By Tyler Workman


Brewing At Home: Whole Bean or Pre-Ground Coffee?

Should I purchase Whole Bean or Pre-Ground Coffee? This is one of the questions we get asked most frequently. If you ask most coffee people, the answer will almost always be that it’s best to use whole bean coffee for freshness and peak flavor. In our opinion, there are a couple exceptions when we would actually recommend pre-ground coffee. First, let’s talk about some of the benefits of whole bean vs. pre-ground coffee, then we’ll get into the exceptions, and also talk about storage and grinders briefly.

Whole bean coffee is typically seen as the best option for three main reasons:

  1. Freshness and peak flavor
  2. Versatility for different brew methods
  3. Fine tuning your coffee brew

We’ll talk about these three main reasons below, but be aware that purchasing your coffee beans in whole bean form also requires you to have a home coffee grinder which we’ll discuss below.

Freshness - Coffee is best enjoyed at its peak which is usually between 3 - 14 days after roasting depending on the type of coffee. Coffees need time to off-gas after roasting to develop to their full potential. Off-gassing is when coffee releases Carbon Dioxide (C02) built up during the roasting process.When coffee is stored in its whole bean form, the freshness of the coffee is preserved much better than with pre-ground coffee. This is because once coffee is ground, all of the surface area of the coffee is exposed to oxygen resulting in the clock starting to tick on the coffee’s freshness level. The exposure of coffee to oxygen results in the loss of some of the subtle aromas and flavor notes. This is why some non-specialty coffees (for example commercial coffees found in grocery stores) which are pre-ground pretty much all taste the same.

Versatility - For people who love variety and brewing coffee at home, they may have multiple brewers and brew methods. Each coffee from light, medium, dark, or espresso roasts may have a particular brew method which brings out the absolute best in a specific coffee. Many of these brew methods will require a certain grind size such as a French Press being best suited for a coarse grind size while many pour over methods are best suited for a medium-fine grind size, while stovetop Moka Pot and Espresso require a fine or ultra fine grind size. By purchasing your coffee in whole bean form, and having a home coffee grinder, you not only preserve the freshness of the coffee, you allow yourself the ability to change the grind size for different brew methods. Since we’re coffee geeks, we constantly rotate between roast levels and brew methods. Having a home grinder allows us to brew in a number of ways for maximum variety. See our previous blog post: VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

Fine Tuning - The third reason we recommend purchasing coffee in whole bean form and grinding at home is so that you can fine tune your coffee. Each coffee is unique and even when you purchase the same coffee year after year, coffee is seasonal and the coffee crop can vary from year to year depending on a number of factors (heavy rain, drought, more or less shade, etc, etc.). For this reason you may find that some coffees you try are flat, sour, bitter, etc. Adjusting the grind size (and/or water temperature) can have a significant effect on the taste of your coffee. This is especially true with manual coffee brewing methods such as pour over, french press, etc., but grind size can also help fine tune how your drip coffee machine brews a particular coffee. For this reason, we recommend experimenting with coffee to brew it to your particular tastes.

Exceptions - Our exceptions to whole bean vs. pre-ground coffee are:

  1. When you have no access to a grinder. In this case pre-ground coffee is pretty much your only option and will at least result in a consistent grind size. We get it, even consumer, entry level coffee grinders can be a relatively pricey investment.
  2. When you have to decide between pre-ground coffee or using a home blade “grinder” or chopper (such as is used for spices) which results in wildly inconsistent grind size. In this situation we recommend buying from a coffee roaster or coffee shop that can pre-grind the coffee for you. Many coffee shops who sell whole bean coffee will pre-grind your coffee for you if you ask. We also recommend purchasing smaller sizes of coffee instead of buying larger 2lb or 5lb bags pre-ground and purchasing your coffee on a more frequent basis so that pre-ground coffee is not going stale. In this way you are assured of more consistent grind size with pre-ground coffee that is ground at a coffee shop or coffee roastery.

Storage - The storage of your coffee can also play a role in keeping your coffee fresh. Whether you purchase whole bean or pre-ground coffee, it’s best to store the coffee either at room temperature, or in a cool dry area such as a pantry. Some best practices also include storing your coffee in a non-transparent container or bag with a one way degassing valve that will let Carbon Dioxide out of the bag while preventing excess Oxygen from entering the container or bag. Our 12oz and 2lb bags are re-sealable, and have a degassing valve. There are specialized home coffee storage solutions such as the Airscape Coffee Canister by Planetary Design which are specifically designed to extract Oxygen from the container creating an airtight storage solution. The Fresh-Port™ inner lid upgrade for the Airscape also includes a degassing valve to release C02 from the coffee. For roasted coffee, we do not recommend storing coffee in the freezer.

Grinders - So what type of home grinder do we recommend? Well it depends on a number of factors including budget, type of grinder, and use case(s). We’ll dive deeper into the details of grinders in an upcoming blog post, but for now we’ll cover the basics.

There are various types of grinders including: Blade Grinders (pictured below left), Conical Burr Grinders (pictured below center), Flat Burr Grinders (pictured below right), Manual Grinders, etc. Each of these will have a different budget range, quality of grind, and in some cases will depend on your use case(s).

Blade Grinders - Let’s start with what we consider the worst of the bunch… Blade “Grinders” (pictured above left) because these budget friendly devices aren’t really grinding coffee beans, they are chopping your coffee beans. The result is a very inconsistent grind size which can make it difficult to get a consistently good cup of coffee. For this reason we recommend coffee lovers stay away from blade grinders and this is one of the exceptions we mentioned above. If it comes down to a home blade grinder or buying pre-ground coffee at a coffee shop or coffee roaster, we actually recommend you buy the pre-ground coffee, buy it in smaller quantities (for example 12 oz instead of 2lb or 5lb sizes) and more often so that the grind size is consistent, and larger quantities are not getting stale before you use it.

Conical Burr Grinders - Conical burr grinders are usually considered more of an entry level home grinder. These grinders still give a consistent grind for a variety of use cases and brew methods including French Press, Cold Brew, Drip Coffee, Pour Over, Moka Pot and in some cases Espresso. A decent conical burr grinder is what we recommend for the coffee lover who wants a nice consistent grind size for a variety of uses without going overboard on budget. The two brands we recommend the most for home use are Baratza and Fellow.

For those looking for an entry level home grinder with a nice range of uses, you can’t go wrong with the Baratza Encore which is a solid home grinder that has withstood the test of time. The newest model, the Baratza Encore ESP has been upgraded to be able to also grind for entry level home espresso machines at a fraction of the price of other grinders specifically designed for precise control of super fine grind sizes needed for some espresso machines. The Fellow Opus is another conical burr grinder that does great for a variety of brew methods. The Baratza Encore ESP (pictured below left), Encore (pictured below center), and Fellow Opus (pictured below right) run between $150 - $200.

Flat Burr Grinders - Flat burr grinders are usually seen as a step above conical burr grinders giving more consistent grind size which is especially useful when grinding super fine for espresso. These are typically higher end and quite a step up in budget for home use. Again, two brands that we recommend are Baratza (Sette 270wi pictured below), and Fellow (Ode Gen2 and Ode Gen2 with SSP-MP upgraded burrs pictured below) with a special mention of the Eureka Mignon line of espresso grinders.  The brands and models mentioned run between $350 - $600. All of the models mentioned have  a relatively small footprint/size perfect for home use whereas some higher end espresso grinders can be bulky for home use.

Manual Grinders - We’ll mention these briefly because manual grinders can be great for on the go mobile grinding for those on the road, camping, etc., but for most people brewing at home or for multiple cups, we definitely recommend an electric grinder otherwise your hands will get tired of manually grinding coffee! There are a number of manual grinders on the market which we may dive deeper into with a future blog post. Right now we will mention just a few such as the affordable Hario Skerton Pro (pictured below left), the Timemore Chestnut C3S (pictured below center), and the higher end Comandante C40 (pictured below right). These manual grinders will run between $60 - $330.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations… you are a true coffee lover! We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. Feel free to drop us a line with any questions, comments, or just to say hi! Cheers! ☕ 


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