One of the most common questions we get from our subscribers is about ground vs. whole bean coffee. Does grinding fresh beans just before brewing really cause a noticeable taste difference? The short answer is yes, grinding whole beans will always give you a fresher, better-tasting cup. In this entry, we’ll try to briefly outline our thoughts on ground vs. whole bean coffee.
Let’s separate the question into two parts:
- How does grinding the coffee ahead of time (as opposed to just before brewing) affect the coffee?
- How does using a burr grinder (as opposed to a blade grinder) affect the coffee?
Grinding ahead of time vs. before brewing:
While coffee can never “expire,” as it becomes exposed to oxygen, it will begin to lose its natural flavor, and eventually will taste stale and bland.
After being roasted and packaged, coffee will naturally release gases. Assuming it is packaged properly, using packages with one-way degassing valves, oxygen won’t have a significant impact on the coffee until the package is opened.
However, once it’s opened, the coffee will start oxidizing and after about a month or so will lose much of its amazing inherent flavors. If the coffee is packaged as whole beans, the process will take longer, but if the coffee is ground, its surface area would be much greater, which would allow the effects of oxygen to be apparent much faster.
This is why we always recommend using whole bean coffee and grinding right before brewing.
Blade grinders vs. Burr grinders:
Not all grinders are made equal. While a blade grinder, which operates like a blender, can quickly chop up coffee beans, the ground coffee is often uneven, which causes some to be over-extracted and others to be under-extracted.
Think of two differently-sized pieces of steak grilled for the same time and at the same temperature. The smaller piece would be overcooked, while the larger piece would be undercooked.
Similarly, if coffee is ground unevenly, some pieces would over-extract, causing bitter flavors, others would under-extract, further sabotaging the coffee’s natural taste.
The best way to prevent this is by using a burr grinder. Burr grinders provide the most consistent grind, ensuring even extraction. While this is important for all brewing methods, it is especially critical for making espresso.
Check out our equipment section for some of our favorite grinders.