Here we have a real grinder. A top of the line Baratza Virtuoso. As such one would expect it to be better than the vast majority on the market, especially considering the price. It is certainly a great product, but we will have to give a thorough testing before I can recommend it.
Electric grinders, especially Burr grinders, are some of the easiest to use products in the world. Set the grain and hit the button. Some even come with a few extra features, specifying number of cups one is making. I prefer a simple push button design, no need for extra thought, but I appreciate that others may feel somewhat differently regarding that.
Baratza are one the the big names in the business. They make grinders in all sizes for all people. I have reviewed one of their cheaper builds in the past, and it was great, despite a less than amazing maximum coarseness setting. The Virtuoso is marketed towards the high end, so automatically it is out for a lot of people. The real question is does it match the demographic it is aiming for?
So first off, I don’t drink coffee. I have been making it for a number of years, and even worked as a barista in a small coffee shop for a long while. My partner is the coffee drinker in the house, and she is more the up to the task of taste testing the brews I make.
Now, as to the methodology. I will be making three different grinds to test. A coarse, a medium and a fine. I have the means to brew up the first and the last, while the medium grind is more for observation, verifying the uniformity of the ground beans.
So let’s start grinding those beans. Except let’s not. First I have to look at the design.
Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder Design and Build Quality
A classic look for the Virtuoso. A large hopper, looking for all the world like the worst hour glass imaginable. I am not a fan of this look, but I realize that when it comes to designing burr mill grinders there are few options available in the electric range. I feel I have been a little spoiled by the manual grinders and the balded build’s aesthetics, but it is what it is. The large size of the hopper is a major plus for those who intend to make an awful lot of coffee in a short space of time, or for simple storage.
The bin is a little difficult to get out without spilling grains, but the size of it compensates nicely. If you are going for a drip coffee or a french press then the capacity is a must in this one. There are really only two grinding time options, hold the button in or a 60 second timer. I mentioned before that that is my preference, but if you like a little more options here then feel free to read through a few of my other reviews, for there is certain to be something there that is right up your alley.
The grind settings are as robust as you might imagine for such a high end product, a full forty settings, far more than the vast majority on the market. This lets you be the master of your own coffee, make the drink taste the way you want it to no matter the brewing method you use.
I like to take a moment here and talk about the importance of the burr grinder when home brewing coffee. right now there are two kinds of coffee grinder on the market. The burr mill grinder and the bladed grinder. Bladed grinders have their niche as the work horse of the kitchen. But for grinding coffee you are best looking elsewhere. There are some kinds of coffee that come out quite nice with the bladed builds, but they all require fine grains. If you make drip coffee or french press, or the ultra fine Turkish, you are out of luck. It is all about the uniformity of the grains. With a bladed grinder the grains when ground are randomly sized. So when you brew the chemicals and the flavor are released at random times. The conical burr grinder tends to grind grains evenly, so all you have to do after that is hone in on the right brewing time to suit you.
Overall I like the options on the build, and using it is very simple. The design might not be to my tastes, but after reviewing so many of these things my opinion on the look of the build is very heavily skewed. For most this looks great, and more power to you. The large hopper is fantastic, and the amount of beans that can be ground at once is very useful to the right kind of person. The only thing that remains is a look at the actual taste of the coffee made by the thing. So read on.
Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
So now I get to taste test. Well by I, I of course mean my partner. My primary brewing method is the Moka pot. I feel in love with the little guy, alongside the hand pump milk foamer, a number of years ago. I had just started working as a barista, and wanted a way to practice making the various drinks at home. I didn’t have the cash to drop on a full sized espresso machine, and so this was a nice alternative. The main boon to owning the moka pot over any other strong coffee making method is in the crema layer. That little layer of oily goodness is unique to espresso and the moka coffee, and it is very important to not only the taste, but also the look of the final drink.
Do not be fooled by cheaper espresso machines out there, be sure to look at the pressure, and if it less than 9 bar don’t bother. It isn’t real espresso anyway, and the moka pot’s 1 bar of pressure is good enough in a pinch. My other brewing method is the french press. I bought it for the purposes of these reviews, and it has come in handy when I need t make a few cups of coffee on the fly, for company and the like. The strong flavors and heady aromas make it perfect for a morning brew.
So now the drinks. I brewed up the french press coffee first, and was unhappy to see that at its coarsest setting the grains were a little all over the place. I decided upon seeing them that I would not bother, as randomly sized grains do not a pleasant coffee make. I brought the settings down a peg, and tried again. It was like night and day. The coarse Virtuosos leaves much to be desired, or at least so it seemed with the one I tested. Bringing it down was still perfect for a good french press, and remarkable consistent, so remember that if you are buying the Virtuoso for a coarser brewing method. The drink itself was dubbed wonderful, a full bodied beverage that perked you up in all right ways.
Moving on I looked at the medium grind, it was nearly perfect, more than worth the price of admission. It made me wish I had a drip pot to test it in, as I have no doubt that it would have been wonderful. My final grind was the fine, and it is my specialty. I love the pageantry of making cappuccinos. My go to drink is a low calorie cap, vanilla and stevia extract, with extra foam and a sprinkle of cocoa grains. The fine grain was some of the finest I had yet seen, and the end result look amazing. I was told that the quality of the drink was on par with than any I had made before.
Now we need to take a look at the price, and it is here that many will be turned off from purchasing. I have no doubt that the Virtuoso is well worth the +$200 price tag, as there are few grinders that can match it in terms of ease of use and quality of the grind, but I also know that there are cheaper models out there that can match it in some, if not all, areas.
Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder Conclusion
Bad things first. I don’t like the look of the build, I think the coarsest grind setting is a bit on the terrible side and the price is above what most folk are willing to pay for a coffee grinder. The good is literally everything else. The uniformity is what you are paying for here, and the sheer size of the build. You can fit a lot into it, and no matter you brewing method you will get a coffee that is perfect for you. The wealth of grind options available means you can even try your hand at other brewing methods without needing any other equipment. One of my favorites so far.