Baratza Vario Grinder - First Look - Page 9

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

#81: Post by Lockman »

ccfore wrote:<image>
Remember the ending? Are you making a prediction? :D
Hehe, can I use that for my avatar? Nice pic. :wink:
LMWDP #226.

"It takes many victims to make a culinary masterpiece"


#82: Post by DigMe »

spro745 wrote:I'll put it like this then...... I simply don't think the Vario has the build quality from pics I've seen to justify the cost.
This seems absolutely absurd to me that you're making all these judgements from a few pics. I've seen pics of the La Cimbali Max Hybrid here that make it appear to have build quality issues and yet it seems to be praised for its recent price drop to what...800 bucks or something. And from what I've seen no one seems to doubt the quality in the cup.


#83: Post by IMAWriter »

ddr wrote:I should be receiving a production Vario from the good folks at PT's Coffee at the end of February. As soon as possible after that (depends on my work travel schedule) I will invite the local Seattle HB folks over and we can compare it to a Super Jolly and whatever other grinders anyone wants to bring over.

Sorry, this group requires a caveat: Whatever other grinders, which can be plugged into a standard 110V 15 Amp circuit, anyone wants to bring over.
Now THAT'S a plan! :)

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shadowfax (original poster)

#84: Post by shadowfax (original poster) »

I'm sorry for the delay in posting more findings about the Vario. I've got much to say, and I must admit up front that I am not entirely sure how to say it all. First off, I must ask that you toe a line of skepticism with me. I consider myself an experienced home barista with a good palate that's continually improving, but I am no professional, and I am of course new to reviewing equipment. My findings are as tentative as they appear to be, but I am understandably as reluctant to post them as I am not to. Something could be wrong with this grinder to cause what I am finding.

As you've read, since I've had this grinder, I've had some decent shots, taste-wise. The Robur consistently edged it out on the dark-roasted Gizmo, as I mentioned, and then spread out a bit more with La Bella Vita, though they were still perfectly acceptable shots. I believe previously that I claimed they were simply different from the Robur shots. I think I am guilty of being a little easy on the Vario, giving it leeway because I am still new to it.

On Thursday, I dialed in the Robur to the SO Ethiopia Sidamo from PT's. I made a couple of the best shots I've ever had. Simply divine little cappuccino... fruit bomb galore. One of the shots left a gorgeous, lingering aftertaste of ripe, dried blueberries. Not only was it one of the better flavors I've had in a cup of coffee, I think it was easily most distinct, evocative flavor I've ever tasted in a shot of espresso. So the bar was set very high for the Vario. I dialed it in for the Sidamo on Friday morning.

I had started out with a lower dose in the 14.5 gram range, but my best Robur pours were all the way up in the 17-18 gram range, so I started heading in that direction. As I dosed higher, I noticed a tendency of the pucks to flow overall fairly evenly--think Mazzer Mini, decent technique but no WDT. But as I dosed up, I saw what was a minor problem that I had previously attributed to some as yet unidentified flaw in my distribution technique get seriously aggravated: lots of spritzes, tiny spritzes. I couldn't see them during the pours with the naked eye, but they covered the sides of the cup and the drip tray.

I definitely tasted this flaw in the cup. The higher doses were actually a bit nicer--a noticeable decline in harshness, but still muddy and uninteresting. It tasted like a much lesser coffee, and I would have written it off as such if I hadn't gotten such awesome results with the Robur. Now, these 17-18 g doses are the highest I've done with the Vario, and these were the first shots where I got a drier puck when I pulled the portafilter after the shot. This is what I saw:

I hadn't noticed these larger particles before this; It kind of raised my eyebrows.

I wanted to double check my sanity, so I pulled a Robur puck out of the knockbox. It's a bit drier, but I think it's a good demonstration of the contrast between the two in terms of visual consistency.

Since the Robur puck really showed me that that these big pieces appeared unique to the Vario, at least in this case, I decided to have a look at the grinds straight from the Vario. I found this:

Look at the upper-rightmost particle. That isn't an aggregation. I can squeeze and rub that piece with my hand, and it's solid and quite large. I found a number of these in several 1-2 g dry samples at this grind.

The dose is in the 16.5-17.5 g range, and for the Vario puck in question (above), the pour was right at 60ml in 23 s, so a tad fast. The samples seemed to show a lot more fines and more large particles than the Robur's samples. Of course it's difficult to get an accurate sense of the distribution with the naked eye and rubbing between fingers, but I feel that at least the large particles speak for themselves. As for the fines, it seems like there would need to be a good deal more fines in the grind to provide adequate flow resistance in light of the bigger pieces in the ground coffee, and I am wondering if this is the main contributor to the spritzing and harshness that I was seeing in the shots.

I asked the HB Team what I should do, and Jim suggested that a weight on the bean column might help. On Saturday morning, I started out by topping off the hopper and setting my tamper on the mound. There was a solid weight feeding the grinder the whole morning. I began my work with a slightly lower dose and slightly increased fineness, hoping that this might help reduce the occurrence of the large chip-shaped particles I'd seen on Friday. Here's a series of photos from one of the shots, 15.4g:

~50ml, 33 s. The shot was long, but should have been well in range to be a good shot. I believe, having tested my machine with a Scace device this afternoon, that the temperature of all my shots has been rather higher than I had thought before--202-203F. This ought to have helped this shot, but it was quite bad, with harsh acidity.

With the finer grind, I still found that the puck looked similar after the wetness dissipated.

Here's this grind. I found that the large particles that I found were smaller than Friday, but still quite large.

With that in mind, I adjusted it still finer for a 14.0 g shot. Here's that series:

I stirred these grinds thoroughly, which yielded the above when tamped.

Here is a closeup of that:

The 14 gram shot was also about 45 ml, and I forgot to time it; It was definitely ristretto-leaning, over 25 s. This shot's profile was similar to the 15.4 gram shot, but milder. Sifting through the grinds at this setting, I found more large particles, again flat and long like the ones pictured in the previous photos.

To summarize my findings: The Vario's particle distribution raises my eyebrows; It has performed alright with low-acid coffee, but quite poorly with an extremely high-quality, high-acid coffee. To wrap up, I'd like to finish where I started: qualifications. This is a near-final, but still pre-production grinder. I cannot rule out the possibility that something has changed in the final version, or that something is wrong with my test grinder. I hope so, and I have contacted Mark Prince and Baratza to ask about this.

For now, It might be most worthwhile to consider my findings in light of Mark's comment in a recent thread on CoffeeGeek. He's accumulated a great deal more experience with the Vario than myself, and has rated the Vario in between the Macap M4 and Rancilio Rocky:
Mark Prince wrote:On to the Vario. I'm now past 60lbs on the test unit, about 45lbs of that exclusively for espresso. Except for the problem discussed on the podcast about losing the fineness ability because the burr mount isn't spotless (ie, no ground coffee to make it sit higher) this what I'd currently rate as a "very good" espresso grinder. Here's my ratings (pulled from a future site feature for the new CG site) for the typical models in both commercial and consumer classes:

Anfim Super Caimano - current "best" model I've ever tested or used. This is the baseline.
Mazzer Robur - "excellent"
Mazzer Major - "excellent"
Elektra Nina - "excellent"
Macap MX Conical - "excellent / very good"
Mazzer Super Joly "very good"

Consumer models. Baseline is currently the Mazzer Mini, by a hair - that's "best"
Anfim Best - "excellent" (almost beats the Mini)
Macap M4 Stepless "excellent"
La Cimbali Junior - "very good / excellent"
Anfim Haus - "very good"
Baratza Vario - "very good"
Rancilio Rocky Doser - "very good"
Nuova Simonelli MCF stepless - "very good"
Gaggia MDF - "good"
Baratza Virtuoso - "good"
KitchenAid Proline - "good"
Baratza Maestro / Maestro Plus - "acceptable / good"
Nicholas Lundgaard


#85: Post by zin1953 »

Nicholas, great work -- thank you!
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.


#86: Post by IMAWriter »

Nicholas, having been in your position before, I know how hard it is put forth the negative in an exciting new product. In my case, the manufacturer went above and beyond, at great expense to correct the flaws, and the final result was a terrific new product.
Pictures don't lie. While it is true that (according to what I've read here and on CG) slight variances in grind size is not a negative factor in the performance of a grinder, but this looks like more than that.
And, if you can taste that difference, regardless of what grinder to which your comparing, that also must factor in.
While the feature set on the Vario is ground-breaking, performance should be the final determining factor.
You may also be correct, in that your grinder may be partially defective, or not as "tight" as the final version will be.
So, taking your sage advise, I will keep an open mind, and wait for your discussions of the new, final version.
Good work.

EDITED for clarity

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shadowfax (original poster)

#87: Post by shadowfax (original poster) »

Rob and Jason, thanks for your nice comments. Indeed, Baratza responded promptly and cordially to my question about the issue with my review unit. Kyra, the VP, thanked me for my report and told me that they hadn't received any report of such issues from others, and that she hopes that it's simply a flaw in the one that I've received.

She also mentioned that Kyle Anderson is out of town on a business trip, but he probably won't be able to get back with me until he returns on Thursday. I'll keep you all posted on this as things develop.
Nicholas Lundgaard


#88: Post by IMAWriter replying to shadowfax »

Baratza is nice that way.

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#89: Post by dsc »

Hi guys,
Baratza is nice that way.
Well sure they are going to say it's the first time they've heard about something like this (although I'm pretty sure they are being honest here, or they weren't even aware something like this happens) and sure they will try to investigate, it's not like they want to have their grinder bashed on one of the biggest coffee sites before it gets released.

I'm trying to figure out how the hell did those particles end up in the basket and it's probable one of the following:

- the burrs are so uneven that one side produces rock-sized particles while the rest spills out talcum-like coffee. This would of course produce more big-ass particles than you've seen, so I'm pretty sure this is not the problem

- I'm not sure how the burrs are mounted, but is it possible that hard coffee somehow pushes the burrs apart and that's how the big particles got out? We won't know of course, because we can't really look under the hood.

- the bigger particles are simply coming from some place else, not the burr chamber. Is it possible that some coarse ground coffee got stuck somewhere near the outlet hole and it's simply falling out together with the proper, fine ground stuff?

By the way those big particles look like what's left near the entrance to the burr chamber after grinding a batch of coffee. It's the beans that got partially crushed by the burrs but managed to get out (bouncing out), avoiding being turned into anything smaller. I see no way for those particles to get past the burrs and still maintain their previous shape/size.

Nicholas, maybe this is a good time to ask the people at Baratza to let you open up the grinder:)


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shadowfax (original poster)

#90: Post by shadowfax (original poster) »

dsc wrote:- the burrs are so uneven that one side produces rock-sized particles while the rest spills out talcum-like coffee. This would of course produce more big-ass particles than you've seen, so I'm pretty sure this is not the problem

- I'm not sure how the burrs are mounted, but is it possible that hard coffee somehow pushes the burrs apart and that's how the big particles got out? We won't know of course, because we can't really look under the hood.
Tom, I think that you hit the nail on the head in terms of what could be going on here. The burrs chirp very ever so slightly just below the espresso grind, and it starts to get worse further down. It reminds me of the Macap M4s that I have played with. This noise could be explained by your first idea, though I am not sure that it's an easy conclusion--Other grinders do this and produce excellent shots and do not produce these larger particles I've seen on the Vario I have. But, that's what I hope is wrong with this thing, I suppose. I mean, if there's something out of alignment that I need to fix (or just get the replacement grinder that is the final version), that could explain what I have seen.

The burr mounting is some type of high-density plastic or nylon, etc. It's that dull white color when it's clean. It looks very similar to how I remember the Baratza Virtuoso locks in, though there seems to be a little more metal in the equation. It could possibly be that this has enough play to let these long, large particles escape. That is the fear that I have for the grinder.
- the bigger particles are simply coming from some place else, not the burr chamber. Is it possible that some coarse ground coffee got stuck somewhere near the outlet hole and it's simply falling out together with the proper, fine ground stuff?
I cleaned out the grinder quite thoroughly on Saturday, and I am still seeing the same issue. I also don't see any way for coffee to get from the hopper to the grounds chute that doesn't pass through the burrs.

I'm definitely going to wait on some help from Kyle before I proceed with any disassembly or repair attempt. Sorry to disappoint you, Tom... :wink:
Nicholas Lundgaard