What type of grinder do you use? There are many types varying from hand grinders to electric ones, but I think that most of us started off using a hand grinder. Their low cost and compact form factor make it the best choice for beginners.
If you don’t own a grinder yet, please please go get one. Grinding fresh before brewing will forever change your coffee life.
Coming back to topic, I would like to discuss grinder upgrades for people using their first grinders.
If you’ve been brewing coffee for a while and it’s become a part of your life, you may be considering an upgrade to a better grinder. Premium grinders are pretty pricy. And maybe you’re not particularly unhappy with your current grinder. Let me share my experience about what changes when you get a better grinder.
Why did I consider upgrading?
The first grinder that I bought when starting coffee brewing was the HARIO Ceramic Slim grinder. It is a very decent grinder for its affordable cost. In Japan, where I live, I was able to purchase this grinder for about 20 USD. (this may vary depending on where you live) It is like the classic go-to grinder for beginners.
So if I had no issues with the Ceramic Slim, why did I consider upgrading? Well the key reason was, since coffee became a hobby I wanted to use better tools. I think this desire is universal with all hobbies, so I think many of you can relate this feeling. Gathering info through articles and videos, I often came across grinder reviews. They say a better grinder will brew better coffee with pronounced characteristics of the beans. The temptation kept growing.
But to be honest, I was unsure about what exactly would change with a better grinder. Premium grinders easily cost over 100 USD and I could not be sure of the value it would provide. Especially since most grinder reviews seem to focus on the better tasting coffee they produce. This is understandable since at the end of the day, the quality of the coffee you brew is the ultimate goal. However being a beginner still, I did not have the confidence in my ability to taste the difference.
For this reason, I spent a few long months looking at numerous reviews trying to decide if this investment was worth it. To tell you the truth, I simply could not come to a conclusion. So it was pretty much a leap of faith when I bought the TIMEMORE SLIM PLUS grinder as a Christmas gift for myself.
Which specific grinders did I consider?
While I spent months trying to decide if upgrading was a good idea, I did gather information about the grinders I wanted, if I did decide to upgrade. Let me share my list.
I have a wife, which naturally means I can’t place a large electric grinder in the kitchen, so hand grinders was the way to go. I was looking for premium hand grinders which have the following features.
- Metallic burrs
- Metal or glass body
- Bearing stabilized axis
The metallic burrs are a key component of premium grinders. They are more durable than ceramic burrs. And They have far sharper teeth. As a mental image, you could imagine ceramic burrs sort of crushing the beans, where as metallic ones cut the beans. There is a slight down side to metallic burrs that you should not wash them with water to avoid rust. It probably would be OK if you wash them and dry them off completely right after, but usually you should clean them using a brush.
In addition to the burrs, premium grinders tend to be constructed of metal or glass, in stead of plastic you find in more entry level ones. The obvious benefit of this is their premium feel. They are heavier and more substantial. There is also a structural benefit to metal constructions which is to improve rigidity and stabilize the burrs while grinding.
For stabilization bearing play a key role. For entry level grinders such as the Ceramic Slim, the metal shaft is held in place directly by the plastic body. Ball bearings are used in premium grinders. This reduces the wobble of the shaft and at the same time reduces the friction when turning the handle.
The grinders I listed with these premium features were as follows;
- Comandante about 365 USD
- 1ZPresso Z-Pro about 290 USD
- Kinu M47 about 455 USD
- Knock Aergrind about 170 USD (not available in Japan)
- TIMEMORE SLIM PLUS about 120 USD
The Comandante is like the gold standard of premium hand grinders. It’s the grinder that lead the popularity of premium grinder space. It is a regular contender in comparison reviews. The body looks like wood, but it s a metal construction with an actual wooden sheet attached around it. It does standout from the other metallic grinders but it undoubtedly looks premium. The negative points I felt about it was that it is in such high demand that it is difficult to get a hold of. Also it is very expensive, partly because of the demand. One other worry I had was that the Comandate has a pretty large diameter. It may be difficult to hold while grinding.
The 1ZPresso ZPro has a unique grind size adjustment mechanism. Typically you adjust the grind with a dial beneath the burr. The tighter you rotate the dial, the finer the grinds will be. For this method, you need to remove the grind catch every time you want to adjust. Also usually there are steps for the adjustment but there is no indication of what setting you are on at the moment. You have to zero the setting by tightening all the way till the burrs touch, then count the steps you released to know your setting. The ZPro has the adjustment mechanism on the outside of the grinder, where you can see the numbers at the top in the picture. You can adjust it with out opening the grinds catch, and they are numbered indicating exactly what setting you are on. This is a very convenient mechanism, but it too was a little bit too expensive for me.
The KINU M47 is by far the most expensive of the lot. But for the money you get a very well built grinder. It actually weighs over 1kg. The feeling of the grinder apparently is extremely pleasant (although I have never actually held this device, so this is from other peoples reviews) The M47 also has a grind size adjustment dial at the top of the grinder, right where you put the beans. If I did not have to mind a budget, this one would be the one I want.
As a more realistic and affordable option, the Aergrind from Knock was a strong candidate. It’s very compact, clearly designed to be carried around. It has the 3 essential characteristics of a premium grinder, but not too expensive. And the grind quality seems to be quite close to the other far more expensive candidates. The grind adjustment on this is also quite unique. The only reason I did not choose this grinder was that I just could not purchase it in Japan.
So the grinder I chose was the TIMEMORE SLIM PLUS. You could say that this grinder is a very well built grinder with the basic classical structure. Like the Comandate, it has the grind adjustment as a dial underneath the burr. Having all the key things you would want in a premium grinder, it’s positioned at a very compelling price point.
In terms of the cost balance, TIMEMORE has an even more compelling model called the C2. It has an almost fully metallic body, metal burrs, and bearings. It has the specs to be considered a premium grinder, but you can get it for 65USD!
The main reason I chose the SLIM PLUS over the C2 was the full metal construction of the SLIM PLUS. The C2 has plastic internals which hold the bearing in place. It probably isn’t a factor that really impacts the quality of the grinds, this is probably why TIMEMORE chose to cut this corner. But my thinking was that, if I was going to upgrade, I didn’t want to feel as though I cheeped out, since that would cause me to want another one soon after.
The SLIM PLUS and C2 have different sets of burrs. The SLIM PLUS has what TIMEMORE calls their E&B (Espresso&Brewing) burrs, which as the name suggests can cover both very fine espresso grinding to coarser pour-over style grinds. These burrs are said to be better than the ones in the C2, but it is really difficult to know how different they are before buying them.
The other point I liked about the SLIM PLUS is its slimness. Slimmer grinders are easier to hold onto while grinding, so that was a big plus for me since I have pretty small hands.
So what changed? Was it worth it?
To start off with the conclusion, I am very very happy that I did upgrade my grinder. Let me explain.
First of all, the feeling of the grinder as a tool is in a completely different league. The SLIM PLUS gives me the satisfaction that I’m using something premium every day, and it just makes be happy using it. I’ve had it for about half an year, but I still feel the same way.
Secondly, a better grinder significantly improved my workflow. The thing that surprised me the most about using the SLIM PLUS was its speed and ease of grinding. With the entry level Ceramic Slim, my arms sort of got tired by the time I finished grinding. But the slimness of the grinder and the metallic burrs really made a difference. The SLIM PLUS is just blazing fast.
With the Ceramic Slim you often get stuck while grinding. This drastically reduced with the SLIM PLUS. The bearings and the stability of rotation may be helping in this aspect.
So you may be wondering, how is the taste of the coffee? To be truly honest, I thought that there wasn’t that big of an improvement. Ok, before you leave, let me explain.
I guess that a significant reason for this is that my sense of taste is not that sharp yet. Maybe if someone having a more sensitive taste may really feel the difference.
Also this is a bit of a spoiler for the next post I am writing but, I did a taste test of the coffee from the Ceramic Slim and the SLIM PLUS side by side. I brewed 2 cups with all parameters kept equal as much as possible except for the grinders I used. And to my surprise, I was able to clearly taste the difference. Mind you, it wasn’t a big difference, but even when I tasted them blind, I was able to easily identify the better cup that came from the SLIM PLUS.
So to sum up, I would recommend you to upgrade your grinder if you are still using an entry level one. It will most definitely improve your workflow, it will be fun to use and it will have a subtle but sure improvement in your cup. (If you already own quite a good grinder already, the situation may be very different)
If you cannot make your mind up, like I was, I believe that you will not regret taking the leap of faith.
If you don’t feel any benefit from the stuff I described, it’s probably not worth it for you. At least just not yet. (But, people like that probably would stopped reading before they got here)
A review of the SLIM plus and a detailed comparison with it and the Ceramic Slim is coming next. Hopefully you will find that interesting as well.