Baratza’s Sterling Virtuoso Grinder

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.

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