Ask coffee experts, and most will agree: grinding is probably one of the most crucial and oft-overlooked factors in a great cup of coffee at home. We've tried roasting, and would just as soon leave it up to the professionals, but buying pre-ground coffee is a bad idea. The freshness of the coffee degrades quickly post-grind, so taking those beans and churning them to pieces should be done at the last possible moment. That leaves most folks in a bind- they've already spent some money on the brewer, whether it be a French press or drip pot, and now need another piece of equipment as well. Besides, a good grinder should be small and light and likely inexpensive, right?
Bad news- they're fairly big, bulky, heavy, and expensive. That's because any of the decent ones use conical burrs, ensuring both an even and precise grind and avoiding heating up the fairly delicate beans during the grinding process. It's like good speakers- you can only bend the laws of physics so much. Baratza has been making grinders for a long time, and it's just about all they do- which is probably why the Virtuoso is one of the most highly-acclaimed grinders, and probably the best under $200.
We admit- it's just been superseded by a new sibling, the Preciso, which costs about one-third more but adds some nifty features. Even without them though, the Virtuoso shines. For starters, it's pretty quiet for a burr grinder and the sound is stable and steady, not high-pitched, whiny, or jarring. It looks sharp on a counter, black and silver, with the frosted plastic bins for both beans and grounds. We liked that it offered two methods for grinding- a front-button instant grind that you hold down, or a timer on the side.
As coffee geeks, we generally avoid the old drip machines- good for larger quantities, they're not so hot for making the really good stuff. Instead, we tried using one of our favorite locally-roasted coffees, Sightglass, and set the machine at about 38 for a french press, 20 for use in a Chemex filter, and lower than that for use in our Aeropress. This might not get you quite the perfect espresso-fine grounds you want, but we loved it for anything else. There are 40 settings total, offering a pretty wide variety, and grind seemed consistent- we had one or two larger chunks than we like to see during the first six or seven grinds but none since then.
Our only real issue was the grind catcher, which fits fairly well but still allows some grinds to get behind and around it. We've seen others that were far worse, but we still noticed some build up over time, and it required some attention and cleaning. Overall, you really can't beat this grinder's adjustability and consistency, and value for the money. At $200, it's a perfect way to instantly improve your coffee quality, and allows plenty of experimentation to find settings that you like. Available widely online and in stores.