Tag Archives: Ceramic

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Which Baratza Grinder is Right for You?

Pierce Jens, Baratza Email Support Guru, shares his thoughts on how to choose the best grinder for you!

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What grinder is best for me? This question has popped up more than a few times in the Support department, I hope that this blog will help inform and educate how to optimize your grinder selection for your caffeination needs.

The first thing you need to decide is what kind of brew method(s) you plan on employing. Next, think about how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. Coffee, like all things, can be a basic enjoyment, or a scientific art. Having expensive equipment definitely helps procure good extractions, but spending money is not going to guarantee you delicious shots, beautiful art or delicate flavors in your pourover. Those things come from practice, understanding, and appreciation of the process. Are you interested in drinking a tasty cup of coffee, and that is all? Do you want to find the perfect balance of complimentary notes in your manual extraction? Or, do you want to procure an exact 30 second, two ounce with crema shot (or whatever parameters you prefer) and have the ability to change the shot time in increments as small as one second?

We have two different families of grinder models- conical and flat burr grinders. The discussion of which is better between conical vs flat burrs could be compared to the argument of Ford vs Chevy; people will stick to their side of the argument tooth and nail depending on personal preference. Right now we have one hopper design on the market that holds 300 grams of whole beans- our new hopper with the bean shutoff lever will be available later this summer.

The current conical lineup includes the Encore, Virtuoso, and Preciso. These grinders all have 32mm conical burrs made in Liechtenstein. We pride ourselves on having high quality conical burrs that generally last for about 500# of coffee. The 160 watt DC motors are low revving compared to AC motors, spinning the burrs at ~450rpm and keeping heat transfer to the grounds down. Our new gearbox layout, the GB2.0, accurately meshes the helical worm shaft of the motor with the reduction gear for a smooth, direct drive transfer of power. The grind is adjusted in a cork screw type fashion, with the adjustment ring threads pulling the stationary upper burr closer or further from the rotating lower burr. Grounds retention in the machine is about a gram, which reduces the amount of coffee needed to purge. The 100 gram capacity bin and the discharge chute are made of an anti-static plastic, which helps battle the inevitable static better than a coating.

The flat burr lineup includes the Vario and Vario W at this time. The Forte is pending release, it is designed for heavy commercial use. The Vario and Vario W have 54mm flat ceramic burrs that are very resilient and last longer than steel burrs- around 750# estimated. The digital front panel is capable of saving 3 preset functions, and the adjuster levers are easy to read and adjust. Grind size is adjusted by a milled metal camshaft. As you raise the adjustment lever, the lobe on the camshaft presses up against the bottom of the lower burr, decreasing the gap between the lower burr and the stationary upper burr. The same 160 watt motor powers the burr, using a belt drive transmission that reduces noise.

Encore

Our entry level conical burr grinder is the Encore. At $129 USD, it has the ability to grind a coarse French press grind and a 40 setting range that produces an espresso fine grind as well. The Encore has an intermittent pulse button on the front of the machine as well as an on/off knob on the side. I recommend the Encore for those who do not want to commit substantial time for brewing, but understand and appreciate the benefit of fresh ground coffee at home. The Encore does grind slowest of our models, at a rate of about a gram a second.

Virtuoso

The Virtuoso is a step up from the Encore with a price point of $229 USD. With a sharp looking cast zinc upper casing and base, this grinder immediately catches the eye. Besides being nice to look at, it excels at a consistent coarse grind, and readily produces espresso fine grind. Like the Encore, the Virtuoso has an intermittent pulse button, but on the side of the machine it has a 60 second timer switch. The timer switch is nice to have over the on/off switch of the Encore, because you can turn it a quarter of the way or so when grinding by dose. The machine will chug through the beans and power itself off while you prepare your filter/brew equipment. With a max throughput of around 2 grams a second, the Virtuoso is very efficient and quick enough for impatient coffee connoisseurs. I highly recommend the Virtuoso, as I enjoy operating mine at home for single cup pourover.

Preciso

The next step up in our model line is directed for users who are seriously making espresso, along with manual extractions, and desire more control than the 40 step adjustment. Although the Virtuoso and Encore models will grind fine enough for espresso, a user may find it difficult to procure an exact shot time. The Preciso, at $299 USD, addresses this issue with the addition of a micro adjustment which allows users to find a grind setting in between the 40 macro steps. When pulling espresso shots the micro adjustment function can be used to adjust the shot time by as little as one second, ceteris paribus. I recommend the Preciso for users who are pulling shots and are controlling the other variables such as dosage, water weight, shot time, temperature, tamp pressure, and of course having fresh beans (preferably less than two weeks from the roast date).

Vario

The Vario is our ceramic flat burr grinder at $449 USD that grinds based on a time input (ten seconds, fifteen seconds, etc). With macro and micro adjustment options, the Vario is superb at grinding for espresso. It is also available with a set of steel burrs that are cut for manual brew grinding ONLY. The digital display holds three preset times that are programmable by the user. A Porta Holder is included with the Vario, allowing users to grind hands-free into the espresso basket. The regular grounds bin has a 140 gram capacity. I recommend the Vario for espresso fanatics, and encourage heavy users to buy the Vario over the Preciso.

Vario W

Mechanically speaking, the Vario W is identical to the Vario. However, rather than grinding based on a time input, the Vario W grinds based on a desired weight input and will grind the dose within 0.2 grams of the desired input. This allows users to control another variable in the brewing equation without additional equipment/steps. With a 300 gram maximum capacity of the load cell, the user cannot grind by weight directly into an espresso porta filter- only into the 120 gram capacity grounds bin provided. The Vario W is priced at $549 USD.

Esatto

At $129 USD, the Esatto is an attachment for our conical burr grinders that allows the users to grind by weight directly into the 60 gram capacity grounds bin provided, saving the user the extra step of weighing the dose on a separate scale. The Esatto has a 300 gram max cap for the scale and cannot grind by weight directly into an espresso porta filter. The Esatto fits the Encore, Virtuoso, Preciso, as well as our superseded models Maestro Plus and Baratza Starbucks Barista P/N 1MP1SP.

If you are looking for a grinder for Turkish
No Baratza grinders are designed for Turkish coffee grinding. Although our grinders are capable of producing a Turkish fine grind, the demands on the machine are high. Our grinders have a thermal overload protection circuit that will cut power to the motor if it draws a large amount. Power consumption for Turkish is great, which will cause the machine to shut down into protect mode until it has cooled down for 15 or 20 minutes- perhaps before even grinding a full dose. I have helped several customers with Baratza grinders and the intention of Turkish over the years; none in my experience have been satisfied. I recommend a hand grinder for home Turkish grinding.

Steel vs Ceramic burrs and heat generation – the lowdown

September 17,2012

Recently we did a short blog on the life of burrs! It was well received and generated many more questions from our Baratza community, especially around the topic of the differences between ceramic and metal burrs, and the heat generated in burrs, when grinding. We decided it was time that Kyle Anderson, download some of that knowledge that he’s built up over his 20 years in the business of designing and manufacturing coffee machines and grinders, and let you in on some facts on these burrs! By the way, Kyle’s the President and Co-owner of Baratza, plus he’s the chief designer/engineer/geekhead – he knows a thing or two!

So, here you go………….


by Kyle Anderson

As with the ongoing argument about which is better: a Ford or a Chevy, so goes the banter about steel vs. ceramic burrs in coffee grinders. In the former argument the facts are few and the fur flies readily, in the later the same is true. The few known “facts” about steel and ceramic burrs are mixed in with a large dose of misunderstandings. My goal with this blog is to lay out the facts, dispel the most common misunderstandings, all in the hopes of producing a better educated coffee grinder user/buyer. While we have produced grinders for 11+ years with conical and flat burrs, I will limit this missive to flat burrs only.

First a few facts….
  • Ceramic burrs are harder than steel and last (on average) about twice as long as steel burrs.
  • Ceramic burrs are more brittle than steel so you could chip the ceramic burr if a very hard rock was hiding in the beans.
  • Ceramic burr are less thermally conductive than steel, this means these burrs transfer less heat than steel burrs (See below on heat).
  • Ceramic burrs require a custom mold or tool to form them. These tools are not cheap so there are far fewer ceramic burr designs to choose from than steel.
  • Unit cost of ceramic burrs are MUCH lower than comparable steel burrs, typically less than half (after the molds to make the burrs are paid for)
  • Ceramic burrs are ideal for heavy duty commercial applications (see LaMarzocco Swift grinder for $4500! It is only sold with ceramic burrs)
  • The material of the burr has no bearing on the speed it must rotate, this is a function of the design of the teeth.
  • The noise generated during grinding is a function of the teeth design not the material of the burr.
  • Ceramic and steel burrs both handle all roasts equally
  • Steel burrs MAY be more durable than ceramic if a stone is encountered, but the steel burr can dent or chip also.
Heat and grinding coffee beans: the big misunderstanding

Thermal conductivity of the burrs (i.e. The material they are made from) has NO BEARING on the root cause of heat build up in grinders which comes from a combination of internal friction as the coffee bean is crushed, and from minor friction in the actual cutting of the bean by the burrs. The sharper the burrs ,the less heat is created in the cutting of the bean. The majority of heat creation comes from the crushing of the bean. One could actually argue that the higher thermal conductivity of steel burrs can actually decrease the heat of the ground coffee in small batches. This is because the heat is created IN the bean and is then transferred to the burrs. If the burrs are steel, they will do a MUCH better job of transferring this heat away from the coffee and to the housing of the grinding mechanism. The actual surface temperature of the grinding surface will be similar whether the burr is steel or ceramic, except for that heat which is able to transfer through the burr and away from the coffee. In large industrial coffee grinders, the burrs are mounted to a plate that has water cooling running through it. The burrs conduct the heat away from the beans (and the grinding surface) to the water. A secondary source of heat in ground coffee comes from heat that is stored in the burrs and grinder housing (from coffee ground earlier or immediately preceding) and transferred back into the coffee being ground in the moment. And this brings me to another pet peeve:

The speed of rotation of grinding burrs and the effect on heat build up in the the ground coffee.

Dull and/or poorly designed burrs (of any material (steel or ceramic)) will result in inefficient grinding of the coffee which in turn will generate more heat in the beans. The actual speed of rotation of the burrs is not the dominant (or even significant) variable. I have seen designs of conical burrs turning at 3400 rpm and grinding 10+ grams per second and the coffee comes out cool. (Typical conical burr grinders turn at 300-500 rpm) An argument can be made for lessening the contact time that the coffee beans have with the burrs (once the burrs get hot). Remember, the surface of the burrs get hot from the beans that have been ground before, this hot surface can then conduct this heat back into new coffee. As coffee passes through the grind path quickly (this can only happen with well designed, sharp burrs and a clever grind chamber design) the contact time is so minimal that the only heat experienced by the coffee is that from its own crushing and cutting, not from latent heat in the burrs or grinder housing.

I hope this writing has shed some light on common misunderstandings relative to burrs materials and heat issues in the grinding of coffee.