It’s a mistake most coffee enthusiasts make once or twice.
You’re lacking a decent bean grinder or you just can’t face the wrist work, so you ask the barista to plow ahead. Spare me the effort please; just grind the whole bag.
Look, I get it. Even professional coffee makers stop enjoying the grinding process after a minute or two. It’s not difficult. It’s just really slow going and pretty monotonous if you don’t have an electric grinder. So asking the barista to grind all your beans saves time and energy.
In this article, I explain all the reasons you’re wrong to do it (sorry) and what you should be doing instead.
I’ll start by saying you don’t need to stick to some artisan, manual only grind process to produce exceptional coffee.
We’ve all got jobs and lives and families to spend our time on. However, if you’re serious about drinking the best possible coffee – and you don’t want to manually grind – you need to buy an electric conical burr grinder.
Here's the Problem With Grinding Too Much Coffee.
Whether you’re hand grinding or using an electric grinder, little and often is fine.
It’s just that most of us don’t do it that way. We get our beans ground for us or grind in large amounts whenever the opportunity presents itself because it’s less tedious than doing it every week.
Unfortunately, coffee loses its freshness as most foods do. The majority of beans remain fresh for around two to three weeks after roasting.
This is BEFORE the beans are ground. After being ground, freshness gets lost at a dishearteningly fast rate starting from thirty minutes after grinding.
See why it’s important not to grind a whole bag all at once?
You’re just going to have increasingly stale coffee – that you probably paid good money for – sitting around on the counter top.
This is not to say it will start tasting hideous after thirty minutes. If you’ve spent time honing your coffee tasting skills though, the drop in quality will be obvious.
For exceptionally well balanced and flavorful coffee that sets your taste buds alight every time, always use fresh beans (roasted no earlier than three weeks prior). Grind only the amount you need each time.
Why Batch Grinding Is A Fast Track To Poor Quality Coffee
This is bad news for batch grind fans. Contrary to what some coffee sellers intentionally suggest (yes, to get you to buy more coffee), even their finest quality products will lose freshness fast.
It’s just what food products do. Don’t be fooled by the fact your favorite coffee’s best by date is sometime next year.
It’s perfectly safe to use and drink until the best by date and for a long time after. It’s just nowhere anywhere near as tasty more than three weeks after roasting and thirty minutes following a grind.
You may think I’m being picky and, in casual circles, it probably doesn’t matter. But we’re learning the craft of making great coffee and, for that, it’s everything. Professional roasters are very specific about when and how they grind for good reason.
I also stress the point because I don’t like it when coffee sellers exploit customers’ lack of knowledge to make more money. They know exactly when that expensive blend they convinced you to buy will become subpar. There’s just taking a chance on you being uninformed. It’s a clever sales ploy, that’s all.
I repeat, roasted coffee beans remain in a state of high quality for up to three weeks after roasting. Use this information to get value for your money.
Oxygen Is Your Coffee’s Enemy
The main reason coffee has such a short shelf life is because, like most fresh foods, it responds vigorously to oxygen. It’s no different from any other food.
If you pluck a tomato off the vine, it will react with the air and begin slowly decaying. Oxidation turns vegetables brown and causes metals to rust.
It’s a very powerful force and we’re always racing to consume foods before they decline in freshness and spoil.
Oxidization damages the acids in coffee beans. As the beans’ structure deteriorates, the aromatic oils important for good coffee evaporate.
One month after roasting, they look the same but they’ve lost much of their crispness and quality. As coffee beans age, bitterness increases and they become harsher on the taste buds.
The reason ground coffee loses freshness so much faster than beans is simply because there’s more exposed surface area. More of the coffee is open to the air and reacting chemically with the oxygen.
I should point out that thirty minutes is a very uniform approximation. Studies show coffee grounds closer to the bottom of a container retain their freshness for longer.
They’re quite literally being shielded by the weight of the coffee grounds on top of them. As the coffee is used, these grounds get nearer to the top and start to decay faster.
It’s possible to have fresh coffee and stale coffee in one container. Yet, to reach the fresh coffee, you’ve got to expose it to the air. Oxidization begins again. There’s really no overcoming it. Fresh things decay.
What you can do is buy, store and grind coffee in the amounts you need. There’s no better way to ensure a satisfying, high-quality brew every single time.