The Baratza Virtuoso : Detailed Review
Since 1999 Baratza has been manufacturing coffee grinders. Unlike most companies, Baratza has not expanded to other areas.
Any company that can stay in business for twenty years without diversifying into other areas designs quality products.
The Virtuoso follows this tradition; it is a quality product. However there are caveats that should be noted before purchase.
The Virtuoso's Best Features
Aesthetically the Virtuoso is a nice looking unit, with a combination of traditional black plastic and cool, modern steel. It fits nicely with most kitchen appliances and interior designs.
The Virtuoso has 40 stepped settings for a range of particle sizes. The steps are helpful for finding your favored grind. If you only brew one or two ways, once you find your desired particle size, it is a cinch to find it again. All it takes is remembering a number.
A timing knob also allows you to walk away and while the grinder does its job, though the manual states to never leave it unattended while in operation. We cannot in good conscience recommend against best safety practices.
But let's be honest, unless you are the type of person who watches your food get nuked in the microwave, you will most likely be leaving it running at some point. Not to mention that a timing knob is a useless feature if you are supposed to attend to the machine.
Baratza also includes a pulse button mounted on the front. This is helpful for espresso lovers.
A nifty feature is the expandable hopper. Multiple hoppers can be purchased to extend the capacity for whole beans.
The conical burr system is helpful in two respects. First, it takes advantage of gravity to ensure grinds do not get trapped between burrs. Flat burr systems tend to trap partially ground beans as well as particles in the assembly.
This is alters the flavor of coffee--it goes stale quickly after use and often spoils your next brew. Second, flat burrs tend to fling grounds throughout the assembly chamber--a conical system solves this problem, resulting in easier cleaning and maintenance.
Another aspect of the differences between flat and conical systems will be discussed shortly.
Grind Like a Pro
As with all grinders, it is imperative to clean the machine before use. Often burrs will have a small amount of rust on them out of the box. This is easily removed by grinding and discarding a quarter pound of coffee.
Cleaning instructions are simple. Remove the hopper by turning it counter-clockwise until it stops. Gently pull upward to remove it from the body. The hopper and bin should be cleaned with warms soapy water, then rinsed and dried thoroughly.
Removal of the top burr is also simple. Remove the silicone seal. Pull upward on the tabs to remove the ring burr. Clean the top and bottom burrs with a stiff brush to remove excess grinds. Baratza recommends cleaning the burrs every few months if the grinder is used daily.
Replace the burr assembly by lining up the tab on the burr with the cutout on the adjustment ring. Ensure it is seated properly. Replace the seal by lining up the slots with the tabs on the ring burr.
Only adjust the grind setting with machine running.
The calibration screw can be used to alter grind size along the upper and lower limits of the adjustment ring. So if you find that 40 is not coarse enough, the screw can be adjusted. Please note that grinders, particularly at this price point, lose particle consistency as the the grind gets coarser.
The Amateur Aspects of the Virtuoso
We promised some caveats. They exist, and they are real.
Many reviewers have experienced a particularly galling, disconcerting phenomenon. Remember that timing knob the manual cautions you against using as intended? Well it has been widely reported to fall off while the machine is operating. Let that sink in for a moment.
The timing knob seems to have no relation to amount of coffee ground.
Similarly an expandable hopper seems cool in some ways. But it utterly useless in the sense that to protect the flavor of the finished product, one should not keep beans in the hopper permanently. And if you are grinding that much coffee at in one sitting, you probably are better served by a more expensive grinder.
The grind range is narrow. Even at its finest setting, it is barely useful for espresso. It just does not go fine enough. Nor does it go coarse enough for a press coffee.
If you are not particularly picky, you can brew espresso or make French Press, but it is certainly not ideal for an aficionado. The calibration screw can utilized to get it closer to the ideal, but the manual does not even mention this feature. We found out about it via a technical support article on their website.
Some reviews have found the disassembly process to be less clear than the manual implies and non-intuitive.
The stepped adjustment system is handy, but it also removes finer control over the grind.
The Breville Smart Grinder Pro occupies a similar price range, and also sports a conical burr design. It has a digital timer that actually corresponds to the amount of coffee ground.
It also has 60 grinder settings rather than the 40 of the Virtuoso. It is a more consistent performer for espresso and press. It has a similar, versatile aesthetic.
The Breville is a little louder than the Baratza. But that is a small price to pay for a more precise grinder with more settings.
Despite some bizarre negative aspects, this is a decent grinder for someone who is not fussy about their coffee. It is best for those who primarily drink drip or pour-over.
It is not recommended for those who use a Press or regularly drink espresso. Turkish is out of the question.
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