The $145 Baratza Encore burr coffee grinder (equivalent to £116, AU$192) might strike you as a pricey luxury. It costs more than entry-level burr grinders that start as low as $40 and $20 bladed spice grinders. The Encore can, however, process whole coffee beans into high-grade grounds of uniform size and texture -- essential for making coffee that's consistently good. This plus the Encore's many coarseness settings make the machine perfect for coffee enthusiasts who'd like to up their home grinding game.
There's always a downside, and in the case of the Encore, that's slow grind speed. The grinder's bare-bones construction and lack of extras such as a scale, screen or basic timer won't impress those who crave a user-friendly or flashy device either. For that you're better off buying the sophisticated $200 Oxo On Barista Brain Conical Burr Grinder. While the Oxo's grind quality and coarseness settings can't quite match the Encore's, it's fast and weighs its own grounds.
Standing 13.3 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide and reaching back to a depth of 6.3 inches, the Baratza Encore is slightly more compact than the Oxo's Barista Brain grinder (14 by 5.5 by 9 inches). Despite its smaller footprint, the Encore is almost half a pound heavier. The extra weight, combined with a tough plastic chassis, gives the whole machine a durable, almost bulletproof look and feel.
Other than its sturdy construction, the Encore shares a profile common to many powered coffee grinders. On top is a transparent bean hopper that feeds whole beans toward a pair of conical burrs that rotate closely though with a small gap between them. Made from heavy steel and driven by a strong DC motor, these burrs also have grooves with sharp edges to assist with grinding.
As beans fall within the space between burrs, the mechanism breaks them apart. These grounds then land within the Encore's plastic collection bin. To adjust the grind size (fine or coarse) you swivel the bean hopper left or right, which causes the gap between burrs to contract or expand. The Encore boasts a total of 40 of these coarseness settings, highlighted by graduated positions along the bean hopper base.
With this degree of control, the Baratza Encore can grind coffee fine enough for espresso or coarse enough for traditional French press, plus everything in between. It certainly provides more flexibility than the Oxo Barista Brain Conical Burr Grinder, which tops out at 15 coarseness settings.
That said, the Barista Brain's most exciting feature is its built-in scale that allows the machine to grind accurately by weight and in real time. Baratza does offer a hardware accessory called the Esatto that gives the Encore similar abilities, but it costs an extra $169.
I also found the Oxo grinder easier to clean manually since its top burr has a thin handle that makes it a snap to remove. The Encore's removable burr by contrast has no handle, so you must manipulate the part by its tiny plastic tabs. It's a far more frustrating setup since the tabs are often made slippery and tough to grip from a coating of coffee oils released while grinding.
The Baratza Encore's conical steel burrs are powered by a high-torque DC electric motor, but the grinder is far from speedy. It took a leisurely 21 seconds to churn through 21 grams (0.74 ounce) of whole coffee beans. It felt like an eternity compared with the Oxo Barista Brain grinder, which zipped through the chore in just 8.9 seconds.
One benefit to Encore's pokey pace is it runs noticeably quieter than the Barista Brain. I set both machines to create grounds of a coarseness suitable for drip coffee makers.
Thankfully the Encore will reward you for your patience. It produced grounds uniform in size and texture whether I ground beans finely, coarsely, or in between. In fact a side-by-side comparison of my drip grounds, examined under a magnifying glass, revealed that the Encore yielded grounds more consistent in size and shape than the Barista Brain Burr grinder.
Extracting coffee flavor is directly related to the exposed surface area of the bean. It's also a balancing act between under- and overextraction. That's why it's crucial to brew coffee from grounds as homogeneous as possible.
Additionally, with 40 coarseness settings to choose from, the Encore will potentially let you tweak its grind size to match the specific character of your beans. The appliance also has the chops to grind much finer than the Barista Brain Burr grinder, so it's a better pair for high-end espresso machines.
Should you drop a hefty wad of cash on the $145 Baratza Encore Conical Burr Grinder? The answer depends as much on how you prefer to drink your coffee as it does on how much you like to play with it. If all you want is a solid burr grinder that lets you make coffee from freshly prepared beans, then I suggest the $200 Oxo Barista Brain Conical Burr grinder. It costs a little more but it's a cinch to operate and conveniently weighs the grounds via its built-in scale.
On the other hand, I heartily recommend the Encore to anyone who's a fanatic for brewing with superior coffee grounds. The same goes for shoppers looking for a grinder able to keep up with the needs of their fancy but manual home espresso machine. And if you belong to either group but want to spend as little as possible, the Encore is your friend, too, since its unique combination of low price and quality output is enticing compared with ultra-premium grinders from Rancilio and higher-end Baratza units.