In the middle-tier of home espresso grinders, precise alignment from the factory is surprisingly rare. On a flat burr grinder, this will most often manifest itself in a grinder struggling to grind lighter coffees fine enough to slow shots down, either requiring the user to grind far past the touch point or to use other means of slowing the shot down. Given proper alignment, the burrs will produce a more even grind (especially as espresso where runout is closer to the particle size) and they will give more flexibility in flow rate selection and more predictable adjustments when dialing in. Specifically on the Baratza Vario/Forte, many choose to align so that they can use the lower fines Forte BG steel burrs for high clarity espresso, since burr geometry of the those burrs seem to necessitate precise alignment moreso than the stock ceramics. What can you do after you’ve aligned them? Almost anything. The inception of this procedure on HomeBarista was to allow for slayer style long pre-infusion shots at near turkish grind and running a tight ratio with a light roast, while many coming here from EAF may intend to use this grinder to run coarser, faster shots. The alignment is useful for both use-cases.
At the Varios inception, it came stock with a plastic grind chamber that connected to the upper burr carrier via plastic tabs. While this system was appropriate for the roasts at the time, denser roasts seem to benefit from the extra rigidity and durability that the metal grind chamber from the Forte gives. Swapping out the old grind chamber for the Forte grind chamber gives a “Forteario”. Note: Baratza has since updated the Vario to the Vario+/Vario-W+, which comes stock with the Forte’s metal grind chamber. If you buy one of those, you will not need to perform this modification.
- Forte grind chamber (part number 1024)
- Forte threaded upper burr carrier (part number 1067)
- 4 #16 m3x12 pan head screws
- Forte BG steel burrs, if desired
In order to get these parts (exept for the steel burrs), you will have to contact Baratza directly through email. These parts are not available for purchase on their public parts catalog because they have not written a guide to replacement yet as of (2/2022), so contacting them directly will result in the user signing a few waivers before being given the link to buy the parts. Like anything else, do this procedure at your own risk.
For anyone not in US / Canada the parts can be ordered from your local distributor https://baratza.com/international-importers-and-retailers/parts-outside-of-us-and-canada/)
Many of these parts can also be purchased from aftermarket parts suppliers like https://www.coffeeparts.com.au/, often by simply searching “Baratza” and the part number you’ll find alternate suppliers in google.
- Disassemble according to guide in the Methods and Procedures section or follow the guide on replacing the drive belt and pulley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhoMt84jxXs&t=476s
- Remove the lower burr carrier entirely. This part sits on top of the adjustment cam with gravity, so some careful wiggling and tugging should make this part pop out without much resistance.
- Unscrew the 4 screws holding the grind chamber to the black plastic motor plate. Remove the grind chamber. The screws removed from this assembly will not work with the new grind chamber.
- Install the metal grind chamber, using the new screws. I tightened with a criss-cross pattern, but you will be adjusting this when aligning this yourself anyways so it is not particularly important.
- Reinstall the lower burr carrier, being sure to make sure to thread it carefully back into the gear below it attached to the belt-motor assembly that spins it. Wiggle it around a bit until it seems to snap/fall back into place. Ensure the large pulley is re-assembled with the plastic lip on the bottom side.
See Jakes video on grind chamber removal!
The Forte and Vario both use the same motor, but a different belt & pulley combination provide the extra speed (and likely torque) available on the Forte. The Forte uses a standard GT3 timing belt (model: 3MR 240 9mm) with 3mm pitch semicircular teeth. The vario uses a “B113MXL - 9mm” belt with smaller / trapezoidal 0.08″ pitch teeth. The larger teeth on the Forte GT3 belt means they’re less likely to slip under load.
Vario: No Load Burr Speed: 1350 RPM
- Motor pulley: 18 teeth
- Main pulley: 96 teeth Drive ratio: 5.33
Forte: No Load Burr Speed: 1950 RPM
- Motor pulley: 17 teeth
- Main pulley: 68 teeth Drive ratio: 4.0
- Main Drive Pulley With Metal Sleeve (part number 1056)
- GT3 Motor Drive Pulley (part number 1090)
- GT3 Belt (part number 1027)
- Forte Motor Tensioner Plate (part number 1292)
- M5 x 12mm socket head cap or round button head Screws
Swapping out these parts is easiest to do while replacing the grind chamber (above). The main pulley has a larger diameter than the Vario one and can’t be simply slipped through the belt opening in the main chamber section as seen in the belt & pulley replacement video above, the chamber will need to be unscrewed to fit the drive wheel (with belt sitting around it).
The Forte motor pulley has a stepped hole in it for the motor shaft, such that it sits over the end of the motor shaft. This means the motor needs to be dropped down a bit to make the pulley line up with the chamber. The “Forte Motor Tensioner Plate” acts as the required spacer, dropping the motor the appropriate ammount.
Alternatively a 5mm to 6mm thick plate with appropriate holes drilled for screws and motor shaft can be added between the motor and the chassis. Note the “Forte Motor Tensioner Plate” is fastened to the motor with two extra screws, if a diy spacer is used you’ll likely need to source M5 x 16mm screws with enough length to add the spacer.
Lastly, the forte motor pulley has a larger diamter than the original vario one, this combined with the thicker belt can mean the belt rubs against the original M5 flat blade screws that are used to fasten the motor to the chassis. For this reason it’s worth trying to find M5 screws with a smaller socket head or flatter/rounder button head to replace the screws fastening the motor down.
This method of alignment assumes a few things.
- The burr carriers and back of the burrs are flat.
- The lower burr carrier spins true in its axis of rotation (something isn’t warped in that lower assembly)
The traditional methods of DIY alignment is typically to shim the burrs/burr carrier or to sand the burr carrier and grind chamber with the burrs aligned to each other. The Alicorn alignment, however, is specific to the Vario’s design of being a belt-driven lower burr carrier with grind adjustment moving that same part. As far as I can tell, this trait is unique to the Vario/Forte.
The short of it is, the lower burr carrier is pulled out of alignment by the drive belt tension. By squeezing the burrs together after loosening the belt and grind chamber position, you are pulling the loosened grind chamber to be aligned within the looseness allowed by the bushings. Re-tightening the belt and subsequently re-referencing the burrs again will load the bushings, so tightening the grind chamber to the motor plate now will leave the grinder aligned. This method takes advantage of the system flexibility granted by using a flexible drive belt and a semi-mobile grind chamber, two design choices that are rare on other grinders.
- dry erase marker
- Baratza upper burr carrier removal tool (somewhat optional)
- #2 slot screwdriver
- #2 JIS screwdriver (Phillips works, but be careful)
- 2mm Hex key (supplied by Baratza for calibration)
- 3mm Hex key
- Spacers (optional)
- 150 and 400 grit sandpaper (optional)
- Small wood clamp (optional)
The original method, written up by Jake G. All other methods I view as supplemental to this procedure. Includes pictures and instructions for disassembly. I highly recommend reading through this first.
Extra Notes: Regarding step 6, I personally found it helpful not to adjust the coarse adjustment screw (the one on the brass wedge) and to tighten the calibration screw closer to the front of the grinder after loosening the grind chamber screws. When you loosen the grind chamber, the grind adjustment levers need further travel in order to make the burrs touch. When you tighten the grind chamber, expect the lever arms to not have to travel as far for burr contact and for the levers to rise if you keep the burrs touching. After full assembly, you will have to recalibrate the touch point to your desired setting.
Another video of the entire process is available here.
The hardest part of this process is managing the belt tension. Because it needs to be loose enough to allow the burr carrier to align but also tight enough to apply enough tension to grind coffee, finding the correct belt tension is the biggest challenge in alignment. Shaysub wrote out a workflow for the actual alignment when assembling the grind chamber:
- Set belt tension loose enough.
- Set the assembly upside down on a flat and level surface.
- Bounce the levers, add enough agitation so the whole motor plate and assembly can move freely and settle in the aligned position
- Screw in the burr chamber in a cris-cross pattern until you just start feeling resistance.
- Repeat step 3, agitate more and then tighten the burr chamber screws fully.
- Marker test: mark only the upper burr, screw in burr chamber, set right side up, rotate burr by hand and move levers until you just start hearing the burrs touch. After touch, count three full burr rotations (9 screw passes). Unscrew and inspect.
- If wiped portion is away from the motor, loosen belt tension. If closer to the motor, tighten the belt.
- Go back to step 2 and iterate until full wipe.
Extra notes: The belt tension on the Vario is set by the position of the motor. In order to adjust it, the screws holding the motor to the motor plate are loosened so that the motor position can be moved. Pulling further towards the back will set a tighter belt and moving it towards the grind chamber will result in a looser belt. On the Forte, there is a 3rd belt tension screw that the user can leave fully loose if they want to treat the belt tension setting exactly the same way as the Vario.
As an update, Pcrussel recently shared another method of aligning, this time by using a small wood clamp to hold the burrs in contact. This way, you gain another free hand during the alignment process. See the link below.
What about the 3D printed shims on the HB threads? Is that the same as alignment via shimming?
This is a different type of shim. The shims are inserted in order to prevent “taco-burr syndrome” (TBS). TBS occurs because the back of the steel burrs rest on the burr carrier via a small ridge on the back of the burrs, presumably to make manufacturing easier. Because it is relatively soft stainless steel, overtightening the screws may cause the burrs to become misaligned by physically bending. In order to allow for full screw tension when screwing the burrs in the burr carrier without TBS, a few users have inserted 3D printed shims behind their burrs. In order to finish this process, the shims must be sanded perfectly flat in order not to push the burrs out of alignment.
My personal solution was to screw the burrs in as tight as I could without imparting taco burr syndrome, but you may want to go through the steps above for peace of mind.
Can you hyperalign with the ceramic burrs?
Yes, and I felt it helped performance when I did it. It, however, is much harder to see marker tests using that burrset because it is brown. I recommend shining a flashlight on the burrs post marker test when checking wipe.
Will my alignment last?
I aligned my Vario for the final time (I did it multiple times, as I aligned each time I upgraded a part) in December of 2020. As of February 2022, my alignment has not shifted according to the marker test or according to grinding performance. Pcrussel noted that he had to realign his, but I feel that my Vario’s alignment is quite permanent. I personally would not recommend marker testing periodically after successful alignment unless you feel something is terribly wrong.
Why the steel burrs and how do I use them?
The Forte BG steel burrs are marked as a brewing burr, but they can grind for some very good espresso. My personal experience is that they are cleaner, higher in sweetness, and more versatile than the Ceramic burrs. They grind much slower (expect 20-35 seconds at espresso grind), but tend to jam much less since they do not exert as much force on the assembly while grinding.
Oftentimes, people recommend the steel burrs for long-ratio, light roast espresso and they do excel in that respect. However, that is certainly not the only thing that they do well. Even if your daily driver is a modern medium, these burrs are worth trying. Expect a bit more aroma, acidity, and sweetness compared to the ceramics. As mentioned previously, these burrs can be used at various flow rates with high levels of success.
Any other modifications?
The other best modification to the Vario is the “flapper flip”. This attachment is there in order to declump the grinds when hopper grinding, but when single dosing traps 2+ grams of coffee in the grind chamber. Removing this flapper reduces the retention to make this grinder a decent (if not perfect) single doser. See the following HomeBarista thread.
Vario workflow tips
The stock hopper (shared with the Encore/Virtuoso) is adequate for single dosing, however it is not particularly well seated with the upper burr carrier so popcorned grinds tend to escape there. I solved this issue by using a 3D printed hopper, although Baratza now sells a single dosing specific hopper. Many users also use the stock hopper with a silicone o-ring stretched around the bottom. If desired, many users have also used this set of bellows. Side note: I think that using bellows with this grinder can potentially lead to fines leaving the grind chamber and ending up on the inside of the grinder. If you use bellows, expect to vacuum out every once in a while. My workflow is:
- Weigh out desired dose exactly (18.0g for example), RDT with 2 spritzes. This is mandatory for espresso grind.
- Load, then turn on. I do not turn the motor on before hand.
- After the grinder has finished running, I adjust the macro knob to the coarsest setting, where 0.2 - 0.5g of coffee should fall out for a full 18.0g. Doing this causes the bottom burr carrier sweepers to sweep out any remaining coffee on the floor of the grind chamber. Using this method, my retention is 0g to 0.2g.
- I use a 58mm dosing cup from amazon, but I spent months using the anti-static stock grind chamber. Direct to PF grind works, but takes a long time. If I am retaining more than expected, gently tapping the grinder on the side or on the top with the coarse adjustment at its coarsest setting helps get any stubborn grinds out.
- When switching between brew and espresso, I purge 0.5g. On the first grind back to espresso grind size, I simply dose an extra 0.5g to my desired dose.
- The finer you grind, the more finnicky this routine becomes. Grinding for an 18g turbo shot is surprisingly much less work and retention than grinding for a 15g Rao bloom. At pourover grind size, the Vario will retain very little and will not require any workflow modifications.