Pre-Grind or Grind-As-You-Go?

TL;DR: The single biggest step you can take to improve your cup is grinding fresh!

Related image

At our shows, we only sell whole bean coffee.  Most people are good with this, but I do get a few people ask if I’ll pre-grind.  My answer is always the same: we don’t do it.

Why not?  I get a lot of grief on my roaster forums for this choice. “You’ll lose a lot of sales!” is the most common comment.  The idea is if people have to get another tool for their kitchen, they won’t want to buy my coffee.  Secondary to this is people want convenience.  While both of these are true, both ideas also reduce the quality of your cup.

From the day I started my business, my goal was introduce people to better coffee – to teach people how to improve their cup of coffee without the pretentiousness of becoming a coffee snob.  The single biggest thing you can do to improve your cup is to grind your coffee fresh each time you brew.

Coffee starts going stale slowly within a day after roasting.  Slowly is the key word here. It’ll maintain that fresh flavor for a good month to month-and-a-half if stored properly.  It’ll still be good for many months after that, it just won’t quite have as big of a *pop* of flavor you get when it’s fresh.

As soon as you grind it and expose the particles to oxygen, it gets stale FAST. I like to compare it to cutting an apple.  Within minutes, you can start to see the flesh starting to turn brown. Leave it out for a day and you have to cut a layer off before eating it.  Coffee is the same way once it’s ground. Even someone not trained in coffee tasting can taste the difference between fresh grounds and day-old grounds in a side-by-side taste test. Just a day makes a huge difference!  

Any grinder is better than nothing.  Learn more about the different types of grinders on our Grinding page!

Coffee Freshness

There’s nothing quite like fresh coffee.  The smell envelops you with a warm aromatic hug, the first sip stimulates your taste buds, and your mind wakes up to receive the tasty goodness.  But how fresh does it need to be?  Can you do anything at home to improve the freshness of your coffee?  Is there something you should look for when buying coffee to ensure it’s not 18 months old?

The first thing is to look for a bag with a valve on it. When coffee is first roasted, it starts releasing carbon dioxide (CO2). If it’s bagged promptly as it’s supposed to be, the CO2 released will push the oxygen out of the bag which will help the coffee retain its freshness. Oxygen is the enemy of freshness, so the less oxygen that touches the coffee, the longer it will stay fresh tasting.

On that note, the second thing is to check whether there is still gas in the bag. If you see a bag that looks like it’s been vacuum sealed, that means it was bagged after the coffee finished releasing its CO2.  This is a sign of stale coffee, so avoid it!  Companies will sometimes vacuum-seal their bags to remove the oxygen, relying on the CO2 to help keep the coffee fresh. If the beans are stale, no CO2 will be released and the bag will keep it’s vacuum-seal appearance.

Finally, check for dates! Often, larger companies will stamp a “use by” date on the bag, so watch for that.  Some grocery stores are better than others about this, but unfortunately it’s not unusual to see old coffee on the shelves.

One last note: While proper bagging and brewing within the date given definitely help, nothing will make a coffee taste fresher than it really is.  The CO2 will cause the coffee to taste fresh immediately upon opening, but within a day, it’ll taste as old as it actually is.  So the only real solution to have confidence in getting truly fresh coffee is to get it from a reputable craft roastery, like Maritime Roasters!