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.
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.
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: