For me, coffee is more than just a way to get caffeine into my bloodstream. Opening a bag, measuring beans, and hearing the whir of my grinder create fresh ground coffee is all part of a morning routine that helps me transition from a shuffling zombie into a semi-decent human being.
Since discovering the pleasures of specialty coffees, I can’t help but preach the benefits of grinding beans fresh before each brewing session. So, let’s find out why you should consider ditching pre-ground coffee.
What Exactly is Freshly Ground Coffee?
Grind only the amount of beans necessary to brew your current batch. The serving size may vary, but the intention is the same. That could mean a large portion of coarse grounds for cold brew coffee or a single serving of medium-fine grounds to use with an AeroPress.
The easiest way to grind your beans at home is with electric burr coffee grinders. These machines are easy to use and will give you consistent results every time. You can also get a manual version that works just as well if you are want something more portable and requires a little muscle power.
Why Does Freshly Ground Coffee Taste Better?
Grinding your beans right before brewing means they’re at their freshest state. This allows them to release maximum flavor compounds during extraction.
For proper extraction, you need to increases the surface area that comes into contact with water. More surface area allows all the oils and other components contained within the coffee to be properly extracted.
Unfortunately, the moment you crack apart the beans, some compounds begin to separate from the coffee. That’s why fresh ground coffee smells so amazing! After 30 minutes, ground coffee has already lost a lot of its flavor and aroma. Let’s find out the reasons why coffee degrades so quickly.
Oxidation, The Air You Breathe is Killing Your Coffee
Oxidization is when air molecules interact with other compounds to create new molecules. We’ve all seen how oxidation can transform shiny metal into a brittle brown mess of rust. Coffee is made up of caffeine, tannin, oil, carbohydrates, and proteins. Some of these compounds are a little unstable and can change quickly when exposed to outside elements.
Grinding triggers the oxidation process by exposing more surface area of your coffee.
It’s not all bad. Oxidation is what gives coffee unique flavors and aromas. However, this process carries on even when you don’t want it to. The longer coffee grounds are exposed to air, the more time it will destroy the incredible flavors. Brewing directly after grinding ensures less time for oxidation to corrupt your beans’ oils and other compounds.
Moisture, Water is Stealing Your Flavor
The oils in coffee are water-soluble. You probably already realized this, but it is an important point when discussing the freshness of coffee.
Unless you live in the middle of a desert, there is moisture in the air. The process of extracting oils from coffee will occur with the water molecules in the air. While this process does occur with whole beans (slowly), pre-ground coffee is already crushed into small bits. It has maximum surface area exposed for the moisture to extract the flavorful components of your coffee.
You can test this out by grinding a small batch of beans, then wait a week and brew them alongside freshly ground coffee. There will be a loss of flavors, and even the fragrance will change.
CO2 Depletion, Less is Not Always More
C02 is an important part of coffee flavor and even plays an essential factor in the crema formed when pulling a shot of espresso. Grinding allows CO2 to escape from the beans, which is why it smells so good when you’re grinding them.
It is the primary compound that transfers oils into your coffee, but CO2 is always trying to escape. Coffee beans are already relatively porous, so grinding them allows the C02 to break free that much faster. Yet another reason why pre-ground coffee doesn’t keep as long as whole bean coffee.
Customization Your Coffee Grind Size
Aside from improving the taste of your coffee, fresh ground coffee allows you to utilize a single bag of beans for a multitude of brewing styles. That single bag of beans can be ground coarse and used to create a cold brew or pulverized until it resembles flour used to make Turkish coffee.
With pre-ground coffee, you are more limited. Some roasters may provide optional grinds for espresso and a few others, but most pre-ground coffee is created with drip coffee makers in mind. You can buy from a local coffee shop and request a specific grind size if you are fortunate enough to have a local fresh coffee roaster.
|Brewing Method||Grind Size|
|Cold Brew||Very Course|
|French Brew||Medium Coarse|
|Pour Over||Medium Fine|
Tips to Store Coffee Beans
Keeping your coffee fresh between grind sessions is key to ensuring that the next cup of coffee is just as fantastic as the first. When determining a storage solution, the main elements you need to consider are heat, moisture, and odor contamination.
Store your coffee beans in an air-tight and opaque container. The air-tight container will not only keep the beans from coffee oil and flavor but will also prevent any outside odors from seeping in as well. An opaque container will protect the beans from the light, creating heat and destroying your coffee. Speaking of heat, don’t keep your beans next to the oven or any other appliance that can increase the ambient temperature.
As stated already, coffee beans are pretty porous, so if you were to say, store them right next to your spice rack, you could end up with coffee that tastes like your favorite Italian garlic seasoning (gag). Storing coffee in your fridge does slow down oxidation, but there is also an abundance of different food smells that can contaminate your coffee.
Types of Coffee Grinders
Not all grinders are created equal. Low-quality grinders can create inconsistently sized fragments. Small parts called fines will extract quickly and cause bitter flavors. Large pieces, called boulders, will not fully extract and instead introduce sour flavors.
Compounds from your fresh coffee dissolve into the water at different rates. First, you get acidity, then sweetness, then bitterness. When brewing coffee, the goal is to get the right balance of all of these compounds.
With consistently ground coffee, you know that every particle is extracting equally. This allows you more control over the flavor and aroma.
Fresh ground coffee beans make your daily brew even more satisfying. Grinding your coffee also means you can use a single roast with different brewing devices and create a brew for any occasion. While it’s easier to grab a bag of pre-ground off the shelf of your local grocer, I believe the extra effort is worth knowing you will have the best cup of coffee possible every time. Head over to our coffee bean reviews and let us help you find the perfect coffee.