Years before I worked in coffee, I considered myself an "Avid Coffee Drinker", a self-proclaimed (because that's what it always is) "aficionado". I liked my coffee "strong," though I don't think I knew exactly what that meant - I just liked the way it sounded: who wouldn't like their coffee "strong"? And I liked it convenient, which is to say, pre-ground. Cut out as many steps of the process as possible in order to speed up the sluggish morning routine - that was the name of the game through university and beyond. That is, until one visit to my parents' home when I came across my mom's old Braun blade grinder. I dusted it off (she too liked her coffee strong and convenient) and "borrowed" it for the next several years.
That first cup of freshly ground, freshly brewed coffee was the beginning of a new era of coffee drinking for me. That morning, I became a believer in the home grinder - it was, as they say, a Game Changer.
Hyperbole aside, there is a science behind the "magic" of freshly ground coffee. As soon as coffee is roasted, it begins an aging process and it doesn't take long for the coffee to become old and stale - time also allows for the oils that naturally extract from the bean, to become rancid and bitter (see our post about oily coffee here). The roasting process activates hundreds of chemical reactions that turn that little green seed into a delicious caramelized brown bean full of aroma and flavour. Those flavours dissolve in water during the brewing process to give what we hope to be a flavourful cup of coffee that not only wakes us up but gives us something to look forward to each morning.
However, those fleeting flavours can also escape before you even start brewing, primarily through oxidization. The coffee is exposed to oxygen and aging begins. The more surface area of the bean that is exposed, the more oxidization. The more oxidization, the more flavour and aroma escape. The more flavour and aroma that escape before brewing...well, you can figure that part out.
In bean form, coffee has less surface area exposed and therefore preserves the flavour the best. Once it's ground into thousands of particles, the coffee's collective surface area is much greater and each little particle doesn't stand a chance for maintaining its flavour and aroma for very long.
So, to sum it up: coffee that is ground days - even hours! - before brewing will have lost a lot of deliciousness by the time you drink it. If you want to give your coffee the best chance it has to perform and give yourself the best chance you have to enjoy it, get a grinder (or dust off that one you already have!) and grind just before brewing! Small investment, BIG change. Game change.
Written by: Shannon Hoops-Ripley, Recovering Coffee Aficionado.