For a long time, the espresso niche in my kitchen was filled with a PID-controlled Rancilio Silvia and a Baratza Vario. The espresso was okay, but a bit hit or miss. Sometimes I could get all the stars to align and get a good shot, but mostly it was just acceptable. I was doing it mostly by feel and my innate Italian sensibilities.
Recently I upgraded the Silvia to a GS3. Now, I am no longer willing to put any blame on the machine at all. (Aside: This is why I love having good tools. I hate not knowing whether I am screwing up or whether the tool is letting me down. Now I know.) When everything is dialed in and the stars are aligned... absolute brilliance. The rest of the time, meh, it's okay. Better than the Silvia? Sure. Good? Maybe not.
Time to act like an engineer and figure it out. So I spent a lazy morning and a pound of beans last weekend getting the Vario set up again. Reset the alignment, pulled a ton of shots that went directly into the sink, converged on a sweet spot in grind setting: a very consistent 19 gram dose (in an 18 gram VST basket) that pulled a luscious 30 gram shot in 29 seconds. Delicious, balanced, wonderful espresso. Great baseline. Three days later? Eh... getting kind of off. Grind settings maybe slipped, I tweak it a bit and get something acceptable. Today? Nope, 30 grams takes 18 seconds at the most. Beans (type and age) are consistent weekend to weekend.
I can go back to the beginning and recalibrate the Vario again... or I can throw up my hands, figure that the Vario is just outclassed and the weakest link here, and get a new grinder. The new crop of high-end grinders (EG-1, Monolith, etc.) look spectacular, but it may be a long wait to get one. Pick up an HG-1 and try hand grinding for a while?
Or am I missing something with my poor little Vario? Tips? Advice?