Machines

Baratza Grinders

I have spent hundreds, nay thousands of euros on coffee equipment. I did not start that way, however. My earliest coffee equipment purchases now seem trivial, but then as someone merely dipping their toe into something unknown, they seemed like sizable investments. It can be hard to get that epiphany, “I get it” coffee moment without the ability to grind to order. In a way the availability (or lack thereof) of a competent low priced grinder is a rate limiting step in the appreciation of speciality coffee, and the growing of that audience.

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Marco, who have recently become the agent for Baratza’s line of home grinders (minus the Vario), asked me to take a look at the Maestro, Maestro Plus and Virtuoso grinders. These grinders, seemingly around for eternity stateside, have never fully appeared over here, in civilization. Sometimes certain models have appeared under the Swiss brand Solis – and I think the Starbuck’s Barista grinder is an ancestor of one of the current models.

I first evaluated all three grinders for filter brewing, then for espresso. Cup quality was really my primary interest, but also observations regarding usability and build quality were made.

After I had dialed in all three grinders to produce identical cups (in terms of strength and extraction), I noted a few things. Firstly, the numerical scales on all three grinders seem to have been calibrated quite uniformly. I found notch 18 on both the Maestro and Maestro+ got me to 19% extraction, while setting 20 was required on the Virtuoso. This I like, it feels reassuring in terms of quality control, but also perhaps if consistent in the broader sense of production runs, may prove useful in terms of giving people starting points for particular brews.

The Maestro and Maestro+, which share a burr set distinct from that of the Virtuoso, produced a cup that was head and shoulders above any other domestic grinder I have ever used. So much so, that I felt it necessary to cup them against my Tanzania. While they did not meet it’s standards in terms of clarity and separation of flavour, their cups were relatively untouched by the malignant hand of bitterness resulting from excessive fines. No such luck with the Virtuoso. It’s cup was closer to what I would expect from a home grinder.

Tables were turned when it came to the espresso section. At one step above burrs touching on the Maestro and Maestro+ I was unable to produce an acceptable espresso. The grinds produced insufficient resistance and the brew water gushed through. The Virtuoso, on the other hand had no such difficulties. The espresso produced seemed perfectly acceptable, rounded. Fine.

In terms of build quality the Maestro is very much the poor cousin. Just pick them up, it lacks the heft and solidity of the other two. This also translates into a somewhat worrying hopper wobble during grinding (although I can’t say it affected the cup). It also lacks the front mounted button for activating grinding. Surprisingly I did prefer this on the other two grinders, not because it did anything particularly amazing, but instead because the side switches were near uniformly cack (that’s a technical term). I don’t like analog timers, I cannot turn them the same amount each time with any accuracy, especially as the burrs start turning before you even release the switch (ie as soon as you start turning it). I don’t really get the point of them. I’d much prefer a simple on/off button.

Grind retention seemed very low (0.5g perhaps) across the board.

While I don’t have grind distribution profiles for the grinders, all signs point to one burrset (Maestro and Maestro+) that produces a unimodal  (one peak) distribution, and a second (Virtuoso) that produces a bimodal (two peak) distribution. Interestingly from the Baratza specs the Maestro and Maestro+ burrs are claimed to be German manufactured while the Virtuoso is Italian. You could perhaps draw a conclusion about traditional coffee drinking habits in those two countries and what they may have been trying to achieve in terms of burr manufacture (Baratza don’t have any role in the making of these burrs – they are “off the shelf” parts).

I would have no qualms recommending the Maestro or Maestro+. It will be my go-to recommendation for those looking to get on the better coffee bandwagon (that and a list of urls to Europe’s best roasters). If you are looking for something to also use for espresso, then forget the Maestro and plus. The Virtuoso would be a reasonable choice for that task, but that is a much more crowded sector. Though, at €150 cheaper than the Mahlkonig Vario, it might  very well prove quite popular.

The first units have just gone on sale through Coffee Angel (in very limited numbers). It is my understanding that another small number will pop up also through HasBean. Initial numbers will be low, but expect supply lines through these sellers and others to fill up by summer.

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20 thoughts on “Baratza Grinders

  1. Kupe Ovics says:

    Very interesting. Maybe you’ve mentioned already elsewhere, but to extend the comparison a bit further, how would you compare the Vario’s filter/press performance to the Maestros? I know you were less than impressed with it in that area.

    • Kupe Ovics says:

      I was hoping more people would comment, but I have some more questions I wonder if you have answers for, since I don’t see filter/press grind quality discussed in detail often. I was strongly considering moving to the Vario since my Rocky doesn’t seem to cut it for certain beans when grinding for espresso, despite the use of new burrs. However I’m very happy with it for filter and vacpot, and would hate to end up with worse performance in those areas. I used to have a Capresso Infinity (Broke it messing around), and feel that the Rocky improved my filter brews in comparison, but I can’t say for sure. However, I’ve never really been happy with anything I’ve tried for press use. I tend to only drink press-pot coffee when I can grind with the Ditting at work.

      I’m not asking for anything definitive, but have you ever similarly inspected the Rocky’s filter/press range? Are the maestros the best filter/press grinders you’ve tested in their price range, going up to the Rocky’s range?

    • I’ve never had a Rocky, so can’t say for certain. I have had several grinders that would be considered comparable to the Rocky, like the Gaggia MDF, Macap M4, Anfim Haus etc. I would rate all of these as being comprable for filter – ie not great. I can’t really say how they compare with any great assurity unless I had them for side by side tests. The Maestros did surprise me though.

  2. Marc says:

    Hi David,

    thanks for the review, I have a couple of questions:
    did you find the Virtuoso to be messy? did it have the portafilter option, and if so did you find it useful?

    Thanks, Marc

    • Hey Marc – I didn’t receive a portaholder, but they are available for the grinders. If you do a lot of espresso, I’d say yes they would be useful as somewhere to rest the portafilter.

  3. Kupe Ovics says:

    You might be interested in this discussion from a couple of months ago:

    http://www.home-barista.com/advice/which-baratza-grinder-for-drip-press-t13408.html

    I also linked this post in that thread. There’s even someone from Baratza with some data showing that the Virtuoso is bimodal at fine settings, but unimodal at coarse settings and supposedly superior to the Maestros in every way. I don’t really know what to make of it, but I ordered a Maestro Plus earlier today, so we’ll see what my results are.

  4. I recently ran a non-scientific experiment with my Virtuoso versus a Hario Skerton.

    I used to have a KitchenAid ProLine (a cheaper model broke, and they upgraded me at no cost), which was a fine grinder, but wasn’t performing to my liking.

    So I bought a Virtuoso, since I work at Intelli, have been using them in store at Intelli, and got a discount on what I thought was a fantastic grinder. But after I brought it home, I’ve been having a pretty hard time getting a nice setting for my V60 dripper. Anything much coarser than what I’m doing now, and the water flows right through the coffee without taking enough time to extract.

    Either way, I appreciate your post and the scientific tools you have to confirm my tastebuds’ suspicions.

    And then I saw this. So I did some test grinds with the two side by side, and it looked like there were significantly more fines in the Virtuoso than the Hario, but also a more uniform grind. What that translated to, however, was a more muddled cup, but still pretty nice.

    I’m finding that a coarser grind for my Chemex/Cafe Solo is outperforming the KitchenAid hands down, but it’s the finer grind for the V60 that’s giving me trouble.

    • Kupe Ovics says:

      I wanted to echo your experience with the skerton. When I’ve set it coarse and made a French press with it, I can see very few fine particles on the bottom of the screen after use, even when compared with my shop’s Ditting. I also agree on the uneven grind and muddiness though.

      I never got to try out the Maestro or Virtuoso, unfortunately, but I am currently experimenting with a couple of conical hand grinders for the v60. It may be that I just have less experience with them, but I feel the results so far are inferior to my Rocky (Flat burrs) in the same range. I’ve gotten some pretty sour and muddy extractions so far with the skerton and Peugeot I have, but both have a fair amount of burr wobble. The differences have been really interesting, but I still have lots of experimentation to do and more grinders to test. However, I’m starting to think the Rocky is better for mid-range grinding than I ever realized before.

  5. Pingback: MARCO ÜBER PROJECT » Baratza does Europe

  6. Pingback: Experiments: Re-evaluating the Hario V60 — Bitter Press

  7. Eddie Wang says:

    The Baratzas are all built in Taiwan now except the Vario (the one labelled Mahlkonig is actually assembled in Germany and both versions have the burrs by Mahlkonig/Ditting and internals designed by Mahlkonig). The difference between the Maestro/Maestro + from the Virtuoso is that the burrs in the Virtuoso are of commercial grade material and quality. The Precisio has a different burr from the Virtuoso as well and should be the highest grade commercial burr from Baratza.

    Besides the talk of manufacturing, I am still curious to see what Baratza has to say about these findings. Will the Maestro/Maestro + make better grinders for drip filter than the Virtuoso despite their less burrs? Does the Virtuoso only excel in the espresso category and lesser in the coarser grinds? I’d have to ask the sales to see how they respond.

  8. Evan says:

    Two things I find problematic with home grinders and would love your opinion on the Maestro+.

    1. I find they often leave ground coffee up in the works of the grinder, waiting to go stale and be included in your next grind. When I take it apart to clean (or even just give it a good thump) I find a worrying amount of grinds drops out.

    2. Given I’m tending to do single cups at a time, and only two or three a day, I don’t want my beans sitting in a hopper going stale. I keep them in air-tight containers and measure out the dose as needed. Some grinders rely on the weight of the beans in the hopper pushing down to produce a better grind.

    I’ve ended up just using a Hario Skerton hand grinder.

    Thanks.

    E.

  9. Nick says:

    I have preciso and can assure you that if you at only single dosing you can pulse the grinder a little bit in the beginning or at the end of the grind and get virtually everything you of it. Compared to something like a capresso infinity that unless you picked the thing up and gave it a good whack to get the extra grinds out you would end up with a disgusting cup there is almost nothing left. The carrier under the burrs is really small and is actually hard to clean if you want to get all the fines out, but it’s better than the alternative.

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