9

I just received a new Baratza Virtuoso - the first automatic coffee grinder I've ever owned. Every single review I've read said it's exceptional grinder, and produces very few fines, which I understand are detrimental to the quality of the coffee brewed. I was thus hoping I'd get a more consistent grind quality than my Hario hand mill. Unfortunately, the grind consistency appears to be slightly worse, and I think I can see lot of fines and variance in grind size.

On the other hand, I'm new to this, so it could be that I have unrealistic expectations from a $229 grinder. My question is: is my Baratza Virtuouso defective, or is the grind of the quality normally expected from this grinder?

Here is a photo of some grinds at setting 14 (I intend to use this setting for drip coffee). (The photo is high enough resolution to be zoomed quite a bit.) The photo shows what seems to me to be inconsistent grind sizes, and many fines.

Photo of grinds
(source: postimg.org)

I followed Baratza's advice and ground 1/4lb of coffee in order the 'break in' the grinder. Here are some grinds after that:

Grinds after break-in
(source: postimg.org)

To my eyes, there still seem to be a lot of fines.

Thanks a lot! I hope you can help me decide whether or not to return the grinder.

  • You said you are using it for drip coffee. Are you using a permanent or paper filter? – Patrick Sebastien Jun 2 '15 at 15:47
  • I will be using a Kalita Wave 155 with white paper filter. I have also decided to use a coarser grind than pictured. 18-20 instead of 14. The question remains, though, whether the grinds shown are normal for the Virtuoso, or are of poor quality (or both!). – Atriya Jun 2 '15 at 16:54
4

The Problem with Consumer Burr grinders

Burr grinders (that aren't of a very high or industrial quality) generally do not produce even grinds. I usually recommend a spinning blade grinder to the home barista for this reason.

Evaluating Your Grinds

You indicated that you will be using a drip machine with a paper filter. In my opinion, based on what I can see in the picture where the machine has been broken in, I think that these grinds are fine for a paper filter drip machine. There are a decent number of fine grinds, but I think it's alright for your purposes. If you plan to use another type of machine though, it may not be.

If you were using an espresso machine or a french press, you would have problems here (which I will not get into here). This might even be true for a permanent filter drip machine.

My Assessment

If you know that you are only going to use this for paper filter drip coffee, keep it. It seems to be pretty good for this purpose.

If you ever want to branch out into espresso or french press coffee, I recommend returning it and getting a better one.

Final Notes

Remember it all comes down to you and taste. If you are satisfied with the taste of the coffee, then be happy with your grinder. If you aren't, or want to get as close to perfection as possible, then consider something else.

  • Thanks a lot, that's very helpful. I do have a French Press, so I decided to return the grinder. The Virtuoso was so consistently recommended to the beginning-intermediate enthusiast, that I thought it would be an exceptional grinder, which I can now see it isn't. Btw, blade grinders??? Aren't they supposed to be much worse than burr grinders - much more uneven, and generating heat that damages the flavor of the coffee? I'm thinking of getting the Orphan Espresso Lido 2. While that's a hand grinder, it has been judged superior to the Vario by some in terms of grind quality. What do you think? – Atriya Jun 3 '15 at 15:11
  • @Atriya Yeah there is the heat issue with the blade grinders. To be honest you can get this with burr grinders as well. I have a blade grinder and I find it does a superior job. I believe it was about $100 Canadian about 3 or 4 years ago. I have never used a hand grinder, so let me know how it works! – Patrick Sebastien Jun 4 '15 at 15:05
  • 2
  • 1
    @KangaRoo I concede that point. I removed the recommendation from my answer. – Patrick Sebastien Jun 10 '15 at 13:12
  • @PatrickSebastien I used to use a Hario Skeleton hand grinder every day. It was an upgrade from a blade grinder. It most definitely provided a more consistent grind. A blade grinder works almost at random. Not only would the grounds from a single batch vary in size, but ever time I'd grind beans I'd never get a consistent grind size. With a hand mill I could get pretty consistent grind(good enough), and each time I ground the coffee it was the same size, rather than grinding with a blade grinder until it "looks ok". – tsturzl Jun 12 '15 at 0:10
4

From what I can tell, you're grind is rather coarse for a pour-over. You should have a grind the size of kosher salt for most drippers. Perhaps its personal taste, and I cannot argue that. However, it's typically recommended you start with this grind size and adjust to your preference. As far as my own experience both working as a barista for a few years, and being a over all enthusiast, most grinders don't provide consistent grinds at a coarser settings.

People are right in saying that most home appliance grinders won't produce very consistent grinds. This is partially true. Your typical consumer grade grinder uses a conical burr, and conical burrs work great for finer grinds. I've had 3 different conical grinders, and I've used commercial conical grinders in the past. They all seem to produce fairly inconsistent grinds for coarser settings. However, they work great in espresso machines, which are generally grinding to a very fine grind. When using flat burr grinders I notice a much better consistency in grind at coarser settings. Many will say that the larger the burr and the slower the grind the better consistency you will have. However, I've never experimented with this myself, but I will say that flat burr grinders produce much better coarser grinds than conical burrs.

An example of a flat burr grinder is one that you would see at a grocery store or a coffee shop. They are generally very expensive, as they're generally fairly large and aimed at commercial use. That said the Baratza Virtuoso is a conical burr grinder, and it's probably good at what just about any conical burr grinder is good at, medium to fine grinds. I will say that one drawback with flat burr grinders is that they're very slow and create massive amounts of heat on fine grinds(espresso/turkish).

I'd say a conical burr is good for anything near the coarseness of salt and finer, anything beyond that would be best ground in a flat burr grinder. As far as a flat burr grinder, I feel its the size that matters. You'll want a larger disc for more consistency. Its my assumption that with a larger disc a slower speed will grind the coffee slower and more evenly, causing less of the grounds to crack and mash into finer particles while grinding.

Most of this is based off of my own observations, there are a few forums which concur with this, but in general there's not much else to support these claims. Maybe the flat burr grinders I used were simply higher quality than most of the conical burr grinders I've used.

My recommendation would be to try a finer grind and see if you get better consistency then.

As far as a blade grinder goes, I'd say absolutely not. I doubt that a blade grinder would ever be more consistent than what you currently have. You can use a blade grinder 100 times and never come out with the same grind size, where as with a cheap burr grinder you'll alway have the same grind even if its not consistent. Even as far as consistency goes, a blade grinder won't achieve this either. I might(maybe..) recommend a blade grinder if you had an auto-dripper, where it wouldn't matter so much.

Try a finer grind, and let me know if the consistency gets any better.

1

From the looks of the grinds, you were working with a blonde (lighter) roast, which is the ideal case for consistent grinds. Darker roasts are more prone to grinding unevenly on coarser settings (they're more brittle). I'd be more forgiving if that was the case, but it's not. It's conceivable that something was wrong with the grinder you purchased. It's normal to see some, but I don't think that many.

I suspect, if you remove the burr for cleaning / inspection, you'd see one or more knicks or small dents in one of the edges. They should be smooth and sharp, not jagged at all, or inconsistency becomes a big problem.

In my experience, burr grinders have a harder time with consistency in coarser grinds in general. The only one I've found that does it pretty consistently is the Breville Smart Grinder, which runs about $200. It's not perfect, but there aren't too many fines in the bottom of my cup when I brew a press, and it's also not the most expensive grinder I've tried.

If you really want no fines in your cup, you'd probably be better off going with an Aeropress - burr grinders that cost a thousand dollars or more will produce fines, especially with darker roasts. But if you're going with a grinder in that range, you're probably more interested in programmed auto-tamping for consistent shot extraction than anything.

I don't particularly care for blade grinders because it's hard to produce the same grind twice with them (issues of heat and such aside) until you really get to know them. After that and a mantra of "pulse pulse two-Mississippi pulse pulse" they can produce a relatively consistent coarse grind.

  • 1
    My parents have a Breville Smart Grinder and it does an excellent job. I'd also recommend checking the burr. I'd +1 this, but I'm not sure what you're talking about in some of your post. Maybe you could clarify? Where does the context of "auto-tamping" come into play? Are you comparing the price of the breville to a super-automatic espresso bar? Because the Baratza Virtuoso is actually more expensive than the Breville, and super automatic espresso bars cost about as much as a car. – tsturzl Jun 12 '15 at 23:10
  • 1
    Also he does specify that he's doing a manual pour-over with a paper filter. In which case I'd say the grind is too coarse, and I'd also agree on the point that coarser grinds are less consistent in most cases. However, I don't think the aeropress comes into context, as you seem to be talking about pressed/immersion brewing. – tsturzl Jun 12 '15 at 23:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.