It is common knowledge that the best way to improve your coffee brewing is to invest in a decent burr coffee grinder. Today we are going to take a look at one such grinder- the Baratza Virtuoso Plus. When this coffee grinder was released back in 2005, it led the pack in terms of grind consistency. And the fact that you are still reading a review on it 15 years later is a testament to its quality design and build.
But is the Virtuoso still a good buy today? Who should consider buying one?
The Baratza Virtuoso Plus is a tried and true coffee grinder that has well and truly stood the test of time. It is well suited to manual brewing methods, offering 40 settings and good grind consistency at the medium to fine levels. However, we would say that this coffee grinder is a bit dated, and there are better options on the market now. Overall, we would recommend this grinder for those looking for an entry-level burr grinder that can withstand heavy use.
Baratza is a US-based company that was established in 1999 by Kyle Anderson and Kyra Kennedy. The company is dedicated to designing and producing high-quality coffee grinders for home brewing. They are most well known for the popular Baratza Encore, which has become ‘the’ entry-level grinder for manual brewing. Baratza has a proven track record for producing quality, well-built grinders and offering superb customer service. They are a well-established brand in the coffee industry that you can trust.
Baratza Virtuoso Review
Baratza Virtuoso+ Updates
The Baratza Virtuoso grinder recently went through a much-needed update and was renamed the Baratza Virtuoso+. While much of the design remains the same, Baratza included a digital grind timer and LCD screen to facilitate time-based dosing. They also included a led backlit grounds bin to help you see how much ground coffee there is.
The Baratza Virtuoso is a quality driven grinder, but it is not known for its looks! It looks somewhat dated and cannot compare with modern grinders like the Fellow Ode. While the exterior is nothing to write home about, the interior has been carefully designed. The Virtuoso is loaded with 40mm European-made steel burrs. The burrs are of excellent quality, will remain sharp for many years and are one of the reasons the Virtuoso offers such superb grind quality. The burrs have a precision mounting system to ensure they remain stable while grinding.
The Virtuoso+ utilizes an efficient DC motor combined with a gear reduction system to rotate the burr. The burrs have a low rotating speed of 550RPM which ensures the coffee beans feed through smoothly and remain cool while grinding. Despite the low speed, the Virtuoso grinds efficiently at around 1.5-2.4 grams per second. The DC motor also has a thermal overload cutout to prevent it from overheating with excessive use.
The Virtuoso has a short grind path, which means it has a low grind retention. Despite the low grind retention, it has not been designed for single-dose grinding. If you don’t have a full hopper, the beans popcorn around and take a while to feed into the hopper.
Part of Baratza’s design philosophy is to enable the consumer to repair rather than replace their coffee grinders. As such, the grinder is easy to disassemble and service. There is a substantial online community offering videos and guides to repairing the Virtuoso grinder. Spare parts are easy to come by, and the customer service provided by Baratza is superb. Overall the Virtuoso is built like a workhorse and will provide years of faithful service.
The Baratza Virtuoso grinder offers 40 grind settings covering various brewing methods, from espresso to French press. To adjust the grind setting, you twist the bean hopper to the right for a coarser setting or to the left for a finer grind. Baratza recommends the following settings as starting points for your different brew methods:
The Virtuoso Plus has a nice feature in that it allows for calibration. This means that while it will always only have 40 settings, you can adjust how close the burrs sit together to determine where your grinding range falls. So you can set your base grinding a bit finer or coarser. This innovative burr calibration system is a nice feature for the experienced coffee brewer.
Grinding with the Virtuoso can be done on-demand with the Pulse button or by using the timer. The digital timer can be set to up to 40 seconds and is adjusted in 0.1-second increments. Setting the timer is done by rotating the dial on the front of the grinder. You then press the dial-in to start/stop the grinder. The timer is very accurate and a good way to produce a repeatable dose.
And now we come to the most pressing question: what is the grind consistency of the Baratza Virtuoso like? When the Virtuoso was first released, it was years ahead of its competitors. Now, while it is not upstaging the other grinders, it is still a solid performer.
As we mentioned above, the Virtuoso has 40 grind settings ranging from fine to coarse. You get your coarse settings for Cold Brew and French Press at the higher end of the scale (30-40). And Virtuoso does struggle with grind consistency at these levels. This is a common issue among grinders, given the larger gap between the burrs. While the consistency is not amazing, you can still get a passable grind for these brewing methods at a slightly lower setting.
In the middle of the scale (10-30) is where you find your medium settings suitable for most drip methods. And it is at this level that the Virtuoso comes into its own and produces consistent grinds. Of course, it still produces some fines, like all grinders, but these are minimal.
Finally, at the lower end of the scale (0-10) are the fine settings you would use for espresso. The Virtuoso can grind fine enough for espresso, and it does produce a consistent grind at this setting. However, we would not recommend it for an espresso grinder. The Virtuoso just cannot provide the micro-adjustments required to dial in coffee beans accurately. So while you might be able to use the Virtuoso with a pressurized portafilter, it is best labeled as a conical burr coffee grinder aimed at manual brewing methods.
Cleaning the Virtuoso burr grinder has been a point of contention amongst users. Any leftover ground coffee needs to be brushed out of the burrs, hopper, and grounds catcher on a regular basis. Baratza recommends doing a deeper clean every few months, using cleaning tablets or a brush. The difficulty lies in getting to the burrs. Many users have complained that it is challenging to get the top burr out and then to realign the rubber gasket when re-assembling.
Who is it for?
The price tag of the Virtuoso is its Achilles heel. It does sit on the more expensive end of this price bracket and doesn’t have many extra features to recommend it. It lacks the beauty of the Fellow Ode or the bells and whistles of the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. Where the Virtuoso shines is in build quality. It is a basic grinder that is built like a workhorse. So if you are after a grinder for heavy use, such as a large family or small office, the Baratza Virtuoso is where it’s at.
So if you have read this review and decided the Virtuoso is not for you, what other options are out there?
Breville Smart Grinder Pro
The Breville Smart Grinder is a high-tech grinder at a similar price. It offers 60 grind settings and a good grind consistency at the medium to fine levels. This grinder is one of the cheapest grinders you will find capable of grinding for espresso. Overall, it is a great all-rounder with an excellent price tag.
If you are after an entry-level grinder for manual brewing methods, the Baratza Encore is an excellent option. It has the same burrs as the Virtuoso and offers 40 grind size settings. The grind range and consistency are almost identical. What the Encore doesn’t have is the timed dosing. However, if you are just after a basic grinder for manual brewing, you could save a few bucks by opting for the Encore over the Virtuoso.
The Verdict- Baratza Virtuoso
The Baratza Virtuoso is a well-loved grinder that has earned a reputation for simplicity and durability. It is well suited to grinding for manual brewing methods. This is a reliable grinder that can deal well with heavy use. However, we would say there are better grinders in this price bracket now. If you are on the fence, check out our guide to the best burr grinders.
Grinder Buying Guide
When it comes to buying a burr grinder, there are a few decisions you need to make.
Electric vs Manual
The first decision is whether to opt for an automatic or manual burr grinder. On the one hand you have a manual grinder. Manual grinders are commonly used by enthusiasts for manual brewing methods. While they can be used for espresso we wouldn’t recommend it as grinding for espresso takes a lot of arm work. These grinders offer more bang for your buck, as they have no electric parts. All of your money is basically going to the quality of the burrs and build. They are often small and portable, enabling you to brew coffee wherever. The downside is that they are time consuming to use and require a lot of effort to grind a dose.
On the other hand we have the automatic grinder. These are typically more expensive, particularly if you compare the price to grind consistency ratio. If you spend the same amount of money on a manual grinder and an automatic grinder, the manual grinder will have far superior grind consistency. Despite this, if you invest in a decent automatic grinder, you will find the grind consistency will equal or trump the manual grinder. It goes without saying that an automatic grinder is going to be large and bulky, and will take up some bench space. But when it comes to convenience the automatic grinder wins out. Grinding is quick and effortless with the push of a button.
Burr Type- Ceramic vs Steel
The next consideration, is which type of burrs to opt for. Ceramic vs Stainless Steel is the age-old debate in the coffee world, with experts on both sides. Ceramic burrs are the most common in domestic grinders. They are stronger, and stay sharp for longer. However ceramic burrs don’t hold up well against large impacts. If you drop it or get a stone in it, the burrs are more likely to crack.
Stainless steel burrs have become a popular option among enthusiasts. While they don’t last as long as ceramic burrs, they start out much sharper. This produces a uniform and precise grind, with very little fines. They are well suited to manual brewing methods, like pour over, as they produce a clean flavor profile, highlighting origin notes. However, unless you are an expert, you likely won’t notice the difference in grind between these two types of burrs.
Burr Shape- Conical vs Flat
The final thing to consider is whether you want flat or conical burrs. As you may well be aware, there is extensive debate in the coffee community about the pros and cons of both types of burrs. As a generalization most home grinders are conical burr grinders while most commercial grinders utilize flat burrs. It has also been aired that conical burrs work better for manual brewing methods, while flat burrs are better for espresso. However, for most home barista’s, the quality of the burrs used is a more important consideration than the type of burrs.