Nearly nine years with a Baratza Vario

Grinders are one of the keys to exceptional espresso. Discuss them here.
pcrussell50

#1: Post by pcrussell50 »

In a nutshell, it's all about maintaining the lever adjusters... Doing it is super easy, neglecting it will frustrate you

So I picked up serial number 000855 in summer 2009 at jobber price, from my local roaster, who ordered it for me using his business license. It was a very early model, having only been introduced in spring of 2009 with a big splash at SCAA.

Mechanically, it has not missed a day of service, or failed to grind, even a single time, even though it has none of the subsequent durability upgrades. That means it still has the original plastic drive gear and belt.

Early on, there were complaints about the adjustment levers slipping down to a coarser setting under the pressure of beans trying to force the flat burrs apart. The adjustment arms have a nub on them, that engages teeth on the fixed face plate. If the nub wears down or the teeth get dull, the levers won't be able to hold position. Both are plastic. You would think they would dull against each other quickly. Yet... They... Don't. Mine look brand new after nine years. Very good design/engineering on Baratza's part here. But what about the slipping? Well, it's clearly not due to the teeth and nubs wearing dull. It was due to the tiny flexible plastic shims that maintain proper tension between the nubs and the teeth, eventually aging out, or slipping out of position.

And this is where the routine maintenance comes in. If the lever clicks aren't crisp and positive, or the coarse adjuster slips down to a coarser setting during grinding, it's time to go to Baratza's YouTube video, and move the shims back into the right position, because they do migrate slowly out of position, or re-install new shims if they've migrated out and fallen away completely. This is a five minute job from start to finish after you've done it once. I use my wood handled dissecting needle that I use for WDT, to help position the tiny shims properly.

I just moved to a super challenging, super light roasted bean and discovered my coarse adjuster moving down after years since I had done a shim maintenance. I discovered at least one shim gone altogether. So I broke out a couple new ones, put them in right, and now it's like a brand new grinder again even at nine years old.

Based on my long experience with this machine, and some of the negativity I've read in the various threads here, some or most of it is unfounded. Maybe people are confusing the need for periodic lever maintenance, with poor quality? In reality, it is still capable of grinding like new after nine years, (ceramic burrs?) and lest we forget how it stacked up in espresso taste tests back in the day, crushing the Mazzer Mini and tying the Super Jolly.

And it's moddable too: if you are willing to do RDT when you have staticky beans, you can do the "flapper mod", which will make it so close to zero retention as to make almost no difference. Fair warning, if you do this mod, you will probably also need a portafilter funnel because the grinds pile will be obnoxiously fluffy and tall, making settling and distribution without spillage a risky and delicate proposition without a funnel or yogurt cup. Overall, I don't mind the tall fluffy pile, because I always use a funnel, and I always WDT, so it's no more work knocking down the pile than I would do anyway.

In this day and age, a decade is a long time to have a complex hobby appliance, without being overcome with "upgradeitis". Of course, aesthetic (look and feel) and incremental performance upgrades for great expenditure, are always out there. But, I keep finding there is little if anything out there that would be a significant functional and operational upgrade, to a perfectly working Vario.

-Peter
LMWDP #553

turbo290

#2: Post by turbo290 »

Well said Peter. My Vario is about the same vintage and the only problem I've ever had was a broken belt which of course is easy to fix.
For an upgrade path I keep looking at the Forte since it meets all my requirements. I'm torn however due to all the bad press Baratza receives here. Based on my experience it is not all justified but shows the power of persuasion. Plus my Vario just keeps chugging along.

john_ertw

#3: Post by john_ertw »

This site is great for getting real user feedback on new products, but the downside is it encourages upgradeitis even if there was no need to begin with. I have been using my Vario for years and keep wondering what I am missing with some of the "better" grinders. Unfortunately I don't know anyone with a better grinder I can use on my setup to compare, and I sometimes wonder if the upgradeitis is another form of the grass is greener on the other side. I don't doubt that there are differences between different levels of equipment, but is there a bias to suggest new, more expensive equipment is better than old?

User avatar
espressme

#4: Post by espressme »

Well said! I am also on my original Vario; serial #00031. It has been of very good service to me. :D
It has no mods and I only replaced the ceramic burrs after some metal trash in my beans wiped them out. Easily done and made a difference. Usual cleaning maintenance is all it received.

I did buy a basic Sette and it is also a good value for the price.

JMHO
~Richard
richard penney LMWDP #090,

belegnole

#5: Post by belegnole »

Funny how with all of the implied need for something better I still have a 2009 Virtuoso for non - espresso drinks. I keep thinking of getting the upgraded internals, but I still haven't had any need to. In the years that I've had it there's only been one issue. The little metal timer dial keeps falling off. I put it on and a week or a month later it falls off again. I think I shimmed it once. But, the defiant little thing shortly jumped back off making the usual loud clatter across the countertop.

Thanks for the reminder Peter.
LMWDP #641

bmorton

#6: Post by bmorton »

I purchased my Vario in March 2010, serial #1823. I installed shims in early 2012 when the levers began to slip. Maybe I didn't install them correctly, but the shims made only a slight improvement. Being lazy, I chose to live with the issue. About 3 years after this it began to make a low rumbling noise, which Pierce at Baratza said was a belt or pulley issue. At this point I decided to send it to Baratza for service, since the results of my shim installation left much to be desired.

The unit worked very well after getting a new belt, pulley, and shims, until just recently when the macro lever began to slip again. I opened up the grinder and couldn't find the shims. Impatience got the better of me so, instead of ordering new shims, I used a similarly sized piece of plastic that I cut from an expired credit card. It seems to work well. The macro lever is very solid now, perhaps a bit more difficult to move, but I rarely need to move that lever anyway.

So although my Vario has not been totally trouble free, it has served me well over the years. Maybe I'll order a new set of shims, since I'm not sure if the credit card solution might be damaging the macro lever. I agree that lever maintenance is the key to continued good performance from a Vario.

pcrussell50

#7: Post by pcrussell50 »

bmorton wrote:until just recently when the macro lever began to slip again. I opened up the grinder and couldn't find the shims. Impatience got the better of me so, instead of ordering new shims, I used a similarly sized piece of plastic that I cut from an expired credit card. It seems to work well. The macro lever is very solid now, perhaps a bit more difficult to move, but I rarely need to move that lever anyway.
I would order up the right shims. Because I think (and I'm sure a Baratza engineer could clarify) the key to not wearing out the nubs on the arms against the teeth on the face plate, is having just barely the enough engagement pressure to keep the levers from shifting. I know that I have better luck when I install the shims up higher in the grooves, as per guidance from Aaron at Baratza.
bmorton wrote:So although my Vario has not been totally trouble free, it has served me well over the years. Maybe I'll order a new set of shims, since I'm not sure if the credit card solution might be damaging the macro lever. I agree that lever maintenance is the key to continued good performance from a Vario.
The way I look at it is, things like belts and such are "consumables" like they are in your car. (Although for some reason, my original belt and original plastic gear are still going strong :shrugs:?) As long as the parts and methods for doing basic servicing and upkeep are effective, available and supported, I'm not willing to take the step of labelling these things as being of poor quality. A certain amount of upkeep, especially for such extraordinary performance/price ratio, is expected, IMHO.

-Peter
LMWDP #553

bmorton

#8: Post by bmorton »

Thanks, Peter. I've taken your advice and ordered a new set of shims. I suspect you're right about maintaining the correct amount of pressure on the nubs on the arms against the teeth on the face plate. I agree about the price/performance ratio, and that a certain amount of maintenance is to be expected.

-Bob

mbenedet
Supporter

#9: Post by mbenedet »

This is very nice to read. Regarding the Vario's performance, has anyone measured extractions with their unit? I'm wondering about it's actual upper limits of extraction yields.

pcrussell50

#10: Post by pcrussell50 » replying to mbenedet »

Sigh. That's the question of the century, AFAICT. Sadly, the category of innovative, high performing machines, (and I'm not just talking about the Vario, but espresso machines like the Breville Dual Boiler) of non traditional modern materials (plastic), has been widely panned by those with the levels of expertise, to really get the most out of them. The BDB is a Scace test killer, testing out in saturated brew group territory. The experts noted this, and walked away. The Vario, in blind taste testing by the experts here back when it came out, was in Titan territory. And the experts again noted this, and walked away. These observations have made me more convinced than ever, that aesthics play a huge role in the cooking and food prep hobbies.

I guess it may end up being me. After I take care of a few more pressing things, a refractometer looms in my life. As does a Scace device.

-Peter
LMWDP #553