Baratza Virtuoso Update

Hot! Baratza Virtuoso Viewpoint - Updated April 24, 2007

*updated* Colin writes: My 2-cents worth. I have tested (and re-tested) the Baratza Virtuoso and I am of the opinion that consumers should now consider the Virtuoso grinder worthy of serious consideration.


The very latest (factory) version that I have tested included a very functional anti-static bin that kept the grinding process neat and tidy. The Virtuoso is now on all the shelves at Starbucks - for the good people at Baratza Inc, this is a wonderful thing.

A completely rewritten view of this grinder will follow shortly. Here is a short nit-pick list and adjustments with the latest version.

  • The Virtuoso now comes from the factory calibrated. This solves the earlier "out-of-the-box" issues.
  • The latest Virtuoso model appears to yield consistent results, grinding session to grinding session. You can set it up and more or less get a lock on your favorite grind. When you come back again, it delivers similar results.
  • Calling it an espresso grinder is now appropriate. I am now able to pull a good espresso shot with this latest iteration of the Baratza Virtuoso. Hopefully, all the units from the factory will include the latest mods.
  • As Dave pointed out, all the grinding range is smushed into the lower 20 clicks of the grinding range. It appears to do certain styles of drip coffee really well - depending upon where you are in the "drip" range. This has been fixed.
  • Update: The very latest sample I received (about 2 weeks ago) revealed startling improvements over previous samples. I would LOVE to hear from other people who have bought Virtuosos. Please e-mail me or post in the forum. Every customer should be a satisfied one!



--The Baratza Virtuoso is easy to work on - and you can tear it apart to clean it yourself. The Baratza Virtuoso is now a product that we can count on - massive re-review to follow.

Hey folks,

Please accept our apologies for the delay in getting out the review on the Baratza Virtuoso. It has been taking too long and, in the interim, here are my summarized findings below, both good and bad.

Baratza was invited to respond to our concerns about being unable to make use of the entire grind range on the Virtuoso. The problem seems to be that it gets very coarse, very quickly, limiting the resolution of the remaining steps. This is of particular concern for espresso: the Virtuoso grinds well for espresso, but the resolution is very small and having only a few ticks on the dial in this range is limiting. Baratza indicated that our reports seemed unusual, but we have two different Virtuoso grinders behaving the same way. We would be delighted to find out that this problem has been resolved, but haven't seen anything just yet.

Please feel free to ask questions and badger us to put together the formal review! {mos_sb_discuss:30}

Dave

Experiences with the Baratza Virtuoso -- by Dave A. in Ottawa


Things that we liked:

* Cleanliness inside the burr mechanism
* Easy upper burr removal for cleaning without disassembly (can also remove the drop chute, but this requires taking the case off)
- When required, disassembly is fairly easy if slightly awkward
- Burr sharpness and speed
- Burr carrier, while plastic, is pretty solid.
- Weight, ease of use, relatively low noise, attractive finish
- Very easy to convert the grinder to a stepless adjustment
- I have not personally been having static problems, though I pretty much have the grounds bin permanently out of the grinder and use it for grinding direct to basket. This actually works very well for a basket, as there is a flat surface to rotate the basket against for a more even distribution. For portafilter duty, there could be a little more depth for being able to rotate the portafilter during grinding, but for this grinder that's just being picky. It works fine.


Our main concerns with our units have been:

- Reduced usable grinding range (about half of the available steps!). The distance between burrs touching and a medium grind is about twenty steps (of forty).
- Steps are large and grind becomes very coarse very soon in the available range, leading to significant variation in grind size above medium grind, including chunks of beans that manage to drop through the burrs.
- For espresso use, there is very little resolution (about two clicks). My grinder also bottoms out in this range, with the factory alignment, and does not reach a Turkish grind.


Nitpicks:

- The disappearing push-button: as admitted by Baratza, the pushbutton can accidentally get pushed into the housing. I found that this occurred very easily, even when you try to be careful and push at the bottom. (Baratza is to my knowledge working on a solution for this)
- Beans slide up between the gasket and the hopper very easily. Not a big deal.
- Given the large steps and our perception of unused adjustment space, I'm a bit perplexed at the usefulness of the fine collar adjustment. I would assume that its purpose is to fine-tune the zero-point of the grinder. However, my grinder will not reach zero with the intended upper burr alignment, even with the collar set at its minimum height.
- I have not put my grounds bin to the soapy water test, so I cannot yet answer if the milky bin has been resolved. I haven't had static problems.


Would like to see:

- A small modification of the tabs on the upper burr, such that the burr is lowered even further in the factory alignment, would increase the usable fine range while not losing anything in the abundantly coarse upper end.
- A way to anchor the micro-switch button so that it doesn't slip inside the housing so easily.


In a perfect world:

- It would be great to see the Virtuoso make better use of its grind range, while also widening the resolution for the espresso end of things, by decreasing the slope of the burr carrier.
- More steps overall to further improve "tweaking" room for espresso grinds.
- Using the grinder's existing capacity to support two easy burr drop-in configurations, where one is coarser than the other, it would be possible to spread out the adjustment space into even finer increments. However, there seems to be lots of room to work with already, before going this route.


Conclusions:

- A very good, consistent grinder for moka, drip, press, or anything in between. See below for espresso.

- Grinds consistently for espresso, but the resolution is VERY small, and I would recommend making the grinder stepless (two seconds) in order to make tweaking your grind at all feasible. Even so, the adjustment space is very small, which makes it difficult to figure out one position from another when tweaking your grind. Works fairly well for grinding direct to basket, but you will use two hands to do this. I've been using it this way for espresso and, accepting that it does not have a wide space for grind adjustment, have been fairly happy with the grinder for this purpose and this price point. You would be happier with a higher-end espresso grinder if you can afford one.

- If you want to grind very coarse for French Press, this may not be your grinder due to the extreme variation that we've seen on two grinders once you go beyond a medium grind.

- Cleanliness is actually pretty good, in my opinion. Very little coffee is trapped around the burrs, and a habit of rocking the grinder on its feet after grinding is enough to dislodge the coffee that does get trapped at the top of the chute. Grinding darker roast coffees very finely can lead to increased retention, as with many grinders. You may need to run the grinder a few seconds to clear out residual grinds in this scenario. When grinding directly into a basket, hold the basket flush to the roof of the grinder to avoid coffee spraying a bit when you reach the top of the basket (only a bit). Coffee does get inside the base of the grinder, but passes through to the counter.

- In operation, the grinder actually feels pretty solid and has a good weight to it. It lends confidence.


What if I already want to start making modifications ...

How do you make it stepless?

- Remove the outer housing as described by Baratza (loosen the four snap points at the bottom.
- Unscrew the upper burr carrier (likely after loosening/removing the fine adjustment screw), and remove the black piece of plastic sitting in the spring-loaded post that causes the grinder to click and stop at each position.
- Put it back together, including the fine adjustment screw.
- I wrapped an elastic around the outside of the hopper to add some resistance to its turning and thus help avoid wandering.


Can I make it grind even finer?

- Since the factory zero-point is inside the espresso range on my grinder, I did not find the fine-adjustment very useful.
- You CAN adjust the zero-point of the grinder, though it requires inserting the upper burr drop-in in a slightly different way. The upper burr has two drop-in configurations. Mine came with the proper orientation highlighted in red: putting it in 180 degrees to this results in an even coarser grind, which you don't want or need. There is a third insertion point, which requires you to pre-thread the upper burr into the removed burr carrier until it comes into alignment and the whole carrier can be re-mounted to the grinder. This moves the zero point drastically (on mine, to about #12), and will NOT prevent you from running the burrs together. Because the coarse grind was found to become unusable and unnecessary at high settings, this orientation still affords you the full range of the grinder's capabilities from Turkish to press grind.
BE CAREFUL, and consider that this might affect your warranty, as it does not reflect a sanctioned assembly of the burr mechanism. ALWAYS disconnect the power and be careful when disassembling and working inside a grinder! Be sure that you know how to put everything back together the way that it came, and figure out how it actually works, before making any modifications.

{mos_sb_discuss:30}