Here is a list of sections – just scroll to the part you want to read.
- KEY SPECS
- IN THE CUP
- SPECIAL FEATURES
- COMPARISON TO OTHER GRINDERS
- WHAT I DON’T LIKE
- WHAT I LIKE MOST
- VALUE FOR MONEY
- BEST FOR
- MANUFACTURERS RIGHT OF REPLY
- A little ripper and one of the few grinders I intend to keep.
- Small footprint.
- Slow RPM so be prepared to wait.
- Worth upgrading the burrs for espresso to the Hypernova.
- The wandering grind dial issue in early editions appears to be fixed.
- KEY SPECS
AU$589 plus shipping (US$400 £330 €365 at time of writing)
Add AU$150 for the Hypernova burrs (US$100 £80 €90)
Main unit 3.14kg. Charger 500g. Total 3.64kg (verified)
160rpm (I didn’t count them so I’m taking Varia’s word for it 😊 )
100 watt motor / 100-240 variable voltage
38mm conical burrs
Three burr sets to choose from
I’m a bit obsessed with grinders having averaged one new grinder a month across my espresso bench over the last 24 months with prices ranging from AU$300 to AU$6,000. And I’ve bought each one with my hard earned. No loaners, no freebies.
“Why the heck would you do that?” I hear you ask.
Firstly, I’m fascinated by the extraordinary difference that a burr set can make in unlocking the flavor of a coffee bean.
And secondly, I can.
It’s not that I have an endless budget, but I have enough, and I enjoy a four day weekend, every weekend. In short, I have the budget and the time to indulge in a quest to find the bottom of the espresso grinder rabbit hole. (Tip: it’s very deep and to date, I still can’t see any end to it. And I’m quite happy about that).
And my obsession may not be quite as expensive as some imagine because I resell most of the grinders, normally at a discount to other espresso tragics who are members on the CoffeeSnobs forum.
I don’t do these reviews with any aspiration to be an influencer. I buy grinders because I’m fascinated by them and writing a review provides me with a reason to document my thoughts, which is very helpful for someone with my super-power which is forgetting things. Having written the review, I figure that I may as well publish them in the hope that it helps someone.
And provided I buy carefully, my loss is about the cost of renting a grinder (I wish that were possible) for the three months that I typically try a grinder out for.
I bought the Varia VS3 on a whim on January 20th 2023, which means that at time of writing, I’ve been using it daily for just on three months. I prefer to conduct a review after three months of near-daily use because it means that the honeymoon period is over and it’s had real world, day to day use.
The Varia’s budget-friendly price, classically simple design lines and small footprint made it irresistible for me to give it a whirl.
I’ve used the VS3 in the roastery paired with an ECM Puristika and alongside my travel grinder which is a Lagom Mini and I recently bought a second VS3 so I can test the different burr sets side by side and simultaneously in my new grinder lab (results will be posted in due course).
The VS3 came very well protected in custom cut foam and double boxed. It would withstand a drop or two no problem. I’d love to see Varia move towards more sustainable packaging though. For example, the Olympia Moca SD had 5 grams of plastic in total in the entire box and packaging. Something to work towards perhaps.
The VS3 came with a little packet of tools and bits so that burr changing apparatus is taken care of. Included in the box was:
The grinder (d’uh!).
1 x DC power adapter (a country specific cord and plug)
1 x Magnetic dosing cup.
1 x Silicone bellows for the hopper.
1 × 5mL RDT spray bottle.
1 x Cleaning brush.
1 x Replacement set of 4x burr chamber springs (nice touch)
1 x Allen key for burr housing screws.
1x Spanner for loosening the central nut holding the burr carrier in place.
Not bad at all, with one caveat.
The lid that sits on top of the hopper is magnetic and the magnets on the second unit I bought are stronger than on the first unit.
That extra strength makes it hard to remove.
If you use the bellows (I don’t) then it’s a non-issue because the steel lid sits on top of the rubber bellows. But it’s quite tricky getting the lid off otherwise. It’s something I’m used to now, and a fingernail inserted between the lid and the hopper does the job. I just wish they had stayed with the original magnets because they were more than strong enough, and I didn’t have to wrestle to get the lid off. A small knob on top of the lid would also solve the problem although it may not be visually appealing .
Whilst on the subject of workflow, there are three things that are most important to me in a grinder.
Number one is the in-the-cup result.
The second is the look of the grinder.
Workflow is number three.
That’s just me; I really don’t mind a bit of extra faffing around if the in-the-cup experience is tops.
But if you gave me the choice between a great looking grinder that requires a bit more faff, and an ugly looking grinder that was number one for workflow, I’ll take the beauty ahead of utilitarian benefits every time. Maybe there is an Italian lurking in my ancestry somewhere?
That’s just to put into perspective my take on workflow: it’s not as important to me as it may be to you. That said, the workflow on the VS3 is pretty darned good, in large part to it’s low retention. Magnetic lid excepted.
Like almost all grinders, the VS3 benefits from RDT (a light misting of the beans using a spray bottle prior to grinding).
And like every grinder, expect a lot of static until the burrs are partly seasoned which is going to take between 1kg of beans for uncoated and 2 kg for coated burrs.
Changing the dial results in a predictable difference in grind size, right out of the box. IMHO that’s the number one indication of a great burr set and a well-designed and superbly engineered grinder.
Seasoning the burrs will affect the grind but it’s one of those grinders, like the Niche and Moca SD, that don’t require seasoning in order to enjoy consistent results.
I’ve found that other grinders, like the DF83 or Malwani Livi, are a pain in the butt because until they are fully seasoned you’re going to be chasing the dial around and getting zero consistency of pour for the first 2 to 4 kg of beans. You get none of that with the VS3.
Whilst on the subject of seasoning, like most single dose grinders, the grounds clogged the chute while I was pouring beans into the hopper almost continuously.
If I was seasoning it again, I could avoid choking it by feeding 20 grams at a time and using the bellows before the next 20 grams. Tedious, but not as painful as clearing a clogged and choked grinder every few minutes.
If you choose not to season the VS3, just run 200 grams through it and know that your espresso will improve as the burrs are seasoned. If you like what you taste straight out of the box, it only gets better from there.
After deep cleaning or burr changing, the collar always screws on and returns the zero point to 6 o’clock (bottom of the dial) every time, just like the Niche Zero and just unlike the DF grinders on my bench.
That’s the type of precision I’ve come to expect from grinders in a higher price bracket so it’s a very pleasant surprise to have it in the VS3.
6. IN THE CUP
For my style of espresso, being medium/light and medium roasted beans, the VS3 with the Hypernova burrs is a clear winner in the flavor and body department and the area that it really surprised me was its ability to produce espresso with detectable differences in flavor notes and after taste. I think it is very special for a grinder in this price range using beans roasted above light.
I had another espresso tragic around last weekend and asked him for his impressions of the espresso from the VS3 in comparison to the Lagom Mini (see below) and he pretty much said the same thing, with no prompting or prior opinions offered: more body, more notes, longer after-taste with distinct flavors coming and going.
It’s may be of interest to note that the beans used for these samples were well roasted (if I say so myself 😊) top quality Kenyan AA beans.
I’ve only used the VS3 paired with the E61 equipped ECM Puristika.
The surface of the VS3 features a matt finish i.e. not smooth or gloss, and I really like it because it’s aesthetically appealing and different to other grinders.
I think that the white model especially highlights the matt finish particularly well. Which underlines why I tend to prefer white grinders and espresso machines: because it’s easier to notice and appreciate the form of white machines than it is of black machines. Black tends to camouflage form. Again, just my preference.
I measure retention in two categories.
There is the “shot to shot” retention i.e. how much of the previous grind is pushed out in the initial part of the next grind.
Then there is “stuck” retention i.e. the grinds that get stuck in the screw heads or around the perimeter of the burr chamber and stay there until I open the grinder up for a deep clean.
The Varia suffers from very little of either type of retention.
My guess would be around 0.2 and 0.3 grams of shot to shot retention and maybe 1 gram of stuck retention over a month of grinding one shot a day.
Retention would be even less if I used the bellows, but I don’t want to do that unless they make a significant difference like they do in the case of a DF64 or DF83. Those are grinders that need bellows and actually work very well in regard to retention provided you are OK with all the huffing and puffing that goes with bellows.
But in the case of the VS3, assuming even 0.25 grams of shot to shot retention, the retained grounds are less than 1.5% or 1 part in 67 of the next grind. I can live with that.
I’d say that if you use the VS3 for two or three grinds per day then it’s worth doing a deep clean once a month or so.
And that’s quite an easy exercise so long as you take careful note of where the washers go (important!) and to make sure that the little springs all stay where they are meant to (critical!).
Thankfully, Varia thoughtfully provide spare washers and springs for ham-fisted absent-minded people like me.
9. SPECIAL FEATURES / CHARACTERISTICS
Die cast “space-grade” aluminum body
Matt exterior of slight rough texture looks and feels great
CNC machined internal components which as I understand it equates to precision manufacturing
Magnetic lid and base so the lid and dosing cup snap into place easily and precisely
Stepless grind adjustment with satisfyingly predictable results
30 gram hopper capacity which is fine for espresso but not ideal for filter or brew
Slow RPM so expect to wait around 50 seconds for a grind
The VS3 also features a medium size “power brick” which is external to the main machine. I personally prefer this set up because I use my grinders on benches with a shelf underneath and having a separate power brick keeps the grinder’s benchtop footprint smaller.
For those with a standard kitchen bench, be aware that the brick is going to be a potential eyesore. You can hide it partly behind the grinder but it’s not small enough to make it visually disappear. It will however fit easily behind most espresso machines so that may be a solution for some. The power brick is not a biggie for most, but it may be a deal breaker for some “better halves”.
(Tip: it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.)
10. COMPARISON TO MY OTHER GRINDERS
IMHO, in terms of in-the-cup quality, the VS3 offers ten times the espresso quality over a Breville Smart Pro and more flavor separation than the Niche.
Frankly, it’s not far off the Olympia Moca SD in that department and that grinder (still my favorite of all time) is four times the price of the VS3.
The Lagom Mini will probably be regarded as a close competitor to the VS3 because they are within $100 of each other, and both have a small footprint grinders with smaller burr sets (48mm for the Lagom versus 38mm for the VS3).
But how do they compare in-the-cup?
The flavor out of the VS3 with the Hypernova burrs for medium and medium/light roasted espresso is fuller bodied and tastier that then espresso from the Lagom with the Moonshine burrs.
I still rate the latter highly and for light roasted espresso or filter it would likely outshine the Hypernova-equipped VS3 but I haven’t tested that. And yes, I’m still very happy with the espresso from the Mini and it’s always a delight to use when I travel.
11. WHAT I DON’T LIKE
The bellows, but you don’t really need them so I can hardly complain, I guess.
Consider them an optional extra. If you are a perfectionist, you may want to use them. (Or just get a Niche Zero?)
The slow RPM. Note that I also list this in “What I Like Most” because it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship. Based on the reports of others, a slower RPM will produce less fines, increasing clarity. So that may be a plus. But having got used to six second grinds with the Moca SD, there is a bit of thumb twiddling that goes on waiting for the VS3.
I don’t mind the power brick but I’m listing it here because some won’t want to live with it.
Regarding the power brick, why would you bundle a white grinder with a black power cable and a black power brick? Ironically the Lagom Mini that comes in black, features a white cable and white power mini-brick and the latter is about 1/3rd the size of the VS3’s power brick.
Also, the Lagom Mini’s mini-brick works just fine with the VS3.
That said, I know nothing about power bricks and there is probably a good reason that Varia and Lagom have chosen their respective color-mismatched bricks.
Note to Varia: maybe have a chat to the nice Aussies at Lagom and see if they will swap all the black power bricks you bought for some of their white ones 😊
I’d like to see Varia add 5mm to the catch cup height. Lagom nailed this with the Mini. It means you have to be a little more careful inserting the catch cup with the Lagom but the payoff is zero fines escaping. To be fair, there is not a lot with the VS3 though.
12. WHAT I LIKE MOST
- The slow RPM (see above)
- The look
- The heft (feels like quality)
- The burr choice (would still benefit from a filter-only burr set)
- The price / value for money
- The espresso
Above: sans hopper
13. VALUE FOR MONEY
Exceptional value for money.
At AU$289 the Breville Smart Pro grinder is, like most things Breville, the best “bang for bucks” grinder at the budget end of the market. It’s an OK grinder that is my minimum benchmark for only-just-drinkable espresso. I know that’s not exactly high praise but that’s the way I see it: it’s fine for dark roasted milk drinks and certainly better than grinding with a pestle and mortar.
But compare “it’s OK I guess” (Breville) to “I’m excited to drink this espresso” (Varia VS3) then you may understand why I think that every cent of the extra $300 is worth it as well as a bit more for the Hypernova burr set.
In terms of other options around the same price, the Timemore 064S will soon come into focus but it has yet to be tested thoroughly “in the wild”. It’s probably great, but we don’t know yet.
The 064S sold for AU$460 during the Kickstarter launch. Timemore state that they expect a retail price for the 064S to be AUD$630 (US$120 to be added to the price post-KS).
If that’s the case then the Varia will still be competitively priced.
And yes, I realize that the 064S has larger burrs but as Etzinger proved many years ago, espresso flavor is far more about burr geometry than burr size.
The VS3 is around one half the price of a Niche Zero and whilst I love my Niche and won’t be selling it any time soon, I truly wouldn’t miss it too much if it was stolen, so long as the burglars were good enough to leave me with the VS3.
14. Who it would be BEST FOR
The VS3 would certainly fit the bill for anyone who was mindful of budget and/or counterspace and who enjoys medium/light, medium, or medium/dark espresso. It may also be great for filter but that’s not an area I’ve ventured into yet.
I’m really quite charmed by the VS3.
As mentioned, I have two of them and after I’ve completed some side by side, blind taste comparisons, I’ll sell one of them.
I frankly don’t know what I’ll do with the other one but I’m so enchanted by it that I’ll find some reason to hang on to it. Maybe as a back-up?
(Yes, that’s what I’ll tell myself).
Top quality espresso, small footprint, superbly designed and engineered, very good workflow. And all for a modest price relative to the in-cup experience.
There is really very little “not to like” and this little charmer.
16. MANUFACTURERS RIGHT OF REPLY
As is my standard practice, no part of the above review has been altered in response to the manufacturers right of reply and no changed was asked for.
Here is the manufacturer’s unedited reply:
We have enjoyed reading your review and we think that you are completely fair in all regards.
As for commenting on it, we wish to mention these simple points and you are welcome to summarize them in your way:
As we aim to be innovative, we are continuing to add some minor tweaks to our VS3 grinders with each batch and we try to add any possible improvements wherever its relevant.
As for the power brick, we have tried testing multiple options and we have ended up with the results that the current one is the most stable and durable option.
The included bellows are only there for customers who wishes to use them. It is difficult to offer an aesthetically pleasing grinder with a bellows and we believe that our VS3 has minimum retention without the need for the bellows.
One final point to mention, we are proud to state that our customer service and after-sales support are at the highest levels. We offer full attention to all our customers, and we value them. In case of any questions, we are always here to help at email@example.com