Varia VS3 (Gen 2) versus Mahlkonig X54

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
HusbandNumber5
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#1: Post by HusbandNumber5 »

I'm a soon-to-be home barista. After researching for a month now, I'm still in two minds about these grinders, which - when combined with the accessories I have in mind - cost roughly similar to buy and ship where I live in the EU:
1. Varia VS3 Gen 2 + Ultra Hypernova Titanium Burrs + Varia's 58mm Dosing Cup
2. Mahlkönig X54 + R4DCreationsCA's "Single Dose Hopper with Bellows" designed for the X54.

Use case: For me, 1 - maybe 2 - oat flat whites each day. My partner has 1 to 2 lattes each weekend. We try the occasional pour-over coffee too. And we'd love to have, occasionally, a friend or two roast me over my amateurish barista skills. Workflow: I'm leaning towards single-dosing the beans, a few spritz to RDT, and a hot start to kick off the grind.

My conundrum:
The X54 seems to have (1) a more promising burr set - flat burrs, long lifespan, Mahlkönig's pedigree, etc. - (2) a relatively robust motor, and (3) unmatched acoustics versus the screechy VS3. But the X54 wasn't built to be a single-dosing, near-zero retention grinder. Grind settings on the finer side of espresso seem to be difficult too.

In contrast, the VS3 has (1) a sloping profile and anti-static oxidation surface treatment. It (2) appears to accommodate a wider range of grind settings, and (3) its larger adjustment dial makes precise adjustments easier. However, it makes a high-pitched noise! Varia's explicit warning not to grind omni/light roasts (presumably due to the weaker motor?) limits experimenting with some flavours too.

Am I doomed to choosing between a fate of -
  • The VS3 screeching away for 30 seconds every morning; OR
  • Purging 5g of beans from the X54 before preparing each espresso-based drink?
Would the addition of the "Single Dose Hopper with Bellows" adaptation for the X54 free me from the need to purge as often?

HusbandNumber5 (original poster)
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#2: Post by HusbandNumber5 (original poster) »

In case you were wondering: I'm not keen on the DF64 (Gen 2), because I haven't found a supplier, where I live, whose website states that they'd service/repair this grinder.

HusbandNumber5 (original poster)
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#3: Post by HusbandNumber5 (original poster) »

Just some research I've found :)

Issue #1: Unable to grind beans finer
Mitigation
(1) The X54 can be calibrated (i.e., zeroed) to grind finer.
  • This would likely involve a shift of 3 to 4 full (not half) marks.
Issue #2: Retention of old grounds
In a single dosing workflow where grinding is set to run for a fixed time, a seasoned X54 has a ±2g margin of error when it is left to run for longer than necessary to grind the dose of beans.
Because the X54 wasn't designed to facilitate near-zero retention or be used in a single-dosing workflow, each grind results in an exchange of new grounds lodged in and old grounds dislodged from the burr chamber.
Unknowns
  • How much exchange takes place?
  • To what extent does the degree of exchange worsen each espresso drink?
Mitigation
Process and structural adaptations might mitigate retention and exchange.
Process:
(2) Run the X54 for slightly longer than necessary for the single dose of beans to be ground. This disturbs and dislodges some of the grounds that did not initially fall out of the burr chamber.
(3) Purge old grounds whenever a different grind setting is used. This, hopefully, expels most of the differently-sized old grounds, the presence of which would contribute to an uneven extraction.
Structural:
(4) Use a "Single Dose Hopper with Bellows" unit, instead of the standard hopper. Give the bellows a few squeezes after the dose of beans have been ground. This, hopefully, expels stubborn grounds and further reduces retention.

ShotClock
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#4: Post by ShotClock »

Have you considered a niche zero? They're a classic around here for a reason. They have a big ish conical burr that's great for medium and darker roasts and gives a classic espresso profile. The single dosing workflow is great in my experience, with low retention and no RDT needed.

I had one and really liked it. The difference between a niche and a monolith isn't massive in my opinion - especially for medium roasts and darker, milk drinks etc. It will certainly get you in to the diminishing returns regime, while not breaking the bank.

HusbandNumber5 (original poster)
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#5: Post by HusbandNumber5 (original poster) »

Thanks for the suggestion! Yes, the Niche would be a strong contender in the mid-range prices I was considering. (I haven't heard of the monolith; looked up the price and realised why :P )

I'm not the biggest fan of the Niche aesthetics (i.e., looks), but it's a minor gripe. And the Niche sounds a lot better than the VS3.

The Niche Zero's lack of a hot start can probably be dealt with by sticking something into one of the small holes? (Or does a hot start not make too much of a difference?)

One of my favourite bag of beans is described by my local roaster as "just between light and medium, to bring out good body, texture and balance, while preserving a little hint of the brightness to keep it interesting." It's a Brazil Espresso: Santa Lucia Red Bourbon; process: natural; growing altitude: 900-1250 MASL.

You mentioned that the Niche would be great for medium and darker roasts. Have you tried grinding light-medium roasts on the Niche? (I also should acknowledge that degree of roast is highly subjective. But just wondering whether you've tried doing this.)

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Jeff
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#6: Post by Jeff »

If your coffee is labeled as "for espresso" and it is not from a roaster known for their light roasts, it is probably "medium" or darker.

You typically don't need to hot start a Niche Zero between the feeder disc and the relatively slow speed of its conical burrs.

Medium-light for me is usually sold as a "filter" roast and has little or none of the classic roast flavors. If you really are pulling shots from coffees at these roast levels, it can be easier to get a balanced cup without getting into astringency with other grinders. Those grinders generally do comparatively poorly with traditional espresso (thick, syrupy shots). If those thick, syrupy shots are what you are looking for, it is hard to beat the Niche Zero without getting into the price range of the Monolith.

HusbandNumber5 (original poster)
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#7: Post by HusbandNumber5 (original poster) »

Thanks, Jeff and Shotclock! Definitely have me reconsidering and re-calculating what I'm going to get. Really loved reading people's thoughts and experiences with making coffee at home here.

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Jeff
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#8: Post by Jeff »

Right now, I'd wait and see what Option-O releases (Feb 22nd). What was "leaked" on the website looks like the Casa might be very interesting.

HusbandNumber5 (original poster)
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#9: Post by HusbandNumber5 (original poster) »

Good tip! The Casa looks gorgeous (just like all of Option O's other grinders). Can't wait to see some video reviews. I had a chat there with one of the baristas today, and they confirmed that they treat the "medium-light" roast in question closer to a medium than a light in practice.

buckersss
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#10: Post by buckersss »

The Varia looks interesting, but after seeing the drift on v1, I'm not sure I'd get it for myself.

If you are considering the Varia, I wonder if you wouldn't instead consider the itop on Ali express.

https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005005 ... a1f40522df

Note I'm not saying this is better than the x54. Only that given the choice between this and the Varia, I would opt for the itop. I think it's a fair price and I like the worm gear.