The question we get the most... Whole Bean or Ground?

At Third Day Coffee we get a lot of coffee questions.  What is the best coffee? What makes African coffee so different?  What does Arabica mean?  The number one question we hear when someone is buying our coffee is should I buy whole bean or ground coffee and is there really any difference??  There are pro's and con's to just about everything in life but, ask yourself, What am I willing to sacrifice to get the best coffee I can buy?  In this article we are going to discuss pros and cons around the question of ground vs. whole bean coffee and let you decide which is best for you.

During the coffee roasting process there are a lot of chemical reactions that take place.  Heat, pressure and time play a major role in how the bean turns out in the end.  The entire roasting process only takes between 8 to 14 minutes depending on what roast profile you are trying to achieve.  Dark roasts will take longer because you need more time for that caramelization of the sugars to darken the bean.  The magic happens when coffee beans start to swell during the roasting process, get larger in size and roast from the inside out.  Moisture is trapped inside the bean and when heat is applied it causes steam and pressure to build.  This in turn pushes on the outside walls of the bean, usually around the 7-9 minute mark of a roast, you have what is called first crack.  This part of the roast is when the pressure builds up enough in the bean it causes it to physically change size by expansion which produces a cracking sound.  It sounds a lot like popcorn.  Since the bean is getting larger in size it cracks and this expansion process makes the bean more porous.  A coffee bean's only protection is the outer shell.  Oxygen is a coffee bean's #1 arch enemy.  When Oxygen hits coffee, it starts to degrade and oxidize, thus weakening the taste of the coffee itself. ( that is another topic for another day) but we know oxygen makes coffee go stale and loose flavor intensity.

So the question... When I buy coffee, should I buy ground or whole bean?  If you buy whole bean, that means you will need a grinder.  All good questions but the answer depends on a couple of things.  How fast are you going to use the coffee you just bought from your local roaster? (notice I did not say big box store)  If you are going to buy a bag of ground coffee, once you open that bag, you have roughly 10-14 days of pure coffee goodness.   After two weeks you will loose about 80% of the flavor of your favorite coffee that you paid good money for.  If your truly are looking for the best tasting coffee, nothing beats fresh ground and brewed fresh within minutes of grinding that bean open.

The question that follows someone thinking about ground or whole bean  is "Should I invest in a grinder?"  My answer... absolutely!  I do not sell grinders so there is no monetary gain for me here.  But what I will tell you is if you want the best tasting coffee for your money, please invest in a good grinder.  If your brewing methods are drip, pour overs, chemex, syphon, or aeropress style coffee you really should look for a burr, or conical burr grinder.  Blade grinders are ok for French Press, but really those types of grinders should really be used for spices, not coffee.  The particles produces are different sized chunks and sliced through giving you an inconsistent grind which makes for a sub-par cup of coffee.  For espresso, mocha pot, or Turkish coffee you need a grinder that can grind really fine, and they are a lot more expensive.  "How much should I pay for a grinder?"  Quality grinders are not cheap.  Believe it or not, but you should invest more in your grinder than your coffee maker.  Seem's odd, but that is the 100% truth.  Coffee is all about the grind and the surface area that is crated from the grinding process for the water to run through and extract the coffee from the bean.  You want evenly sized pieces that extract the same, have to many fines and you will pull bitter notes, too large and your coffee will taste under extracted.  

There are three common types of grinders used for coffee.  Flat burr, conical burr and blade grinders.  All three are great, but each bring their own attribute to the table on the end results.  

  • Flat Burr grinders are flat round disc's with teeth that grab the bean and grind into uniform shapes and size.  Typically for drip, press or espresso grinds.

  • Conical Burr grinder looks like a round, pyramid shaped burr that spins agains a burr housing.  Conical burr grinders are very consistent and great for uniform grind size for use with drip coffee or espresso.
  • Blade Grinder looks the a metal propeller.  It spins at high speed, slicing through the bean and breaking it up.  The longer you go, the more fine the particles.   Blade grinders are really good for French Press coffee or brews that require large, chunky grinds.


Reasons to buy ground coffee:

  1. Convenience
  2. You are going camping or traveling.

Reasons to buy whole bean coffee.

  1. Whole Bean coffee will last longer, and will not be stale when you open it. Bet you didn't know ground coffee looses 40% to 50% of its flavor 25-30 minutes after it ground?
  2. Whole Bean coffee allows you to choose how you brew your coffee.  Want a french press, go coarse.  Have a mocha pot?  You want extra fine.  If you have an adjustable grinder, you control how you brew.
  3. Flavor.  Freshly ground coffee, hands down, has the best flavor, and you are paying for it.  If you truly love coffee, then you will want to get a grinder and grind it fresh as you make it.

If you have been thinking about purchasing a grinder, or wondered if fresh ground really makes a difference in your coffee experience, we hope this article helps.  Coffee is very complex, most people do not pay any more attention to it than throwing some grounds into a coffee maker, adding water and pushing the button.  We challenge you to take your coffee making to a different level and really experience how good fresh coffee can be.  We think you will be amazed on the notes you can pull out of a coffee bean and the intensity in overall flavor in your cup.   If you have any questions, or are unsure what kind of grinder you are looking for, drop us a line, we are here to help! 

Happy Brewing!

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