Why pre-ground coffee is not a good idea

Date Posted:18 September 2021 

 

Pre-ground coffee goes stale rapidly

When it comes to fresh roasted coffee we are all on a journey of learning.

Some coffee enthusiasts are well advanced through deep experience and multiple evolutions of their coffee equipment and techniques whilst others are at the beginning having recently transitioned from instant or pods/capsules.

Australian coffee drinkers are well informed about the benefits of coffee freshness and quality compared to many other parts of the world where the coffee markets are not as developed and mature.

Around 15 years ago when specialty grade coffees began appearing in some of the premium Australia cafes, the coffee drinking public has enthusiastically embraced the continual pursuit of improved coffee experiences offered by better quality coffee products.

Today, it's possible to purchase coffee across a wide spectrum of qualities and freshness - ranging from lower grade and predominantly stale super-market offerings up to expensive single origin fully traceable micro lots from coffee roasters operating in niche quality segments.

Whilst more consumers are purchasing premium equipment to prepare their coffees at home with capabilities to match cafes, there is still a large segment of the coffee market needing pre-ground coffee in decent quality grades.

Whether it's the lack of bench space in a kitchen to accommodate a coffee grinder, or the hassle and mess that comes with grinding coffee on demand, the ground coffee segment remains a vital part of Australia's coffee industry.

It will no doubt come as a surprise for almost all pre-ground coffee customers to learn that ground coffee has a ridiculously short lifespan, even in sealed unopened packs, the coffee goes stale very quickly.

Whole bean coffee has a cell structure which provides a basic and limited degree of protection for preserving the volatile compounds we associate as the "essence" of fresh roasted coffee - namely the intense aromatics and attributes such as body, flavor, sweetness and acidity which are released when whole bean coffees are grinded and the ground particles used promptly for brewing and extraction into a coffee beverage.

So let's unpack that last paragraph.

Whole beans have a limited ability to retain much of what we love about fresh roasted coffee, but once that whole bean is ground into thousands of smaller particles, it's exposing the tiny cell structures to oxygen  which rapidly accelerates the degradation of the coffee's attributes via oxydization.

Left long enough, and here's where you will be shocked as its basically under 15 minutes, almost 85% of the active volatiles of the fresh roasted coffee are lost when ground.

Whilst it might appear a bit extreme, there's a reason why the skilled and experienced coffee enthusiasts, baristas and well trained coffee professionals all implement exactly the same routine - grind fresh roasted whole bean coffee and use it immediately.  

Don't grind and store coffee for use later as ground coffee will lose most of it's attractive and alluring aromatics within minutes of grinding.

Leave the ground coffee long enough and you might indeed struggle to achieve a decent extraction on espresso equipment. Many top baristas will purge the grinder if it's been sitting unused for 20 minutes so that the small amount of ground coffee retained in the grinder's components are flushed out properly enabling freshly ground coffee to be used for the espresso extraction.

Espresso extraction is by far the most sensitive method of coffee brewing requiring the freshest ground coffee. Other brew methods whereby the contact time with the ground coffee is longer, e.g. plunger/French press, percolator, drip or filter, etc. are less reliant upon the freshest grind but like all things in coffee there really is not substitute for freshness.

So the big question this now raises is "why would anyone buy pre-ground coffee". Well the answer is not entirely straight-forward. Mostly, it's because people don't have a grinder, don't want to buy or grinder, have no space for a grinder or think the mess, noise and commotion of using a grinder is not for them.

If the pre-ground coffee goes stale so quickly, even in sealed and unopened bags, what is the best advice ?

Don't buy pre-ground coffee in bulk - no amount of special procedures in storage like freezing, etc. is going to save the ground coffee.........it's simply a really bad idea to buy ground coffee in bulk.

Only purchase enough for around 2 - 3 weeks at most. Don't think in terms of months with pre-ground coffee because you will always be disappointed - the first couple of packs will be great and then it's a downhill slide in quality that's impossible to arrest or prevent.

We have always recommended to customers that whole beans is best......you are in fact buying a high quality product, from the raw coffee, storage, roasting, packaging, shipping, etc. everything we do is to ensure the product arrives to you in the absolute best possible state so it can be enjoying at it's peak.

Tips:-

  1. Pre-ground coffee goes stale very quickly, even inside of sealed, unopened packs.
  2. Once a pack of pre-ground coffee is opened, or exposed to fresh oxygen, it has less than 15 minutes of "life" remaining.
  3. Don't buy pre-ground coffee in bulk and expect the quality to remain consistent - it degrades very fast.
  4. Don't grind whole beans and store it for later use, the ground coffee will have oxydized.
  5. Espresso extraction is extremely sensitive to the freshness of the roasted coffee. Using pre-ground coffee for espresso machines is not recommended as the coffee will have oxydized. Espresso extraction works best when you grind the whole bean coffee moments before use.
  6. Coffee packaging will not keep coffee fresh - nothing retards the effects of staling and don't believe the marketing rubbish about nitrogen flushing........nobody does it!