For those who are discovering quality coffee for the first time, one of the most common questions is what the difference is between pre-ground coffee beans and buying the whole bean. Is there actually a difference? This may seem like a silly question but practically speaking it is an extra step between waking up and getting that first sip of liquid gold coffee at 6 am. Humans do hate the extra hassle, one less step is time saved (which on a complete side note is a great reason to try Fernweh). The answer is an unequivocal yes! There is a difference. While it would be easy to chalk this up to coffee snobbery? There are quite a few practical reasons for why you should use fresh whole beans.
To break this down, let us first look at how we get the beans to flavour our water, turning it into the beverage we all love. When we add water to the grounds, we are attempting to extract the flavour of the bean. Simple enough. The bean is ground to increase the surface area that there is in contact with the water and greatly increases the bean's ability to impart its flavour. Grind size and brewing method all come into play during this step.
Like any other organic consumable, the flavour is often tied to freshness. Fruit can taste bland or bitter if it is not fully ripe and degrades in flavour as it falls from peak freshness. Coffee is no different, its flavour being tied to how fresh it is. Coffee oils, for example, are particularly prone to becoming rancid which contributes to forming a bitter taste rather than its natural flavour. When coffee is ground, the bean is opened up in order to fully exposed it to the water, but any unused coffee grounds are also then exposed to air. This causes oxidisation, which greatly leads to the breaking down of its oils, flavour and aroma. So regardless of the quality of processing or packaging of the readily available, pre-ground coffee beans at the store, pre-ground means that the bean’s oxidation and therefore its flavour decline have already begun. Old coffee grounds will taste muddy, indistinct and often stale. A cup of stale despair in the morning anyone?
When you use fresh whole beans, you are getting the best out of your investment. A whole bean has largely been protected from the air by its outer layer, so when it's ground the inside still carries its freshness and is ready to be enjoyed. It keeps longer for this same reason. It might take an extra 15 seconds to grind your coffee beans in the morning but the return investment on taste is significant. While we might begrudge that little extra step, undoubtedly you will not regret the extra time spent, enjoying a morning cup of sanity whilst letting your taste buds thank you for caring.