Two coffee grinders

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

I'm not a coffee snob. Really. I'm just somewhat… particular.

I've never cared about roast levels or grind size, and it never occurred to me to weigh freshly-ground coffee, let alone measure the temperature of the water I brewed with. I might be a snob about all sorts of other things, 'tis true, but not coffee. I used to drink sickly-sweet iced coffees, usually with ice cream, and was convinced that espresso was just too hardcore for me to ever try.

Hassath introduced me to strong milk coffee brewed in a South Indian drip filter. We would buy coffee powder from Devan's, a shop so redolent with the smells of roasted coffee that one could just follow one's nose to its door. I still sneakily stirred in an extra spoonful or two of sugar into my cup, but I could taste the coffee itself for the first time.

The problem was that we could also taste the difference between coffee brewed from freshly-ground powder from the shop and, say, month-old powder from the freezer. And we didn't care for it at all, especially since we didn't drink a whole lot of coffee at home in those days.

Our first grinder

That's how we ended up with a Hario Skerton grinder. I did the minimum amount of research needed to find a hand grinder that was generally well regarded by people who took their coffee seriously (“ceramic burrs”, “best travel grinder”). It needed neither electricity nor counter space, wasn't too expensive, and gave us freshly-ground coffee with just a few minutes of rotary effort. We could keep roasted beans in the freezer for several weeks without any noticeable degradation in flavour.

Over time, we switched to drinking coffee with no sugar, and I gathered the courage to try an espresso or two at a café, but the Hario served us well at home. And then I went and dropped it off my desk one too many times, and shattered the thick ribbed glass container that had survived six years of use (and, to be honest, more than one drop from a height).

I did find a plastic jar into which the (undamaged) top of the grinder fit perfectly, and I kept grinding coffee with it for months afterwards. But, trapped at home by the pandemic for several months at that point, I couldn't help but spend a while reading about what kind of grinders Serious Coffee People were using these days.

The Timemore C2 MAX

…and that's how we ended up with the Timemore C2 MAX.

Using this grinder quickly made me realise a number of things about grinding coffee that may never have occurred to me otherwise.

Speed The C2 is not considered to be an especially fast grinder, but it's much faster than the Hario. The stainless steel burrs also produce more consistent results, especially at finer settings. The rotary action is much smoother, thanks to two sets of ball bearings, and there's hardly any of the Hario's tendency to “stick” every so often while grinding medium or light-roast beans.

Of course, its capacity is only 30g, compared to the Hario's 100g or so, but that's more than we need for the Aeropress, and usually enough even for the South Indian filter.

Ease of use The C2 is a slender (and quite attractive looking) aluminium cylinder with a lightly textured finish. It's much easier to hold in one hand compared to the bulbous glass bottle on the Hario. The grind adjustment mechanism (counting clicks of a steel knob) is a bit tedious, but perfectly repeatable; whereas I found the Hario's screw adjuster nigh impossible to set consistently.

Ease of cleaning The Hario wins, hands-down. Its mechanism can be taken completely apart and scrubbed and washed occasionally. There is nowhere for powder to be retained when you do this. It's quick and easy, and it doesn't take very long for everything to dry.

The C2, being a slender cylinder with a fixed steel mechanism inside, has enough nooks and crannies to retain a build-up of fine powder over time, and it cannot be washed either, for fear of rusting. Brushing it out every use, inside and out, is unavoidable and time-consuming. The brush that comes with it survived only a few months of this kind of use before its soft bristles fell out.

Other than a quick cleaning after each use, I take the mechanism apart every week and dislodge as much of the powder deposits as I can, using a fine nylon-bristled brush and a long needle (meant to clean 3d printer head nozzles). I can never blow away all of the clingy dust afterwards, but it seems to be the best I can do. It's clean, but not satisfyingly so.

Overall, though, the Timemore C2 MAX is definitely a step up from the Hario Skerton Plus. It's clearly the favoured grinder at the low-end price point these days. The next step up (at double the price) is probably the 1zpresso J-Max: faster, finer, easier to use.

What I've learned

This time, I did a lot more research before and after buying the C2. A lot more. “Research”. The sort of research that involved the appearance of a digital thermometer with a K-type thermocouple probe on my desk, not to mention looking at the several-thousand-€ prices of antique lever-based Italian espresso machines… for historical context, of course.

Along the way, I began to develop a murky understanding of the complex interplay between roast level, grind size, water temperature, and various brewing methods. It's not nearly as satisfying or simple as understanding the relationship between aperture size, exposure time, and film speed on a camera in terms of “stops”; but it does help to be able to see how the result changes when tweaking the brewing conditions.

Meanwhile, the way we drink coffee has changed only a little. We use an Aeropress about as often as the percolator these days, and after years of drinking only Devan's “Monsooned Malabar” and “Viennese blend”, we're trying out a variety of medium- and even a few light-roast beans (but still mostly from South India). We pay more attention to the quantity of coffee that we're brewing, and the ideal water temperature for different beans.

Being a bit more systematic about our brewing technique means we can try out a new coffee and refine the recipe to our taste and feel confident that we're consistently getting the best we can out of it. Once we settle on a recipe, we're still lazy enough to measure coffee powder by volume and estimate water temperature by how long it's been since the kettle whistled, but we're pleased with the results.

Better grinder reviews

If you're buying and storing coffee powder for anything more than a few days and you want something better, get a coffee grinder and switch to roasted beans. It doesn't matter which grinder you get at this point. The Hario is fine. The Timemore is fine. Even using a food processor to grind the beans would probably be an improvement (but would take too much effort to grind consistently fine enough—don't bother).

But if you already have a grinder, and are looking for something better, there are so many reviews on Youtube by people who know more about coffee and more about grinders than I ever will, and are much more systematic about their reviews.

Here's The Ultimate Hand Grinder Showdown by James Hoffmann, whose videos about coffee history, equipment, and coffee-making techniques I have enjoyed greatly.