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Baratza Encore Review: Is a $129 Espresso Grinder Possible?

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baratza encore maestro plus espresso grounds

The Baratza Encore: A Barista’s Review of an Affordable Espresso Grinder

By: Chris Heiniger

The review is below, but first…

A Tale of Scandal and Misfortune from Yesteryear

Years ago, I was sold a lie by a sweet-talking grinder salesman and I spent hard-earned money on a grinder that could "totally grind for espresso". At home, I found that this grinder did grind espresso if you wanted espresso to be thin, pale and for shots to run in 15 seconds. I modified the grinder, and that improved the grind from “not-at-all-like-espresso” to “close-enough-to-look-like-it-might-work-for-espresso-but-it-won’t.” I listed that grinder on eBay and got back half the money I spent. But I never got back my trust in “The System.”

So, take it from someone who has been burned before: there are grinders out there claiming to reach an espresso grind, but only a couple of them under $300 actually get the job done. Even harder to find is an inexpensive espresso grinder that is also optimized to work for brewing grinds. Details of my testing are below, but from my skeptical heart to yours, here is the bottom line: The Baratza Encore is a $129 grinder that will grind fine enough for espresso and still maintain a consistent grind for a French Press.

baratza encore

Baratza Encore Put Through the Paces

Before giving the Encore my stamp of approval, I put my test model through a week’s worth of brewing challenges. At my house, that means four brews every weekday morning (I brew a lot of coffee) and two shots of espresso everyday (one straight-up, one in a cappuccino.) Including the brews I did specifically for testing, in a week’s time I did 30 manual brews using the Encore and pulled 40+ shots. That may not be enough to constitute an FDA clinical trial, but it is plenty to give me a strong impression of this grinder’s capabilities. The results are discussed below.

Manual Brewing Tests

The Encore performed well across V-60, Chemex and Café Solo brew methods. Something to note is that the Encore’s wider grind range compared to its predecessor, the Maestro Plus, means that each step (there are 40 steps on each grinder) also has a wider range. This could definitely be considered a drawback. If you were only intending to use this grinder for brewing, not espresso, the wider range is a negative because the usable range (for you) is now allocated to relatively few steps, meaning there is less granularity in grind adjustment.

I matched up the Encore against two other Baratza Models: the now-retired Maestro Plus as well as the Virtuoso Preciso. I do feel like out of the three grinders, the Encore performed third best in brewing trials, but the margins between the three were very close. I attribute the main disadvantage of the Encore to the lack of granularity—I was able to dial in the other grinders more effectively. However, the final products of most brews were so similar between grinders that the difference was hardly notable, especially at coarser grinds used for the Chemex and Café Solo.

Espresso Tests: Can the Encore grind fine enough for espresso?

The Maestro Plus and Encore have effectively the same manual brewing capabilities, but in the espresso trials, the Maestro Plus isn’t even a competitor. Turned all the way to the finest notch, the Maestro is not capable of pulling an espresso shot. In comparison, the Encore is capable of choking espresso machines at “6” if you use a firm tamp.

baratza encore and mazzer super jolly grounds comparison

For the espresso trials, I tested the Encore against the Virtuoso Preciso as well as my beastly Mazzer Super Jolly, a commercial grinder which has an updated titanium burr set. Like the brewing trials, the Encore was my third favorite of the three. The grind coming out of the Encore was clumpier than I would like, and it had a negative impact on shot quality. But with the price difference (Encore=$129, Preciso=$300, Super Jolly=$675) it is hardly fair to expect the Encore to perform evenly, and it is a high compliment to Baratza to say that they make the Encore well enough that it can “hang in there” against more expensive machines. I also want to add this: I own the Preciso and the Super Jolly because they are good grinders, but the Encore does perform better than a number of grinders I’ve used in home and shop settings.

Espresso Test Results

The full results of espresso testing would be far too long to reprint, but I am including the tasting notes from one set of test shots. This test represented the Encore’s performance accurately. All shots were pulled to the same specs: 5 seconds pre-infusion, 23 second total extraction time, 199 deg F, using a dry-processed Ethiopian espresso with a 19 gram dose. All shots in this trial were great. I gave the edge to the Preciso and then to the Mazzer because of increased complexity and the presence of sweet fruits. The Encore was just slightly bitter in the aftertaste. On the other hand, the Encore had a great medium-brightness and showcased the shots high-noted fruits really well.

baratza encore and preciso espresso shots and crema

Baratza Encore

On the Encore, the settings 7,8, and 9 worked best for espresso depending on the beans used. This Ethiopian espresso was tastiest on an 8, but shots were slightly fast even with a high dose. The shot was delicious. It was bright and sweet. On the front-end I got grapefruit and Thompson green grapes. The aftertaste was 85% cacao dark chocolate—initially bitter but buttery too. The second and third sips of the shot had more of the grape and less of the grapefruit.

Virtuoso Preciso

The shot ran slower than the one from the Encore. I cut it at 23 seconds, so it yielded about 1 gram less volume. Initially, the shot was brighter and a little more distinct than the Encore’s. I got ruby grapefruit and more of a grape skin instead of grape. The finish on the first sip was a mild baker’s chocolate. The later sips of the shot had a lot of complexity and depth. Sweet, tart apple with a ripe banana finish. Slight cinnamon spiciness.

Mazzer Super Jolly

The shot pulled an identical volume to the Encore shot with similar coloration and viscosity. The burrs on the Mazzer are flat, whereas the two Baratza grinders have conical burrs. The flat burrs yield a shot that is less acidic and juicier than the other two. The initial flavor was more like purple sweet grapes instead of green grapes. The back-end of the shot was like a Texas sheet cake: sweet and chocolate-y with a little spice.

Conclusion:

The Baratza Encore adds espresso functionality to the already-impressive Maestro series. It grinds fine or coarse enough for any purpose. The coolest thing about the Encore is this:

Baratza Encore + Mypressi Twist + Knowing What You’re Doing = Amazing Espresso At Home

Espresso at home for a reasonable price—not long ago, that was just a dream. If you’re considering an Encore grinder purchase I want this to be my final word: I can guarantee that the user support from Baratza will be exceptional; they have an old-school approach to customer service that is personal and genuine. Buying an Encore is not a gamble because Baratza takes care of their customers.

Buy the Encore

chris heiniger pulling shot from the mypress twist

About the author: Chris works as an energy analyst by trade, but his passion and hobbies revolve around the world of coffee and espresso. Formerly he has served as Coffee Quality Manager at Quills Coffee and a barista at Sunergos Coffee here in Louisville, Kentucky. At home, Chris is an avid home roaster, and manual brewing and espresso aficionado. He was the winner of the latte art competition at Louisville's first Barista Bash and the winner of the brewing competition at the Barista Bash IV. He is married to Allie and they live with their lovable dog Odie.

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Just received a  new Encore.   What setting do you suggest for Chemex?

The perfect grind depends on a number of factors (bean, batch size, and taste preference, among others), but we'd recommend starting between 20 (for 1-2 servings) and 25 (for 3+ servings). But you'll certainly want to play around with it and see what you like. Enjoy!

Understood.  At least it is starting point...thanks!

Dude. What are you talking about, of course that you can make good espresso with ~$100 grinder if you have done your homework. I have been doing this for years with Capresso Infinity conical burr and i can get my double shots within 20-30secs with beautiful crema. That in commercial size (58mm) portafilter, not with "crema enhancer" or "pressurized" one. What was the maligned grinder you mention in the beginning of the article? I have made mistake too - tried KitchenAid "Pro Line Coffee Mill" flat burr for twice the price and that was tragic (looks and weighs great though, solid and pretty - just lousy uneven grinds), had to return back to the trusty Infinity.

"Ruby grapefruit and more of a grape skin instead of grape? ... Sweet, tart apple with a
ripe banana finish." I don't know. I really taste more of a mango smoothie with a mild pork chop finish. Seriously, I've never tasted any hint of apple or banana in my coffee, but maybe others do.

Thank you for taking the time to write this. As a novice espresso enthusiast, this was an incredibly useful ressource.

Very useful .... and I appreciate the details of the comparison assumptions ... and I learned a few things along the way...

Glad to hear it!

What settings do you reccomend as starting points for the V60 and Clever respectively?

It's hard to say, BB, because the settings on the Encore aren't standardized – that is, a 20 on yours could be quite different than a 30 on mine. The numbers are mostly useful for personal reference.

Still, for single servings, I'd start somewhere near a 15 for V60 and 30 for Clever. I hope that gets you pretty close!

It seems that the most variable thing in coffee prep is the grind. Temperature, time, weight these things are easily gauged. But to hear a 20 on yours could be a 30 on mine is kind of frustrating. I have heard descriptions from rock salt, to corn meal to medium, the sky is the limit based on opinion. Another kitchen gadget that could help to gauge these settings would be priceless! Especially if you drink coffee multiple ways through out the day.

You're not alone in your frustration, hamr1! A better, more standardized way to talk about grind size would be fantastic – but the industry isn't quite there. For now, we recommend checking our our beginners guides to pour over and immersion brewing. Both of those include pictures of our recommended grind settings for numerous brewing methods. Hope that helps!

From a few months experience with it, I'll confirm the gist of this article. Out of the box the Encore is capable of creating a consistent and fine enough grind for espresso. In fact, it can grind quite a bit finer that that. . .fine enough to create a talcum-powder like grind suitable for Turkish coffee, and capable of "choking" just about any espresso machine.

The machine settings go from 0-40. With my grinder and machine, 8-11 seems to be about right for espresso (higher setting is OK for pressurized filter). I use 18-20 for drip coffee and 26-28 for French press. Minor quibbles here are that the machine is noisy, and it has a manual "on/off" switch. . .you have to stand there while it grinds and shut it off, or it will grind "forever". But in fairness, that's what you get for $129. If you want quieter and a timer, you can step up to the next level "Virtuoso" grinder for more money.

The real problem with this machine as an espresso grinder was only barely alluded to in the article. Yes, you "can" grind for espresso with this, but the steps in the espresso grind range are pretty "coarse". The difference between an "8" and a "9" is pretty dramatic when it comes to shot duration. . .about a difference of 7 seconds, which is a big deal when you're targeting an "optimum" shot time of only 22-28 seconds. In practice what this means is that although the machine can do an espresso grind, its really NOT capable of the fine grind ADJUSTMENT necessary to precisely "dial in" a good shot.

Of course there are ways to compensate by changing tamping pressure, amount of grinds used, etc, but these aren't optimal, and may be a bit frustrating. From what I understand, its possible to take apart the machine and recalibrate it manually. So if an "8" is too fine but a "9" too coarse, you may be able to tweak the internals to create a custom "8.5". But even if you did that, you still won't be able to finely adjust on either side of that new setting.

Bottom line, I think this is a good machine for the money, and a realistic choice if you want one relatively inexpensive machine adequate for multiple types of brewing. Although capable of an espresso grind, its not going to be satisfactory for a "serious" espresso maker who is looking for an absolute perfect shot, who may be changing bean types on a regular basis, etc, and there are reasons why the dedicated espresso grinders cost 2-3x as much as this one.

If Baratza were to say, get rid of settings below 5 and above 32 (which create rock-salt like chunks of beans. . .not sure why you might want that), and then redistribute the remaining 28 "old" settings into 50 new ones, then they'd effectively be creating 5 or 6 functional espresso settings, from the current 3. That would go a long way towards improving the grinder for espresso purposes. Realistically, since this is supposed to be an entry level grinder, and since they do offer the "Preciso" as a specfic low cost espresso grinder, I doubt they'd be inclined to do this.

Great remarks, earthtone55. We really appreciate your detailed review!

I have to ask, why is the titanium burrs on the super jolly a good thing? Titanium is a comparitively soft option compared to steel, and especially ceramics. It's not known for staying sharp, it's not the point of the stuff

You make a good point, and on the surface it may seem like a downgrade rather than an upgrade. "Titanium" burrs for espresso grinders are typically alloys, sometimes called "Duranium." They have been developed to have extended burr life over the stock steel models, and are also sometimes coated with titanium nitride to better retain sharp cutting edges over time. We're not positive which sort Chris used in his testing, but more than likely his burrs were an alloy meant to last longer than the standard steel burrs would.

When you look at the spec sheets (grind and motor assembly) on the Encore/Virtuoso/Preciso they only vary in two components. The Virtuoso and Preciso have a better conical burr than the Encore (but same ring burr) and the Preciso has a calibration ring that the others don't. Their motors are identical. Given all the similarity across models, what accounts for the difference in outcomes?

You're welcome. After around a year with this thing, typically being used 10+ times/week, mostly for drip coffee, let me add a few more observations:

In addition to above, a grinder setting of 22 seems about right for my (new) Bonavita cone filter drip machine. That's a few clicks coarser than what I was using for my now retired older basket filter Cuisinart drip machine. A setting of about 12 seems to work for Moka pot ("stovetop espresso") coffee, though I admit I don't make that style of coffee all that often, so it may not be optimal. I still like about 26 for French Press.

With well over 50lbs of coffee run through this grinder, its held up well. I haven't noticed any difference in speed or quality of grind since the day I got it, and I've only cleaned it twice. Bean hopper holds well over 70 grams of beans, which is more than I'll normally run for a pot of coffee, so hopper capacity has never been limiting.

Only other thing I'd add is that the machine itself tends to retain a few grams of coffee in the "chute" that drops the ground coffee into the plastic cup/bin. So after grinding I'll rock the machine back and forth on its feet a few times, or give it a couple of solid taps on the side while pressing the "quick grind" button to knock these grounds into the bin before brewing. If you didn't do this, you could get a few grams of stale ground coffee mixed in with your next grind. Couldn't have that!

In any case, my general opinion on this machine hasn't changed from my earlier review. Baratza Encore is a solid entry level machine, and I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone wanting to step up to "real" freshly ground coffee without breaking the bank.

As above, a "serious" espresso fan will want something with finer adjustment capability. Someone with deeper pockets and higher love for coffee may appreciate a timer on/off switch and potentially more consistent grind (leading to better cup quality) from a more expensive grinder with higher quality burrs.

From my understanding you can change the Encore Burr out for the Preciso burr to get a better grind. This Preciso burrs cost around $35. Just wonder if this would be worth it. Using the Encore grinder for the Bonavita BV1900TS.

in almost all industries dealing with powders, they use Sieve retention % using standardised sieves. Why can't this be used?

Sieves actually are used in industrial coffee particle evaluation, among a few other techniques for analyzing particle sizes. But for you and I, and the average home coffee brewer, sieves are going to be an expensive investment with limited applications. It's quite likely some intrepid coffee geeks are buying or building their own sieves for home use, but sadly it's not all that practical for most of us.

I think its possible to make good espresso with a relatively inexpensive, manual mill/hand grinder, if you start with the correct one, and know what you're doing. There are also ways to modify certain relatively inexpensive burr grinders (including older Solis/Baratza models) to improve their performance specifically for espresso. So no, you don't necessarily "have" to spend a lot of money to get something good for espresso, especially if you're willing to crack open a machine and turn a screwdriver or place a shim.

It mostly comes down to your ability to calibrate the grind properly. Some machines just have poor burrs or too much "wobble" and just can't make a consistent grind no matter what you do. Some machines may be capable of an acceptable grind, but it may take a lot of physical work/tweaking to actually get it.

What a good (ie expensive) machine gives you is the ability to easily create a good grind, easily adjust it, and (optimally) easily reproduce it, right out of the box. The better dedicated espresso grinders are also all commercial quality using all metal components, high quality burrs, and high quality motors, meaning they'll typically grind fairly quickly, and easily last for many years with "only" home use, if not a lifetime.

For Hamr1, above, a microscope with calibrated reticle could be used to precisely quantify grind particle size, though that's not practical for most. In practice, what you need is "experience". Descriptions of powder, sand, salt, only get you so far, I think.

Trying different grinds, FEELING them with your fingers to get a sense of both particle size and consistency, and then drinking the resultant coffee brewed using different methods will teach you everything you really need to know about this. If you're looking for a place to start, most commercially ground coffee is ground specifically for drip-type machines and if you start your personal drip grind at that consistency, you'll be "in the ball park". Likewise, you can take a look (feel) of some commercial espresso grinds, or even some grounds from your local coffee cafe to get some sense of what's right for espresso.

Great review. For those on a tight budget, I recommend the Hario Slim hand mill, which costs 30 dollars. I was happily surprised to see my shot look like the Baratza Preciso shot above.

Note that I have done the common scotch tape mod on the Hario Slim to remove its wobbliness, which took me all of 15 minutes.

Images: http://www.coffeebrewguides.co...
Exact instructions: http://coffeegeek.com/forums/c...

If you don't mind grinding by hand, these are 30 dollars well spent. It feels like 90 seconds to grind 14 grams. Note that it can be annoying when you're making practice shots, but your power drill can help (seriously).

Hario hand mill is a reasonable choice for an individual to make personal cups of espresso or coffee. Something like that probably really is the cheapest way to get a decent espresso grind, and it can work well for either French press or drip coffee too. One caveat here is that it will take some trial and error to adjust the mill to get a good particle size. Also, the design of these mills means that there is isn't an easy way to reproduce settings. If you want to do this, you have to "zero" the grinder by bringing the burrs together, then count and note rotations when you open up the burrs to a setting you like. While this can be done, its not trivial nor nearly as convenient as just turning your grinder to a pre-set number, like on something like the Encore.

The biggest drawback of the Hario is just that grinding the beans is fairly slow and labor-intensive. If you're just grinding 10-20 grams of coffee for a personal cup of coffee, grinding is no big deal, but from experience, I'll tell you that grinding 50 (+) grams of beans for an entire pot of coffee is a serious chore taking several minutes of cranking! As mentioned above, the extra fine particle size necessary for espresso also means quite a bit of hand work for even one shot, several times as much grinding as necessary to grind up the same mass of beans for drip coffee.

IMO, a hand grinder like the Hario is best as a "backup" grinder, or for travel. Someone "serious" about espresso, or interested in making multiple cups in succession (eg for guests) isn't going to be happy with this.

You're quite right, William, the internals of Baratza grinders are very similar. This is great for repairs, as parts are designed to be useful across multiple models. As for actual performance, the Preciso burr found in the Virtuso an Preciso make a tremendous difference in grind quality. Baratza has some particle distribution graphs available on their site that compare the burr sets, but it comes down to being a more precisely machined burr that is better for both grind consistency and grinding speed. The Preciso model itself has some added stability thanks to the micro adjustment collar, which aids in buffering vibrations that would impact grind uniformity. Still, that difference is best highlighted at the finer end of the grind range, and the overall difference is that there is a more fine-tuned range of grind sizes available to the user. Across all three grinders, you can't really go wrong, but we suggest the Encore for those with a tighter budget, the Virtuoso for those in need of a great general-purpose grinder, and the Preciso for those who specifically need to focus on espresso in addition to brewed coffee.

We haven't tried it ourselves, Randy, but we have seen it done. Since the Preciso burr is cut and refined a bit differently from the Encore burr, we expect you'd see a bit of an improvement in your grind. If you do try it out, let us know what you find!

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