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Hands-on Gear Review
Baratza Virtuoso Review
Price: $249 List | $249.00 at Amazon
Pros: Makes a great cup, sleek aesthetic, simple interface.
Cons: Expensive, minimal features, messy.
Bottom line: A simple and attractive design. Provides great taste but lacks ease of use features and creates consistent small messes
The Baratza Virtuoso is a sweet looking machine that makes a great cup of coffee, following a point behind the OXO On Barista Brain, which landed a 9 as the best tasting grinder. This unit is super simple—add coffee, press the central "pulse" button, consume awesomeness. We gave this grinder an 8 for ease of use because of its impressive simplicity, but it didn't quite land a 9 because it lacked helpful features offered by units like the OXO and Cuisinart Deluxe Grind. "Less is more" is totally the motto here. No fancy dose-by-the-cup automation, just a timer dial that gets the job done. It's a little messy and not particularly quiet, but the Virtuoso stands out by making a great coffee, keeping the process simple and looking really wonderful and shiny while doing it.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Baratza Virtuoso does a good job at making a cup of coffee and appeals to the less-is-more principle. A sleek, appealing aesthetic with a single button on the face, the Virtuoso is not decked out with features but has enough to get the job done and show quality in the cup. Compared to the OXO or the Cuisinart Deluxe, the Virtuoso lacks the precise dosing features; instead it has a timer dial to get the job done. It's not impressively clean or impressively quiet, but it's not below the average scores for the grinders we tested. The Baratza Virtuoso shows its strength in being simple to operate and delivering a quality brew to the cup.
Quality of Taste
"Taste is king," they say. And that's one area where the Baratza Virtuoso stands out the most. We set the standard of the "full flavored" cup of coffee that was almost perfectly achieved by the Editors' Choice award winner, the OXO On Barista Brain, which scored a 9 for quality of taste. The Virtuoso follows behind with an 8. The cup we brewed from the Virtuoso definitely had a lot going on in it—nuances of the blend were present and distinguishable and the cup was clean rather than muddled. What differentiated this grinder's taste compared to that of competitors was that the balance of the flavor profile leaned slightly toward the vibrant side. The Virtuoso showed less depth than the Breville Smart Grinder Pro, which had great bottom and heft, but showed more complexity than the Cuisinart Deluxe, which gave us a relatively smooth, sweet, and mellow cup. If the range and resonance of the flavor profile were a step better, we'd definitely say it was a 9, but the Virtuoso delivers a "darn good" cup of coffee with a unique "dynamic" style nonetheless.
Baratza Virtuoso vs. Baratza Encore: Is There a $100 Difference?
We were interested to see how the Baratza Virtuoso stacked up in quality of taste compared to the Baratza Encore. There is a price difference, but is there a difference in taste? Yes—enough to merit a one point difference (Virtuoso 8; Encore 7). Initially we thought the machines might be identical with the exception of the stainless steel housing of the Virtuoso, but it turned out that the Encore didn't produce as much body or bottom notes as its pricier companion, yielding an airier cup with a gap in the flavor range. So, is it worth the difference in price? We'll leave that up to you.
Ease of Use
Looking at the Baratza Virtuoso, there's something rather stylish about its minimalist design. A pulse button on the front performs its primary function and a timer dial (without any numeric indicators) allows the user to give the dial a twist and let the grinder do the rest. Find the indication that grinds your preferred amount and work it into your brewing routine. The simplicity of the design doesn't offer automation options that expedite your coffee making like the OXO or the Cuisinart Deluxe Grind, yet the interface is so straightforward and self-explanatory that using the Virtuoso earns an 8 for ease of use. This unit ties with the Capresso Infinity, having nearly identical features and simplicity, with smooth controls that feel good and get the job done. The little bro of the Baratza family, the Encore, only lacks the timer dial for dosing out coffee and comes in just a point below the Virtuoso with a 7.
The Virtuoso has some hefty housing that gives it some weight and a dapper aesthetic. Although this does tone down the grinding noise in comparison to its fraternal twin, the Encore, the difference is not enough to make a point difference. Both the Encore and the Virtuoso scored a 6 for quietness. Their volume readings were different by one decibel, but when comparing these machines to a host of competitors the overall sound difference between the Baratza machines was negligible. The Virtuoso is a tad quieter than the OXO's score of 5, noticeably better than the blade grinders we tested (the Krups Fast Touch and Epica Electric both scored 4s), and yet not as tame as the Capresso (8), or the impressive Cuisinart Deluxe, which secured the top score of 9 for quietness.
The Virtuoso makes a good cup of coffee, but it doesn't do so without leaving some evidence. With frequently required light cleanup, we rated the Virtuoso with a 6 for mess-free operation. We found that the Virtuoso gets messy when you grind more than a single serving and especially when the roast is medium or light. Lighter roasts have a little more chaff, which clings around the mouth of the grind chamber and puffs onto the counter when the bin is returned to its compartment. Chaff is the sometimes caramel colored flaky substance that you find collected on groove of the coffee bean's face. The Virtuoso doesn't make a noticeable mess the first time around, but with repeat grinding or with a large serving, the mess quickly becomes evident and requires frequent cleanup to prevent coffee dust or that light fluffy chaff stuff from finding its way into the nooks of your counter area. In contrast, coffee grinders that obtained a top score of 9 had no issues of static cling in the grind chamber, produced minimal dust, and required minimal time to clean up after.
Baratza's name is often seen on the online stores of specialty coffee companies, so we looked forward to testing both the Virtuoso and the Encore. After weighing these, the Virtuoso stood out in making a dynamic cup of coffee with a simple aesthetic and without the distraction of what might be considered marginal features. Higher scoring competitors offer better dosing precision and disperse less mess on your countertops (for a lower price); the OXO scored significantly higher in our taste tests. However, the Virtuoso may still be a rewarding choice for someone who is set on this grinder's impressive appearance and wants good flavor without the extra features.
In comparison to other products we tested, we like what the Virtuoso has to offer, but it's expensive. The Virtuoso offers good quality brew, but other coffee grinders accomplish similar or better results with higher scores for ease of use, quietness, and mess-free operation, for a lower price. The OXO does all this and also makes an even better cup for a lower price. You won't be disappointed with the cup that the Virtuoso makes, but be prepared to buy the second most expensive grinder we tested and put a little more effort into your coffee routine than other less expensive machines will require from you.
Overall, the Baratza Virtuoso gives you a high quality brew with a sweet aesthetic. But less is more with this machine. No LED interface, no specific dosing feature—the Virtuoso isn't going to step in and make coffee for you. The Virtuoso just grinds, but it grinds some quality stuff that yields a dynamic and nicely balanced cup… and it looks really nice while doing it.
— Jared Marquez
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