I discovered the joy of repair while fixing my Baratza Virtuoso grinder

As you might guess, I like coffee. Like REALLY like it. So much so that I have multiple ways I like to prepare it at home and tend to buy fancy-pants beans. I am also am totally cool with ANY coffee, be it a brew from a gas station or instant crystals (some of which are quite nice!). If the choice is between no coffee and a cup of my beloved dark elixir, I’ll take it no questions asked.

So it goes without saying that when my Baratza Virtuoso grinder, where all my at home coffee brewing starts, was having issues recently, a mild panic-y sweat started to set in.

The grind was too coarse for filter (pour-over) preparation and even a bit too coarse for french press (cafeteria). Wasn’t it also making a funny sound? The adjustment settings weren’t changing it no matter what I did. Since I used this thing every day, multiple times a day, I knew something was wrong. And since these things are expensive, the thought of replacing it and being without a grinder for days or weeks was equally depressing.

I wasn’t thumbing through reviews for new grinders yet, though. See, I’ve had my Baratza for nearly ten years and have had it serviced before for a similar issue. They actually had a service center near where I used to live in Seattle, and rather than hunt for repair tips and self-troubleshooting, I just brought it to the service techs there. They quickly diagnosed the issues (clog + broken burr ring holder), resolved them, and sent me on my way.

“We try to keep as many of these out of landfills as we can.” was what the tech said to me as we chatted.

Good as new. It was beautiful.

But now I wasn’t next to a service center; I was INTERNATIONAL (gulp).

I had a great service experience before but this is where Baratza really shined. It was embarrassingly easy to find both videos and guides for my Virtuoso directly from Baratza and not just a few, one for all the common service questions regarding a grinder. Not only that, but all the replacement parts are featured prominently for order, and if you are in the dreaded INTERNATIONAL categorey, there are resellers who stock the parts wherever you are. Mine is a “legacy model” that is out of production too.

It turns out my burr ring holder had two of its three “tabs” broken, which is why it wasn’t grinding properly. Furthermore, I learned that these parts breaking was “by design” so that nasty things like rocks or other debris (which can always make their way into batches of roasted beans that you might buy) don’t cause the motor to be burned out or bad things to happen to the burr grinder itself.

Baratza has designed its grinders so that major repairs are avoided at all costs. Easily replaceable parts (like a plastic ring holding the burr) will sacrifice themselves before any major damage is done. They even write about this design ethos on their site..

This kind of repair is simple and basic and was very easy for me to do. Many reading this might think, so what? To someone who has become way too accustomed to the replaceability of everything via Amazon, the joy of repairability was really refreshing.

Post repair ground coffee perfection 👍🏼

A coffee grinder is a simple machine compared to, say, an iPhone, but shouldn’t we be aiming for repairability like this to extend to all the things we buy? I’ve been loosely aware of the Right to Repair movement (i.e. legally requiring companies to make tools and components available to fix their products) but now I’m really wanting to see it succeed even more. I noticed that the following was recently announced by Apple:

Today, Apple announced that some parts, tools, and manuals — starting with iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 — will be made available to individual consumers in the United States from early 2022.

That is a cool first step for the company, and even more so a testament to movements like Right to Repair and other consumer advocacy groups.

Fixing my own machine was rewarding and worthwhile, and I hope to be able to fix and upgrade more things in the future. Thanks to Baratza, I know I’ll have coffee with me to help.

1 Comment

Beautiful looking machine. Send a link to the manufacturer. It’s always good to let them know that people appreciate well constructed quality items that last. The market for substantial over throw away non repairable grows all the time and I’m always happy to give manufacturers of quality and environmentally conscious products a plug as well as actively seeking such products out when I shop.

Comments welcome!