I’ve said in coffee reviews on this blog that my grinder is the Compak K3, which is a motorized grinder with 58mm flat burrs. And for 8-1/2 years, it was the grinder on my counter, faithfully grinding coffee without issue – except for the very dark roasts (like this one and this one) that I think would bind up any grinder out there.
So why am I now talking about the Timemore C3, which is a manual grinder available on Amazon for under 80 USD? Well… I’ll get to that in a minute.
First I’ll mention again that my espresso machine is… nowhere near cheap. It’s the ECM Technika IV Profi. When available, it was north of 2,000 USD (depending on retailer and whether it was on sale). And I’ve had it for over 7 years.
And the idea of pairing an 80 USD grinder, especially a manual grinder, with a 4-figure espresso machine would likely have a lot of coffee snobs screaming. That there is no way a cheap grinder can grind fine enough for that kind of espresso machine. That it’s best paired with one of the cheap machines from DeLongh’i (like the now-discontinued EC-155, replaced with the ECP3220 and ), or even the Breville Infuser at the upper end of the spectrum.
And for the most part, they’d be right. It’s nonsensical to pair such an inexpensive grinder with a high-end espresso machine. But they’d also be wrong. It can produce grinds fine enough for a high-end espresso machine.
Would I recommend this grinder for anyone wanting to make espresso with a high-end machine? Certainly not. Even if you want a manual grinder, there are better options available that are more suited for that application.
But is it incapable? Absolutely not. Don’t fall into the mental trap of thinking better options being available means lesser options are incapable. Something I see happen way, way too often.
Like I said, it’ll produce grinds fine enough for my high-end machine. And I didn’t need to bottom out the burrs or modify it in any way to accomplish that.
It is a conical burr grinder, though, while my Compak is a flat burr. And yes, that makes a difference. When I upgraded from the Breville Smart Grinder to the Compak K3, I didn’t notice a difference at the time simply because I hadn’t been a home barista for all that long. But going from the flat burr K3 to the conical burr Timemore C3… it was noticeable, and not for the better.
The small burrs are a big part of that. Larger burrs, whether flat or conical, produce better grinds. But that there is also a difference in grind quality between conical and flat burrs plays into this as well.
Now whether flat or conical burrs are better is a matter for debate and personal choice. The best grinders use flat burrs. But the very popular Niche Zero uses conical burrs. But at 63mm, those burrs are also much larger compared to most motorized conical burr grinders, let alone the manual ones.
Conical burrs, though, allow one to build compact grinders. You can only get so small with flat burrs before they’re useless for espresso.
Why a manual grinder?
As I said, my previous grinder was the Compak K3. And it dutifully held its own for over 8-1/2 years. Then the threads bound up hard when I was trying to take it apart to clean it out. No idea how that happened, but one of my recent dark roast misadventures probably had something to do with that.
So I started looking for a replacement. Something not easy to do when you’re… unemployed.
And I first started looking at the lesser-expensive motorized grinders from Baratza, Breville, etc. But reviews about using them with higher-end espresso machines left me wanting. I was still looking for a replacement for my Compak, but I needed a stop-gap, and preferably one that wasn’t going to drain my savings.
And manual grinders are typically far less expensive compared to their motorized counterparts.
Looking for reviews online, I discovered that James Hoffmann did a review of several manual grinders, targeting espresso specifically, one of which was an earlier version of the Timemore:
And seeing the price for the C3 online, I jumped on it to, again, have a stop-gap while I figured out what to do with the Compak.
And having used electric grinders the entire time I’ve been doing home espresso – first the Breville Smart Grinder, then the Compak K3 – using a manual was… an experience. And not really a great one for someone only a little over 4 months off a dislocated shoulder and less than a month out of physical therapy for said dislocation. Non-dominant shoulder, thankfully, or this definitely would’ve been a far worse experience.
Dialing it in for espresso was interesting, though. It is a stepped grinder, not stepless. But I’ll just say to be prepared to modify your dose size along with the grind setting to get your shots pulling within the proper time frame. In dialing this in, I got to a point where one click finer choked off the machine, while one click back from that produced a gusher. So the only way around that was to go to the finer setting and reduce the dose size – I settled in on about 15.5g dose for the grind setting.
Going to a fine grind for espresso does mean additional work being involved, and is far from an enjoyable experience when you’re making your morning latte after feeding the cats… And numerous times I considered measuring the hexagonal shaft to determine what hexagonal bit I’d need to power this with my drill. Which answers another question you’ve probably had in your mind reading this. No, I didn’t chuck it into my drill.
I don’t see any reason to think you cannot do that, so long as you can control the RPM to keep it at a pace on par with what an average person can produce – meaning under 150 RPM, probably closer to 100 RPM.
And as I said, it produced grinds fine enough for my high-end espresso machine. They definitely aren’t the greatest grinds to be produced, but it wasn’t something I can complain about much either. While one really could say having a grinder is better than no grinder, that isn’t true with espresso. For one, it needs to be able to grind fine enough for espresso, and this one, again, definitely can do that.
But the grinds it does produce also need to be fairly consistent to get good results with an espresso machine, and that’s where this falls short. But given the compact size of the grinder, meaning also the compact size of the burrs, that’s not unexpected. Again, larger burrs produce better grinds. There’s just no getting away from that. And with manual grinders, you can only go so large before the effort needed to grind the coffee beans becomes too much.
On the plus side, being a manual grinder means it doesn’t come with many of the downsides of electric grinders. For one, no need to worry about powering it – whether with batteries or off the wall.
But easily the major one is… static. There’s still some static, and some of the grinds will cling to the side of the collection cup. But a firm tap with the side or bottom of the cup against the counter top will dislodge most of that without an issue. Spritzing the beans with water – formally known as the “Ross Droplet Technique” or RDT – will likely help with that too.
Being manually powered, though, also means it’ll take longer to grind compared to a motorized grinder. But its compact size means you don’t need to dedicate counterspace to it and can just keep it in a drawer.
For the short time I used this, it worked great as a stop-gap. And I’ll likely keep it on hand in case I need a backup again in the future.
As already mentioned, I absolutely would not recommend this grinder for high-end espresso machines. If you want a manual grinder, there are better options available. Just pay attention to reviews with regard to grind consistency.
If you have one of the many good lower-end options that have sprung onto the market over the last several years, then it’s a great inexpensive choice if you don’t mind the work involved. I could easily see pairing this with one of DeLonghi’s inexpensive options, for example.
If you do pick one up, make sure to also pick up Grindz with it to run through the grinder every once in a while. Being a manual grinder doesn’t mean you get away from maintenance.
I can’t really speak to the quality of this grinder for French press, drip, and pour-overs. But I think it safe to say that if it’s a capable grinder for espresso, it should do well there too. Again, better options exist, but that doesn’t mean this grinder is incapable.