August 19, 2020

Baratza Vario All Purpose Coffee Grinder

By Babbu

The Baratza Vario is a powerful 54mm ceramic burr grinder with a compact footprint. Its programmable timed grinding allows users to automatically dose on demand, and its unique dual cam grind adjustment allows you to fine tune your grind across a whopping 230 settings.

Key Features

  • Easy Calibration
  • All-Purpose Grinding
  • Flat Ceramic Burrs
  • Programmable Timed Grinding

The Baratza Vario is a great grinder. It has been for a long time and it was once a commonly recommended grinder to pair with prosumer espresso machines. As commercial grinder manufacturers like Ceado and Eureka came into prominence among home users, the Vario took a back seat to bigger burrs and bigger motors. Eventually, the advent of the Sette took the world of home espresso by storm and the Vario was overshadowed by its ingenious, albeit unconventional sibling. However, the Vario more than deserves a spot on this list. It’s something of a “Once and Future King” of all-purpose coffee grinding, and yes, all-purpose includes espresso.

As the term “all-purpose” suggests, the Vario is capable of producing grinds suitable for all forms of coffee preparation. In fact, on Baratza’s own grinding comparison chart, the Vario is rated at 4-stars (Very Good) for both espresso and manual brewing, with only the Sette 270/270Wi and Forte AP pulling ahead for espresso and the Virtuoso+ and Forte BG surpassing it for manual brewing. This identity is fully embraced by Baratza, with the Vario shipping with both a heavy duty aluminum portaholder and a ground coffee catch bin.

 

Unlike the other grinders on this list, the Vario has fully stepped grind adjustment. However, in the context of all-purpose use, this is actually an advantageous design decision. Because the steps offer fixed and unchanging points of reference, that means that you can very easily record the position of specific settings for different methods. Similar to the Sette, the Vario has both micro and macro burr adjustment. Macro adjustments are made in 10 steps, numbered 1 – 10 and micro adjustments are made in 23 steps, lettered A – W. That means there are a total of 230 grind settings and when you find a particular setting that suits the method you’re brewing with, you can record your alphanumeric combination to remember for later, sort of like a massive game of Battleship. H7. You sunk my Chemex!

Chose from one of three timed profiles and grind hands-free automatically.

In addition to easy-to-remember settings, the Vario set the standard for Baratza’s timed grinding with three programmable timed profiles. Just like the Sette, the Vario can either grind a profile automatically with time displayed via a digital screen, or operate manually for on-demand dispensing. Given the Vario’s flexibility when it comes to grinding for all brew methods, profiles can be set not just for single / double shots, but for entirely separate devices. The most recent version of the Vario includes a hands-free metal portaholder that securely locks into the frame of the grinder as well as a plastic grinds bin that is perfect for measuring your yield or weighing out a single-dose when paired with a scale. That said, if you intend to single dose heavily, you would be better served by the Sette.

Grind hands-free with the heavy duty portaholder or into the included grinds bin.

Rounding out the Vario, its 54mm ceramic burrs keep their edge well and generate less heat. For the tinkerer at heart, the burrs can be swapped out for a pair of stainless steel ones to push the Vario’s grinding performance for manual brewing to the absolute limit. While this list is for the best espresso grinders under $500, the Vario’s multi-purpose persona is what makes it such a great deal. When it comes to espresso grinding, the first three macro settings all represent a suitable range for dialing in (and that’s subdivided between 23 micro settings). While that’s not as infinite as a stepless grinder, the Vario offers far more variability than most stepped grinders. Compared to the Sette, the Vario may be a bit slower, and perhaps not quite as good at dialing in shots, but it brings a lot to the table when it comes to full spectrum grinding.

Key Features

  • Polished Stainless Steel Housing
  • Simple Operation
  • Minimalist and Compact Design
  • Made in Germany

The second grinder on this list whose manufacturer also makes espresso machines, the Pro M54 is an espresso grinder produced by Profitec as a companion to their espresso machines. Following the same matter-of-fact naming convention as their other grinder, the Pro T64, the name describes the grinder’s operation and burr size, manual and 54mm. With a minimalist design philosophy and push and grind operation, the Pro M54 in many ways sells itself on looks as much as on grinding performance.

Starting with the exterior, you’ll notice that this is the only grinder to be featured with polished stainless steel housing. I’ll be the first to admit that the brilliant reflective surface isn’t something that always comes through well in photography. But, having seen it in person, I can attest that this is one grinder that’s truly gorgeous in person. Featuring a unique 8-sided octagonal design, the Pro M54 trades flashiness for simple, subtle, prettiness. The build quality is something that goes beneath the surface, with an aluminum frame supporting the housing and the motor. On that topic, at 235 Watts, the Pro M54’s motor is the second most powerful on this list behind the Mignon which is 260 Watts. Where Profitec’s attention to detail as a luxury home brand really shines is in the insulation of the motor which dampens the sound of grinding. Imagine a soft whirring compared to the sounds of beans being obliterated that you hear with the BB005, Sette, and Mignon.

It’s hard to beat machine/grinder co-branding.

Grinding on the Pro M54 is a straightforward affair. Simply push the activation lever with your portafilter. The motor will run for as long as you hold the lever in place. That’s it! While timed grinding is nice, if you have a suitable scale for dosing your shots, you’ll get a feel for what 18g of coffee looks like and how long it typically takes to grind. With a pair of 54mm flat stainless steel burrs, grinds are consistent and distributed properly for espresso extraction. Similar to the Vario, the Pro M54 is a stepped grinder, however, adjustment is accomplished by pressing down on a release lever and rotating the grind adjustment collar left or right. The release lever also doubles as a locking mechanism to prevent accidental adjustments from being made. As a result, adjusting and dialing in the Pro M54 will be much faster than the BB005 or the Mignon.

Compared to the other four grinders, the Pro M54 does little else but grind coffee. For many people, that isn’t a problem. With its German engineering and built-to-last design, the Pro M54 is as sturdy as the machine it was designed to accompany and exists to facilitate your daily intake of espresso. Final features like the easy-to-access burrs and removable spout cover for easy cleaning make this perhaps the most utilitarian choice among the five. While it may not have the speed or programmability of some of the other grinders, the Pro M54 reliable and attractive design are perfect for the espresso minimalist