Ultimately, good coffee is about appreciating the experience. Whatever your preparation, whatever your brew method, whatever your choice of beans - the point is to enjoy your daily ritual and have a moment of brief introspection as you sip and explore new flavors.
We don’t judge. We don’t preach.
You do you.
There are some legit reasons to grind your beans before each brew, and we’re going to edumacate y’all on the whys and hows. We’d be remiss to not let you in on it - because this step is so critical to a craft coffee experience.
The life of a coffee bean is an incredible one. From sprout to coffee plant, from ripe fruit to dried green seed, and then from roasted bean to your cup. The journey for each of the hundreds of beans in every bag is too remarkable to waste by squandering all the complex flavors by grinding too soon and letting your coffee stale on your counter or in your freezer.
Coffee is volatile product. Roasted well, the whole beans are capsules impregnated with over a thousand compounds that all contribute to the final brew.
Just like bread hot out of the baker’s oven, fresh roasted coffee has qualities that its mass-produced counterparts can’t approximate. This is why using beans that are less than two weeks off-roast is so important. It is also why grinding your whole beans right before brewing has such a big impact on the quality of your cup.
Coffee compounds are water-soluble, meaning that when water is added all of the desirable components are pulled out. These include different phenols, antioxidants, and oils. This also means that once ground, moisture and oxygen will quickly start to degrade those precious oils and aromatics. This strips them of their dynamism, leaving only a shadow of the drink that could have been. This is why store-bought and stale beans tend to just taste like coffee. They may have been good beans when fresh off-roast, but now they’ve muddled into a bland and homogenous mass that is only capable of producing a monodimensional brew.
By grinding right before you brew, these delicate compounds are still intact, ready to be pulled out of the bean and into your cup. Each compound imparts unique flavors to the coffee - they are what make specialty coffee special. From them we add depth to the cup and get notes of fruits, brightness, unique body, floral tones, spices, and a million other taste experiences that make you say - whatthewhaaaaat?!?!?!
On top of all of that, these same precious solubles are what give coffee its health benefits. Science has aligned coffee consumption with improved intestinal health, benefits to the colon, mitigation of diabetes, anticancer activity, and even neuroprotective effects that can reduce the risk of diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s, but if you’re using pre-ground coffee much of the valuable elements that confer these benefits have been lost.
[The myriad of ways that coffee can improve your health and otherwise make you superhuman will be elaborated on in a future Journal article]
A complete discussion of all the grinders available far exceeds the discussion of this article, but they generally fall into two categories:
Grinder you already own | Grinder you go out and buy
Looking at cost, the grinder that is already in your cupboard takes the cake - so use that one until you care to afford and can afford to care to upgrade. It is likely a blade grinder, even a food processor, it is less than ideal but the price is right.
If you don’t yet own a grinder, or are curious enough to level-up your set-up, you can’t go wrong with a burr grinder. As long as you aren’t pulling precision ratios of espresso, even a hand grinder with a burr will do the trick.
Roll up those sleeves and start your day with a bit of a forearm workout. This is the manual method of grinding your coffee and while a bit on the labor intensive side, it really isn't that much work. These give you a consistent, quality grind, for a fraction of the price of an electric grinder.
Popular options include:
If you think forearm strength is undervalued, or otherwise can’t be bothered with taking five minutes to crank on a hand grinder in the predawn hours, then you better go electric. These come with a bump in price but are well worth it for time spent.
Good options for you money include:
As with all things craft coffee, if you have any questions feel free to drop us online and we’ll steer you in the right direction. We have experience with a variety of coffee equipment and can talk shop all day long.
[Stay tuned in coming weeks for a Journal article that has detailed comparisons between these and other top options for grinders to purchase]