My new Baratza Vario is here! I ordered it on the 16th and it showed up last night. I was slightly worried about how parts like the levers would hold up in the gentle hands of UPS, but the grinder arrived in perfect condition. Kudos to Baratza for the fantastic packing. The grinder and accessories are essentially triple boxed with plenty of support all around.
I settled on the Vario instead of the Preciso and Compak K3 Touch that I was also considering. Based on videos and research it looked like the Compak would clump more, retain more grounds, and be more difficult to switch between grind settings than the Baratza offerings. I think that I would have been completely happy with the Vario or the Preciso, but most of the reviews that I read gave the Vario a slight nod with respect to espresso, which is my focus. I think that the Vario will also stave off upgrade-itis a bit longer as well.
Most awesome initial feature: the motor. I've been using my modded mini mill for who knows how many pounds of coffee now, so being able to push a button and watch fluffy grinds fly out of the machine is great. I set aside some slightly too old Red Bird last week for the sole purpose of dialing in a new grinder. It took about 4 shots to get to 25s pulls at 16g in, 22g out, and another couple of shots to set the timer. I still haven't decided whether or not I will use the timer or single dose, but the convenience of the timer is tempting.
It is too soon to make any qualified claims about the flavor, but what the heck. Even with beans that are past their prime, the shots have had more depth and clarity than the mini mill. I still consider the mini mill to be an outstanding value, but I am relieved to see that the Vario is not wasted money. I will say that I'm not sure that I would have noticed a difference between the mini mill and the Vario when I was just starting out with espresso.
I have some Klatch Belle Espresso on the way and I'm looking forward to a tasty week of experimentation.