The Baratza Vario-W Grinder has been rated 9.60 overall by our member reviewers
This product has been in our review database since November 6, 2012.
Baratza Vario-W Grinder reviews have been viewed 7,510 times (updated hourly).
Ratings and Stats
Overall Rating: 9.6
Cost vs. Value
Ditting Mahlkönig UK Ltd.
I love coffee
Would Buy Again:
Similar Items Owned:
Baratza Virtuoso Preciso
The Vario-W fills the weighed output gap in the market for me ... I love it!
Positive Product Points
The small footprint is great for home use (tidy kitchen & happy wife).
The noise level is acceptable but, with the kitchen door open, enough to make mouths water in the living room!
Intuitive, particularly when first used in conjunction with the manual, a few clearly labelled buttons make it easy to get the grind desired consistently.
Flat ceramic burrs produce uniform grinds from espresso through pour-over to french press.
Fineness of grind is adjusted by a 'macro' lever with 10 steps from 1 (fine) to 10 (coarse) and a 'micro' lever with 23 steps from A (finer) to W (coarser) giving 230 reproducible settings.
Accurately weighed output, the makers say to 0.5g but it seems better perhaps even 0.2g, to uniform grinds for as much control of the grinding process as could be desired.
3 programmable (memory) preset buttons make it easy to reproduce the same high quality of grind again and again as well as being able to change the setting whenever desired.
Variable: I use the first preset for an 10g single shot and the second for a 20g double shot. There are 2 arrow buttons, 'up' increasing the output weight and 'down' decreasing it, both in 0.1g steps, allowing the home barista to cater for the individual taste of each person.
Retention of grinds is minimal so there is pretty much no waste.
Feels substantial and well made.
What a joy to simply touch a preset button followed by the 'Start' button, then consistently receive exactly the grind required for the best extraction. (Please don't tell anyone that even the grinding process is part of my pleasure in drinking great coffee, they'll think I'm some sort of coffee geek!)
Negative Product Points
It isn't possible to grind directly into a portafilter because the grinds bin sits directly on the scale pan. No problem for me to use the grinds bin.
There are no 'timer' functions because the Vario circuit board was modified, and the available buttons recycled, to produce the Vario-W. No problem for me because on the Preciso: I weighed the beans, popped them into the empty beans hopper and ground until the hopper was empty again.
Like the Vario and Preciso, the Vario-W is more suited to a single fineness setting, e.g. espresso, OR pour-over OR french press, than moving between settings. To do so would require the beans hopper to be kept empty and the beans added to be ground 'dose' by 'dose'. This is because the macro/micro levers should only be set 'finer' while grinding is in process and ensures that any large particles left between the burrs from a previous grind don't prevent the burrs moving closer together which can upset the calibration.
Introduction Not very long after I bought the Preciso, Baratza introduced the Vario-E (now known as the Vario-W) and the Esatto grinder attachment. When the Esatto grinder attachment is attached as the base unit of a Preciso, it adds weighed output functionality to the Preciso. Whilst waiting for these to be available in the UK I'd been weighing beans for grinding using a postage scale that allows a 'tare' of the container to made before the beans are added. It took 4 months for the Esatto attachment and the Vario-W to arrive in the UK. During this time my brother decided to buy my Preciso, allowing one 'happy bunny' to upgrade to the more expensive Vario-W. Not counting the exhibition display unit, my Vario-W was in the first batch of 3 grinders into the UK.
Unpacking and setting up The packaging was first-class, it was like playing 'parcel-the-parcel' at a Christmas party! Seriously, the box within a box within a box approach ensured the Vario-W was received in excellent condition. The 'setting up' only needed a simple washing, thorough drying and subsequent installation of the bean hopper and grinds bin to make the grinder ready for use. The different sized 'lugs' on the hopper prevent it being fitted to the grinder the wrong way round. The grinder won't work until the hopper is properly inserted and a kind of 'click' felt that confirms correct insertion. The force required to get the 'click' was a bit more than I expected for a plastic hopper but in spite of my tentative approach I got there eventually. I couldn't find an operations manual in the packaging, so I downloaded and printed the manual from www.baratza.com. The manual sensibly recommends that moving the macro and/or micro grind adjustment levers to a finer setting should only be done while the grinder is actually grinding. As mentioned above, this prevents any larger bean particles from preventing the desired reduction of the gap between the burrs.
First experiences Right off, the high quality of the Vario-W was obvious. My postage scale was accurate enough for postage but the Vario-W excels at better than 0.5g accuracy. I'd been timing my shot extractions with the Preciso and aiming for mid-range of 20-30 seconds for the bottom of the meniscus to reach the measure ring on my shot glass.
My first shots using the Vario-W ran through too quickly. Adjusting the fineness of the grind using the macro/micro levers to their finest setting of 1A improved the extraction time to 18 seconds but it still wasn't enough. The operations manual states that the burrs can be calibrated using a 2mm Allen key but there is a label over the aperture for the 2mm Allen key saying that removal or penetration of the label invalidates the warranty. A call to the Mahlkönig representative to explain that calibration is recommended in the Baratza product manual and the manual includes a 'how-to-do-it' guide and I was given the go-ahead with confirmation that the warranty would remain intact. Carefully following the straight-forward instructions, calibration was quickly accomplished. Straight away it was apparent that extraction had slowed to a controllable level and following a few minor tweaks on the 'micro' lever achieved 25 seconds for an extraction. My reward was black gold capped with a lovely crema which produced a latte that was better than any coffee I'd ever tasted anywhere before. Scared that this was a fluke, I thought it necessary to test the setup which I duly did. I'm delighted to report the quality of the extractions didn't diminish but I had to stop re-testing the quality after a while when it felt like the top of my head was about to 'lift-off'.
Ongoing experience I'm still delighted with my Vario-W which sometimes is very hard to pass by without touching a couple of buttons to create the grinds for another wonderful latte. Are they 'god-shots'? To be honest I don't yet know so I'll settle with calling them 'my nectar' until I know better. Having just returned from a Mediterranean holiday really helped my confidence, there was only one cafe latte that tasted better than my equipment can produce and that was in Florence.
Would I buy another Vario-W? Yes, in a heartbeat!
Cleaning Every time a new kilo of beans is finished and a new one needs to be opened, approximately every 3 weeks, presents an ideal opportunity for a clean. First time I used the sample pack of 'Grindz' included with the grinder. I followed the instructions carefully and ground quite a lot of beans to flush all the 'Grindz' residues from the grinder. I've read that rice can be used instead of expensive proprietary cleaning materials and my post-cleaning inspection of the burrs confirms that basmati rice works very well. I tried a coffee without 'flushing' out the residue of the rice with beans after cleaning. As might be expected there was no taste of the rice or diminished flavour from the coffee. It's just necessary to ignore a few white particles from the rice in the grinds for the next couple of coffees.
A comment on cost Having decided that the 2 important things to control at the grinding stage, so other factors can successfully be controlled at the extraction stage, are quality of the grind (fine/coarse with uniformity of grinds) and accurately weighed output. I had effectively limited my options to the Vario-W since I hadn't found another grinder with the required capability. At first look $575 may seem a lot for a 'prosumer' grinder, but when taken in context it does represent good value for money, but it does feel like a lot of money for a first grinder.
Other equipment in use
Espro tamper: not a cheap item to buy but beautifully made, simple to use and gives me confidence that I'm tamping consistently close to 30lb.
Tamping station: something to hold the portafilter firmly in place while tamping and somewhere to keep the tamper when not in use.
Espresso machine: Isomac Tea II (2012).
A pair of 'naked' portafilters, one with a single shot filter basket and the other with a double. When I read of this approach, the reduced number of surfaces that the coffee oils can be deposited on was a winning argument for me, i.e. more of the taste of the coffee goes is available for drinking. It also seems to produce a much better crema.
A single shot and a double shot glass with a measuring line(s): grinds are calibrated to pull in the 20-30 seconds range, so with no need for timing, extraction is direct into the shot glass held up to the bottom of the filter basket, trapping any 'spray' to ensure all the extraction goes into the shot glass.
Timer (in my iPhone): used occasionally to check that a single shot is pulled in about 25 seconds, including a short pre-infusion of the grinds.
Espro Toroid 20 oz Pitcher: for producing consistently good microfoam although I haven't mastered latte art yet, but I keep trying!
Thermometer: I was advised that the milk temperature is right when the pitcher becomes too hot to hold but, on the principle that a 'normal' bath for my wife is far too hot for me, I decided to get a thermometer. I'm glad I did because I can replicate temperature recommendations from others as well as be confident in the consistency of my own brewing method. My technique is to 'stretch' the milk until 100°F and then heat it to 140°F so that maximum sweetness is extracted from the lactose.
Grindenstein knock box: made of plastic, I half expected this to have a very short life but what a lovely surprise to open the packing and find a substantially made item which is standing up surprisingly well to use which might be better described as abuse!
The people at Ditting Mahlkönig UK Ltd. (the manufacturer of the ceramic burrs in the Vario-W) were so helpful that my confidence was inspired from the moment of first contact and to date there's no reason for it to be diminished, but think I might be waiting indefinitely for the missing instruction manual which does earn them a 'frowny' (opposite of a 'smiley'). This buying experience contrasts with the customer service given by the retailer that sold me the Preciso. Out of the box it was electrically dead and my suspicions were raised by the obvious 'scratched' removal of the voltage label on the bottom of the unit (usually carrying the EU quality 'CE' mark). Fortunately the wholesaler put things right for me and exchanged it for a new one.
Three Month Followup
First and foremost, I am still very pleased with my choice to buy a Vario-W.
Since purchase it seems that either the noise level has increased, or that in comparison with my brother's new Mazza Super Jolly it just seems louder, but to balance this I really appreciate the more compact design of the Vario-W. To explain the relative loudness, I need to close the kitchen door for my wife to be able to use the telephone in the next room.
Using 100% Arabica decaffeinated beans from Garraways (£10 a kilo & post-free if ordering a case of 6), I came to the conclusion that some of the flavour was lost during the washing process at green bean stage, so was using 10g of grinds to increase the flavour. I'm now using 14g for a double shot to make a latte and the result is just wonderful. At about that time latte art suddenly became possible making me a very happy bunny!, Now both naked portafilters have a 14g double shot basket. Another change is that I steam milk for one person at a time using the Toroid 12 oz Pitcher instead of the 20 oz.
One Year Followup
Happy to report that afer a year I'm still delighted that I bought my Vario-W.
There are a couple of points to add to my review in the light of on-going experience.
Static is naturally generated when grinding a dose, sometimes making it difficult to get every last grain from the grinds bin into the portafilter (now using a wonderful VST 15g). After a pause of about 10 seconds, the grinds completely empty into the portafilter leaving a clean grinds bin and suggesting that the static dissipates after a short pause.
The weight of grinds delivered into the bin seemed to vary slightly and research here and at Baratza confirmed that the 'spin-down' of the grinder (the time it takes to stop) is quickest with coarse grains (French Press = least resistance) and slowest with fine grains (Espresso = most resistance). I now use the suggestion of Kyle at Baratza and 'blip' the start/stop button until the desired weight is shown. If the actual weighed amount is replaced by the 'set weight', a 'blip' will bring back the actual weighed amount so the result of the adjustment can be seen.
My brother discovered Lavazza Dek (decaffeinated beans) and I was so impressed with the smooth flavour that I've gone over to it completely! On the point of ordering my third case and still as impressed as with the first tasting at my brother's.
I wonder what will be my next development ... by the way if you didn't realise, even making and drinking good decaffeinated coffee is addicitive!