The Baratza Virtuoso electric grinder is one of the best performers for the money. It is a testament to the adage “as simple as possible, but not simpler”. This grinder uses conical burrs and achieves a very consistent grind size. It has the basic features necessary to achieve this goal but does not go overboard with superflous extras that add to cost or provide little benefit. For example, the competing OXO On Conical Burr Grinder has a built-in scale, while the Breville Smart Grinder Pro has an automatic dosage adjustment. Although these fancy extras may appeal to some people, the simplicity of the Baratza is in fact a virtue.
Grind size is controlled with 40 possible adjustments from fine to coarse. This will cover most brewing methods ranging from espresso to French press. The burr grinding mechanism has been designed to minimize noise and prevent heat build up during the grinding process. These details will provide the freshest grinds with minimal alteration from heat transfer. This design also allows for smooth entry of the beans into the conical burr processing. If you desire a simple and accurate grinder that is designed for longevity and minimal maintenance then consider the Virtuoso.
The company provides top notch customer support and has a highly praised repair and warranty service. You can have peace of mind that if a problem arises, the company will stand by their product. Replacement parts are readily available for worn out or broken parts. It is possible to keep this grinder running smoothly for a very long time. The burrs and can be easily replaced if required.
The Virtuoso grinds consistently, and gives reliable results with excellent uniformity grind after grind. After using the Virtuoso every day for many years, it never fails to deliver the desired results. It is not overly dusty, as the rubber shroud keeps extraneous dust to a minimum.
- Conical Steel Burrs (40mm)
- 40 grind adjustment settings
- Noise damping materials
Areas for Improvement
The Virtuoso has 40 grind size adjustments. The stepped control does not allow for ultra fine tunability as found on some other grinders such as the Baratza Preciso. The higher end Preciso provides 10 micro steps of adjustability in between the 40 primary steps. This will allow an order of magnitude of tuning to produce the perfect espresso shot. Lacking this high-end feature, the Virtuoso will limit your ability to find the perfect grind size for your espresso machine. For most people, the 40 primary steps will be sufficient and will provide a suitable result.
Another compromise with the Virtuoso is cleanliness. Great care is required to minimize grinds from escaping the square shaped receptible container. The tolerance could have been improved to make a tighter fit with the outlet opening and prevent the coffee grinds from dusting your countertop. With some settings the grinds seem to remain stuck in the burr mechanism and a needed tap of the machine will be necessary to completely clear all remaining material.
Since the Virtuoso is an economical recommendation, it is not necessarily built with the highest quality materials. Much of the body and internal parts are plastic. This can give the grinder a less luxurious look than others built with exclusively high-quality materials. For the price of this grinder, it uses quality materials where it counts while minimizing price by using cheaper materials for less critical features.
For the first run it is recommended to grind 100 grams (approximately a quarter pound) of beans through the machine to season the new burrs and remove any oxidation that may have formed. Any leftover residue from the factory will be taken care of with this preliminary run. It is advised to discard this first batch and use your next run for your first drinkable cup of coffee having peace of mind that the machine contaminates or residue have been cleaned and removed. If possible, use your cheaper coffee beans for the first run.
Baratza Encore Coffee Grinder
The second recommendation for those who find the Virtuoso to be on the expensive side is the Baratza Encore. This is a cheaper alternative to the Virtuoso but will still produce good results for most people. It uses similar conical gears like the Virtuoso but is slightly less accurate and has utilized more plastic in the construction of the body and the frame but it will produce very accurate grinds in the medium to coarse range. It is more suitable for home brew methods such as pour-over, aeropress, siphon, and chemex. It has been designed to be an entry level grinder that still produces results comparable to more expensive options.
Conical gears are utilized in the gear box and the only significant? downside is the plastic construction does not dampen vibrations as well as the cast zinc body used in the Virtuoso. This grinder will be slightly noisier but this is mitigated slightly with a slower speed reduction ratio to minimize vibration and maximize the quality from the conical gear set. As a result, the grind time is a few seconds longer than the Virtuoso.
Capresso 565.05 Infinity Conical Burr Grinder
Another top recommendation is the Capresso 565.05 Infinity Conical Burr Grinder. The popularity of the Capresso conical burr grinders cannot be denied. They are affordable and produce great results for most home baristas. A strong selling point of this particular model is the fineness that can be achieved for Turkish coffee lovers. Many people who prefer Turkish coffee would choose this machine as an affordable option that is capable of producing grounds down to 100 microns. In comparison, espresso generally requires 200-300 microns which is 3 times coarser than what can be produced.
Another plus is this grinder is relatively quiet in comparison to other similar options. The die cast body is sturdy and dampens vibration and noise well. It is simple to use and has a compact design but a solid high-end feel. The controls allow for 16 grind settings. If you are looking for a straightforward, easy to use grinder that is budget friendly then this is an excellent choice.
Care and maintenance
It is ideal to keep your grinder clean and free from residue especially the internal grinding mechanism where the burrs are located. Grinds that remain leftover in the machine will affect the taste of your coffee over time. The electric grinders recommended here are easy to disassemble and clean without tools. The burrs can be removed and hand washed. It is recommended to hand wash the burrs with soap and water at regular intervals as part of a regular maintenance schedule for best results. Thoroughly dry the burrs before reassembly to ensure the burrs do not oxidize.
The steel burrs in these machines will remain sharp and produce great results for many years with proper care and normal use. They are durable and the natural ductility of the metals make them less prone to breakage or chipping which can occur with ceramic burrs.
Depending on your usage requirements you may have a need for some of the accessories available for these machines. If you would like to increase the capacity of the bean hopper you can add an extension to the existing hopper that will add 9 oz. of extra capacity.
The Essato is an accessory that will transform your Virtuoso into a grind by weight grinder. You can set the weight you want and the Esatto will do the rest. It will weigh the ground coffee and stop automatically at the desired weight. Accuracy is reported to be within +/-0.2grams.
The Portafilter is a replacement for the grounds bin that holds the espresso portafilter for hands-free grinding directly. It also makes for easy clean up.
The competitive landscape is fierce and has produced many high-end machines that are worthy of mention. Most of the serious competitors to the recommended grinders are in the high-end category and cost a considerable amount more. They use better materials all around and are designed for precision and longer term durability.
The Vario Home from Mahlkonig is an example that competes on a higher level. It uses ceramic disc burrs for fast and precise grinding. It has a multitude of fine adjustment capability for all types of brewing, including espresso. It is also designed to minimize noise with a belt drive motor. With an electronic control timer and variable programs, this grinder offers sophisticated and hands-free operation. The 54mm grinding discs and powerful motor have a capacity of 1.6 grams/second. If you are in the market for a top notch electric grinder with ceramic disc burrs, the Vario is one of the best options.
The Importance Of A High Quality Coffee Grinder
Once the whole coffee bean is ground, the amount of surface area available for extraction has increased exponentially. This increased surface area allows for the water diffuse and extract the hidden flavors contained within. The exposed coffee grinds also become more sensitive to the ambient air and oxygen.
Exposure to the surrounding ambient conditions will cause the chemical properties of the coffee bean that lead to aromatics and flavors to be altered in a negative way. This is why it is imperative to begin your coffee brewing process with freshly ground coffee and not pre-ground. The freshness and all the desirable flavors will be preserved if the ground beans are used quickly and not stored.
“Use a low-quality grinder at your own peril”
The primary function of the coffee grinder is to break down the coffee bean into smaller uniform particles so that the water extraction process can diffuse an even amount of flavor from each particle. If the particle grind size is not homogenous, the smaller particles will contribute a disproportional amount of surface area to the extraction and thus create a bitter flavor upon extraction.
Meanwhile, the larger particles will contribute too little to the extraction process and lead to a sour flavor. The importance of uniform coffee grind is clear, to find the optimal balance between bitter and sour flavors requires uniform particle sizes which will allow you to control and calibrate the grind process and achieve desirable results.
Although most grinders are capable of decimating a fragile roasted coffee bean into fine grounds, only a select few are capable of performing this task in such a delicate manner as to produce a flavorful cup of coffee. Since achieving a uniform grind size is the goal of any good grinder, we will examine which grinders are up to the task and which will simply leave your coffee flavor languishing in the cup of what could have been.
Since the settings on every grinder are different, it is important for the home user to have a ballpark understanding of the required grind size for their brewing process. With a good grinder, this starting point can be used as a control point and fine tuned accordingly to perfect the outcome. For example, the French press extraction process requires coarse grinds. With lower temperatures and pressure, the French press needs more time to complete the extraction process.
The coarser grinds minimize the amount of over extracted flavor. On the other hand, with the Moka pot extraction process, much finer grinds are required. Since the Moka pot extracts rapidly and at higher temperatures and pressure, the finer grinds with increased surface area allow for the proper flavor profile without being overly diluted or even sour.
The world of electric grinders is vast with many good options at all price ranges. Since picking a grinder depends on personal needs, there are many factors for the potential buyer to consider. We have recommended the best electric grinders for the average person who enjoys a daily or thrice daily cup of espresso and would like some control over the process. Better grinders allow for more experimentation and fine-tuning capability.
The Baratza Virtuoso has been extensively vetted over the years and continuously improved to offer an affordable but rewarding product. As it’s many fans can attest, this grinder will provide great results for many years and is backed up with exceptional customer support.