So you want the great taste of freshly ground coffee.
You’ve heard that burr grinders are the best: but which one should you choose?
We’re here to help! We’re going to put two machines from the same manufacturer through their paces.
It’s the Baratza Encore vs Virtuoso. Read on to find out which is right for you.
As you might expect from two machines from Baratza, the Encore and Virtuoso look pretty similar.
They’re almost exactly the same size, with their neat dimensions allowing them to sit easily beneath most wall cupboards.
For our money, the Virtuoso is that little bit more stylish. It has a smart stainless steel panel on the front and a single pulse button as a design feature.
In contrast, the Encore has its name splashed over the front of the casing. It’s not exactly a style crime, but we think it makes it look a little old-fashioned.
If you’re looking for a grand design statement, it’s likely neither of these machines will float your boat.
But they’re attractive enough, and will fit comfortably with most styles of kitchen décor.
What about the burrs?
Appearances are all very well, but what you’re really interested in is grind quality, right?
So let’s take a look at the single most important aspect of any burr grinder: the burrs themselves (1).
It’s the burrs that grind the coffee, and they do a much better job than the main alternative, blade grinders.
That’s because the beans are squeezed between them, rather than being chopped at by a blade. The result is far more consistently sized coffee grounds.
Why does that matter? Well, even grounds are vital for good flavor. That’s because their surface to volume ratio determines how quickly flavor is extracted.
If you’ve got a mixture of different sizes, you’ll get a mixture of sour and bitter tastes in your cup.
If your grounds are even, you just have to find the right brewing time. Then you’ll be able to extract all the good flavors without any of the bad.
So how do the Encore and Virtuoso compare?
At first sight, the burrs look pretty similar. In both machines, they’re stainless steel and conical.
And in both, they’re 40mm in size. You can take a look at the upper burr in both machines in this YouTube video comparing different grinders.
But here the Virtuoso has an edge. The burrs in this machine are more precisely engineered, and they’ll give you a more consistent grind.
It’s one of the main reasons the Virtuoso is considered an upgrade on the Encore.
Different grind sizes suit different ways of brewing coffee.
If you love drip or pour over, you’ll need a medium grind. If that’s all you drink, you won’t need to worry too much about how much range your grinder allows.
But if you like to mix things up a bit, you’ll want a grinder with different options.
At one end of the scale, if you’re making coffee with a French press you’ll want a coarse grind. Anything too small will slip through the filter and leave you with gritty coffee.
At the other end of the spectrum is Turkish coffee. Here you’ll need an ultra fine grind. And just one notch down is espresso coffee.
You’ll need to use fine grounds in a pressurized portafilter. And if you’re using a high-end machine with unpressurized portafilters, it will need to be finer again.
Both the Encore and Virtuoso offer plenty of choices here. The two machines each have no fewer than 40 different grind settings.
If you want complete precision, though, there is one limitation: both grinders have “stepped increments”.
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What does that mean?
Well, in order to select the grind size, you turn the hopper.
An indicator at its bottom needs to line up with one of the grind settings marked on a dial on the front of the machine. If it isn’t lined up, the machine won’t grind.
So if the grind is too fine or coarse for your needs, you’ll have to select the next setting.
That shouldn’t be too much of a problem – after all, you have 40 to choose from.
But you won’t be able to turn the hopper to any position to select a grind size. That’s a feature that’s available with other, pricier grinders.
But for all but the very choosiest of home baristas, either the Encore or the Virtuoso should give you what you need.
One more word about those burrs we discussed earlier. The more precise engineering of the Virtuoso will allow you to get a finer grind.
So if you love espresso, it’s the better option. We still wouldn’t recommend it for Turkish coffee though: even Baratza admit a hand grinder is better for this.
Holding the beans
Both the Encore and the Virtuoso have the same hopper to hold the coffee beans. It’s big enough to take eight ounces. That’s enough for several pots of coffee.
The beans go straight through the hopper and into the grinder. That means you won’t be able to remove it if there are any beans left inside without making a mess of your countertop.
A hopper isn’t a great place to store your coffee beans though. They’ll be vulnerable to heat, air, and moisture, so don’t put in more than you’re going to use in one go.
If you’re making large amounts of coffee, you can buy a hopper extension accessory for the Virtuoso.
That’s not available with the Encore. But for domestic use we’d advise against it: it may just tempt you to pour in more beans and leave them to go stale in the hopper.
Holding the grounds
You might think this is a bit of a weird topic. Surely the grounds just go into a container?
Well yes – and no.
The Encore and Virtuoso come with almost exactly the same container as standard to hold your ground coffee.
It’s made of plastic, but performs well, generating less static than models from some other manufacturers.
But the Virtuoso has an added extra. If you wish, you can purchase a compatible container into which you can slot your portafilter.
If you make a lot of espresso, it’s well worth buying. You can grind your coffee straight into the portafilter, minimizing effort and mess.
We’ve also heard that the Virtuoso retains fewer grounds than the Encore.
Either way, it’s a good idea to remove the grounds container and tip up your machine before a new batch.
You don’t want stale coffee from your last grind contaminating your next brew.
When grinders are pulverizing those coffee beans, they generate a lot of friction. That means heat, which can impair the flavor of your coffee.
To try and avoid that, both these machines use gears to reduce the speed of the burrs to about 450 revolutions per minute.
That’s pretty good, but if you’re grinding for long periods heat can still be a problem. It’s another reason to grind only as much coffee as you’ll use straight away.
The Virtuoso has one gadget the Encore doesn’t, and that’s a timer. Use it to set the grind time for anything between 5 and 60 seconds.
Beware though: if you’re grinding for a full minute, a fair bit of heat will be generated.
If you need more coffee, leave the grinder for a few seconds to cool down before repeating the process.
The perfect brew ratio
One of the most important ingredients in getting the perfect cup of coffee is the ratio between water and grounds. That makes measuring an important part of the coffee making process.
There are two ways to do this: by volume and by weight.
If you’re measuring by volume, you’ll be using scoops to measure out your coffee. But it’s easy for one scoop to contain a little more or less coffee than another.
Measuring by weight is more accurate. Most Baratza machines, including the Encore and Virtuoso, are compatible with another clever gadget to help with this.
The Esatto is a neat little weighing platform that sits underneath the grounds container.
That means that you can measure your grounds as they’re dispensed into the container.
You can see it in action in this YouTube video.
If you’re using the Virtuoso, you can experiment with a combination of the timer and the Esatto.
That will tell you exactly how many grounds you’re getting for every five seconds on the timer.
So once you’ve got your favorite recipe, you’ll know how long to send the timer for in future. Neat, right?
So which grinder should you choose?
The Baratza Encore and the Virtuoso have a lot in common. For a good quality, entry level machine, pick the Encore.
If you want something with higher quality burrs and more features, it’s worth paying a bit extra for the Virtuoso.
We hope our comparison has helped you make up your mind. And if you’ve used one of them, please comment and let us know what you thought!