Equipment Review | Atago Coffee Refractometer

Just a quick one reviewing the little refractometer made by Atago.

When most people think of refractometers they picture one of the VST models since they are the industry standard, this is what I will compare against. Atago in Japan make a whole bunch of specific refractometers, one affectionately named “PAL-Coffee.”

The PAL likely stands for something technical that I can’t be arsed to read up on but I like to think of this as my wee coffee pal (friend).

The Good

  • About a third/half the cost of a VST one depending where you’re buying from.
  • Just as consistent as the VST version.
  • Automatically displays multiple readings
  • You only have to press a button once to get a reading (precious energy saved)
  • Its smaller and “pocket-sized”
  • It comes in its own little case and even has an embossed card with a photo of a Japanese man – he’s probably the inventor or something, I don’t know, it’s all in Japanese. He looks very happy
  • Also shows temperature, if that’s of any use

The Bad

  • Much slower than the VST versions -takes around 20 seconds per reading, even then takes 40 seconds to settle on an accurate one.
  • Tends to give a slightly higher reading than the VST models (This goes against what was tested and found by Socratic Coffee – a far more scientific and all-round superior blogging site than mine.) I’ve experienced this against multiple VSTs, the main takeaway though is that it is still consistent and the TDS reading is only really a point of reference to compare coffees anyway
  • Looks and feels cheap  – people often ask “WTF is that?” as it looks like a kids toy due to the transparent plastic body
  • The body is nowhere near as solid on the VST making the Atago feel quite light and fragile
  • Little protection for the reading lens, unless you keep it in the box
  • The lens is also narrower and deeper than the VST making it more difficult to clean properly

Overall it’s a really good device. I think every barista can massively improve their coffee brewing skills by having regular access to a refractometer, they should be an essential piece of kit for every coffee shop.

The lower price makes this much more accessible and it’s really good value in comparison to any VST version.

Having said that when I have the choice of Atago or VST I will always find myself using the VST since I’m impatient and it’s faster.

I’d still recommend the Atago as it is much better value and delivers the same quality of reading, albeit slower.

*Word of warning to those buying –

Atago make a ton of different refractometers, even a few different coffee ones. Do some research first to make sure you’re buying the most appropriate and up-to-date model.

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