When it comes to consumer coffee grinders (both espresso and general purpose), there are basically two methods of selecting your grind - a stepped method, and a stepless method. Stepped infers a series of slots, clicks, settings that a grinder has, meaning it is difficult or nearly impossible to go between these steps. Stepless is usually a friction based grind fineness setting, allowing in theory an infinite number of controls, but with the caveat of it being hard to go back and forth between grind settings with any real accuracy.
Baratza, the company who manufactures the product reviewed in this article, has gone the stepped route, but in such a way that makes them entirely unique. Their argument for a stepped grinder is simple: they manufacture "multipurpose grinders", meaning the grinders aren't just espresso grinders, or drip coffee grinders, but are designed to handle a wide variety of grinding needs. Because their grinders are multipurpose and the home user may want to switch between espresso grinding and press pot grinding, a stepped grinder design means finding your right grind setting quickly and accurately is just easier on a stepped grinder.
A few years ago, Baratza recognized the limitations of traditional stepped grinders (which usually meant adjusting the hopper collar - the junction between where the beans were held and the grinder's body) and came up with a new design: the macro / micro design of their Vario grinder. One control arm would adjust the grinder fineness in big steps - from espresso to press pot. Another control arm would offer 24 different adjustment steps within each "big jump" step of the other control arm. In many ways, this was revolutionary: instead of 24, 30, 40 grind adjustments, the grinder all of a sudden got hundreds of adjustable steps. All very precise, all very manageable. This design was introduced in Baratza's Vario grinder, designed in conjunction with grinder giant Malkhonig.
In late 2010, Baratza brought this macro / micro philosophy to a new grinder, and it is the subject of this review: the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso. This is the Virtuoso grinder with two important distinctions: it has a new micro-adjust collar to compliment the Virtuoso's main collar grind adjustment, and it has a completely new burr set, designed in Lichenstein (I know - not exactly a hotbed of coffee technology development - but perhaps that might change).
The Baratza Virtuoso Preciso is Baratza's fifth grinder (in their current lineup), and we've put it through the paces for two months in order to develop this QuickShot review.
he Preciso Grinder - Introduction
| Micro / Macro Adjustments |
The new Preciso grinder features a secondary "MICROadjust" selector offering 11 selections from A to K; each one of these is one click out of eleven within each "MACROadjust" setting, theoretically offering 440 adjustable settings.
The Baratza Virtuoso Preciso (from now on called Preciso) is, as mentioned, Baratza's fifth grinder in their current manufacturing lineup. It looks from the outset almost exactly like the Baratza Virtuoso; only close examination shows something extra happening at the collar area where the bean hopper meets the grinder's body.
The grinder is heavy, and pleasingly so. It features brushed, champagne coloured steel parts up top and around the bottom; in fact the base is a big chunk of steel to keep the grinder bottom heavy. The rest of the body is primarily a textured, matte black and the bean hopper is a smoked brown coloured plastic. Two power controls are evident - a side timer dial and a front "pulse" or on demand soft-touch button.
It is important for these kinds of appliances to be heavy, because of the way they are used. All of Baratza's grinders (except for the Maestro line) are designed to be used for espresso and allow for a portafilter to be held under the grind-exit chute (instead of the grind catching bin); in fact, one handed operation is part of their design when grinding for espresso: your hand holds a portafilter, and your thumb naturally positions itself in front of an actuating button on the Virtuoso, Preciso, and Vario grinders. If the machine was light, it would slide around while doing this. The Preciso's weight is heavy enough so it sits still under most uses, including one-handed operation while grinding for espresso.
While the grinder can be used with portafilters simply by removing the grounds-bin, Baratza also sells an optional "Portaholder" which conveniently slots into the bin space. The Portaholder uses a fork and hook design to hold almost any portafilter in place while grinding. They are optimized so that the majority of ground coffee falls into the centre of most portafilter baskets. We tested the Preciso both with and without the Portaholder.
The grounds-bin is the same colour as the hopper on top of the grinder. Baratza has experimented over the years with materials and even coatings for their grounds-bin to reduce static issues, a problem with Baratza grinders in the past. By and large, I noticed very little static issues with the Preciso, though at times it still is present in a muted form. In the past, there were times where fluffy grind particles were flying all over the place on a Baratza grinder; I haven't noticed this problem with the Preciso, even after two solid months of use and testing.
As mentioned before, the biggest difference between the Preciso and the Virtuoso is a new element within the grinder's collar area. The grind selection dial around the collar is still present, going from 0 to 40, but around the front of the collar there is a new addition: a micro-adjust moving tab that uses alphabet letters going from A to K (11 steps). The range of these steps falls within one "click" on the larger collar, turning the grinder from one with theoretically (more on that later) 40 stepped grind settings to one with (theoretically) 440 steps. That's pretty huge.
The micro adjust collar feels very secure - much more so than the Vario's design. It is actually a bit difficult (but still manageable) to move the micro adjuster left or right, which is good - that means it probably will not slip during grinding. This has been a problem with the Vario grinder, with both the macro and micro sliders slipping coarser while the machine is operating.
Looking at the rest of the grinder, there are some interesting design tweaks and choices. For instance, there are smooth cutouts on the front of the grind for providing easy access to the grinder bin. Inside the grinder bin area, the Preciso has a plastic detent that compresses slightly when the bin is slid into place. This detent keeps the bin secured while grinding. On the front of the Preciso is a secondary "pulse" microswitch that features a soft rubber coating and is very easy to use.
Underneath the grinder, there is a place to store some of the electrical cord. Not much though, for two reasons. First, the electrical cord is quite heavy duty (as in thick) and it is fairly long, measuring at 150cm (almost 5 feet). Second, the space inside the grinder for cord storage is quite small. At most, I was able to jam maybe 50, 60cm of the cord inside.
Lastly, the big difference between the Preciso and Virtuoso is one you don't see on the grinder unless you remove the hopper: the burr set used. It's not the burr set the grinder was originally designed for, or the one that was in the first shipment of 120 Preciso grinders. This new burr set found on all current Precisos is one that Baratza sourced from Lichenstein. It may look similar to the original burr set (same one that is in the Virtuoso) but all similarities end in looks. This new conical burr set grinds at almost twice the speed of the Virtuoso conical burrs (while spinning at the same RPMs), but also produces much less fines than the burr inside the Virtuoso or Maestro line. In fact, it rivals the Vario, in tests I conducted for a Baratza grinder white paper. I'll get more into the burr later on in this review.
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| Preciso and included items |
The Preciso comes with a grounds-bin, sample of "Grindz" cleaner, a brush, and operations manual.
| Portaholder |
Optionally, a Baratza Portaholder can be purchased to add a hands-off portafilter grinding option.
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| Hopper Off |
With the top bean hopper removed, you can see the rubber sleeve that fits on top of the grinder burr assembly. This is crucial - if you lose it, whole beans will fall into the interior of the grinder.
| Burr Assembly |
Here is the burr assembly still in place. Note the red colouring on one of the tabs. This is always lined up with the cutout in the housing, when removing or inserting the top burr assembly.
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| Burr Holder, pusher vanes |
Here, the top burr is removed, showing the relatively small vane area (where the ground coffee is spun, flowing out of the exit chute. It stays very clean between uses.
| Macro Adjust Collar |
The main large grind adjustment is on the hopper collar, much like the Baratza Virtuoso. Note the tab - it's currently sitting at the 20 position.
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| Timer Dial |
Here is the side mechanical timer dial for operating the grinder hands off.
| Pulse Switch |
Up front is the soft-touch pulse switch for grinding on demand.
Using the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso Grinder
Unpacking of the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso grinder is pretty straightforward. It is in a cardboard cocoon that is inside the outer box, and lifts up out of the box via two thumb-loops. The grinder is well packed, and interestingly enough, the side mechanical timer dial is not installed - it is inside the grounds-bin in a wrap of plastic.
The grinder comes with a few accessories, including a sample pack of Urnex' Grindz grinder cleaner pellets and a cleaning bristle brush. There is also an option you can buy for the Preciso, and that is the Portaholder portafilter holder insert. This comes standard with the more expensive Vario grinder, but is an option with the Preciso, Virtuoso and Maestro grinders.
Setting up the grinder for first use is very easy. Unwrap all the plastic, put the grounds-bin in place, add some whole bean coffee, put the lid on top and you're good to go. The grinder is usually preset out of the box for a drip or pourover grind - 20 on the macro dial, and F on the micro dial.
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| Unboxing - Wrong Box? |
At the time of the first Preciso shipments, Baratza still didn't have a proper box.
| Unboxing - Red Sticker |
So to distinguish the grinder, a red sticker was on top of the box saying "Preciso".
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| Unboxing - Double Cocoon |
The materials used to ship the Preciso are mostly cardboard. Baratza wanted to avoid styro.
| Unboxing - Flaps Down |
The outer carrier (both added protection, and designed to easily remove the grinder).
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| Unboxing - Inner Cocoon Removed |
With the inner cocoon cardboard removed, the grinder is almost unwrapped.
| Unboxing - Plastic Wrap |
Plastic keeps the parts from getting scratched in transit. As you can see, the power cord is thick.
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| Unboxing - Almost Done |
Last bits are wrapped in further plastic, inside the grounds-hopper.
| Unboxing - Dial and Brush |
Here's the mechanical timer dial (comes uninstalled) and the included grinder brush.
For the extensive white paper I did for Baratza a few months ago, I was able to determine the grind range for a wide variety of grinding needs. (white paper is linked to at the end of this review). These results are reprinted below in a chart.
|Preciso Grinder Range Settings|
|Setting||Turkish||Espresso||Pressurized Espresso||Moka Pot||Fine Drip||Regular Drip||Coarse Drip||Press Pot|
Grinds Left in Grinder
Baratza grinders as a whole - especially when they can do competent espresso - are such a breath of fresh air compared to commercial (and consumer) espresso doser grinders. In the CG Lab we used (the otherwise excellent) Compak K10 WBC Spec doser grinder; at home I use a (the otherwise excellent, again) Super Caimano Ti V2 grinder. Both of these are my primary espresso grinders. And both are quite excellent (I just said that) in so many regards, save for one: they leave way too much grind coffee inside the grinder between uses. The Anfim leaves around 14 grams, and the Compak around 12 grams.
By comparison, the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso leaves around 1.2 grams of "movable" ground coffee inside the grinder between uses. There's actually a bit more - about 3 grams, but more than half of this is ground coffee that fills in the nooks and crannies of the grinder's interior and once those nooks are filled, those grounds don't move much, or affect your shot to shot quality.
1.2 grams isn't as low as the Vario (under 0.5g) but it's not only acceptable, it's highly desired. You don't have to grind off a lot of coffee to get a fresh ground for your espresso shot; in fact, if you don't grind off any coffee before loading your doser, you'd be hard pressed to notice the difference. I can't say that about the Anfim: I have to grind at least 12-15g of coffee just to get fresh ground into the chute.
Over time, this will save a lot of money and reduce coffee waste, especially in consumer use.
At first take, grinding speed isn't a huge issue for consumer use - it's no where near as important as it is in the commercial areas where literally every second counts in a busy cafe. In fact, in most cafes, if a grinder takes longer than 6 or 7 seconds to do a 20g espresso dose, it's too slow.
That said, consumers have been used to speeds of as much as 30 seconds or longer just to do a 20 gram dose for espresso (the Mazzer Mini comes to mind). Even Baratza's own Virtuoso grinder takes around 22 seconds to do 19g of espresso grind.
The Preciso takes 13 seconds to do that same dose. It's even one second faster than the Baratza Vario, which was trumpeted as a very fast home grinder. In my testing, I was quite surprised at the speed of the Preciso over a range of grind styles: in all my speed tests it beat the Vario, and because of that, it is pretty much the fastest consumer grinder available on the market today.
In all the testing we did, grinding speed on the Preciso averaged to just above 2g per second for non espresso particle sizes, and around 1.5g/second for espresso.
While working on my white paper for Baratza, I brought together a small group of consumers and pro baristas to gauge their thoughts on the products. I had an informal questionnaire on usability, and it was interesting to see the results: almost all the testers were initially confused by the Preciso's macro / micro adjustments and how they actually worked. It didn't score as low as the Vario (which was very confusing to first time users), but still, there were questions. Once you get a handle on what the goal of the macro vs. micro adjustments are supposed to do, it's all gravy.
The speed of the grinder (covered above) is a big boon to usability and this cannot be under emphasised. In testing, the Preciso will grind at 2.3g per second for a normal drip grind. I've been able to grind an entire 1lb bag of coffee in under 4 minutes - not terribly fast by commercial standards (commercial bag grinders can do the same volume in around 30-40 seconds, sometimes less), but it sure beats the speed of a Virtuoso, which can take over 8 minutes (and generate a lot more heat) to do the same function.
All of this translates to a usability boon because you're not standing around waiting as long for your coffee to grind up. If you're standing there, holding a portafilter under the exit chute, your "hold" time is a lot less - around 11-13 seconds - which is very fast. I don't have a Mazzer Mini to test right now, but in the past I do remember the grinder taking around 1g a second, which would translate in around 20 seconds for the same dose.
The grinder isn't particularly noisy, but you can reduce noise quite a bit just by leaving the lid on the top hopper. You can carry on a conversation though, albeit at slightly raised voices.
For me, this is the real meat of the testing. A fast grinder is nice. A grinder with a wide range of settings is nice. But none of this matters if the grinder can't do a reasonably uniform grind.
Fortunately, the Preciso can do a very uniform grind, with a distinct lack of fines across its grinding range. In fact, the Preciso even beats the Vario at coarser grinds, and I have a theory as to why.
The Vario uses a ceramic flat burr, whereas the Preciso uses a conical burr. As the burrs move further and further apart (for a coarser and coarser grind), flat burrs lose any advantage they have over conical burrs because there's more chance for collision amongst the flying particles as they stretch out through the edges of the burrs. There's more chance because of the wider "cutting" surface area and the larger headspace between the lower and upper flat burrs. These collisions cause extra fines.
A conical burr set on the other hand has a much smaller overall surface area and also tends to guide the particles of coffee downward as part of its rotating motion. This leads to less collisions between individual particles and thus, less fines. Well, it's a theory anyway.
Reality? The Preciso produces less fines than the Vario at a press pot setting. I've been able to confirm this with macroscopic photography and also with particle distribution graph tests done by Mahlkonig. In fact, here is Mahlkonig's results for the Preciso, across its grinding range. (PDF file link). If you'd like to compare it to the Vario grinder, here are the Baratza Vario results.
I think what surprised me most was in comparing particle sizes of the Anfim "Best" home grinder versus the Preciso, via macroscopic photography . The Anfim, along with the Vario, are currently CoffeeGeek's top picks for home espresso grinders. The evenness of the particle sizes are just a tiny bit more with the Preciso, but it blew away the Anfim on fines produced - the Preciso produced visibly less fines. In espresso. For espresso, you do want a range of particle sizes (like 200 microns to 350 microns, a fairly wide range), but you don't want an excessive amount of fines. The Preciso is well suited for espresso grinding.
In truth, the Preciso offers the same kind of fines control that $1500, $2000 high end commercial grinders provide, and then some.
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| Espresso Grinds |
| Pressurized Espresso Grinds |
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| Normal Drip Grinds |
| Press Pot Grinds |
Again, I was very impressed with the overall range of the Preciso, going from Turkish to Press Pot, and beyond (in both directions.
In fact, while the Preciso has 40 "macro" settings on its collar, in reality, only 28-30 of those fall in the range of usable: Turkish grind could easily be achieved at a 5 setting, and a 1300micron press pot grind was achievable at 33. With 11 micro clicks for each of these settings, the Preciso's usable range of selectable grind settings is around 330 settings. Not too shabby.
Our testing showed the Preciso was capable of producing any grind fineness level required for every style of brewing coffee today, from Turkish on through Press Pot grinding, or even coarser, if you want to do a 3 day steep for a cold brew.
Because of the micro adjust option on the grinder, you also get a nearly unprecedented level of control over fine tuning an espresso grind. I say "nearly" because the Vario also provides this ability. I cannot stress enough how important this is for achieving the best possible espresso shots. Compared to the Virtuoso grinder, the Preciso gives you about 22 usable "clicks" of grind setting compared to 2 on the Virtuoso.
To be honest, there aren't many. And what I do have to write as negatives are pretty much nit picks save for one that could be called a minor issue.
I do find this grinder produces a fair amount of heat in the grounds. Even when grinding 28g for a siphon, or 42g for a pourover, there is a noticeable amount of heat coming off the grinds. This is probably the biggest knock against the grinder. Because grinding inside is happening at high speed, it is invariable that the grinds will be hot.
Much less on the negative scale, static remains a small problem with this grinder (as it is with most grinders, including other Baratza models). In two months of testing, I've noticed a lot of minor static issues while using the grounds-bin, and once or twice the problem was bad enough that sliding out the bin resulted in fluffy parts of coffee (mostly chaff) flying here and there.
I also wish the base of the unit allowed for storage of more of the cord if I wanted to do that. The cord is quite heavy and thick, and doesn't bend very well either inside the grinder (when storing parts of it) or as you try to move it around the counter and hide unsightly cords.
I know this grinder is based on the Virtuso / Maestro body design (grounds-bins and Portaholders are interchangeable amongst all models), but I also found myself wishing the Preciso had a slightly wider grounds-bin area, like the Vario has. I noticed this mainly when testing with the Portaholder in place - a commercial portafilter has to be squeezed in a bit to fit completely on the Portaholder. Also, the Vario's bin holds more ground coffee (when grinding large amounts).
Lastly, I find myself wishing that the Portaholder was included in the purchase. At $300, this is definitely not a casual purchase, and while I do understand the economics involved, tossing in what probably costs Baratza $5 or less to produce would have been a nice addition and a further distinction over the Virtuoso grinder.
EDIT: After publication, Baratza informed me that they do ship the Preciso with a Portaholder included. This is great news. My review unit did not come with one, so I based my earlier comments and score below on this. I won't be adjusting the score, but I am happy to report that buyers of the Preciso will get a Portaholder included in the purchase price.
During the course of testing this grinder, I found myself getting even more excited about the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso than I was about the Vario grinder from the same company. Why? In two words, particle sizes. In three words? Particle sizes and speed. In four words? Particle sizes, speed and adjustability.
Honestly, if this grinder had digital timers and controls, I'd advise Baratza to just drop the Vario and keep this model. It is that good.
For most coffee enthusiasts, they want a great grinder that will handle a range of grinding. Many cannot afford a dedicated espresso grinder and a second grinder for all other types of brewing. Adjusting an espresso-dedicated grinder (as in the Anfim Best, or Rocky, or Mazzer Mini) can be frustrating, trying to go from espresso to press pot grind and back again. With the Preciso, jumping from espresso grind to press pot grind is easy. Jumping back just as easy (though remember to run the grinder as you do this, so as to not damage the burr housing). At $300, the Preciso not only can replace a $500 espresso grinder and a $150 coffee grinder, but it can do the grind for both requirements better.
Customer service is an important part of any major appliance purchase, and it's pretty safe to say no company producing specialist coffee or espresso equipment can hold a candle to Baratza's legendary service. Try getting Anfim on the phone should you have a problem with their grinder. Ditto for Mazzer. Heck, ditto for Saeco, Pavoni or any other brewing equipment company. Baratza's rep is plain to see in our forums - not only do they participate there directly from time to time, but there are plenty of threads from happy consumers talking about the level and quality of after-sales service they got from the company. To me, this is worth as much, if not more than the cost of the product.
The Baratza Virtuoso Preciso grinder sets a new standard for grind speed, particle size, fines (or lack thereof), grinding range, and the amount of fine tuning you can apply to the grind. It truly is a "do it all" grinder that can replace most espresso-specific grinders under $1000, and indeed, any other grinder (save for its big brother, the Vario) designed for multi-use grinding under $500. The biggest deal about this grinder is the lack of fines it produces - even for press grind, you get a relatively clean and even grind that results in less mud in the cup. A close second is the macro / micro feature on selecting your grind - where the Baratza Virtuoso has maybe 2 usable settings for an espresso grind, in our testing, the Preciso has over 20 to fine tune. The lack of grinds-retention inside the grinder, the weight, the speed, the design, the materials used all up to a clear winner of a grinder. Because of these things, the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso Grinder is our best in class grinder under $1,000, pretty much tying with the Vario (based primarily on price and the Preciso's performance on press pot grinding).
A white paper on all of Baratza's grinders has been written. Two versions are available: High Resolution (20mb) PDF; Low Resolution (2mb) PDF. This document contains a lot of information found in this review, but also similar information for Baratza's entire lineup.