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Underwhelming Grinder -- It Works, But You Can Do Better
Written: Apr 27, 2012 (Updated Apr 29, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Many Grind Settings
Knob Falls Off
Horrible Customer Service
The Bottom Line: The Maestro Plus achieves its goal of grinding coffee. But, for a similar price, you can get a better machine from a better company.
A few years ago, when I picked up a fantastic deal on an Ascaso Dream espresso machine (see my review for this machine here: http://tinyurl.com/83mnv6t), it was obvious that it was finally also time to spring for the conical burr grinder that I'd known for years should already be inhabiting our kitchen. In general, they just do a better job of grinding coffee appropriately for whatever brewing or extraction method you prefer. It's sort of like stepping up from a 13" black and white television to the latest digital / LCD / LED / backlit / etc. model. Both will let you watch television, but the experience is very different.
So, the research began. I knew that I didn't want to go particularly high end, as some of the more high end grinders are shockingly expensive (at least to me). But, i knew I'd be spending something in the hundreds of dollars, and I really wanted to make that first number after the dollar sign be a "1."
My research led me to the Baratza Maestro and the Maestro Plus. They were, at the time, the "low end" models of Baratza, a relatively small company headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, that manufactures and markets only grinders. They were available in my price range and they had a pretty good reputation, from what I'd read. The sole difference between the two models, as I recall reading when doing my research a few years ago, is that the Plus model includes a pulse button on the front of the machine, accompanying the 60 second dial timer on the side of the unit. This convenient feature allows the user to just grind out another second or two of coffee instead of relying on the timer.
So, I went for the Maestro Plus. And, as they say, it's been something of a journey.
The Maestro Plus hopper holds what I would consider a fairly large amount of beans for home use, especially as it is best not to keep coffee beans in a non-airtight container for long periods of time. The lid opens easily and the beans just pour right in. The hopper itself rotates as the means of selecting the coarseness of the grind -- all the way to the left for the finest of espresso; all the way to the right for French press or similar. The coarseness scale runs from 1 to 40, and while I haven't actually counted the number of potential positions in the range, it appears to be approximately 50 positions throughout the range. So, yes, there are more positions to choose from than marks on the barrel to indicate where your grind is actually set. We use the Maestro Plus solely for grinding espresso in our home, so it is always set to the finest grind.
One can choose to grind into the included plastic receptacle, which is nice, or directly into a portafilter, which I find a bit messy. An optional portafilter holder is also available, which holds the portafilter in place directly under the burrs, but I have no experience with it.
Oh, and the Maestro Plus is pretty quiet. Not silent, and not the most quiet machine on the market, but definitely not jet engine like.
So, excited about our new espresso machine and grinder, I went about making our first shots of espresso.
They were flat. And bitter. And utterly devoid of the luscious crema that one always wants on a well-pulled shot of espresso. So, I tried again. Same results. And again. I checked the directions for both machines. Yes, I was doing everything correctly. Much head-scratching ensued.
So, I eventually contacted Seattle Coffee Gear, a great place with staff willing to help you solve all of your coffee woes and an authorized dealer of both of the machines in our home. I had barely finished telling the woman on the other end of the phone line which grinder I was pairing with my espresso machine, when. . . "That won't work." came her response. Huh?
It seems that my research wasn't quite thorough enough. Yes, the Maestro Plus is a nice machine. But, the consistency of the grind produced by its burrs is not adequate for the Ascaso Dream espresso machine with which I was pairing it. Apparently, if I'd sprung for an additional $50 and the Baratza Virtuoso I wouldn't be having this issue, because the Virtuoso uses a higher quality of burrs that produce the consistency of grind. No, not every espresso machine has this issue, but mine does. So, if you are using a non-Ascaso expresso machine, the Maestro Plus might produce a grind consistency that works beautifully for you.
Fortunately, there was a solution, without having to buy a different machine. I switched to a pressurized portafilter on our espresso machine, which compensates for the grind issues. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation with the Maestro Plus and are willing not to be a purist about your portafilter, this is a great way to go to pull very nice shots.
Then, one day, the timer knob fell off the side of the Maestro Plus. This was disappointing. But, even more disappointing was the massive pile of ground coffee (I'm talking A LOT) that had built up inside the machine. There was probably about half a pound of ground coffee in there. I'm shocked that it had continued to work.
I took a photo of the situation, including the pile of coffee, and emailed it off to Baratza's customer service department. I received a reply back the following day from a gentleman named Joe, asking me a few more questions, to which I responded.
Then, nothing. Just silence. Was Joe angry at me?
I called the company and found that the woman who answered the phone was. . . the co-owner. I seems that just after Joe had sent me his reply he had left the company. And my reply to him and my issue? Well, she didn't know anything about it. Not stellar customer service, in my opinion. Plus, the owner really didn't seem to actually care very much about helping me with my issue.
It turns out that some pieces inside the machine had either come loose or were never attached correctly during the manufacturing process. I was able to take the machine apart and resolve the issue, but a less handy person or somebody not willing to do the work might well have been stuck, as Baratza wasn't ready to step forward and do anything to help.
And, by the way, the knob has fallen off a few times since then, but it just pops back on.
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