The Burr Coffee Grinder Showdown

Our weekend breakfast ritual usually includes a carefully prepared cup of coffee made with freshly ground coffee beans. The first coffee grinder I ever purchased was a pretty cheap $20 USD grinder from Krups (this one), which I used mostly for French press or single-serve pour-over. The Krups was quick and compact but the result was always inconsistent.

Eventually my husband and I switched to a six-cup Chemex. It didn’t take long for us to decide that we wanted to graduate up to a grinder that could produce a more consistently coarse grind. But we weren’t quite ready (nor did we want to shell out the cash) to go all-in on an electric counter top grinder. So in early 2015 we upgraded from the Krups to a hand-crank Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill (100g), which retails at a reasonable ~$40 USD.

The Hario Skerton was a vast improvement over the Krups. The grinds are much more consistently sized, but man can the thirty minutes of hand-grinding put a damper on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning. It took two years of (un)happily hand-grinding before we decided to upgrade again.

In the spring of 2017 we began our search for a counter-top electric burr coffee grinder. After a bit of online searching for “best burr grinders” we concluded that the $200 USD range seemed to be the sweet spot for a high-quality home burr grinder. Above that, the price jumped significantly with not much to gain in a residential setting.

Narrowing in on this price range led us to two well-reviewed grinders:

  • Baratza Virtuoso, $229.00
  • Breville Smart Grinder Pro, $199.95

Both appeared to produce consistent grinds appropriate for the Chemex pour-over style, but which was better? We watched video after annoying video on YouTube and read countless articles and Amazon customer reviews. Some were helpful but there was no smoking gun.

Both grinders have conical steel burrs. Both are touted as being able to produce a wide range of grind sizes with consistent results. Both have a similar number of “mine broke after a week” frustration stories.

After much hemming and hawing we ordered the Smart Grinder Pro. But when we tested it at home, we were disappointed with the results. The machine was well constructed and all the parts had been thoughtfully designed. But — even after adjusting the internal burr to get the max size possible — the grind just wasn’t that coarse. We decided we had to know how the Baratza Virtuoso compared to the Smart Grinder Pro, so we ordered the Baratza. We did this with the intention of sharing the results on radmeal to help others with their own decision.

What follows is a running list of pros and cons for each machine. These are accompanied by comparison photos of the grind results with the size or setting noted. Unfortunately we didn’t add a coin or other familiar item for scale, but know that all of these photos were taken the same morning, using paper of the same width, and with the camera at about the same distance.

Smart Grinder Pro vs. Baratza Virtuoso

Breville Smart Grinder Pro

  • the coarsest grind setting (60 + burr adjusted to maximum coarseness) doesn’t even come close to the coarsest grind setting on the Baratza
  • the difference in grind size we got after adjusting between the out-of-the-box coarsest setting and the modified coarsest setting (see this video) was insignificant
  • we couldn’t test the finest setting because at grind setting 1 we experienced a clanking sound, almost like the mechanism was tripping over itself, so we jumped it up to setting 10 and tested that (note that we did return the internal burr to its default factory setting before testing this)
  • in general, the machine is well constructed & has thoughtful details;
    • magnetic snap-in tray where the collection cup sits
    • comes with two different sized attachments for espresso portafilters
  • the timer resets itself if you pause the grinding and wait too long to re-start it (or it resets itself after you remove the cup – we’re not 100% sure) – either way it was annoying as we were conducting our testing
  • you can buy this on Bed Bath and Beyond which has an excellent return policy
  • as loud as you might expect
  • bean hopper is air tight, so you could theoretically store your beans in the hopper & grind them on-demand, as opposed to loading tbsp-fulls each morning
Smart Grinder Pro: coarsest grind size setting 60, what we used for the Chemex – even at the coarsest size doesn’t even come close to the Baratza – not as consistent
Smart Grinder Pro: fine setting 10
Smart Grinder Pro: clanking sound at finest setting 1 = bad

Baratza Virtuoso (our pick)

  • this company only makes coffee grinders, so they must know what they’re doing
  • coarsest grind size blows the Smart Grinder Pro out of the water
  • finest grind size we were able to test (1 on the Baratza and 10 on the Smart Grinder Pro) appears comparable between the two, although we couldn’t truly test the lowest setting on the Smart Grinder Pro, and we aren’t using these for espresso (yet)
  • doesn’t seem as well constructed, more plasticky-feeling parts
  • attachment for manual timer knob makes it seem like it could fall off easily
  • low-tech, no digital display – this is very likely a good thing – if something went wrong, we’d be able to repair at home – replacement parts available here
  • as loud as you might expect
  • weird silicone gasket that’s sort of tricky to position is what funnels the beans into the burr grinder
  • bean hopper is not air tight so you should only put as much as you need in there
Baratza Virtuoso: medium-coarse setting 30, this isn’t even the coarsest and it’s already larger than the coarsest setting on the Smart Grinder Pro
Baratza Virtuoso: coarsest grind size setting 40 (wow, that’s coarse!)
Baratza Virtuoso: grind size setting 21 – beautiful, consistent, semi-coarse grounds (this setting is specifically for Chemex per the Baratza instruction card)
Baratza Virtuoso Instruction Card

Other Photos

For reference, Hario Skerton Ceramic Mill: internally adjusted, shown here is the grind size we had been using for pour-over
Baratza Virtuoso medium-coarse setting 30 vs. Smart Grinder Pro coarsest setting 60
Baratza Virtuoso: four grind settings tested (1, 21, 30, 40)

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