Review: Baratza Sette 270W Coffee Grinder

I'm a home brew espresso enthusiast. My morning ritual starts with brewing an espresso and making a cappuccino. I love  the attention to detail involved with great coffee. That doesn't mean that I'm a coffee snob - but I do understand what it takes to balance all the variables to make a good cup :) Perfecting that balance at home has lead me to the Baratza Sette 270W [Amazon] as an upgrade to my home espresso grinder.

I started my home brew espresso setup with a few main components. The Rancilio Silvia [Amazon], regarded as one of the best machines for home use. And the Rancilio Rocky, one of the original espresso-caliber grinders designed for enthusiasts. I added a few other items later, like the incredible Acaia Lunar scale [Amazon] and the essential VST basket, both of which aid in consistency and are just fun to use. I've been doing this for a little over a year, and I've been very happy with the results.

Several people told me before I started that I should plan to spend almost as much money on the grinder as I spent on an espresso machine. I didn't understand that at first. What's the point of an expensive grinder? I already had two basic grinders, and they both...well, ground coffee beans. Wasn't that good enough?

I rationalized buying a new grinder by thinking that grinding coffee fine enough for espresso was harder to do than grinding coarser for the aeropress. That must mean the grinder is more expensive to produce. But it wasn't until I spent a year brewing espresso at home that I really understood how important the grinder is, and how it can improve quality even more than the machine itself.

 The Baratza Sette 270W grinding into a bottomless portafilter. The coffee grounds shoot out of the grinder almost like a jet engine, at a remarkable level of consistency.

The Baratza Sette 270W grinding into a bottomless portafilter. The coffee grounds shoot out of the grinder almost like a jet engine, at a remarkable level of consistency.

I first heard of the Sette 270W from a barista I follow on Twitter. I looked at the product and saw that it included Acaia weighing technology - the same technology in the Lunar scale I already use every day while brewing espresso. That immediately caught my interest. The Acaia Lunar scale is the most fun piece of coffee equipment I own. If you're interested in the nerdy details of brewing espresso, it's just a fun and delightfully accurate/fast device to brew with to measure both weight and extraction time of brewed espresso.

The Sette 270W's promise is to use a built in scale to weigh the coffee grounds in real time, delivering exactly the amount of ground coffee into the portafilter. For espresso, that probably means somewhere in the 16-20g range, depending on the type of coffee you're using. The machine includes an adjustable holder for the portafilter, and works with both spouted and bottomless portafilters. Adjusting the holder is easy, with an included small allen wrench. Once set, I haven't had to adjust mine, and it holds the portafilter very comfortably.

Weighing the ground coffee while the grinder is active saves a lot of time. Previously if you wanted to measure the weight of the coffee ground into the portafilter, you would need to tare out a scale with your portafilter, grind roughly the amount of coffee you think you need into the portafilter, and set it back on the scale. If you're over the target weight, you can use a small spoon to remove extra grounds. If you're under, it's back to step one to add a little more coffee, and weigh the portafilter again. This isn't difficult to do, especially if you're only making one or two cups, but does take time.

The Sette 270W works exactly as advertised. You select from three programmed weight settings or enter one manually, set the portafilter in the holder, and press the play button. The grinder starts up and very quickly the scale is displaying the precise weight of the coffee ground into the portafilter basket. There are no extra steps. It's a very automatic process to end up with a precise amount of coffee in the portafilter basket, ready to tamp and brew espresso.

I've been very impressed with the grinder's accuracy. I've seen very consistent results at a variety of preset weight settings. I usually target 17g, and my grinder hits this number exactly most of the time. If it's off it's only off by 0.1g or 0.2g. 16.8g, 16.9g and 17.0g are the most common results.

This is a video of the Sette grinding 17g of coffee. It overshoots 17g by 0.2g, but this was before I adjusted the default offset described below.

Baratza did have some issues with the accuracy of early production model grinders, judging by user comments on various websites. Some users saw a wider range of results that were inconsistently higher or lower than the target. I believe those issues have since been addressed, as evidenced by the model I received in April, but if you receive a model that has an issue Baratza customer service will make it right for you.

More commonly, you may see the ground coffee result consistently high or low by a small amount. Baratza has a tuning offset setting to allow users to adjust for this, if your grinder is consistently higher or lower than the target. I noticed initially that my grinder was consistently about 0.3g higher than my target at 17.3g. I adjusted the factory default offset up by that amount to compensate, and now the result is exactly where I have the target set at 17.0g.

The accuracy of ground coffee by weight has been a huge quality of life improvement for brewing espresso at home, but its perhaps nothing compared to the other major improvements that the design of this grinder affords home brew enthusiasts:

  • The straight down design from bean hopper to the grinding burrs to the dosing chute virtually eliminates grounds retention – making it simpler to adjust grind settings and easier to avoid stale coffee caught in the chute ruining flavor.
  • The straight down design coupled with a very high grind speed results in very evenly distributed grounds with ZERO  clumping – dramatically lowering the chances of channeling ruining an espresso shot.
  • The hopper itself is removable, making it simple and easy to change beans regularly to try something new.
  • The grinder includes a full range of macro adjustment settings and a wide range of micro adjustment settings PER macro setting – making it extremely easy and intuitive to fine tune your brew times to exactly the timing and flavor profiles you're looking for.

I try a lot of different coffees as a home brew enthusiast. There are certainly some that I come back to frequently that I like, but I like trying a variety of coffees from local shops in Austin, and I always bring back a new bag of coffee to try at home when I travel. That means I'm usually dialing in a new coffee every week or two. Because that's such a big part of my workflow, I really love how well the Sette 270W works for dialing in new coffees. The excellent set of adjustment settings coupled with the other features above make it simple and easy to dial in a new coffee.

When I start dialing in a coffee I set the macro ring somewhere in the 7-10 range, and always start with the micro setting on E - the center setting. Adjusting from there based on extraction time is very intuitive for someone accustomed to dialing in a grinder. What I like about the Sette's adjustments is how predictable they are. If you're several seconds too fast or slow, then one or two turns of the macro adjustment ring should bring your extraction very close to where it needs to be. But if you're only a second or two off, then one or two turns of the micro adjustment ring will almost certainly bring it perfectly in line. That predictability gives you a lot of confidence making adjustments to suit taste, or to correct for coffee that speeds up or slows down as it gets older. The micro adjustments are a huge improvement, meaning that you don't have to worry about overcorrecting if a macro adjustment might be too much change.

The straight down design of the Sette is a clear breakthrough and a wonderful innovation. Ground coffee shoots out the bottom into the portafilter at a very fast rate, and very evenly with no static or clumping issues. I was taught to tap my portafilter on the side to settle the grounds, and then use my finger to break up any obvious clumps and make sure grounds were evenly distributed. The Sette completely removes the need to do this. The grounds are so fluffy and evenly distributed that simply shaking the portafilter gently from side to side is enough to settle everything evenly before tamping. It's delightfully simple and easy to tamp.

That even distribution and easy tamping has been a huge improvement for the consistency of my results. I used to have a few issues with shots channeling if I didn't pay close enough attention to clumps and even distribution of grounds. The channeling was most annoying when it happened while I was dialing in, because I could never tell if it the shot was running fast because I made a mistake in my technique, or if the grind settings were too coarse. The results are far more consistent now, with channelling a very rare occurence.

I can't believe how much of a difference the Sette has made to my home brew espresso experience. The improvement in quality is remarkable, and it just makes the whole process more delightful. The consistency and ease of adjustment afford more opportunities to experiment with flavor, and I think I'm learning more about coffee now as a result.

If you decide to buy a Sette 270W I think you'll like it, and I very highly recommend it.


Note for purchasers:

One note that I do have to future owners is what to expect for break-in time after you start using the grinder. Baratza mentions a roughly 2kg break-in time for the burrs to settle into their routine. This very closely matched my experience. I'm on my 5th or 6th pound of coffee now, and I think my grinder has finished settling. The grinder trends towards a finer and finer range during break-in, which is normal and expected. 

During or after break-in, it's also expected that you'll have to add a shim to maintain the fine espresso brewing grind range. Two shims are included in the packaging with the grinder. I knew about this when I purchased the grinder, so I decided to add one shim immediately after I set up the grinder. After break-in, my grinder had shifted down towards the finest settings for espresso, and so I added the other shim after I'd run through 4lbs. I've been very happy with the range and consistency since then. For the curious, around 8E seems to be the sweet spot for me right now with two shims and the Rancilio Silvia.

 

Other sites that carry the Sette:

My Homebrew Espresso Morning Ritual

Every morning has begun the same way since I bought a home model espresso machine last year: walk to the kitchen, and turn the machine on to start heating up. That's the first step in the relatively complex, yet fun and rewarding, process of brewing a morning espresso. I'll describe the rest of the process here, with links to some of the gear involved below.

 The Acaia Lunar scale measuring the extraction time and weight of espresso for the current pour. This pour is running slower than normal - ultimately reaching 30g in about 35 seconds. The slow pour actually works well for this particular coffee, with the sweetness balancing things out and not being too sour.

The Acaia Lunar scale measuring the extraction time and weight of espresso for the current pour. This pour is running slower than normal - ultimately reaching 30g in about 35 seconds. The slow pour actually works well for this particular coffee, with the sweetness balancing things out and not being too sour.

People that enjoy coffee all have different approaches to brewing at home. Some people don't want the fuss - and will default to the best option with only one button to press. Others welcome the fuss, and will agonize over water temperature and pouring motions to create the optimum cup. Others want to experiment, not just with brewing methods but even coffee roasts - some going so far as to roast their own beans at home.

What I enjoy about home brew espresso is the number of variables involved, and the attention to detail that the combined process requires to brew something great. It's a delicate balancing act, and a multi-variable equation between grind size, weight, time, water temperature, pressure, water volume, and a variety of other factors...not to mention coffee itself.

While the machine is heating up I grind coffee into the portafilter basket. Grinding is a key step, and most mornings when I begin my grinder is still dialed in to the specific setting that I adjusted it to when I bought the coffee I'm brewing. Dialing in a grinder is a process of trial and error, but involves finding the right setting that controls the flow of water through the finely ground coffee powder. If the grind is too coarse, then water will flow through too quickly without extracting anything from the grounds. If it's too fine, the water gets trapped by the coffee and won't flow through at all. For brewing espresso, you're looking for a grind setting that allows water to flow at a relatively slow rate of 30 seconds.

 The Baratza Sette 270W grinding into the Rancilio Silvia's portafilter.

The Baratza Sette 270W grinding into the Rancilio Silvia's portafilter.

The amount of coffee grounds is very important for espresso. The standard recipe for espresso is a 1:2 ratio of ground coffee to brewed espresso. If you start with 17g of ground coffee in your portafilter basket, you should expect to end up with 34g of brewed espresso. Less than 34g, and your espresso might taste too sweet, or more and it might taste too sour or bitter. You can always adjust this to suit your own taste, but 1:2 is a good place to start.

One of the most important pieces of kit for any home brew coffee setup is a good scale (or two). The scale needs to weigh both the amount of coffee grounds, and the amount of brewed espresso. You can use the same scale for both, but many people use different ones designed for each task. The industry leader for scales designed specifically for coffee is Acaia. Their scales are water/coffee proof, extremely accurate, very sensitive down to 0.1g, and include specific software features to make brewing coffee simpler and more fun.

 The Rancilio Silvia and Acaia Lunar scale, set up on the counter getting ready to brew.

The Rancilio Silvia and Acaia Lunar scale, set up on the counter getting ready to brew.

Before brewing I make sure the grounds weight is what I'm expecting for the coffee I'm using. I usually prefer about 17g of ground coffee, but sometimes I use 16g or 18g depending on the type of coffee. Even just 1 gram actually makes a noticeable difference to flavor and quality when brewing espresso - which is why a good scale is so important. When I buy a new bag of coffee I write down the grind size and coffee weight on a small whiteboard next to the grinder so I don't forget.

The next step before brewing is to tamp the coffee grounds into the portafilter basket using a small tool called a tamper. The whole point of tamping is to uniformly distribute the coffee to make water flow through it evenly. That includes breaking up any clumps or chunks of grounds that might exist in the basket, either by running your finger through the grounds or tapping the basket lightly from the side with your hand. Then I hold the basket down on the counter with my left hand, and tamp firmly with the tool in my right hand. There's plenty of technique involved with tamping, and I don't think mine is that good yet. But I focus on creating an even surface with the tamper, and trying to let gravity do the rest.

Controlling the water temperature is important for any type of coffee brewing, including espresso. Most commercial espresso machines have special temperature controllers that allow you to set a specific temperature that the machine will hold. My home machine is a Rancilio Silvia. The Silvia is special because it is built using the same commercial-grade components that go into Rancilio's larger and more expensive machines. But it doesn't have a built in temperature controller - so you have to control the temperature manually before you brew.

Once my portafilter basket is tamped and ready, I put a cup under the machine and run hot water into it. While the hot water is running from the boiler out of the machine, cold water from a tank is refilling the boiler. This levels out the machine's temperature, and a light turns on when the temperature falls below a certain level. That's my queue to stop the water, pour the cup out in the sink, and attach the portafilter basket to the machine. It takes about 10-15 seconds for the boiler to heat back up to the correct temperature...and then the light turns off. Just like in a car race, when the lights go out, it's time to brew.

Under the portafilter basket of my Rancilio Silvia machine is an Acaia Lunar scale. This specific model of scale from Acaia is specifically designed for espresso. First, it's small enough to fit on the drip tray of most espresso machines, and thin enough to hold a normal size coffee cup below the portafilter. That means it can weigh the amount of coffee being brewed in real time as it's coming out of the machine - allowing me to monitor the progress of the brew. Second, it has a built in timer, which is the other key variable to brewing a great tasting espresso.

We talked about the recipe for espresso earlier (a 1:2 ratio of ground coffee to brewed espresso), and about the grind settings required to produce a flow rate of 30 seconds. Brewing is where we combine this multivariable equation to produce espresso. We want to brew 34g of espresso, but we want it to take 30 seconds before the scale reaches that number. If it's too fast, and reaches 34g in 20 seconds - the espresso will taste weak or bitter. If it's too slow, and takes 40 seconds to reach 34g, the espresso will taste too sweet and strong. Extraction that is too fast or too slow is my queue to start over and adjust the grinder before trying again.

 What a pour will usually look like when it's just starting out.

What a pour will usually look like when it's just starting out.

After the light goes out I start the brew. The machine starts building pressure and forcing water through the tamped coffee grounds in the portafilter basket down into the cup on top of the scale. The scale is very smart. It automatically tares out the weight of the cup, and automatically starts a timer counting up. While the machine is brewing, I watch the weight and time numbers on the scale. It should take a few seconds before any espresso drips into the cup at all, and it should progress slowly for several seconds after that before speeding up. At 15 seconds, the weight of the espresso might only be 10g. By 23 seconds though, the weight of espresso will likely have caught up, and read 23g.

When the scale reads 34g I turn the machine off. The espresso is finished brewing. Hopefully the timer on the scale reads close to 30 seconds. If it's anywhere between 26 and 34 seconds, then we have likely produced a very tasty espresso. How tasty will depend on the quality and freshness of the beans and their roast, and on some other factors that are harder to control.

 Near the end of a pour the espresso consolidates into a single thick stream of a brown color.

Near the end of a pour the espresso consolidates into a single thick stream of a brown color.

Once the espresso is finished brewing I'll clean out the portafilter and the machine itself, preparing it for the next cup. I'll turn the steamer on to heat water for steaming milk to pour a cappuccino. I prefer the ratio of milk to coffee in a cappuccino at home. Steaming milk takes some practice, and is harder to explain in a blog post. I've learned by trial and error, and watching several youtube videos. The Rancilio Silvia does a great job steaming milk.

This is a lot of explanation about a process that might seem foreign to anyone who hasn't brewed espresso or other types of coffee before. You have to pay close attention to the details, but it's not hard to grow accustomed to. I've really grown to love the process. I love dialing in the grinder, and monitoring all the variables, and changing some of them to see what happens to the flavor. All told, making a cappuccino in the morning only takes a few minutes, and boy does it taste good :)

Everyone needs a morning ritual of some sort, and this one is mine. Turning on the espresso machine and making a cappuccino.

All of the gear I am using at home is listed below: