Is fresh ground coffee worth the hype?
The first time I took David to one of my favorite coffee roasters in town (Bindle, baby!), he was less than interested in having a cup of coffee, let alone sticking around to savor it awhile. Fast forward a few months, and imagine my surprise when I walked into David’s home to find him hand-grinding our latest batch of Blue Bottle Belladonna beans with his newly-delivered Java Presse Manual Burr Grinder.
He was not only hooked on home brewing, but on fresh ground coffee. (And, frankly, he had never looked so ).
His earnestness in learning about the physics of coffee making—and how to make the best damn coffee at home—inspired us to think harder about the coffee we were buying. When it comes to coffee beans vs ground coffee, what’s at stake?
Ground or whole bean coffee?
Once you understand what’s at stake, it becomes easier to answer the question of ground or whole bean coffee. Buy your coffee in their bean form and invest in an at-home coffee grinder.
As a general rule of thumb: The closer you grind your beans to steeping them, the better your cup of coffee will taste. Grinding your own coffee is easy once you have the right equipment, too.
What is ground coffee, anyway?
Ever open your bag of coffee to see a whole bunch of beans staring back at you instead of the soft, cozy grounds? Don’t toss it into the garbage just yet. You can use these beans to make your own batch of fresh ground coffee with the help of a grinder ( ← more on the best of these to come, stay tuned!).
Grinders range from manual to electric, from blade to burr, and ultimately, you should choose the machine that yields the type of freshly grinded coffee that you want. For example, coarse ground coffee is especially tasty when brewing French press, but finely ground coffee will serve you well if your drink du jour is espresso.
Is freshly ground coffee better?
Many long time coffee drinkers will attest to the benefits of fresh ground coffee over the regular ol’ pre-ground stuff. Why? It ultimately depends on what you’re trying to get out of your cup of coffee. If you’re happy as a clam filling your brew with cream and sugar and enjoying the caffeine kick, then drinking freshly grinded coffee might not be a huge priority for you.
However, if you want to tune your taste buds into the subtle coffee flavors of different varietals or simply taste the actual coffee above all else, then you should absolutely consider switching to a life of coffee beans vs ground.
How long does ground coffee stay fresh? Not very. In our experience, the taste declines significantly after as little as THREE DAYS. That’s why keeping it in its bean form for as long as possible is essential.
What qualifies as freshly grinded coffee?
There are different schools of thought when it comes to the qualifications of freshly grinded coffee. For some, you might pick out beans at the store and grind them all right there (you’ve seen those fancy grinders they have in the coffee aisle, no?). Others will have their very own grinder at home that they use daily, who would never dream of grinding their coffee too far in advance.
Regardless of your timeline or preferred level of “freshness,” there are some key things to keep in mind to stave off stale and maximize freshness.
- Coffee starts losing its freshness as soon as its roasted, so your main goal should be to minimize the window of time between when it leaves the roastery and when it enters your kitchen cupboard.
- The surface area of the coffee (i.e. if it is ground up and the level of that grind) impacts its staleness. The finer the grind, the more quickly it will go stale.
- Air impacts a coffee’s freshness, so if you do grind in advance, be sure to store your coffee in an air-tight container and at room temperature.
- The flavor of the coffee varies the longer its been ground. Even within 10 hours, your coffee will have a mellower, less bright taste. Once a day has gone by, expect the fruity flavors to have gone to the wayside. And by a week’s time? The flavor is significantly duller.
- BEST PRACTICE: Make your freshly grinded coffee as close to the time you want to add water as possible.
What are the benefits of fresh ground coffee?
Here are our favorite tips to motivate you to make the switch to freshly grinded coffee instead of the pre ground shtuff.
1. It helps you understand your coffee better.
There’s a whole world of experts out there brewing coffee to exact temperatures, sniffing out flavor profiles, and tasting terroir, all from their everyday coffee mug. Now, you might not have aims of getting that into coffee, but nonetheless, freshly grinding it gives you new ways of experiencing the beans themselves.
2. It makes your coffee taste so damn good.
You might not even realize it yet, but your pre ground coffee isn’t doing you any favors in the flavor department. The good news? If you already think your coffee tastes delicious, you’re in for a REAL treat when you swap to fresh ground coffee. Assuming your coffee was roasted within the last week, when you freshly grind, you’re set up to enjoy a brighter acidity and the richest flavor possible.
3. You've gotta earn that cup!
If you have a manual burr grinder, you know that it takes a little more effort to get that perfect cup of coffee than other grind processes (or brewing processes—looking at you, Keurig!). But it’s a nice morning ritual to get your blood flowing with a few rotations of the manual grinder before you take your first sips of that delicious joe.
4. It gives you a cleaner cup of coffee.
Coffee—and its oils—are very frail. For instance, it is incredibly susceptible to catching odors and is sensitive to moisture in the air. Since coffee oils are water-soluble and can be easily diluted, it’s important that ground coffee is kept dry and away from kitchen and other strong home smells.
5. It’ll smell better.
When ground coffee is exposed to air, oxidation happens rapidly, decreasing equally rapidly that beautiful aroma we’ve all come to love. The longer it sits = the lesser the fragrance. This can be a big problem if you’re anything like us / consider smelling the coffee about 33% of the fun of having it at all!
What WE use to grind our coffee
In just a few short months, between conversations with fellow coffee nerds, ample research, and dozens of cups of coffee, we’ve come to a few conclusions about our go-to coffee grinding methodology—and tools!
Diner Coffee (Budget Recommendation)
At my workplace, we use a Hamilton Beach 80335R Fresh-Grind Coffee Grinder and primarily make French press coffee. It gets the job done, but I wouldn’t say it is the most reliable machine when it comes to consistency of grind. (That’s a problem you’ll see with all blade grinder, not just this one.) It is affordable (less than $15 and Prime eligible) and a good starter if you’re looking for an electric budget-grind option.
Latte (Mid-Range Recommendation)
At home, David uses the JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder. This $24 burr grinder is available on Amazon Prime for budding coffee aficionados. It has a conical mill and we appreciate the sturdiness of its stainless steel frame. Unfortunately, this piece wasn’t designed for ease of cleaning, and over the last few months, we’ve misplaced a fairly important piece between all the disassembling/assembling.
Still, we’re really happy with the grinder overall and it makes our cups do a happy dance every brew! It actually inspired this entire post on coffee beans vs ground coffee.
Pour Over (Upgrade Recommendation)
Even despite the success with the above recommendations, we recently upgraded to the Baratza Encore and there’s no turning back.
Why? Well, for one—we did the math. And two + three, it’s electric and can easily switch between different grind sizes. That means we’ve become low key snobby about coffee AND espresso. #goals 😉
Signing off + Why you should trust us
Life’s too short for bad coffee. That’s why we wrote this in-depth post on coffee beans vs ground coffee. We—like you—are on a journey to better understand coffee, from crop to cup. David geeks out on the science behind it, whereas Megan simply enjoys all the tastes and feels it can give you. Together, they hope to share their new findings as their friend group’s resident low-key coffee snobs.