Baratza Sette 270 Review

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Postby HB » May 07, 2016, 2:24 pm

For those making espresso at home, one subject all agree on is this: When it comes to exceptional espresso, the grinder is the most important piece of equipment.

In the past, espresso aficionados had few options among high-end grinders; in the pursuit of consistency, home baristas would often choose commercial grinders that looked natural in a cafe but ungainly on their kitchen counters. These same commercial grinders might require workarounds to accommodate their application to low volume home usage where 2-4 espressos per day were the norm versus the 40-60 or more per day in a cafe.

This changed with Baratza's introduction of the Vario, which was explicitly designed for the home in terms of ergonomics and price. It's been reviewed countless times across the web, including a First Look and Second Look on HB. It wasn't long before the Baratza Vario became the go-to recommendation for those with a budget around $500. Baratza continued to introduce incremental improvements, including a variant dedicated to brewed coffee (Vario BG) and later a beefier model, the Baratza Forte, designed with more demanding commercial usage in mind.

And so things have gone the last few years. Many forum discussions centered on various routines for acceptable single dosing, modest grinder modifications, or quiet acceptance of hulking commercial grinders on the counter. With the introduction of Baratza Sette 270, that conversation is going to change:

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Baratza Sette 270

Conceived with the home espresso enthusiast in mind, it shows great promise. Reviewers like Mark Prince of CoffeeGeek have declared it a game changer and Daily Coffee News trumpets its arrival as the one ring to rule them all. It's easy to become jaded about such declarations since hyperbole has become regular fodder on the Internet. But even after a mere half day of testing, it was obvious to me that at the suggested retail price of $379 (!?!), they're right. Baratza has indeed created a winner.
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Postby HB » May 15, 2016, 5:00 pm

One of the first 500 posts on this forum included It's the Grinder, Stupid. It offered advice that's been repeated countless times since:

wookie wrote:Most new coffee connoisseurs center their attention on what machine they want to buy. Is the machine important? Sure, but here's a secret - the grinder is far, far more important if you want to make great tasting coffee. You can work around a mediocre machine, there's not a lot you can do if your coffee is inconsistently ground. A poor grind is going to result in bitter over-extraction, weak, dull or sour coffee, missing crema and a litany of other problems. That espresso or latte is a complex mixture of volatile oils and flavours. And how well those flavours are extracted into the cup depends heavily on the size and evenness of your ground coffee.

SInce that post over 10 years ago, there's a lot more consumer-friendly choices available, and Baratza deserves credit for leading those improvements in design. For example, the Baratza Vario has two grind setting adjustments, Macro and Micro. The right arm handles large adjustments (say from French press to Espresso) and the left arm handles fine turning within that range. The Sette improves on this design with its Macro and Micro adjustment rings:

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Upper ring - macro adjustment, lower ring - micro adjustment

In simple terms, the upper ring sets the type of grind you want (say French press or Espresso as with the Vario) and the lower ring enables fine tuning. For the coffees I've used, the upper ring is at "2" for typical blends and "1" for lightly roasted single origin espresso; I've used the full range of the lower ring, depending on the age of the coffee and desired pour speed. The adjustments are simple, intuitive, and repeatable. At least in the first week's usage, I haven't noticed any movement of the setting once established. However, as you see in the photo above, I'm nearing the end of the fineness adjustment. Although none of HB's members would dare use stale coffee, I bet that typical grocery store bin coffee would demand a squeaky fine setting this pre-production Sette evaluation model couldn't manage. I contacted Baratza and they've sent out a shim to aid in recalibrating the fineness range. They didn't indicate if this was a factor just for prototypes or if such a shim would be potentially needed at final production; when I find out, I'll report back.

There's plenty of grinders in market that have timed dosing, but none that I've used are as intuitive as the Sette's:

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Timing controls work as expected (!)

The Preset buttons dose 10, 20, and 30 seconds. The rest of the buttons mimic the appearance and function of what you'd expect from DVR type controls: Square = stop, Triangle = play, Two lines = pause. What's refreshingly easy is adjustments of the timer settings themselves. Simply press the Up/Down buttons to increase/decrease the grind time. If you want to top off, press Play. It will continue until you press Stop. Pressing Stop returns the dose timing back to the previously established grind time (i.e., it resets to 0.0, ready to count up to the grind setting).

Consider this example. You have the Up/Down setting for 4.0 seconds. Press Play and it continues until 4.0 seconds is displayed. If you press Play again, it resets to 0.0 and counts up. Let's say you want to add more coffee, so you press Play and then Stop after 0.5 seconds. To make 4.5 your new dose time, just press the Up button for a moment until it displays the new timing, 4.5, and it's remembered from that point forward. If you overshoot, the same routine, i.e., just subtract the delta by pressing Down and you're done.

To appreciate the difference, in some commercial dosing grinders, the timer must first be in "program mode" before the time can be changed. For example, you press and hold the + and - keys at the same time, some obscure code is displayed indicating timer mode, press another key to cycle through options, change the time setting, and by the way, do it fast enough because it automatically exits program mode after 5 seconds. Those extra steps are probably a good idea in a cafe since the owner wants to make it difficult to change the timer settings. But in a home environment, it's irritating.
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Postby HB » May 18, 2016, 7:56 pm

While not particularly exciting, below is a short video from last Saturday at a local cars and coffee event:



That said, there are some points worth mentioning:

  • Pours like butter - some grinders required declumping via the WDT; most need some post-dose grooming to even out the coffee distribution. With the Sette, I adopted the dose and go approach. No muss, no fuss.
    • Portafilter holder(ish) - with a bottomless portafilter, the Sette's basket hook + portafilter rest wasn't 100% reliable. While I didn't capture it on camera, the portafilter once fell mid-dose. From that point forward, I held it for the 4.5 seconds instead.
      • Timers are great, if you don't switch coffees - depending on the hardness of the beans and the fineness of the grind setting, timing changed anywhere from 0.5 to 2.0 seconds. The weighing version of the Sette, assuming the portafilter holder works, would be really handy if you switch coffees frequently. Otherwise expect timing tweaks.
      This coming Friday, the Sette will go against the Mahlkonig K30 in a blind group taste test. If you're local to the Triangle, you are welcome to join us at Counter Culture Coffee HQ. The tasting will begin around 8AM.
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      Postby HB » May 21, 2016, 7:55 am

      Yesterday's taste test featured one of my favorite coffees from Counter Culture, Idido Yirgacheffe. Below is an excerpt of their description:

      Counter Culture Coffee wrote:The Idido cooperative is located just east of the small, bustling town of Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Its members—situated throughout seven communities in the area—are growing some of the highest-altitude coffee in the region. We work closely with this organic cooperative year after year to select their best coffees, which are known for their sweet and delicate floral, melon, and citrus notes.

      The crop varies from year-to-year; lately it's been nicely balanced, floral, and when pulled correctly, sweet with no sharp acidics. I prefer it as a test coffee since it's not as forgiving as Counter Culture's bar blends, which don't punish sloppy dosing, incorrect temperature, etc. Once again Jesse was our barista, manning the La Marzocco PB:

      Image
      Jesse is busy on the La Marzocco PB

      The setup for the test is simple: The cups on the left atop the espresso machine are marked, those on the right are left unmarked. The participants occupied themselves on the other side of the room and I would deliver them two cups. Jesse would place the cups randomly on the left/right and I'd further mix them up, just to be certain neither of us knew which sample was delivered to each hand of the taster.

      Prior to the all the participants arrival, Jesse was busy dialing in the grinders. Below is one of the test espressos he sampled prior to starting the official test:

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      Taster espresso prior to test round

      The testing began once he was satisfied that both grinders were producing repeatable results and the flavor profile was consistent. As an additional check of consistency, he weighed each dose and used the fancy built-in scale on the La Marzocco to confirm the final beverage weight:

      Image
      Built-in scale and timers are handy!

      Espresso gremlins do occasionally interfere; of the twenty-odd rounds he prepared, the final pour time/weight of two were deemed out of spec and discarded.
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      Postby HB » May 21, 2016, 8:32 am

      After each taster was served, they were asked to place the "winner" to the right below the SCAA trophy and the "loser" to the left. One or two participants struggled to pick a winner in some rounds; they were offered the option of putting both cups on the same side, i.e., if they loved both and couldn't decide, put both on the right. In the end, nobody took advantage of this rule exception. Once the final espresso was judged, the cups were inverted for the grand reveal:

      Image
      Marked cups are for the Mahlkonig K30. It wins this taste test against the Baratza Sette, 7 to 5

      Below are the comments from the taste test participants:

      Nathan wrote:The differences were somewhat subtle. The one I preferred was a little sweeter, a little more balanced, and had a slightly softer aftertaste.

      Nick wrote:I thought the espresso produced from both grinders was great. There were noticeable, if subtle, differences between the shots, but from what I perceived it ultimately came down to personal preference, rather than a clear victor - one was a little brighter/more punch-y, and the other was more balanced/muted/well-rounded. Especially considering the price point and size/design/ergonomics for home use, I'd be strongly considering the Sette if I was looking to buy a grinder.

      Ian wrote:As with most good and better equipment in the coffee business - it is a fine line between better and best. Both espressos I had tasted excellent - probably in part to a fine Barista in Jesse, superb coffee from Counter Culture, an excellent espresso machine and of course good grinders. From a visual point of view the K30 shot had a bit more tiger stripping in the cup - that seemed pretty consistent across all the samples that Jesse pulled. Taste wise I found the cup I picked (still not sure which one it was) was more balanced - less bright (less citrusy) at the front end but with more of a sweet (more coco) finish on the back end. For the third wavers the brighter cup may have been the cup of choice but I preferred the more balanced shot. Both shots had a nice medium body - what you might expect from a high grown washed Idido. Again both shots were enjoyable just a small difference in balance and looks.

      Kyle wrote:Pretty impressive for the price point.

      Jesse wrote:Having dialed in the grinders, I found it surprising how similar the coffees tasted. The K30 Twin consistently produced sweeter, more balanced shots with what I would assume were consistently higher extraction percentages, but I would happily drink any of the shots from either grinder. The three things I most like about the Sette so far are that there is virtually no grounds retention, the grinding speed was very impressive considering the size of the grinder (~4 seconds for an 18g dose), and the consistency in dosing was very tight. Overall, I can see the Sette being a game-changer for home espresso based on its price versus performance.

      Lem wrote:I found both shots to be very balanced and sweet. I wish I would have looked to see which was which, because one had a slightly cleaner finish than the other. Maybe it was the way the shot was extracted by the barista, but I preferred the cleaner finish. For the price point, I think the Sette will be a popular grinder on many home espresso bars. Including my own. Move over Mazzer Mini!

      Mike wrote:I thought the difference was significant. The K30 produced a much more balanced shot from beginning to end whereas the 270 was a bit too bright with a lighter body. With the K30, you had the initial brightness of the Idido with a creamy mouthfeel followed by a sweeter, silky finish. Lighter roasts can be more difficult and the 270 still produced a good shots, but like the Vario, there is probably less consistency from shot to shot compared to some of the larger, commercial grinders. However, at its price point it's a fantastic home espresso grinder albeit on the loud side when grinding. For those with the space and budget, the commercial grinders such as the K30 still represent a worthwhile upgrade.

      Walt wrote:I thought the espressos were similar but one did have a more satisfying finish. I think I would have liked a second round and looked at which one I preferred. Since it was so close, it speaks well of the Sette and personal taste was key as to which one people preferred.

      Some participants peeked at the markings on their preferred cup before placing it down. During the follow-up discussion, they commented that they had picked the Mahlkonig each time, but the difference was more about preference than a clear-cut winner.

      Image
      Follow-up discussion after the reveal

      To be clear, the evaluation grinder for this test is not the final production version. Once Baratza has their final-final version, I would be happy to hold another test to see whether the near tie results above hold. As for my part, the results of the group taste test were not surprising. My informal tests of the Sette against the Compak K10 were nearly identical when using a bright, single origin coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee's Honey Badger:

      Image
      Honey badger don't care

      I've kept a small stash of this coffee in the freezer just for testing. While Intelligentsia warns that it's temperamental, it's one that's surprising and sweet... under the right circumstances. Apart from Randall's comments on the honey badger (NSFW), Intelligentsia offers these observations:

      Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea wrote:It lends great clarity and subtle flavors like tangerine and honey, along with a floral complexity of lavender, honeysuckle, and jasmine. The union of these three coffees yields shots that are hefty in mouthfeel and velvety in texture, with flavors that are far from subtle and, frankly wild, if not aggressive, much like the temperament of the now-internet famous honey badger.

      A wild ferocity is not the only trait that Africa's largest terrestrial mustelid and this seasonal espresso blend have in common. Both carry themselves with a "honey badger don't care" attitude. Expect to find this espresso to be somewhat temperamental and tricky to tame; some attention to detail will be necessary when dialing it in. We've noticed that small adjustments in dose have a significant impact on shot output.

      My test was short, comprised of ~4 rounds. The K10's espressos were sweeter and more nuanced than the Sette's. I add this observation with a grain of salt, since it wasn't a blind taste test and it was only day 1 or 2 with the Sette.

      To put a bit more vigor into this comparison, our resident grinder guru, Jim Schulman, has volunteered to compare the Baratza Sette 270 against a host of other grinders, similar in format to his popular Can it Beat the Mazzer Robur? shootout, albeit with different comparison grinders. We can look forward to Jim's observations beginning later next week.
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      Postby another_jim » Sep 15, 2016, 3:10 pm

      THE BAD

      • It is noisy
      • The PF holder needs work
      • It retains grinds in the exit chute
      • It is very resistant to modifying the extraction levels
        The first two are no major problem since the grinder is so blindingly fast. The third is no problem for the timer model -- just tap the chute with the PF if the amount is short. But it may be a headache for the weighing version. The final property of very constant extraction will be discussed in the 'interesting' section.

      THE GOOD

      • The design is attractive and the controls intuitive
      • The price point puts it well beyond the current price/performance envelope.
      • Grind retention is almost zero (except for the chute), and single dosing is extremely easy.
      • It is not just fast, but blindingly and impossibly fast; as fast as the largest commercial grinders.
      • It is very easy to precisely adjust the flow, and the taste and extraction are very stable
        The first two are obvious. I'll discuss the last two in the 'interesting' section.

      THE INTERESTING

      • How can a grinder with burrs no larger than a Hario hand grinder be so fast? The trick is that the outer burr rotates. This means that instead of the small cone of the inner burr acting as the augur for the incoming beans, the much larger surface of the outer burr is doing the auguring. This area is as large as the cone of a commercial conical or the inner diameter of an 80mm burr. That is why it is so fast. It also means you can single dose without adjusting the grind fineness: the beans get sucked in whether there's 10 grams or 500 in the hopper.
      • The most important for last: how does it taste? And the answer isn't good or bad, but pretty much the same however you set the grind. I spent two months trying to figure out how this can be. Here's my best guess. When you adjust a grinder in the espresso range, three things can happen: you can change the average size of the regular particles; you can create more or less fines; or you can change the variance of particle sizes. The variance change is undesirable, something that happens in the cheap "dust and boulders" grinders. But the other two changes are both desirable. If you need to adjust the flow, you need fewer or more fines. If you need to adjust the extraction, you need finer or coarser particle size. The Sette, when operating in the espresso range, changes mostly the fines proportion, but not the particle size. So you can change the flow, but the extraction and taste of the shot will not change very much at all. (The K30 is the other way around, with grind changes affecting extraction much more than the flow). This makes for very bulletproof and fault tolerant operation; very good taste on most coffees, but disappointment if the coffee you are using happens to require a very high or low extraction.

      WHO SHOULD BUY

      • This is an ideal entry level grinder. When I bought my first home grinder, I wondered why it was so damn slow compared to supermarket ones. Not with this one. For people just getting used to the mechanics of espresso making, a grinder that radically changes extraction with small grind adjustments is a nightmare. The Sette's adjustments will change the flow, and leave the extraction where it should be for most coffees. So beginners can learn the mechanics while having most coffees taste as intended.
      • If all the coffees you use for espresso are in the medium-light to medium-dark roast range, the Sette's extraction is near perfect. For these coffees, the Sette (quite shockingly) beat my K10 in blind tests more often than not, for the simple reason that the K10 needed to be very precisely dialed in to do better. However, for very light or very dark coffees, the Sette is only mediocre in taste. People who regularly use these roasts should not buy the Sette.

      PS: This thread remains locked while one more reviewer, Dominick, weighs in. Those who wish to ask questions about the above, see Baratza Sette: The Good, Bad, and Interesting.

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      Postby dominico » Nov 14, 2016, 3:51 am

      For the tl;dr version I have broken my review down into seven bullet points. (Yes, seven bullet points, but that is merely a coincidence).

      Pros
      • Very easy to dial in
      • Really fast grind
      • Low retention, great single dose grinder
      • Intuitive stepless* grind adjustment mechanism
      Cons
      • Loud
      • Has "plastic-y" feel in some areas: unsure of durability
      • Shots always tend to lack a bit in body compared to my titan grinders.

      Initial Impressions

      After Jim's in-depth review, I had the chance to use the Sette for a while and pull various types of coffee with it. My review will not be nearly as detailed, partly because I drink most of my coffee in the evening after the kids go to bed, and the Sette is so loud that due to interesting acoustics in my house I can't really use it without risking waking the kids up, and partly because by now the Sette is available and much of the observations I have already been noticed and discussed by Sette owners, so it doesn't make much sense to delay my impressions any further.

      I'll start out by saying that I really like this grinder. I was immediately impressed by how quickly it grinds, the grounds being very fluffy and the puck requiring little more "prep work" to get good looking pours. I primarily single dose, and this grinder lends itself well to single dosing. It easily grinds 18g in less that 6 seconds and with minimal retention. I just set the timer to 6 seconds and single dosed everything.

      At first glance I noticed that it is bigger than my Vario was and feels a bit heftier. Despite that, some elements did have a bit of a "plastic-y" feel to them and I am unsure what the expected lifetime of these things is supposed to be. It bothered me at first that the entire burr carrier seemed to wobble up and down, but after verifying that it didn't have any negative effects on burr alignment, I stopped worrying about it.

      One thing that does feel very solid and that is a marked improvement over the Vario is the grind adjustment mechanism.
      The grind adjustment is intuitive and clever, with a stepped "macro" adjustment and stepless "micro" adjustment.

      I very much enjoyed the taste of the shots made with it. Sink shots were almost non-existent. To my palate, the Sette seems to mute overly-aggressive flavors and presents a pleasing, more mild representation of every coffee I put through it. There were at least two coffees I was pulling in the last month where I was having trouble with harsh flavors on my other grinders; first trip through the Sette and they pulled well. Ultimately I prefer the flavor of most coffees from my titan grinders, but often only after I've pulled enough shots to sufficiently dial it in. This can mean up to half a bag of coffee, compared to the consistently simple "two and done" dial-in routine with the Sette. If you are frequently switching coffees in the same the shot pulling session then this ease of dial in is a major convenience for the Sette.

      The one consistent attribute I did notice across all coffees is that shots ground from the Sette seemed to lack a bit in body compared to other grinders, yet I would not call them thin shots either.

      I cannot comment on the forks. The grinder I reviewed had the old fork design. I have read that the new one is better. I certainly hope so because the forks I'm dealing with here easily found their way onto my "things I'm not particularly fond of" list.

      Final thoughts

      The Sette is the ultimate "no-fuss" espresso grinder. Extremely easy to dial in; it will give you a positive representation of any coffee you put through it regardless of roast or origin.

      I used to have a hard time recommending an espresso grinder for less than $400 due to my luke-warm impression of the Vario after owning one for a year and the fact that, while I love hand grinders, I am aware that many people don't, especially if they are just looking for a no-fuss way to make a quality shot in the morning. I no longer have that problem -- the Sette is what I'm recommending from now on for anyone looking for an electric espresso grinder with a budget of a few hundred dollars.
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      Postby RapidCoffee » Dec 09, 2016, 2:05 am

      Simply put, the Baratza Sette is a remarkable grinder. It is reasonably priced, surprisingly fast, kitchen friendly, and produces a good, uniform grind across a wide range of settings (from espresso to press pot). The last time I was so impressed with a grinder was the Robur, and look what happened there. :-)

      The Sette is comparable in size to other consumer grinders, designed in an elegant and functional "7" shape. It features a built-in timer that can be set to the nearest tenth of a second. This seems like a fine gradation until you realize the speed of this little grinder. At espresso settings, it takes only 4 seconds to grind a double shot of coffee beans (15g), comparable to my Robur. As other have noted, it's not the quietest grinder on the planet. But it's not loud for long.

      Using the Sette is straightforward. The Sette features timed grinding, which works reasonably well, as long as you do not change coffees and/or grind settings. Doses are generally fall within a weight range of 0.2g, which is good enough for a consistent double espresso. Control buttons include three presets, start/pause grinding, and stop. Changing a preset time is simple: push up/down arrows to the desired time, then push and hold the preset.

      Grind adjustment is also straightforward, with a stepped "macro" ring supplemented by a stepless "micro" dial. There are plenty of grind settings in the espresso range. Grind settings are pleasantly stable; I was able to change from a fine espresso setting to coarse settings and back, without noting any difference in extraction.

      The Sette grinds path is straight down from the burrs into the basket. Grinds do not get compacted in a horizontal chute, and tend to be fluffier than most grinders. The grinds appear to be highly uniform, more so than most grinders. No puck prep is required other than a tamp, although I would recommend a funnel/collar to reduce spills.

      The Sette works better for single dosing than most grinders. There is little popcorning and low grinds retention (3g brushed out of the burrs). If you prefer to maintain a bean load (as I do), the hopper has a convenient "open-close" lever that allows you to easily swap one coffee for another without upending the grinder. (Unlike the 62 pound Robur, you can actually upend the 7 pound Sette!)

      The combination of fast grinding, timed dosing, easy adjustment, uniform fluffy grinds, and low retention make the Sette one of the most user-friendly grinders available. But can it beat the Robur? Sadly, no. Visually, bottomless pours were less consistently good with the Sette, sometimes showing dead spots and other evidence of uneven extraction. Taste was consistently better on the Robur, with greater clarity of flavor and less bitterness. Taste differences were more apparent in straight shots; Sette grinds worked quite well in cappuccinos.

      Is this a fair comparison? Of course not. My dosered manual Robur retails for 7X as much as the Sette, and is 9X heavier. So the Sette is competing well above its weight class, and that makes its performance truly noteworthy.
      Image
      Robur vs Sette

      In addition to espresso, I compared the Sette to a Breville Smart grinder with an Aeropress, Hario V60 coffee drip, Clever coffee dripper, vac pot/siphon and French press. The Sette did well in all these methods, producing brews comparable to the Smart.
      Image
      Smart vs Sette

      French press is notable for its absence in the Baratza literature, so the latter was something of an experiment. The coarsest settings on both grinders are shown below.
      Image
      Coarsest Smart grind (left) vs coarsest Sette grind (right)

      Despite the more even (and chaff-free) grind on the Sette, the Smart grind produced a brew with greater clarity and sweetness. After allowing the brews to settle and carefully pouring off the liquid, more sediment could be seen in the Sette cup. So the Sette can be used for French press, but it's clearly intended for brew methods that employ finer grinds (like espresso).
      Image
      French press sediment from Smart (left) vs Sette (right)

      In conclusion: the Baratza Sette is a remarkable grinder that sets a new bar for performance in the home espresso grinder market. This truly innovative grinder stands out for its reasonable price, remarkably fast grinding speed, timed dosing, precise grind adjustment, versatility, user friendliness, and good (although not exceptional) grind quality. This grinder is an easy recommendation for espresso novices, and those who favor convenience over the ultimate in taste. Kudos to Baratza for another fine offering in the home grinder market.
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      Postby HB » Dec 09, 2016, 8:22 am

      Thanks gentlemen for your results and Baratza for the evaluation model of the Sette. Questions/comments are welcome. For those who would like to read feedback from owners, please use the site's search dialog. Tip: You can find most threads on the subject by searching on "baratza sette" (topic titles only).
      Dan Kehn