The best coffee comes from freshly-ground beans, and great coffee beans really show off their flavors when brewed properly. Current thinking on the subject tends to favor Chemex, Aeropress, and French press as the methods of choice for getting the best tasting cup — each method requires a precise grind for optimum results. We picked up the Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder to provide a consistently smooth grind for my coffee reviews (that, and my wife hated how much time I spent using my hand-crank burr grinder).
The MSRP for this grinder is $329, but sells for $229 on Amazon. This brand is a very popular home burr grinder manufacturer, and they make a few other levels – this is a mid-level machine. I didn’t need anything more, because I don’t grind for espresso.
The Virtuoso is very space-efficient and self-contained. Other than the cleaning brush and manual, all of the parts remain attached during both usage and storage. I love this aspect of the grinder, since I already have a stack of Aeropress components to manage. The unit fits under my over-the-countertop cupboards, and the footprint is fairly compact at approximately 4″ x 5″.
The machine is essentially assembled upon arrival — I only needed to remove the accessories from the grounds bin, pop the handle on, and twist on the hopper. Suggested grinds for different brewing techniques are provided in the extremely brief manual — the full operating manual is available online.
The machine was read to go in seconds, but an initial washing of the hopper is recommended.
The grind is adjusted by twisting the hopper, which adjusts the position of the outer grinder ring relative to the conical grinder. There are 40 different grind levels.
The machine operates in two modes — the knob on the side runs like an egg timer (10 seconds for each portion of the swirl), grinding for a fixed amount of time. The button on the front of the machine allows pulse grinding, which is perfect for directly filling an espresso basket.
The cone grinder and adjustable outer ring. The manual notes that the discoloration, or rust spots, are normal and disappear after initial use. The white plastic ring holds the outer burr ring and can be removed for cleaning and eventual replacement.
I put the machine through its initial paces using some Blue Bottle beans — El Salvador Santa Ana El Majahual.
The hopper holds nearly an entire bag of beans.
The grounds tray is easily removable, making it easier to scoop or pour from. With the tray removed, you can also fill an espresso filter holder directly from the grinder using the pulse function.
The tray catches the grounds — there is no gap between the machine and tray, so mess is minimized.
The shape of the tray is conducive to pouring, and the bin itself is anti-static, so it just pours right in.
The lowest number settings make the finest grind. Setting 2 – 6 is recommended for espresso. The grounds pictured were made at the 10 setting. The grind can be set up to 40, for full immersion brewing.
I am thoroughly enjoying the Virtuoso. I’ve been brewing with an Aeropress, and I find that 12 or 13 works well as a grind setting. I like the consistency of the grind. Electric blade grinders give you lots of dust and chunks with your desired grounds, but this electric burr grinder does a nice even job, without the endless cranking of a manual grinder. The only off-size bits are those you would get when adjusting the size of the grind (the machine has to be running during adjustment, so the first second of grinding will still be at the previous setting.
The hopper and the grounds tray hold a lot of coffee, so I can put away my bags of coffee for the week if I want. The machine is so fast, though, that I don’t see much advantage in grinding ahead of time. I’ve shaved an entire five minutes off my coffee routine just switching from manual grinder to auto. The adjustability is superb — it has a great range (from espresso grind to big chunks you could use for Cuban coffee), and the twist-to-adjust functionality allows nearly infinite fine tuning.
I have only a couple cautions to prospective purchasers. I would suggest verifying that the outer burr is seated correctly before use — mine was installed (it is removable, so not a permanent issue) crooked, so it bit into the plastic threading upon first use. When I identified the issue and reseated it, everything worked fine. Also, the timed grind lever is low on the side of the machine, right where my hand wants to go when moving it, so it is easy to unintentionally run the machine and make a mess if the grounds tray is removed. I think I will adjust to this and render the concern moot.
Based on my use of the grinder, I would recommend it — it is less expensive than some models, but it has all the functionality I could want and, most importantly, it grinds coffee really well!
You can check out the Baratza Virtuoso on Amazon. Coffee drinkers with less demanding coffee grinding needs may prefer the Baratza Encore entry-level model but in general Amazon has a very nice selection of quality burr grinders.
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