Is there a difference?
WHOLE BEAN VS. GROUND COFFEE
Is there a difference?
Whole bean or ground coffee? Is there a difference in quality or is just a matter of convenience? As you delve into specialty coffee, you’ll quickly discover that purchasing freshly roasted whole bean coffee and grinding it yourself will radically improve your morning brew. Once you make the change you’ll never look back.
WHOLE BEAN: A PROTECTIVE CAPSULE
A coffee’s aroma and taste come from the oils and volatile compounds inside freshly roasted beans. Once these are exposed to the elements, they slowly start escaping your coffee, which starts losing its freshness and peak flavor.
With that in mind, think of a whole bean as a protective capsule that will slow down deterioration. Once you open the bag and oxygen rushes in, only the exterior layer of the bean will be exposed. If you cut it in half you increase the affected area, accelerating its doom. Slice them again and it will be even faster. Imagine how quick your coffee will go stale if we pre-grind it all!
There are other factors that negatively impact coffee, such as moisture, light, and heat. Whole bean coffee will better preserve its integrity against all of these variables.
Therefore, for the sake of your precious beans and their amazing flavor, we recommend you only grind the coffee you'll immediately use, properly storing the rest. Ideally, brew within 10 minutes of grinding since the escape rate of those delicious volatile compounds drastically increases. The clock is ticking and it's going stale quick.
Furthermore, by grinding your own coffee you can adapt it to your specific home brewer. If you prefer a French press, you'll use a coarse grind. If you're brewing with an espresso machine, you'll want it extra fine. Just make sure you have a good quality grinder for the task, and you'll be set to serve barista level coffee at home!
TYPES OF GRINDERS
We’ve established you should grind your coffee yourself, but what grinder should you purchase? There are two types of grinders: blade grinders and burr grinders. The former are less expensive, but their performance and results aren't the quality your beans deserve. Let's dive into a little more detail.
1) Blade Grinders:
Blade grinders use a spinning blade that unmercifully slices and tears the beans, like a lawn mower cutting the grass.
Similarly to how you carefully chop potatoes in even sizes for them to boil and cook at the same rate, your coffee grounds should be the same size to extract uniformly. Sadly, this is impossible to achieve with a blade grinder as it doesn't have different settings for precise measurements. The coarseness solely depends on how long the beans are shredded by the blade, resulting in very irregular grounds. Consequently, the larger pieces extract slower than the smaller bits, creating an uneven brew. The cup will taste over or under extracted and the desired qualities will be lost.
Furthermore, since the blades are spinning very quickly, they may create a lot of heat which might char your beans and impact the taste.
Video: A blade grinder in action
- There is no way to adjust the grind size.
- The fineness depends on how long you hold the button down.
2) Burr Grinders:
Instead of cutting the beans, burr grinders crush them between two serrated plates, or burrs. The size of the grind is set by how large the opening, or gap, is between both pieces. This makes it extremely precise because you can calibrate that opening to the exact fineness you need. The ground coffee will only be able to pass once it meets that exact measurement. Therefore, both your grind and extraction will be uniform, resulting in a wonderfully even brew.
There are two types of burrs: Flat and Conical. Flat burrs consists of two identical, rather flat pieces. Conical burrs have an Insert Burr and Outer Burr that mesh together. Both systems are great, delivering fantastic results so it is hard to say which one is better.
Video: A conical burr's mechanism
- Both pieces mesh perfectly together. Adjusting the opening's size will dial in the fineness of your grind.
Video: An electric burr grinder in action
- As you rotate the hopper each click is a different grind setting.
As you'll notice on the following image, there is an obvious difference between the results of both grinders.
- The blade grinder, on the left, gave out very inconsistent coffee. There are several larger chunks mixed in with smaller bits.
- The burr grinder, on the right, was much more homogeneous. All the coffee grounds seem to be around the same size.
Consistency and evenness in the grounds will be reflected on the flavor profile of the brew. If you get the grind wrong, you'll be off to a bad start.
As we've clearly seen, burr grinders are the way to go. Their only downside is how expensive they are compared to blade grinders. Good quality, entry level, electric options will cost over $100. Nevertheless, it will be the most important investment you’ll make in your coffee brewing journey, so the extra $$ will be well worth it. There are also some excellent manual options which are more affordable (and portable), but grinding is more time consuming.
Our recommendations for entry level burr grinders are:
With proper care, all these grinders should last for many years and will deliver excellent results
Purchasing ground coffee is much more convenient but, as you familiarize yourself with the specialty coffee industry, you'll find that whole bean better preserves the hard work behind producing outstanding quality beans. From farm to cup, there's extensive research and labor to produce the best possible coffee. It would be a shame for all those flavors and aromas to be lost on the way to your home. So, improve your coffee game by grinding your beans and enjoy all the goodness from The Land of Eternal Spring.
We hope this article was informative. If you have any questions, shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be more than happy to assist you.