Make Coffee You Love!
How Does It Compare?
A new twist on immersion brewing has found its way into SCG’s coffee collection—meet the Fellow Duo Coffee Steeper. How do you make coffee from this tall, handsome brewer? Simply fill, twist and watch it pour! OK, so there’s a little more to it than that, like letting it steep for four minutes—sound familiar? It’s similar to a French press but this new coffee maker has reimagined immersion brewing with style and ease of use. Instead of a plunger, the Duo Steeper uses gravity to drain your freshly brewed coffee into the carafe, which of course stops extraction! And it looks pretty sharp if you ask us. Check it out and tell us what you think in the comments below.
How Does It Compare?
Who says you can’t have it all? If you want the control of a semi-automatic and the programmability of a superautomatic, then you’re in the right place! We have the Breville Oracle here ready to change the name of the game for semi-automatics.
Let’s walk through making your morning cup. The Oracle has a built-in grinder and tamper—you heard right, this machine tamps for you—that are both adjustable using a digital display. What makes the Oracle a hybrid machine are the automated features like the steam wand. You don’t see this sort of programmability in a semi-automatic and that makes it easier to brew a quality shot and spend less time dialing it in. While Breville Barista Express also features a built-in grinder, the Oracle’s set up is more advanced with digital programmability and automatic tamping. There’s really no semi-automatic machine that compares to or impresses customers like the Oracle.
How Does It Compare?
Baratza never ceases to amaze us with their range of grinders available for home brewers and commercial cafés. We thought we’d compare the Baratza Forté AP with the Baratza Vario-W to see which of these two would be best in different environments. The Forté AP is Baratza’s commercial grinder series that can grind from espresso to French press—the AP, as it turns out, stands for All Purpose and we’d agree with that naming! The Forté line is currently the only commercial series available but Baratza does offer more home grinders like the Vario series.
The Vario-W has all the features of the other version, the Vario, but uses weight-based grinding (hence the W in Vario-W) for better accuracy. Where the Vario-W can only grind using weight, which means you’ll need to grind directly into the grounds container, the Forté AP can use weight, time or manual for more applications.
With all the features considered, the Forté AP is a commercial grinder and graded for a café, office or a small restaurant. If you’re a home brewer, the Vario-W was designed with you in mind and has the capabilities to make coffee you love from your kitchen.
The Baratza Forté AP features weight, time or manual dosing options that open the possibilities for different brew methods (and the intuitive digital display makes it easy to select which method you prefer). In a commercial setting, the three options create a quick turnaround for changing dosages. As a bonus, the Forté AP has three programmable buttons that you can set by weight or time. The Baratza Vario-W also has three programmable buttons, but you can only program it by weight.
With 260 grinder adjustments, the Forté AP easily grinds from espresso to French press with the consistency we’d expect from a commercial grinder. While both are stepped grinders equipped with hefty 54mm ceramic flat burrs, the Forté AP has 30 more grinder settings than the Vario-W, an important feature for small cafés or restaurants that want more flexibility in brewing. It’s also equipped with a bigger motor that’s nearly 70% more powerful than the Vario-W, smoking the competition—but not literally thanks to the ceramic burrs that keep beans from burning. All that sounds great, but when we think about the Vario-W at home, a steady 1350 rotations per minute (RPM) for the motor is enough speed to grind for a shot of espresso or a pot of coffee.
The Baratza Vario-W features weight-based grinding using a sensor at the base where the grounds bin sits. While it produces a more accurate dosage than time-based grinding it limits you to dosing directly into the bin. That's a downside for us since it can grind for espresso, and unfortunately, the weight sensor isn’t compatible with portafilters. That's an option we would have liked to have. On the bright side, the bin is great for a coarse drip (notice that we didn’t say press), so we can get our big pot of coffee on the dripper. Sometimes you can’t have it all.
Or can you? The Baratza Forté AP has a portafilter holder and grounds bin, while offering a greater range of grinds than its home-designed counterpart. Even though it’s Baratza’s commercial machine, the Forté AP is one of the smallest grinders on the market and is perfect for a small café, restaurant or office. That said, we’d never discourage home brewers from taking home a commercial machine as the quality stands for itself.
Both use stepped grinder adjustments—with macro and micro settings on either side of the case—to dial in the grind. One of the Baratza Forté AP’s features that we prefer over the Baratza Vario-W is the LED digital touchscreen. In a commercial setting where this grinder is being used a lot, the clear and intuitive display would be highly beneficial. The Vario-W has a small screen that displays weight and uses buttons to save your preferences.
Surprisingly, even though the Forté AP is a commercial grinder, it’s no bigger than the Vario-W with less than a quarter of an inch difference. The Forté AP has more style with the all-over stainless steel casing that helps reduce noise but when we tested their noise level, in our opinion, there wasn’t a significant difference between the grinders. Perhaps that is because the Vario-W features a metal casing where the motor sits to help reduce noise.
Considering the Baratza Forté AP's features, size and style, we could see it in a home brewer's kitchen. It’s small enough to fit on a counter and offers more adjustable settings than the Baratza Vario-W. If you were interested in using a grinder for a small business, we would recommend looking at the Forté AP. However, the Vario-W has its perks. It also has three programmable settings, 230 grind adjustments and, frankly, the price point is there for people interested in brewing at home. Which one is better suited for you? Tell us what you think in the comments below!
How Does It Compare?
We recently did a Crew Comparison for the Breville Infuser and the Breville Duo-Temp Pro that detailed the difference between Breville’s entry-level machines! If you’re looking for something with a little more programmability, then the Breville Infuser is your machine. Built with a programmable PID and two espresso shot time buttons, the Infuser offers more control over your coffee. Even though we call it an entry-level machine, it has commercial-quality features like a traditional steam wand and 54mm stainless steel portafilter baskets—a nice touch from Breville—that are anything but entry-level.
Built with a 15 bar triple-prime pump, the Breville Infuser is powerful. Even with the power behind it, Breville has programmed the Infuser to apply low water pressure to evenly wet grounds for pre-infusion and then jump to nine bars to extract—see it for yourself! The Infuser features a pressure gauge that tells you what’s happening in the boiler. If you watch the gauge, you can adjust your machine so that you can have the best extraction. When you’re ready for another cup of coffee and you dump out the coffee puck—notice anything? The puck is dry! The Infuser features a three-way solenoid valve that removes excess water from the portafilter.
As we mentioned, one of the highlights of the Infuser is the programmable shot time. Breville makes programming pretty intuitive, but in case you’re looking for a walk-through: To program the Infuser, turn on the machine and hit the Program button. We recommend programming your machine with coffee in the portafilter since the grounds will retain water, but it isn’t completely necessary. When you’re ready to program, select the either the single or double espresso button and it’ll start the brewing process. Once you have the desired volume, select the same button again and it’ll remember your new time. While there are no manual controls over espresso, you can always select the espresso amount you want and then press the button again to interrupt the flow.
The programmable PID is a step up from a lot of other machines we’ve seen. You can adjust the brew temperature up or down two or four degrees from the factory setting. The only downside is the temperature isn’t displayed, so it’s not as easy to read what temperature you’re currently at. However, the PID helps temperature stability and we’ve seen it produce consistently hot and delicious espresso.
The Infuser features a traditional steam wand that rotates 360 degrees to reach those tough angles and a dedicated hot water spout. To use either, there is a turn style knob on the side that switches between steam and hot water. Another feature we appreciate on the Breville Infuser is the auto-purge after steaming. Since this is a thermoblock machine, you’ll have to steam and brew one at a time. After you take the traditional steam wand for a spin, you’ll hear and see steam being released under the drip tray. Instead of having to pull water through your machine to bring the steam temperature back down to brew, the Infuser does the work for you! And it’s an incredibly quick turnaround time to brewing! Within seconds, we were pulling a shot.
Instead of a single boiler, the Infuser uses a thermocoil heating element to steam water on the fly. The thermocoil is Breville’s version of a thermoblock to help create consistency when steaming and we love that! However, it does take a bit to heat up to full steam power. The slow acceleration to full steaming offers beginner baristas the opportunity to learn how to froth milk, but that does mean it’ll take time. If you don’t want to wait, we recommend every time you first turn on the machine to let the steam run so it can reach temperature.
There’s no denying the Breville Infuser’s got style—just like the rest of the lineup! It features soft, brushed stainless steel and a sleek interface. The button display is crisp, with matching stainless steel and soft, blue lit rings around each button—the light around each button activates when that button is used, which is helpful when you’re programming your espresso or PID. The pressure gauge is designed to help your extraction, but it’s also quickly becoming an iconic touch on the Breville lineup.
We think of the Infuser as an entry-level machine thanks to accessories like the pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets. The pressurized basket will only release coffee when the right pressure is achieved, which means you can pull delicious shots! For beginners who want to learn how to dial in their grind, the non-pressurized portafilter offers an opportunity to practice. It’s also one of Breville’s smaller and more affordable semi-automatic machines. Even with it’s size, it packs in a 61-ounce water reservoir—more than enough for multiple cups of coffee!
The Breville Infuser is a great entry-level machine for anyone looking for an affordable, yet powerful semi-automatic espresso machine. It features two programmable espresso buttons and a PID that allows you more control over your espresso. And while some might want more steam power from the steam wand, we appreciate the amount of power we get from the Infuser. It allows beginners the opportunity to learn how to texture their milk. Once we’re done steaming, the auto-purge takes the boiler back down to brewing temperature so we can get our lattes or cappuccinos faster. Tell us what you think about the Breville Infuser in the comments below!
How Does It Compare?
No, you’re not seeing double! It’s the Breville Duo-Temp Pro and the Breville Infuser. These are Breville’s entry-level machines, but don’t let that dissuade you, these models knock our socks off! While these two semi-automatics stack up well against each other, the amount of features and customization is what distinguishes them apart. Both have a built-in PID control to monitor the boiler temperature, but the Infuser features a programmable PID, which gives you more control over your espresso. The most noticeable difference between the two, of course, is the interface. The Infuser features programmable espresso buttons and that iconic pressure gauge that shows you what’s happening in the boiler. The Duo-Temp Pro takes a different approach with a clean interface and one turn-knob to control every aspect of your espresso. We’ll say, even though there’s no programming, it’s incredibly easy to use and packed with a lot of the same features as the Infuser! Both of these machines are superb choices for entry-level or even advanced baristas. We’ll give them a once-over to find which one’s right for you.
Equipped with pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets, the Breville Duo-Temp Pro and Breville Infuser make the perfect companion to anyone looking to hone their skills. If you’re just starting on your journey with espresso, the pressurized portafilter will extract espresso when it’s at the right pressure. That means for you, coffee friends, that if you’re still learning how to dial in your grind, the Breville’s got your back. Both come equipped with a 61-ounce water tank, 54mm portafilter, magnetic tamper and maintenance accessories to get you started.
The real differences emerge with the Infuser’s advanced features. The Infuser has an electronic PID that you adjust the temperature up or down two and four degrees from the factory default to increase temperature stability. Since there’s no visible temperature display, you’ll have to trust that it’s at your desired temperature. And, just to be clear, the Duo-Temp Pro has a PID! You just can’t adjust the temperature.
Another difference in the Infuser has a single and double shot programmable button. This is, of course, always a great feature to have! It helps maintain consistency when you use the same grind. That does mean, however, that when you switch beans or grind, you might need to dial in the espresso shot time again. The Duo-Temp Pro’s turn-knob offers quick and convenient coffee that you can adjust on the fly. For beginning baristas, the Duo-Temp Pro’s manual controls offer the experience of learning extraction time with every shot pulled.
Even with these differences, both semi-automatics have all the features that count. The integrated PID maintains the thermocoil for increased temperature stability and makes steaming on the fly more consistent than other machines we’ve tested. Both the Breville Duo-Temp and Infuser take a good minute or two to heat up before we can start steaming. With thermocoils and thermoblocks, it takes a while for the steam to kick into full power. So we recommend turning on the steam and letting it run for a while to get to full temperature. We appreciate the slow progression of steam power for entry-level baristas since it allows more time to learn to aerate your milk. If advanced baristas have the patience, they’ll be able to texture milk on par with most cafés.
And, both machines have a traditional steam wand and auto-purge to instantly switch from steaming to brewing. Yes—even the Duo-Temp Pro, Breville’s youngest entry-level machine, has this convenient feature! Built-in auto-purge is one of our favorite features because it means we get our cup of coffee faster. Both machines will purge after you’re finished steaming and return the selector knob to its starting position.
The Infuser also has a dedicated hot water spout for people who love an Americano or want hot water for hot chocolate. The Duo-Temp Pro has a button to switch between steam and hot water, but it comes out of the steam wand at a slow and steady stream. We don’t think it’s a deal breaker for the Duo-Temp Pro, but it’s not the quickest way to get hot water.
We find ourselves taking a double take when we have the Breville lineup altogether. Encased in brushed stainless steel, it’s a fairly common style we see in many kitchen appliances. It’s a style that appeals to everyone and transitions well if you remodel or move. The clean-cut look also complements Breville’s dedication to creating a user-friendly experience. Breville shines at developing intuitive buttons and a sleek interface. The stainless steel buttons feel sturdy under our fingers and are the exact same buttons found on their higher-end models.
The Infuser, of course, has a different look than the Duo-Temp Pro with more buttons and a pressure gauge. We sort of love the iconic pressure gauge and miss it on the Duo-Temp Pro. That said, the one style point we’re not a fan of is that the Duo-Temp Pro has the turn knob on the front, which is completely different from the rest of the Breville lineup. This style of knob is also found on the Infuser next to the steam wand, but we like it better out of sight.
If you’re currently trying to choose between Breville models, then good luck to you—Ok, we kid. Breville includes the best basics in each model and then increases the advanced features to make every machine a little more unique. The Breville Duo-Temp Pro is the newest and most basic model currently, but it’s certainly not lacking in capabilities. With some patience, we’re able to produce latte-worthy milk. The Breville Infuser is on par with steam power, but features a programmable PID and two espresso shot time buttons that allow even more control over your espresso. Between you and us, deciding between the two is difficult. So, which one would you take home? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
How Does It Compare?
Currently brewing in the Crew’s kitchen is just one of Saeco’s many superautomatics—the Saeco Intelia Deluxe. Equipped with programmable espresso, a tactile button interface and a cappuccinatore attachment, the Intelia Deluxe is built to simplify making great coffee at home. What’s the cappuccinatore, you ask? It’s an automatic milk frother that's featured on the Intelia Deluxe’s steam wand stem. The cappuccinatore is interchangeable with Saeco’s line of panarello steam wands—there’s black, stainless steel—offering more ways to customize your machine. Compared to other superautomatics, like the Saeco Intelia Deluxe Cappuccino (don’t let the names confuse you, the Intelia’s are different models), you have fewer options to customize your steam wand. The Deluxe Cappuccino, for instance, only has a carafe. We’ve heard a lot of home brewers aren’t a fan of the milk temperature that the carafes produce.
With superautomatic espresso machines, the name of the game is simplicity and the Saeco Intelia Deluxe doesn’t disappoint! It features a dedicated espresso and lungo button with programmable shot time. To program, simply press and hold the button you want to program and release when you have the desired volume (just remember it’s time-based). The Intelia Deluxe also allows you to customize coffee temperature and water hardness to help you determine when it’ll need maintenance—keeping your espresso tasting fresh.
If your coffee is a little lackluster, the Intelia also has an adjustable coffee strength (from one to five) and grinder settings (from one to 10). It’s also equipped with ceramic burr grinders that retain less heat so you can continue to pull shot after shot without burning your beans. And with that whopping 10.5-ounce bean hopper and 53-ounce water reservoir, why wouldn’t you make multiple cups?
We know what you’re thinking, “Where's the cappuccino button?” Well, there isn’t one and that’s actually better for you, coffee friends. With the panarello add-on, you can use the Milk Froth button to manually control the amount of milk and, with a little finessing, the froth. The cappuccinatore won’t offer the same control over froth, but it makes a mean cappuccino foam.
The steam on the Saeco Intelia Deluxe is pretty mean as well. Inside this machine, you will find a thermoblock heating element which heats the water for brewing and steaming on the fly. The benefit of a thermoblock is that it doesn’t take as long for your machine to heat up, however, the drawback can be that your temperature for brew or steam is not quite as consistent as you might like. That being said, we were very impressed with the temperature of both the coffee and milk produced on the Intelia Deluxe (something that is hard to say for most superautomatics)!
The brushed stainless steel casing is here to stay and we can’t complain. This look appeals to modern taste and, of course, will complement your kitchen appliances—it’s beneficial to keep the machine clean cut for a wider audience. That said, the cappuccinatore protrudes awkwardly from the machine. Perhaps it’s the pencil-thin wand or the unusual shape of the frother. Whatever it is, the panarello add-on feels complete and with the manual frothing button, it feels like it was made for the Intelia Deluxe. The wand stem has space to pivot left or right— thankfully or else it would be blocking the water tank—and enough clearance to accommodate a tall glass, which is great for a frothing with a panarello. If you were to use the cappuccinatore to froth directly into your mug (the best for early mornings before work), just keep in mind that the espresso spouts can only clear a five-inch mug.
Daily maintenance is incredibly easy thanks to the front-accessible water reservoir and coffee ground bins. If you did need to access the removable brew group, take out the coffee grounds bin and make room to open the side door. The Intelia Deluxe automatically rinses the brew heads when it turns on and off, and even alerts you when the water runs low. The only downside we see with maintenance is that there’s no automatic rinsing for the steam wand, so you’ll have to remember to properly clean the cappuccinatore or panarello. We recommend using a glass of water and using the steam function to rinse. When you’re done, you can program your machine into energy efficient standby mode, which saves on electricity and puts your mind at ease knowing that your machine will automatically turn off.
The Saeco Intelia Deluxe Cappuccino features intuitive programming and sufficient drink options to make coffee you love easily. While some might miss the convenience of a dedicated cappuccino button, the manual steam design allows you to add a panarello and gain more control over your milk. Of course, you can always use the cappuccinatore to have that one-touch frothing experience. If you’re looking for simplicity in your espresso, then check out the Intelia Deluxe and tell us what you think.
How Does It Compare?
The Gran Baristo line just keeps getting better and better. Built with a dedicated smartphone app, coffee is only a tap away with the Saeco Gran Baristo Avanti. The app features an impressive drink menu and a “Help & Manuals” section to provide an extra helping hand. Even with the app, you can still program your drink preferences with the Avanti’s digital display. We have to say, we’d happily take this machine home. If you’re already looking at the Gran Baristo, it might be well-worth the extra expense to purchase the Avanti for the added functionality.
With 18 customizable drink options, the Saeco Gran Baristo Avanti makes it feel like the possibilities are endless. Choose from favorites like a flat white, latte macchiato (or even an espresso macchiato), espresso, etc. There’s even an “energy coffee,” which seems to be a very potent Americano (also known as a ‘shot in the dark’). With each of these drinks, you can customize the aroma from very mild to extra strong as well as adjust the volume of coffee and milk. In the “Expert Settings,” you get more specific by adjusting the temperature and taste. Once you’ve got the ideal drink, hit the “Favorite” button near the drink picture and it’ll be saved to “My Coffees” for you to brew again and again.
We took Saeco’s standard latte macchiato sizing and increased the milk to fit a 10-ounce cup. The only annoyance we—to clarify, some of the Crew—had with the settings is the amount is in milliliters and you can’t change it. For those of us who order from the local coffee shop, we intuitively know sizing in ounces. Luckily, you’re already using your phone, so it’s just a matter of consulting the internet to convert milliliters to ounces. Better yet, you can program your espresso using the machine’s interface; simply press and hold the espresso button, release and then press once you have the amount you want. You can also program the amount of milk for milk-based drinks.
One of the overlooked features on the Avanti is probably our favorite—the removable bean hopper. With a fairly large 9.3-ounces, it’s easy to fill it up with beans and later change your mind. In front of the hopper, you simply slide it to unlock and then pull it out. This feature is especially great if your beans have gone stale. Underneath the hopper is the adjustable grind setting, so you can customize your espresso even more! If you have pre-ground coffee, the Avanti also has a bypass doser.
The Saeco Gran Baristo Avanti features a carafe to create that one-touch brew you can’t help but love. Select your favorite milk-based drink and it’s made directly into your cup. The carafe holds up to 500 ml (nearly 17-ounces) of milk, which you can remove and store in the fridge for tomorrow's cup. One thing we’re missing on the Avanti is the ability to customize the milk temperature and frothiness. You can choose the amount of milk in each drink—an awesome feature—but you’re limited to the preprogrammed foam of each drink. Although, if you want to experiment, you can tweak the milk amount to achieve something new.
One-touch brewing is definitely improved by Bluetooth connectivity. The Saeco Avanti app is intuitive and easy to use—we give it a thumbs up! We also appreciated how easy it was to install the app on the Crew’s iPhone and Android devices. While we love the idea of never needing to get out of bed, you’ll still have to get up to put out fresh, cold milk. Another reason to get up is the Avanti auto-rinses when it turns on and off, so your cup will be full of rinsing water. But, hey, the app allows you to multitask more than ever!
In the app, there are three main coffee tabs (color coordinated like the Italian flag) for your coffee: Classic Coffee, My Coffee and Recent Coffees. The beautiful, illustrated coffee icons make it easy to see what you’re getting—in the iPhone app version, when you adjust the espresso or milk volume, the picture will change. The straightforward icons and settings make it easy to get down to business and brew yourself a cup of coffee.
The Saeco Gran Baristo Avanti certainly has the style to match its enhanced interface. The brushed stainless steel casing appeals to modern taste and integrates well with modern kitchens. The sleek, rectangular body easily slips onto counters but watch out for it’s deceptive depth—it’s more than 19 inches long! It’s definitely not the biggest machine we’ve seen, but the length might leave the drip tray hanging off the counter. We do like how narrow the Avanti is and thanks to the front-access into the machine we can easily squeeze it next to other appliances. While you can place the Avanti under a cabinet just don’t forget that the water tank and bean hopper will need extra clearance to be removed.
The Saeco Gran Baristo Avanti is built with an intuitive app that makes grabbing a delicious cup of coffee a snap. We already enjoy the conveniences that one-touch superautomatics offer, so the addition of an app sweetens the deal even more. The app makes it incredibly easy to adjust your shot temperature, volume and strength to find that ideal espresso—and let’s not forget, you can also adjust the milk amount for an extra rich latte. The Avanti’s definitely on our wish list! What do you think of the latest superautomatic from the Gran Baristo lineup—would you take the Avanti or a different Saeco machine home? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Taking Home A Superautomatic Espresso Machine
In our last post, we asked you how committed you were to your espresso. If you’re the one running out the door empty-handed and caffeine deprived, then you’re in the right place—we’re about to revolutionize your life—enter the superautomatic espresso machine. Superautomatics do all the heavy lifting and will grind, tamp and brew delicious espresso for you. It’s the perfect solution for coffee lovers who are “just friends” with their cup.
Of course, there are a variety of superautomatics, so while they make getting a cup of coffee a snap, you still have some choices to make on how committed you’ll be to your machine. The way we like to decide between models is to use this simple scenario: You walk into your favorite coffee shop, what do you order?
Espresso, Americano Or Drip For Me!
So, you take your coffee black? Then we recommend checking out some introductory superautomatic espresso machines. These machines focus on convenience and are incredibly easy to learn and are built with fewer features and programmability. Before you jump to any conclusions, remember that saying "less is more?" We tend to see people favor an introductory superautomatic for its ease of use, affordability and small footprint. The coffee options are usually espresso, coffee or, sometimes called, lungo. Generally, you can program the volume but you really don’t see settings for temperature, coffee strength, etc. There are some doubts that superautomatics produce good espresso. While there will be quality differences between semi-automatic and superautomatics, we have definitely made delicious espresso with superautomatics.
If you like your coffee with milk, no worries—there are introductory superautomatics with milk options. A panarello-style steam wand is the frother of choice because it does all the frothing for you. Panarello's work by aerating milk through a slit in the top. No skills required! Since it’s doing all the heavy frothing, you won’t have to worry about controlling the milk texture. It's easy to achieve fluffy cappuccino foam without any technique. Occasionally, some superautomatics won’t have a milk frother, in which case you could look into getting an external frother.
Another benefit of these introductory superautomatics is their small footprint and maintenance. With fewer features, these machines tend to run small; small enough to fit into any kitchen or even squeeze on your desk at work (you’d be a hit at the office). Maintenance is also a breeze. If there’s no steam wand, then you’ll never need to worry about properly cleaning off the milk. And if you have a panarello, it's easy to disassemble and clean. Most superautomatics will have an automatic rinsing cycle before and after brewing, keeping your machine in tip-top shape. But you’re not off the hook completely. You’ll still have to descale and clean the brew group (if accessible) as the manufacturer recommends, but it’s nice to have some of the maintenance handled.
Latte Or Cappuccino, Please!
If you crave control, then we recommend bumping up to a mid-range, intermediate or advanced superautomatic espresso machine. A lot of these machines will allow you to adjust the temperature, volume, coffee strength, etc. Many feature a user-friendly interface, such as a digital display or labeled buttons, to make programming effortless. One of our favorite features is customizable profiles that allow a select number of users to program and save their drink preferences (of course, it’s only available on some machines. More on those in our next post). The amount of customization offered in superautomatics makes it easier to tailor your drink to your liking.
Latte and cappuccino lovers, get ready to jump for joy—there are machines that blend coffee and cream directly into your cup. One-touch superautomatics have an attached carafe that siphons milk to steam. When you’re done, you can remove the carafe and store extra milk in the fridge. Some machines even let you adjust the milk temperature, milk foam texture or milk foam amount. There can also be a more traditional steam wand, so if you wanted to improve your frothing technique, here's your chance!
With the additional customization, there will be a learning curve. Occasionally, the settings aren’t intuitive and you’ll find useful features buried under lists or icons. We recommend referring to the manual to learn the ins and outs of the machine—it can even help with troubleshooting. There are alerts or lights that’ll indicate when something's amiss, like when you run out of water or the coffee ground bin is full. Typically, we’ll find a troubleshooting section in the manual that provides instruction to fix the common issues . These machines will also automatically perform or recommend daily maintenance, such as rinsing milk pipes or descaling. Like the introductory superautomatics, these built-in features keep your machine well maintained.
If you’re just friends with your coffee, then a superautomatic espresso machine is the choice for you! Since there are a variety of superautomatic espresso machines we have another post coming out for you. We’ll dive into mid-range, intermediate and advanced superautomatics and what sort of features and functions you’ll find on those machines.
If you’re looking for caffeine on the go, an introductory superautomatic is the machine for you. These machines offer a balance of convenient features without the fuss of programming. Some may only offer espresso options, but you will find some with panarello-style steam wands. If you’re satisfied with those features, we recommend checking out some of these machines.
How Does It Compare?
We’re comparing 2011’s hottest grinder, the Baratza Vario-W, to this year’s anticipated Baratza Sette 270. What has changed and improved in Baratza’s grinders in that five-year gap? The Sette 270’s reimagined design helps eliminate wasted grounds thanks to the horizontally mounted motor and outer rotating burr that creates a direct shot from the bean hopper through the burrs and into your brewer. The Vario-W features a scale mounted on the bottom and only worked with the dosing container—you can't balance portafilters or a V60 on that tiny scale. Fortunately, coffee friends, the Sette 270’s arms can hold brewers like a portafilter or V60. And, when the Sette 270W comes out, those arms will have a scale!
With over 270 steps in your grind, the Baratza Sette 270 has earned its name. The Sette 270 features 31 stepped adjustments from fine to coarse markers and a second adjustment that’s actually stepless. Yep, you read that correctly. Baratza features ABC markers on the second adjustment that act as a guide—Battleship, anyone—but it offers infinite settings. These markers guide beginners back to their ideal grind and create over 270 setting options. It’s actually quite satisfying to be able to get back to your dialed-in grind if you lose your place—almost as satisfying as sinking your opponent’s Battleship.
The Baratza Vario-W offers 230 steps of adjustments and it’s all stepped here. There are 10 macro settings and the second set from A to W. Within each macro step, you can adjust the ABC settings to dial in your grind. That’s still an impressive amount of options, even if the Sette 270 beats it—only by a little. The Vario-W has been a solid grinder for home brewers and offers them an easy way to click back to their grinder setting.
Steel or ceramic burrs? This is another topic debated in the coffee community. The Baratza Sette 270 is equipped with 40mm conical steel burrs that produce even particles and fewer fines. However, steel burrs can create more friction and heat, which can cause the beans to heat up and potentially burn. The Baratza Vario-W features 54mm flat ceramic burrs that transfer less heat. Ceramic burrs are also sharper and can have a longer life in your grinder if properly cared for. One downside to ceramic burrs is that they are more fragile than their steel counterpart—chipping can be an issue. In a quick match against grinders, we compared the ceramic versus steel grounds and noticed the Sette 270’s steel burrs produced better consistency. The Sette 270 didn’t burn our beans, however, if you’re grinding through a lot of coffee you could noticed warm grounds. In our taste test—the best part—we think both produced phenomenal coffee that wasn’t burned.
Baratza knows that flexibility for different brew methods is important and in the last five years that’s been on the forefront of their mind. That’s why the Baratza Sette 270’s new design features two adjustable arms and a third arm to steady different methods…like a portafilter! The Sette’s unique shape offers additional space for large containers or swing those arms around to grasp your 58mm portafilter (or any size portafilter, let’s be honest). The updated holder trumps the Baratza Vario-W—sorry, Vario-W. While we love that the Vario-W could grind from French Press to espresso, you needed some sort of flat-bottomed container to balance on the sensor. AKA, you had to scoop your grounds from a container into your portafilter. If there’s one thing we don’t need more of at Seattle Coffee Gear it’s coffee grounds all over our counter.
As we know, that Sette 270’s seven-shaped design also creates less coffee waste, but more importantly, how’s the consistency? It’s excellent. On the finest setting, we produced beautiful, even grounds perfect for a non-pressurized portafilter. We’re even pleased that the Sette 270’s coarsest setting was still so consistent! The further away the burrs get, the less consistent the grind tends to be, so it was a welcomed sight to see nice, symmetrical grounds. While the Sette 270 is great for most brewing methods, we’re on the fence about it producing big enough grounds for French press. Baratza does market it for coffee presses, so give it a go and tell us what you think about the Sette 270’s performance!
The Vario-W might be a better option for someone who’s a frequent French press brewer. Of course, Baratza has designed these products to accommodate all types of brewing, so we encourage our coffee friends to branch out and try new methods! And the espresso consistency is so beautiful on the Vario-W, it would be a waste not to use it. Between the Vario-W and Sette 270’s espresso grind, we couldn’t see any difference in consistency. Honestly, you could take either one of these grinders home and it would complement any home barista with an extensive coffee bar.
We’re digging the Baratza Sette 270’s modern design to boot! It’s a style that’s fashionable and functional. The angular structure is breaking away from Baratza’s boxier grinder styles and most other grinders in the market. We’ve noticed a swing with other manufacturers designing trendy products—we’re thinking about the Rocket Espresso Appartamento and its retro dots—and it’s no surprised that people are also onboard with this! The Sette 270’s colors are also complementary to modern taste and easily assimilates into a home brewer’s kitchen—it’s no surprise to us that the Sette 270 is in high demand.
The Baratza Vario-W is designed similarly to the rest of Baratza’s grinders lineup and it’s a style that’s worked for Baratza. The one feature that makes the Vario-W stand out is the combination of the digital LCD display and tactile grind settings. The interface is displayed front and center and is extremely user-friendly for beginners with the marked adjustments. While the Sette 270 is also user-friendly, the adjustments are angled in a downward tier that is a hair more difficult to see. Both interfaces, though, are a snap to navigate for new home brewers.
When we first unboxed the Sette 270, we were so enamored by its style and features that we forgot to note the noise level. After grinding our morning beans, it was hard to block out how loud this guy was. The noise level is partly due to the fact that there’s no metal casing around the Sette 270. And you’re probably thinking, why not add the sound-proofing, the metal case would have driven up the price, coffee friends, and we’re happy with the low cost of this caliber of a grinder. Grinders are notorious for being loud and you’re likely to always be on your neighbors hit list—fear not! There are grinders like the Vario-W that are a bit quieter. The Vario-W has a metal casing that helps control the noise level.
In the five years since Baratza revealed the Vario-W, the demands have changed in the coffee community. The demand has gone up for a grinder that’s flexible for different brewing methods and Baratza has answered that demand by supplying us with the Sette 270. For many home brewers, we can see the highlight of this grinder is its flexible design that can hold a V60 or a portafilter. And as the coffee community grows, so do novice brewers. Both the Vario-W and Sette 270 offer user-friendly settings that are easy to learn how to dial in your grind. We wouldn’t call these entry-level machines, no sir, these are definitely for mid-level and experienced home baristas. What do you guys think? Watch our crew review comparison video and let us know what grinder you’re leaning towards!
How Does It Compare?
The hearty Baratza Virtuoso Grinder is a well-rounded machine built with powerful, slow rotating steel burrs and stepped adjustments. With over 40 distinct settings, the Virtuoso makes dialing in you grind a snap. It’s designed to grind for a wide range of brew methods, however, the stepped settings limit you to set increments, which means you have less control over your grind. That’s where the Baratza Preciso Grinder comes in—it’s nearly identical to the Virtuoso but features 40 macro and an additional 11 micro steps for each to create more customization. Both models have 40mm steel conical burrs that can create beautiful, consistent grounds. Just so you know, the Virtuoso is the grinder of choice in the SCG kitchen and it never fails to make the Crew a good cup of coffee! One of the highlights of the Virtuoso is it’s always consistent and not too loud, which for us, means we can make pot after pot without disturbing the office.
With 40 grind settings, the Baratza Virtuoso Grinder is ready to grind from fine espresso to a coarse French press. Pro Tip: The marked adjustments are in increments of two, so when you’re going from one (fine) to 40 (coarse) just keep that in mind. We took the grinder out for a spin at the coarsest setting and discovered its consistency left more to be desired. That’s not surprising because the coarser you go the more space the burrs have to allow grounds to escape. We usually have our grinder set at about 20 or 22 for our drip coffee maker and noticed it was much more consistent in the drip range.
The consistency of the finer grind is partly thanks to the 40mm steel conical burrs—steel tends to create more consistent grounds. Pair those burrs with the 40 stepped adjustments and it’s easy for us coffee lovers to replicate cup after cup without much fuss. Even though stepped adjustments are limiting, it does make it easier to dial in and find again if you switch the grind size. In fact, if you’re trying to make espresso, that could be a turnoff with the limited adjustments.
Sure, the 40 stepped settings offer a wide range of brewing methods for baristas, but there’s a catch. The Baratza Virtuoso Grinder can do espresso but it’s incredibly limited to how dialed in you can get—that’s why there are so many grinders specifically designed for espresso. Even at the finest setting, we felt it would be better suited for a pressurized portafilter. That means you’re probably not using the Virtuoso with high-end machines with only non-pressurized options. If you were interested in using the Virtuoso on a semi-automatic without a pressurized portafilter, we’d recommend stepping up to the Preciso. However, at this affordable price point, we think people interested in the Virtuoso are also interested in pour over, drip or a smaller, entry-level espresso machine.
The Baratza Virtuoso Grinder runs quietly, thanks in part to the slow 450 RPM burr speed. All grinders make a little noise, but the Crew appreciates that we can grind enough coffee for a couple of pots without alerting the whole office. Another reason it grinds smoothly is the metal casing wrapped around the top, which helps the stability of the grinder and keeps the vibration down. Fashion and function! We dig it.
The compact, sleek design is one of its glamorous qualities—the 8-ounce bean hopper only makes the grinder 13 inches high. We bet that’ll clear most cabinets. Most of the specialty coffees we carry are in 12-ounce bags, so we can easily run a whole bags worth. The only catch is that the steel burrs heat up if grinding that much coffee—we recommend grinding smaller amounts and then letting the grinder rest. And with the manual-style 60-second timer, it’s clear to us that it’s designed to grind small amounts.
The Baratza Virtuoso Grinder features a wide range of easily adjusted settings to accomplish drinks from an espresso to a rich French press coffee. We typically see this grinder going home with beginner brewers, but at SCG, we have a wide range of experienced baristas, who all enjoy using the Virtuoso in the morning. It’s compact, quiet and the stepped grind settings make it a user-friendly grinder. What’s your favorite feature on the Virtuoso? Share your thoughts in the comments below!