Baratza Vario Grinder - First Look - Page 18

Grinders are one of the keys to exceptional espresso. Discuss them here.
coconut coffee guy

#171: Post by coconut coffee guy »

I've been greatly anticipating this grinder in my quest for the perfect cup. In particular I've been putting considerable effort into what I call low-oxidization no-metal-contact coffee. This is the second ceramic burr grinder on the market (as far as I know the only other one is the La Marzocco Swift), which I haven't had a chance to use. Before I dish out over $400 for the Vario I'm relying on the reviews and forums for insights into the qualities, or bad feature that would make it awesome or worthless. So far it looks good, with a few concerns. My post here is to provide insights that some of you may find useful in assessing. To this point I have found the following:
HB the end, the Robur bested the Vario easily. Comments about the Vario's espresso's were not flattering (e.g., "dull" and "flat"). For those familiar with SCAA espresso scoring, they were 1.5 to 2.0's. That said, the Robur didn't blow off the roof either, as most of the espressos it produced were 3.0's.
In discussing this offline with Nicholas, he suggested a more interesting comparison might be the Vario and Mazzer Mini since they're closer to the same price point.
woodchuck wrote:3) Fine/fluffy uni-dimensional grind. Seemed finer, less dense and more uniform than the Robur grind.
6) Dialing in was a little more difficult than the Robur or my Macap. Seemed the window for a good pour or a runaway was narrower - a little less forgiving on the grind.
7) Flat. There was a definite difference in body and taste between the Robur and the Vario. The Vario body was noticeably lighter and the taste not nearly as intense for the same 25 second ~ 1.5 oz pour. I think you have to pull these shots a little tighter and with more coffee to get the body but you give up some of the more subtle flavors when you do this.
Also... Mark Prince of coffee-geek reviewed it and added many comments on cg forums. On thing that find a significant POSITIVE is the consistency of the grind while looking under a microscope, which would help maximize optimum extraction.

Without having tried the Vario yet, I'd like to throw in a few insights, and questions:
In the process of roasting, grind, and extraction, the delicate polyunsaturate oils in the bean can easily become oxidized from exposure to air. Metal contact accelerates this oxidization, and in my opinion adds a slight metallic oxidized taste to the coffee. During the roasting process the exterior of the been will have a slightly extra roast, possibly giving a bit of scorch (esp. if too much high heat in the final moments of the roast). (I also do no metal contact roasting.) Most of the damage, however, occurs during grinding when all molecules of the coffee grinds are in contact with metal and air. This is why ceramic burrs are highly welcome because they would reduce this metal oxidization effect. As a side example of what I'm talking about, consider what happens when you cut a head of romain lettuce with a metallic knife... the cut ends go brown within a minute... which doesn't occur if you use a lettuce plastic knife or pro chef ceramic knife. If you want to maximize extraction of delicate flavors in your coffee, to me it would be a must to remove the metallic burr element in the process. Unfortunately, the level of dosage in modern day equipment is optimized for metallic roasters, metallic grinder burrs, and metallic espresso machine parts. By changing the grinder burrs to ceramic, you through off the equation some (according to me). One way I'm played with this is with the Aerobie coffee maker that is a mix of french-press and espresso, that produces a 1.5oz extract like a double espresso. Because the extraction process has no metal, the end result is a more smooth coffee that is less acidic and less bitter. The effect is also a more "thin" coffee. The only two solutions to strengthen the coffee is to increase the dosage, or use a more coarse filter (mesh, non-metallic).

As for the Vario, my expectations are similar to what the Aerobie produces: a slightly less acidic and less bitter coffee. I would expect the Vario to bring up the quality of the final coffee, given very consistent grind, and no-metal oxidization. Note the final espresso flavor is not what an experience quality espresso barista would "expect" after years of pulling shots with one set of technologies.

Regarding the comments from Dan and Ian (in italics above), I bring up the questions...
"Are you sure that the shots are inferior, or are the properties of the shots now different (than entrained expectation), requiring some getting use to?"
In making my Aerobie shots, I increase the dosage by about 15% to bring up the flavor. "Would you consider testing shots with a higher dosage, say 16 grams, to compare the shots to other machines, with coffee of about equal strength?"
Lastly, oxygen significantly enhances the flavor of coffee when milk wet froth (micro bubbles, not foam) is added to make a cappuccino. It seems oxygen can add benefits to coffee, but in my take (so far), it is best added at the very end of preparation, as opposed to earlier processes. If I'm correct on this, then slightly higher dosed Vario grind double shot cappuccino would taste better than with another metallic grinder. "Would anyone like to test that?" (I assume that the weaker acidity will not show negatively after micro-bubbles are added.)

By the way, with my espresso equipment I'm not able to increase the dose in my portafilter. I have a three-shot basket, but 16 grams won't work as the top level won't be right. "Can anyone clue me in how to do a 16 gram double shot?"

Sorry if this has been lengthy. I think that ceramic burrs is a new technology and changes the whole coffee process equation and some experimentation and discussion is required to draw the proper conclusions. Anyone with me on this? Many thanks for your inputs!!


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#172: Post by IMAWriter » reprinted the following quote:
"Also... Mark Prince of coffee-geek reviewed it and added many comments on cg forums. On thing that find a significant POSITIVE is the consistency of the grind while looking under a microscope, which would help maximize optimum extraction."

Funny, I've read in several places that having a wee bit of variance in the grind was actually a benefit to the overall taste profile of an extraction.
It may have been our own Jim Schulman. (Jim, I apologize if that was not your statement, just couldn't remember who said it.)
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shadowfax (original poster)

#173: Post by shadowfax (original poster) »

From the Titan Grinder Project
Another post from the TGP
The TGP Particle Size Distribution thread

It's commonly accepted that a multimodal, and not a unimodal, particle distribution is necessary for optimal espresso extraction. If the Vario produces such a distribution, that will be a bad thing. However, in my communication with Kyle Anderson, he informed me that Mahlkönig gave him data showing that this grinder produces a bimodal particle distribution in the espresso range, and a more unimodal one at larger grind settings. I have not seen this data, however, and can only pass on Kyle's claims.

As for the portions about oxidation, I must confess some confusion. Have you collected any data about this oxidation, or is this something you simply believe based on some small anecdotal evidence? For starters, I think you should know that slicing lettuce with a metal knife induces browning because it cuts the lettuce, rather than ripping it. Ripping lettuce by hand or using a serrated, dull plastic "knife" (which doesn't cut in the same sense as a knife) will reduce browning, but it's because of the difference in "lettuce separation method" rather than the materials involved. One way to check this might be to try rubbing your metal knife all over your lettuce (without cutting it). Anyway, that's a bit far afield from espresso. With espresso, it's been a common experience among us that grinders need to be "seasoned" before they grind optimally. My Robur, certainly, took a few weeks before it started being consistent with pours and producing shots that lived up to its name. Whether this has to do with the beans dulling the surface of the metal slightly or imparting some coffee oil to the surface is an interesting question that I am unqualified to answer.

However, to rain on your parade a little bit: while the LM Swift grinder uses ceramic burrs, it has a metal augur/packer assembly that delivers and compresses the grinds. Moreover, there is also metal in the bean path of the Vario, as both the upper and lower burrs are mounted on metal of some kind. There's certainly a lot less "metal love" going on there, but it's there nonetheless.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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#174: Post by HB »

coconut coffee guy wrote:On thing that find a significant POSITIVE is the consistency of the grind while looking under a microscope, which would help maximize optimum extraction.
I believe visual consistency under a microscope, even one as powerful as the scanning electron microscope employed during the TGP, doesn't tell you much about the grinder's prowess in terms of particle consistency. It just makes for really cool pictures.
Dan Kehn


#175: Post by flathead1 »

Okay I'll bite. My Vario showed up just after I got home from work. Chris packed it in enough peanuts to choke an elephant and the box from Baratza is no slouch either. No damage apparent. During the unpacking I noticed the Vario bean hopper looks suspiciously like the hopper on the Maestro Plus. Well the Vario hopper does fit the Maestro grinder. The Vario hopper is narrower but the lugs fit. Just an aside.

Assembly was pretty intuitive however the bean hopper takes a good amount of clockwise torque to get it to trip the safety switch. My portaholder came already set up so no problem getting it adjusted.

I then ground beans on manual to adjust the grind. For my espresso, the right lever two notches down and the left lever in the middle.

Once the grind was adjusted I set the timing. Ran in manual until I had a full portafilter and noted the time, 20 sec. I then set the espresso button at 21 sec and ran another portafilter pushing the espresso button. Works like a charm.

Thats about it for set up. I'll let you know tomorrow how the espresso tastes.

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LMWDP #152

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shadowfax (original poster)

#176: Post by shadowfax (original poster) »

Bill, how many grams are you getting in 20 seconds? That's way longer than the default (10 seconds). I found with my old review unit that I was getting right in the double range at 10 seconds, and only occasionally had to go up or down from there, seldom by more than 1 second in either direction. I know Kyle claims this grinder is supposed to be in the 1.5 g/second range, so that begs the question... are you doing 30 gram doses, or are you really getting ~14-16 grams in 21 seconds?

I just got my grinder for the final review today as well, so I will begin posting some new impressions, probably sometime over the weekend. I haven't tried grinding any coffee with it yet.
Nicholas Lundgaard

coconut coffee guy

#177: Post by coconut coffee guy »

In a post earlier today I said:
coconut coffee guy wrote:On thing that find a significant POSITIVE is the consistency of the grind while looking under a microscope, which would help maximize optimum extraction.
This generated some comments on whether a uniform grind is optimum for espresso. I don't have all the science on this; I am solely basing myself on David C. Schomer's book "Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques, updated." In it, pages 27, 28, 29, he says "... the grinder must provide a uniform flaking of the coffee bean..." Later he says "... A complex lattice network offers the greatest surface area for coffee oils to be exposed to the hot water..." and later "dull burrs... produce irregular lumps of coffee... the hot water will wash around the big lumps and over saturate the smaller particles..." He has photographs on page 29. What I make of this is it is preferable to have molecules of about the same size, and rough. Ceramic burrs are said to be very sharp (sharper than metal?), and if so offer an advantage, as Schomer says "Sharp grinder burrs maximize surface area of ground coffee" . So far I hear that the Vario produces fairly uniform size molecules (I read that is good, others challenge that) but we don't know whether there is sufficient roughness in the molecules. Schomer also says (p. 35) "Symptoms of dull burrs are a thin texture in the espresso and shorter shots." Can anyone describe what the shots look like coming out?


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#178: Post by HB »

Roughness of molecules? Uniformly sized molecules? :? OK, how about this:

Perhap David Schomer can identify the grinder that produced this coffee. Or this one:

And let's not forget this jewel of a grinder:

Sorry, I think visual inspection of coffee grounds, molecules, or even espresso pours are useless taste predictors. If you don't believe me, I'll be happy to pull you two shots, both espresso porn worthy, but only one will be remotely drinkable.
Dan Kehn


#179: Post by greatphotos »

I got my new Vario when I got home and unpacked it. It was in a big box with 6 inches of peanuts around the smaller Baratza box which in itself had another box inside, very well packed.

Took awhile to get the hopper on as no instructions included and didn't want to break anything but finally got the safety switch engaged. The porta holder was already installed by Chris's Coffee. The cleaning brush was also missing.

My old grinder is a 25 year old Braun conical burr that I paid $100 for when I bought it which would be how much in todays dollars? Anyway, it's still working.

I started the Vario at half way between filter and espresso on the course setting and half way on the fine setting. Choked the espresso machine, not one drop came out. I am now running it at the filter coffee position on the course setting in the middle. I get a 14 gram dose of my local roasters Sumatran Dark with 9 seconds of grind. The filter holder works pretty well. Dosing is slightly to the front. When you get near filling the top of the portafilter is when the grounds start spraying out. Sound wise it sounds like my dish washer.

Taste wise the coffee from the Braun tasted like chocolate milk, from the Vario its more Starbucks like. The coffee comes out black, not brown, and stays that way for a very long time. I'm still experimenting with it but it sure is fun to use. It's very well built, feels like a rock, and when you squeeze it the plastic feels like metal and doesn't budge where other items with plastic have that plastic 'give' to them. There is also a power cord storage area on the bottom that works well to tidy up the counter.

It will be interesting to see the results from the experts this weekend.

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Team HB

#180: Post by another_jim »

Just about everything Schomer says about grinders is not just wrong, but absurd. For instance, take the sharpest knife you have and try to "slice" a roasted bean. So unless you have a set of miracle Samurai burrs, they do not slice the beans, they criss-cross and push the bean into the narrower space at the outer (lower for conicals) edge of the burr. Sharpness is necessary in order for the burr to grab the bean (ever use a dull knife and cut yourself because it doesn't address properly?)

The beans are crushed by the flat surface of the burrs getting closer together as the bean travels through the burr pair. If a lot of beans are feeding through, they also crush against each other, so one can get a finer grind with the same burr setting when the hopper is full.

None of this is difficult to comprehend -- look closely at a pair of burrs and pretend you are a bean on a carnival ride, and what I say is obvious.

Larger, slower moving burrs make for better grind quality, and why this is, I'm not sure. I'm guessing that if the bean is crushed more gradually, the resulting fractures are more evenly spaced, so the beans particles get smaller in a uniform way.
Jim Schulman