If you have started getting into making your own specialty coffee at home, then you’re probably aware of a few firm rules to abide by when making the perfect coffee, including that pre-ground coffee should be avoided, and that freshly ground coffee should always be used. The general opinion is that pre-ground coffee is stale, but is this always true? Are coffee beans better than ground coffee? Pre-ground coffee will absolutely lose its freshness faster compared to whole coffee beans, but there’s no denying that it can be a convenient option for when you don’t have time to grind your own beans, or if you are just starting out with making your own coffee at home and don’t want to invest in a coffee grinder. Let’s take a look at pre-ground coffee and if it’s ever better than freshly ground.
Why Should Pre-Ground Coffee Be Avoided?
What is the ground coffee beans meaning? Coffee beans are ground to increase the surface area of the roasted coffee beans and allow for better extraction of the aroma and flavor compounds in the coffee. While immersing whole coffee beans in water might result in a fairly weak brew eventually, it’s probably going to take a very long time to get the flavor notes that you enjoy. Grinding coffee allows for more of the bean to be exposed to the water, which in turn, allows the compounds to dissolve more quickly into the water for better extraction. To better understand the pros and cons of using pre-ground coffee beans, it’s important to understand how extraction works.
With ground coffee beans, there is an increase in surface area, which leaves the coffee more open to environmental exposure. When the coffee is exposed to oxygen, it degasses, which means that it releases gases that have been built up during the roasting process. This is important as it prevents the coffee from being under-extracted and reduces carbonic acid in the cup.
However, while some degassing is important before brewing your coffee, it’s important to remember that grinding will increase degassing. So, when coffee is ground and left exposed to the air, the aromas and flavors will quickly be lost. Once all the gases have been lost from the coffee, the brew will taste stale and flat. Along with this, ground coffee is also more vulnerable to moisture. If roasted coffee gets damp, the oils that contribute to the flavor of your brew will be affected.
Once coffee has lost the gases and oils, it’s never going to taste great. It’s because of this that pre-ground coffee does not have the best reputation. After all, pre-ground coffee is basically just sitting there losing all its best flavors after being carefully sourced and perfectly roasted.
Can You Keep Pre-Ground Coffee Fresher for Longer?
While there is nothing that you can do to stop the process of the coffee losing its flavor once it has been ground, the good news is that there are some things that you can do to considerably slow this process down. How you store the coffee has a huge impact on how long it will stay fresh. All the recommendations for storing whole bean coffee can also be applied to pre-ground coffee. The most important thing to do is to make sure that any exposure to environmental factors such as extreme temperatures, light, and oxygen are kept at a minimum. The best way to store pre-ground coffee to keep it as fresh as possible for longer is in an opaque, vacuum-sealed container. This could be as simple as keeping it in a mason jar inside a cupboard. Avoid putting your pre-ground coffee in the fridge since the moisture and extremely cold temperatures won’t help to maintain the flavor.
Is Freshly Ground Coffee Always Better?
While there are things that you can do to keep flavor deterioration to a minimum when making coffee with pre-ground beans, is it always better to freshly grind your beans for every cup of coffee that you make?
Normally the answer to this question is yes, but not in every single case. When grinding coffee, you will reduce the beans to lots of tiny fragments. And to get the best quality, it’s important to get a consistent grind. If you’re using a low-quality burr grinder or a blade grinder, then this will often result in an inconsistent grind of coffee bean fragments that are different shapes and sizes, which will taste even worse than pre-ground coffee as some of the coffee will be over-extracted while others will be under-extracted. Because of this, if you don’t have a good burr grinder at home yet, you may want to consider whether coffee beans vs ground coffee is actually a good idea since the result might be even worse.
When is Pre-Ground Coffee a Better Choice?
If you do not have a good quality burr grinder for your coffee, then it’s probably better to use pre-ground coffee. To get the freshest results, you might want to consider buying whole bean coffee first and then taking it in smaller batches to your local coffee shop or coffee roaster. Many coffee shops and roasters will have high-quality grinders and offer a coffee grinding service for customers. Getting enough coffee ground to last you for a few days means that you still get to enjoy optimal freshness in comparison to buying pre-ground bags of coffee. Along with this, whole beans are often cheaper to buy and there is usually more of a selection to choose from, so you are not limiting yourself to only buying coffee that is available already ground.
When to Use Pre-Ground Coffee
Timing is key when it comes to getting the best results from using pre-ground coffee. Whether the coffee is whole or ground, any roasted coffee will begin to oxidize. Since this process occurs faster from the moment of grinding for pre-ground coffee, it’s important to make sure that you consume it quickly to avoid making coffee that is flat and stale. This could mean getting your coffee ground at a local roaster or coffee shop in smaller batches or buying smaller bags of pre-ground coffee that you will be able to use up quickly. Ideally, you should consume pre-ground coffee within two to four weeks of buying since the flavours will continue to change and deteriorate as the coffee sits unused.
The Best Ways to Store Pre-Ground Coffee
To make sure that you get the best cup of coffee every day even if you are using pre-ground coffee, it’s important to think about how you will store your coffee in order to maximise the freshness and flavor. Heat, light, and moisture exposure will all greatly impact your pre-ground coffee, so take the time to determine how to correctly store it to keep it as fresh as possible for as long as possible.
Coffee that has been ground and then exposed to high or low temperatures, light, oxygen, and moisture will quickly begin to lose its flavor. You will need to keep all of these factors in mind when deciding how and where to store your pre-ground coffee. Ideally, you should opt for coffee that comes in an airtight container or packaging since you can simply continue using this to store the coffee. If you are storing the pre-ground coffee in a see-through container, make sure that you put it in a dark place to avoid any exposure to light. You should make sure that the container you use is airtight.
One good way to keep your pre-ground coffee fresher for longer is to vacuum store it. When pre-ground coffee is in unopened packaging, it will usually last for longer compared to pre-ground coffee that has been opened since the packaging will be vacuum sealed and filled with nitrogen. Once you have opened the packaging, it will deteriorate faster if you do not change the storage. Vacuum packing the coffee is a good way to get more freshness and flavor from your coffee over time. With vacuum sealing, you will only expose the grounds to oxygen when you open the container to make coffee.
Freezing ground coffee is another option that you might have considered when it comes to storage, but there are mixed opinions on this method, with a debate that has been ongoing for quite a long time. Some people are concerned that since coffee absorbs odor, taste, and moisture from its surroundings, freezing might not always be the best way to store it. If you do want to freezes pre-ground coffee, you will need to make sure that you put it in an airtight container. Otherwise, once the coffee is in the freezer, it could deteriorate even faster compared to storing it at room temperature. A vacuum-sealed container is the best storage option to use when freezing ground coffee.
While the general opinion is that pre-ground coffee should always be avoided when making specialty coffee due to the fact that it deteriorates at a faster rate, there are times where it can be useful.