "sludge" in the bottom of the cup with this grinder, but that could have been the grind setting I chose. Like I said, I'm not an expert with this method of brewing.
In switching back down to espresso, I was pleased to see that despite having changed the setting, the grinder came back to exactly the place I'd left it. There was no need to dial in the grinder for espresso again. This is a remarkable feat for any grinder, and I'm more than happy to say the Vario works as advertised on this point.
Although this grinder is said to be on par with the big Mazzers, like the Super Jolly, there has been some question as to how durable it is. Of course, only time will tell, but based on my initial experience comparing it to the Virtuoso, I have to say, this thing is a tank. It's a fair bit heavier than the Virtuoso, and everything about this grinder says solid. Especially when you look at the burrs. These are big commercial-sized burrs on solid metal carriers. They are mounted so tightly, that it's almost a chore to get them in and out. This is a good thing. The carriers on the Virtuoso are plastic, and I had one crack on me within 6 months. That said, the Virtuoso is still a very sturdy grinder, and the Vario is only moreso.
I did have to recalibrate my grinder, since it wasn't grinding fine enough to dial in a shot at the dose I was looking for, but even this couldn't be simpler on the Vario. Each grinder is individually calibrated at the factory, so you shouldn't have any need to do this, but the grinder I bought was a display model, so it had likely been readjusted by the store. No matter, it takes about 30 sec. to recalibrate, so it's good as new.
All that said, I am very happy with my purchase, and look forward to getting to know this grinder better in the coming months.