I let mine idle with the choke on between 1500-1800 rpm. Usually once the bike is warm enough to run with out the choke the rpm will start to slowly rise on its own. Once this happens I turn the choke off.
You don't need to use the choke long enough for the gauge on the needle to move that is way to long. However if you mean how long you should let the bike warm up before you take off on it then I usually let my needle start to move slightly above its starting point then I ride easy until she is up to normal operating temp. Just remember that because your water temp is up to normal operating range doesn't mean that your oil and the rest of your engine is. Especially if it is below freezing. So don't get crazy on the motor until she is good and warm all the way through.
The bike is going to sound a little rough or growl as you say on a cold start especially if it is stored outside in really cold temps. It is just the nature of a carbed bike. All the condensation that you are seeing come out of the pipe is because the pipe is cold and the exhaust gases are hot. So until the pipe reaches the same temp as the exhaust gases condensation is going to occur. By the time the pipe is good and warm the motor should also be warming up thus sounding smoother by the time the condensation is gone. Sounds like you are getting the hang of the choke. Just use it long enough to allow the bike to idle on its own. If you keep using it longer than that you will eventually faul out your plugs.
With such a short ride to work you really need to take some long rides more often. If the engine is not allowed to warm up to normal operating temps then your oil will start to hold condensation and other contaminants as well and will not protect your engine from wear like it should.
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