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Baratza Virtuoso - Jesse Nice's Review
Posted: April 26, 2008, 2:50pm
review rating: 8.3
feedback: (2) comments | read | write
Baratza Virtuoso Grinder
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More About This Product
Arrow The Baratza Virtuoso has 62 Reviews
Arrow The Baratza Virtuoso has been rated 7.22 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since February 20, 2006.
Arrow Baratza Virtuoso reviews have been viewed 390,256 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Eero Simoncelli 9.08
Gone Gone 9.00
Aubrei Merrill 9.00
Joel Bristol 9.00
Yves Feder 8.83

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 8.0
Manufacturer: Baratza Quality: 7
Average Price: $229.00 Usability: 9
Price Paid: $150.00 Cost vs. Value 8
Where Bought: Baratza Aesthetics 9
Owned for: 6 months Overall 7
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: No
Similar Items Owned: None
Bottom Line: Good grinder with a wide range and little retention, but not fine enough control for consistent espresso.
Positive Product Points

Easy to use, 'pulse' button well placed.
Very easy to clean and almost no trapped grounds!
Nice styling, good size.
Easily adjustable, provides a nice, consistent grind from turkish coffee to french press.

Negative Product Points

Steps are too big for espresso unless you get lucky.
Timer knob falls off occasionally.
Easy to jam the grinder with oily beans.

Detailed Commentary

This was my first upgrade from a Krups "weed-whacker" grinder that I bought when I made my upgrade from my Goodwill steam toy to Miss Silvia.  Purchased direct from Baratza as a rebuild, this is the most recent model (as of writing) of the Virtuoso, so it has the anti-static coating on the grounds bin, which seems to work well and the lower RPM motor.  

This was a great entry-level grinder for me to learn with.  While slower than 'prosumer' models (Mazzer Mini, etc) it grinds at a perfectly fine rate and never has any overheating issues, etc.  It does tend to jam if you have very oily beans, but this can be easily overcome by lifting the front of the grinder a bit and tapping it on the counter to clear the jam.  It is more likely to jam the finer the grind is, but overall, this happens very rarely. (Maybe 30 times in six months, which isn't bad given that it gets used at least 3 times per day and _way_ more if I am in 'experiment' mode.)

I personally like the looks of the grinder, the size is nice (my cabinets are only 16.5" inches off the counter and it still fits underneath.) and solid black plastic is about what I expect at the price point. It's very easy to clean and as the grounds drop directly into the bin, it has almost no grounds retention issues. On drier days, there is a little static build-up in the bin, but nothing too bad. Grounds tend to clump a bit, but a quick use of the WDT solves that issue.  I usually dose from the bin into the pf without any problems.  Grind is very consistent, though there are some fines in the grind.

The issues with the grinder (for me) have come about as I have worked some of the bugs out of my technique. I think in the beginning, the variation in my technique inadvertently compensated for issues in the grind. As I have hammered my technique down and eliminated other variables (I recently added a PID to Miss Silvia) I keep coming back to trying to adjust the grind to what I need...and failing.  To give a point of comparison, in my reading, someone mentions that the 'espresso' range for a Mini is about 1.5 inches of turn. On my Virtuoso, a setting of 7 chokes Silvia, 8 is ristretto (and a nice one too), 9 will probably give a bitter full shot, 10 will give a sour shot and anything above 10 is a blonde gusher. This range 8-10 equates to a little less than 1/4" of travel of the bin.  Randy Glass mentions holding in between 'clicks' working, but this just hasn't worked for me.  By the end of the grind, I'm in one of the two slots.  I just don't have enough control over the grind to make it work.  I've tried varying some of my other variables (tamp, temperature) to compensate for the lack of control in the grind with little success.

I suppose a good disclaimer is that I'm working on a Silvia, which is renowned for it's pickiness and I normally use Vivace's Vita or Dolce blends, which are also supposed to be picky. I don't have any experience other than this, so that's totally based on my reading.  So, right now, I'm still working it, but watching eBay for a doserless Mini or maybe a Macap, though be ability to grind drip and french press is important.  If I get a new grinder, I'll update this with my comparison.

Bottom Line: I like the grinder, I like the company, and I really want it to work, but I just can't get good, consistent espresso with it.

EDIT 29APR08: I removed the stepping feature as commented (directions can be found here.) Removing the stepping feature definitely improves how well this grinder can be dialed in.  I am no longer going from bitter to sour on one click b/c I can split the difference.  However, I was wrong in thinking that no additional 'stiffening' is required.  At no load the grinder doesn't wander, but does tend to wander coarser when grinding.  Right now I'm holding it by hand, but will have to come up with something else.

EDIT 11MAY08: As discussed elsewhere, a good sized rubber band between the hopper and the outside housing provides enough stiffness to keep it from wandering, but not so much that it is overly difficult to rotate by hand.  I have had my Macap MXKR for about 2 days now, and while I will probably keep the Virtuoso for drip and press, I won't be using this grinder for espresso. Also, to answer one of the comments, I am a classic example of 'the wrong path'. I read the reviews here and Mark Prince's review and thought, "Maybe I can get away with it."  I was wrong. If you are reading this as a potential new person to home espresso, I would encourage you to divide your budget as follows: 50% grinder, 50% machine and assume some overhead for miscellania. (Learning coffee, steaming pitcher, CoffeeTool, brushes, etc.) I didn't do this and I should have.

Buying Experience

Great buying experience.  Bought on-line, shipped promptly and never had any issues with it even though it was a rebuild.  Reading other reviews, Baratza has definitely worked hard to iron the bugs out of the grinder.

Three Month Followup

-Grinder continues to work well for drip and press pot coffee. (did shift all espresso over to the Macap)
-No issues with fit, finish or operation.
-Still agree with all negative/positive points originally posted.

One Year Followup

This is actually a 4 year follow-up.  The thermal fuse on the mainboard toasted while grinding some particularly oily beans.  Bear in mind, this is four year old _rebuilt_ Virtuoso.  No warranty whatsoever.  Baratza is sending me a new board to replace the one with the damaged component.  For free.  While I stick to not thinking this is the best grinder for espresso, Baratza basically just guaranteed that I will buy from them again.  Awesome company.  Other than the board issue, at 4 years, this grinder continues to work great for french press and drip.  Daily use if not more.

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review rating: 8.3
Posted: April 26, 2008, 2:50pm
feedback: (2) comments | read | write
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