We’ve all been there. We are excited to up our coffee game, read an article about how important the grind is to quality...and then we see the cost. A nice grinder can cost as much as $300, while professional grade spikes up to $3,000 +.
“Maybe I’ll put the grinder on hold.”
Sometimes a grinder just isn’t in the cards, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your pre-ground coffee! Now, when I talk about pre-ground coffee, I’m not talking about the 6 month old bag you find at a superstore. Rather, I’m talking about coffee roasted within 30 days that your local market or coffee shop can grind for you.
When coffee is ground, it ‘off gasses’ CO2. This also happens to whole bean coffee, but at a much slower pace. When coffee is brewed the day of roast or even within the first few days of roasting, the CO2 hasn’t escaped enough for the water to properly extract the goods. Additionally, CO2 (as the name suggests) has carbon which tastes ashy and smokey. This is the primary reason why hyper-fresh coffee lacks flavor. It has little body, and can be bitter even when roasted ideally. I prefer to give my coffee at least 5 days to rest, and when I’m patient enough to wait a full 10 days, the coffee hits its peak.
If off gassing is the goal, what’s the problem with pre-ground coffee? The flavors in coffee still continue to develop over time in Whole Bean form in a more scientific way that I don’t know enough to talk about. Grinding coffee ahead of time will always diminish the potential that comes from freshly ground coffee.
You can still enjoy a great cup of coffee if you don’t own a grinder!
Here are my 3 tips to get the most out of your pre-ground coffee.
Grind Coarser than you normally would
A simple hack to brewing pre-ground coffee is to grind it a little coarser than you normally would with freshly ground coffee. As mentioned before, the coffee will off-gas exponentially faster when ground, which removes the CO2 barrier that protects the coffee grounds from fully contacting the water (and adding additional agitation to the brew process). You can see this in action if you have fresh coffee and pre-ground side-by-side. The freshly ground coffee will “bloom” (swell and expand) while the pre-ground coffee will not. Instead, the water will flow right though. This means that there is less flow restriction on the water flowing through the coffee bed, resulting in a much more efficient brew cycle. You will notice your brew times increasing too!
If your coffee brewer at home uses a “Cone” shaped filter, then you can tell the barista to grind for a “flat-bottom” filter. Flat-bottom filters and brewers restrict more flow, and are also more efficient brew systems, and therefore, require a coarser grind.
Ditch the Bloom
As we mentioned before, freshly ground and roasted coffee will “bloom” due to the excess CO2, and you can use the bloom to manipulate your brew. When making “pour-over” coffee, it’s common practice to add a little water (about the same weight as coffee grounds used) to promote quicker off gassing while allowing the grounds to redistribute evenly and presoak to improve brew consistency and quality. Many “batch” brewers or automatic coffee machines have this preprogrammed.
With pre-ground coffee, there’s no need. Arguably, it will actually hinder your brew. With the reduced restriction of water flow, the slurry (the water and coffee ground mixture that’s brewing inside the filter) will drain almost immediately leaving the grounds completely empty and void of water. In this case, the coffee is getting cold, but still brewing with no water flowing through.
Just ditch the bloom!
When grinding coffee, the first thing to go is the nuance, and acidity quickly follows. Coffees described as floral, delicate or tea-like will be completely bland and uninteresting if pre-ground. Because of this, I recommend buying more complex, rich and in-you-face coffee such as naturally processed coffees.
Natural coffees (dried in fruit) tend to have tons of flavor and complexity to the detriment of clarity and cleanness. These types of coffees are more polarizing and typically less celebrated among the coffee industry because they can be distinctly “funky” or “fermenty”, but are packed with flavor nonetheless.
Naturals make great pre-ground coffee because you retain the plump and rich fruity/earthy flavors, but a lot of the funk goes away from the reduced acidity and nuance. If you’re reading this near the publication date, hop on over to our webshop to check out our current natural Tega & Tula!
And there you have it! These are our 3 tips for getting the most out of pre-ground coffee.
If you decided it’s time to buy a grinder, then stay tuned for next week’s deep dive into which coffee grinder is right for you?