With my Baratza Vario on permanent brew grinding duty, I recently swapped out the ceramic burrs for the brew grinding specific stainless steel burr set, shared with the Forte BG. This 54 mm stainless steel flat burr set is said to be specific for individual or batch brewing, narrowing particle distribution by reducing fine particles (fines), to create a more consistent grind size.
I was prompted to do so because I was working with a few coffees at the time that seemed to keep stalling in drawdown in the V60, like the filter pores were clogged, so I started thinking that this could be due to excessive fines and a less uniform particle distribution. I had heard good stories about the steel burr set option, and know a lot of top roasters are even using the Forte BG for their brew bar / pourover duties. At $60, I figured it was worth a shot.
Swapping the burrs is very easy, you will need two different sizes of flat head screwdrivers to remove the smaller screw heads with the ceramic set and install the larger ones with the steel set. Even when taking your time and with cleaning, this only takes 15 minutes or so, and all of the directions can be found online here. The steel burrs have a different, lower frequency or perhaps slightly quieter sound when grinding, and also take much longer to grind a given dose than the ceramic set (say, 23 seconds for 23 gram dose vs 15 seconds). Particle distribution to the eye does seem to be more consistent with less fines and more uniformity.
The steel burrs do tend to generate quite a bit more static (and mess), creating a lot of chaff that kind of floats around and clings to the sides of the grinds bin. I have found using the Ross Droplet Technique (RDT) and adding just a drop of water to the dose and shaking it around before adding it to the hopper eliminates this almost entirely.
It’s tough to compare the two burr sets right away because, in all fairness, the ceramic set is broken in and has seen years of duty, and the steel set is brand new. I did taste test using the same coffee through each burr set twice, once brand new, and once after two months, and a few pounds had been run through the steel burrs.
The first switch came when using El Placer Colombia from Kuma Coffee, which is a washed coffee with notes of cane sugar, white grape, lime, mint, and mango. This coffee was really good, nuanced and transparent when through the ceramic burrs, and through the steel burrs it became sweeter, but less transparent. It could be because the burrs just weren’t broken in, or it could be because there were less fines to create an uneven extraction that resulted in more nuanced flavors coming forward. This was not the encouraging result I had hoped for, but this was just one coffee, using brand new burrs.
I continued to work through the burrs for the next month or so, averaging about 45 grams through the grinder each day. After nearly two months of continuous use, and noting all of the chaff and parchment I was getting, I decided to remove the burrs and see if there was a lot of retention or any build up.
It was an unpleasant surprise that a good amount of coffee was built up between each burr and its respective burr carrier. Once I looked more closely, I realized there is a raised lip on the perimeter of the steel burrs causing it to not sit flush with the burr carrier, and creating this gap for the coffee to sit. Thinking I must have either received the wrong version burr set or that there must be a washer to fill this void, I contacted Baratza.
I was informed that this is completely normal and I should not be concerned, despite my protests that this effects dosing and mixing in of old coffee(s). They were not sympathetic to how alarmed I was. I continued to use the ceramic burrs while I was wrapping my head around their response, and ultimately decided I would put the steel burrs back in upon using some coffees that seemed to be getting choked by fines once again.
This time I was using San Sebastian, Colombia from Black & White Coffee Roasters and this coffee came alive with transparency and flavor when switching burrs. Adding one drop of water to the dose eliminated the static and chaff, and the results in the cup were fantastic.
It’s interesting to note that the two different burr sets seem to use roughly similar grind settings, you don’t necessarily need to re-calibrate the grinder or anything. I’m not sure if it’s the specific coffees I’m using, but I do find I’m using more of the grinder’s range too. I suspect this is due to a more uniform particle distribution, so grind adjustments have more impact with less fines to slow things down or boulders to speed things up.
Overall, I would say it’s an interesting change. I’m not quite sure yet if it would be worth the money if I were to do it again. The steel burrs are still in the process of break in, especially as compared to the ceramics I’ve been using, so I may try and test this again in a few months. Most of my testing so far has also been done using the V60, so as we enter summer, I will also plan to make a batch of cold brew and see if the reduction of fines improve filtering through the paper filters and improve flavor clarity. I suspect the reduction in fines will be more apparent using brewing methods that favor coarser grinds. The Bonavita Immersion Dripper will also be a good candidate for this test.
As always, thanks for reading, if you have any questions, comments, tips, tricks, or clarifications, please feel free to reach out via the contact me page, or leave a comment below. I plan to report back in a few months once I feel these burrs are broken in and report my findings with other brew methods.