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Baratza's New Vario Burrs for Non-espresso Brew Only

Postby shadowfax on Sun Mar 25, 2012 11:18 am

If you follow coffee bloggers, one guy you should probably consider keeping track of is David Walsh. His various grinder discussions are extremely interesting and he tends to focus on an issue that's very close to my heart: minimizing dust at coarse grinds. In late December of last year, he published a new post titled Burrs Again.

Earlier this year, I contacted Kyle from Baratza to ask about these burrs. He said they would look into getting some, and sent me a set of sharpened Vario burrs to try out in the mean time.

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Bottom left: stock Vario burr; top: prototype sharpened ceramic burr; bottom right: another one.

Those burrs didn't really work out. They produced a grind that seemed similar or maybe worse in terms of consistency to the stock burrs. But, some weeks later, Kyle contacted me to say that they'd acquired the metal burrs identical to the ones discussed in David's post, and offered to send those. They arrived a little over a week ago.

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New metal burrs: A lot more much-less-aggressive coarse cutters. They look a lot like miniature bulk grinding burrs—which is exactly what they appear to be.

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Detail: the burrs seem to be finished alright. Nothing special, but much better than the old Super Jolly burrs I used to see.

As David observed in his post, these burrs are a little bit noisier and considerably slower. At a filter grind, they are in the range of 1g/s as he mentioned, and not really much faster than that at press grind. However, for sample grinding (7-10g samples for cupping), the grinder is remarkably slower, taking 12-15s to grind a sample. This seems to be due to the less aggressive bean crushing edges, which cause more popcorning and less throughput when the hopper isn't loaded up at least a little bit. Also, again, these cannot do espresso at all. There's too little dust, and it will just produce gushers.

I don't care, for one. These burrs are spectacular so far. They really appear to be on the level of a top-notch bulk grinder. I've done just a little informal side-by-side cupping versus a Vario with stock burrs. Mostly I've just been making pourovers over the last week and French presses this weekend. The Chemexes have remarkably better body to me; I presume that's because I am grinding a decent bit finer to get a similar brew ratio and pour time. The extraction seems fuller: the coffee is sweeter, the acidity more tame and 'defined.'

The French press, though, is the most remarkable. I actually like these French presses. so far, they're even cleaner than my old sifted presses: just a tiny bit of dust. This is a proper cup of presspot.

These are just my initial impressions, of course, and obviously I don't have much more to say than David already did, but I wanted to mention that Baratza has them for sale now for $60. So, you pay $60 to make your $400 grinder incapable of brewing espresso. It looks like a great value to me.

Anybody else have these? I'd love to know what others are thinking about these. Kyle tells me that they're getting great feedback from others as well.
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Postby jbviau on Sun Mar 25, 2012 3:32 pm

I went to a little talk that Trevor Corlett (of MadCap Coffee) gave at Spro in Baltimore the other day, and it seems he's been trying these new Vario burrs out recently. He had nothing but good things to say about them!

p.s. Thanks for the tip on Walsh's blog.
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Postby Peppersass on Sun Mar 25, 2012 4:12 pm

Thanks for posting this, Nicholas. I just placed an order. This is perfect for me because my Vario is now used for drip and vac pot only. Maybe I'll try press again!

Did you have to change your calibration or grind settings for these burrs?

Are you filling your hopper or can you do an effective "single dose" with the additional popcorning? I would think it's not all that critical for coarser grinds. Right now I single dose 20g-25g for vac pot or 75g-80g for 10 cups of drip.

I noticed that the Baratza store has a number of Vario parts available. The one that puzzles me is the upper burr carrier. Does anyone know why it might need to be replaced?
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Postby shadowfax on Sun Mar 25, 2012 5:57 pm

Peppersass wrote:Did you have to change your calibration or grind settings for these burrs?

Yes, definitely. I have one of the very first Vario's made, so it's got the original and rather troublesome adjustment slider that you have to physically push and re-tighten, rather than the new ones, which as I understand it have something like that for major ajustments and then a second apparatus for fine adjustments to calibration.

In my case, I configured it so that the burrs touch (chirp a bit) when the right/macro slider is all the way up and the left/mirco slider is 2 notches from the top. With this arrangement, I find that Chemexes are about 2 macro notches and 50% or so of the micro notches down from touching. French press is one or two macro notches below the 'filter' label for me. It does appear so far that the adjustment range is shrunk, and the grind size that you get all the way out after calibrating for touching at the finest setting is ridiculously coarse. The dust level at that grind is impressive, though.

Peppersass wrote:Are you filling your hopper or can you do an effective "single dose" with the additional popcorning? I would think it's not all that critical for coarser grinds. Right now I single dose 20g-25g for vac pot or 75g-80g for 10 cups of drip.

Nope, I always grind like a cupper—weigh sample, toss it in the top, and grind it all the way through. Doing anything else just seems either wasteful, too much trouble, or likely to promote stale coffee (I am very against leaving coffee in the hopper for any extended period of time). You would probably get less chaff if you kept a little extra coffee in the hopper and didn't grind it all the way through. You might even get a more consistent grind. I haven't played with that dimension yet.

Peppersass wrote:I noticed that the Baratza store has a number of Vario parts available. The one that puzzles me is the upper burr carrier. Does anyone know why it might need to be replaced?

If you break it, lose it, or get the burr hopelessly jammed in it while trying to install it? That's really it. It's a sturdy little hunk of aluminum; not much to go wrong with it.
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Postby portamento on Mon Mar 26, 2012 1:07 am

Nicholas,

Thanks for the writeup. Have you had any experience with the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso as a brewing/cupping grinder? I've had my eye on it ever since seeing some glowing praise from Nick Cho (see http://twitter.com/NickCho/statuses/112347880496435200)

Since I already own a Vario, I ordered the metal burrs yesterday. But I remain curious about how the metal burr Vario compares to the Preciso for non-espresso brewing methods.

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Postby shadowfax on Mon Mar 26, 2012 1:17 am

I haven't had any experience with the Preciso. Have you seen this review of it that David Walsh appears to have contributed to? Sounds like it's a clear step up over a Virtuoso for both espresso and brewed coffee. I don't have any idea how that compares to these burrs, but I'm guessing that these are superior... either that or the Preciso is one heck of a deal. This is the first I've read in such high praise of the Preciso (i.e. that it is superior to the 'well-respected' bulk grinders that Nick Cho's been using—not sure which those are), so I haven't really looked into it. I don't actually know anyone with one either, so I won't be able to do any side-by-side comparisons.
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Postby Peppersass on Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:29 am

shadowfax wrote:Yes, definitely. I have one of the very first Vario's made, so it's got the original and rather troublesome adjustment slider that you have to physically push and re-tighten, rather than the new ones, which as I understand it have something like that for major ajustments and then a second apparatus for fine adjustments to calibration.

In my case, I configured it so that the burrs touch (chirp a bit) when the right/macro slider is all the way up and the left/mirco slider is 2 notches from the top. With this arrangement, I find that Chemexes are about 2 macro notches and 50% or so of the micro notches down from touching. French press is one or two macro notches below the 'filter' label for me. It does appear so far that the adjustment range is shrunk, and the grind size that you get all the way out after calibrating for touching at the finest setting is ridiculously coarse. The dust level at that grind is impressive, though.

If the reduced range is about half the scale, that's not really a trade-off as long as the grinder will be used only for brewing. With the factory-recommended espresso-to-press calibration for the ceramic burrs, I've only been able to use the lower half of the range for brewing anyway (actually, about one macro notch less than half the range). I haven't wished for more resolution than that.

My Vario is almost three years old, but it has the fine calibration mechanism. I'll report back on what it takes to get the brew-only burrs calibrated.
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Postby iginfect on Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:17 am

As my Lido has arrived, the wife again thinks I went off the deep end hand grinding half asleep in the early am for my vacpot. So the inevitable question, how do the 2 compare?

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Postby erics on Mon Mar 26, 2012 8:36 am

Sounds like it's a clear step up over a Virtuoso for both espresso and brewed coffee.

The Baratza Preciso (refurbished) is a steal at $239 if you wanted a grinder for BOTH espresso & drip coffee. I have one and it works very well. Orphan Espresso (Doug Garrett) wrote an extensive review of the Preciso but I can't locate that now.

http://www.baratza.com/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?search=action&category=RFRB

If you wanted a grinder for strictly drip, then the Virtuoso w/ Preciso burrs would certainly suffice.

PS - Nice pics, Nicholas - it "looks" like those metal burrs have been bead blasted.
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Postby fergus420 on Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:17 pm

Does anyone think there would be a long term issue with swapping discs once a month? I usually use my Vario for drip but switch to espresso about once a month. Thoughts?
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