Whole bean, pre-ground, the two types of coffee are right there next to each other on the shelf at the grocer. But there’s a big difference between the two, especially when it comes to the final product in your cup. Here’s what you need to know.
If you’ve been buying bag (or even giant tubs) of pre-ground coffee all these years you may have wondered if buying whole beans and grinding them at home was worth the hassle. Or maybe you’ve been grinding your own coffee all these years and wondering if it’s worth the extra effort.
Here’s the inside scoop on the differences and why the extra effort of grinding your own beans is worth every second.
Why Do We Have to Grind Coffee Beans, Anyway?
We grind coffee beans to increase their surface area, which is essential for extracting the coffee when it’s exposed to hot water. The more surface area there is, the more extraction you get.
However, the longer those grounds sit, the longer they’re exposed to oxygen. This causes degassing—the process through which built-up gasses are released after the roasting process. Because ground coffee beans have a greater surface area, the degassing process is expedited.
So if you purchase freshly roasted beans, degassing won’t affect the flavor as quickly thanks to the smaller surface area. However, when the beans are ground, they’re more exposed to oxygen and the process is accelerated.
The longer coffee (whole bean or ground) sits in contact with air, the staler it becomes. However, there are still some pros and cons to each method, so let’s take a look.
Pros and Cons: Whole Beans vs. Ground Coffee
The aroma and flavor in coffee are clearly impacted by exposure to air, and grinding increases that exposure and releases more aromatic compounds faster. However, that’s not to say that ground coffee doesn’t have a few benefits, too, it’s just that flavor isn’t one of them. Let’s look at what you gain (and lose) by opting for one over the other.
Whole Coffee Beans
Many coffee lovers swear by purchasing coffee beans whole and would never recommend pre-ground coffee. If a full-bodied cup with excellent flavor is your number one priority, then your coffee-loving friends’ recommendation is correct.
To get superior flavor, your best bet will always be purchasing whole beans and grinding them before making a pot. A quality grind is another vital factor, as uniform size, and even surface area can make your coffee taste balanced and evenly extracted.
Of course, the major downside to purchasing coffee beans and grinding them yourself is the inconvenience. Grinding them to a perfect coarseness and learning how to use your new gadget is a learning curve that takes time—and time is a precious morning resource many of us don’t have.
Whole beans tend to cost more than pre-ground, too, mainly because they’re of higher quality. However, if you love learning new skills and purchasing new kitchen gadgets, go for it! The taste of silky smooth coffee made from freshly ground beans is incomparable.
Ground coffee is popular for one major reason: It’s super convenient. Many coffee makers are even programmable, so you can measure and put your grounds in the night, set a time, and your coffee will be waiting for you in the morning. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
Not only are pre-ground beans super convenient, but the larger tubs tend to be cheaper, too. However, that convenience comes at a price: flavor and quality.
Because grinding your coffee increases the surface area, and, therefore, the degassing process, the longer grounds are exposed to air, the more the flavor and sweet aroma are lost. This results in a stale, flat-tasting brew.
To get the best quality of pre-ground beans, purchase smaller bags more often, rather than the large containers that’ll sit for weeks on end.
How to Keep Your Coffee Tasting Fresh
No matter which method of coffee-making you prefer, there are some ways to slow down the degradation of flavor in both whole beans and pre-ground. A lot depends on how you store your beans or grounds and/or the equipment you use to grind whole coffee beans.
Best Storage: Veken Coffee Vault
Again, coffee’s biggest enemies are oxygen, heat, light, and moisture. So, storing those beans or grounds in a dark, cool, sealed environment is vital.
The Veken coffee vault will do just that! The date tracker and scoop are helpful additions, and you have five colors and two sizes to choose from. The sleek design and reasonable price make getting one of these a no-brainer.
Best Automatic Grinder: Cuisinart Burr Mill
For the best possible outcome and uniformly ground coffee beans, turn to no other than a burr mill. This model from Cuisinart is ideal for most applications. It’s perfect for grinding coffee beans for a standard drip or pour-over coffee maker
Unfortunately, you can’t achieve the really fine grounds necessary for espresso or Turkish coffee with this burr mill. For those brews, see the manual mill below.
Best Manual Grinder: Hario Ceramic Mill
The Hario ceramic mill offers a strong grind shaft and burr stabilization plate, which allows for the nice uniform grind that’s essential for a well-balanced cup of coffee.
You can achieve the fine grind required for espresso, or even the coarser size necessary for a French press coffee maker. Going manual is both cheaper and a lot quieter, so it’s an excellent option for parents who don’t want to wake sleeping little ones first thing in the morning. Oh, yeah, and you’ll get a workout in, too!
Coffee has remained one of the most popular beverages in the world since it was first discovered. If you’re a java-lover who’s trying to get the same delicious-tasting cuppa at home that you get at your local coffee shop, just pick up a decent canister and/or some beans and a grinder. You won’t be disappointed!