You’ve got a decision to make. A big one. And it happens every time you buy coffee. And we’re talking about the good stuff here, the fresh coffee you buy from a quality roaster. The question you’ll get asked is “do you want us to grind that for you?” So…
You need to know the difference between fresh ground coffee vs pre-ground. This article will tell you all that.
But you also need to know which one is right for you. Make a mistake here and at best, you’ll be brewing up some mediocre coffee. And at worst, you’ll shell out a bunch of money on substandard equipment (and believe me there’s a lot of that in the coffee world).
Fresh Ground Coffee Vs Pre-ground
|Whole bean||Fresh ground||Pre-ground|
|Whole bean is what we call buying the beans with no grinding, straight from the roast.||Fresh ground is when you own a grinder that you use to grind the whole coffee beans yourself, a few minutes before the brew.||Pre-ground is when your coffee shop or roaster grinds you coffee for you when you buy it.|
|✅ Keeps in the freshness.||✅ Your coffee will taste fresh every single time.|
✅ This is the path to making coffee as good as coffee shops.
|✅ You’ll get a smooth, consistent grind that makes great coffee.|
✅ Don’t pay anything extra.
|❌ Can’t make coffee with it (yet).||❌ You might hate cranking a grinder every time you want a coffee.|
❌ Costs more.
❌ A cheap grinder can ruin your brew.
|❌ Will lose freshness inside a day.|
Coffee beans are roasted as whole beans and can always be sold like that. The problem is most folks don’t own a grinder, so coffee shops and roasters usually offer the option to grind the beans up for you.
You can even see this in grocery stores. Check out the coffee aisle and you’ll see bags labelled “whole bean” or similar to show it’s the full bean.
By the way…
Don’t bother buying your coffee from a store if you can help it. It’s usually stale and lifeless. You can do better.
Fresh ground coffee
To use fresh ground coffee you buy your coffee as a whole bean, then use a grinder to crunch them up into the coffee grounds you can use to brew.
This is where it gets tricky. Because how you grind your coffee affects how good the taste of your brew is. Consistent grounds that are all the same size will extract evenly and give you a smooth brew free of acrid flavors. A bad grind gives you large chunks and sand-like fines that extract badly and ruin the taste of your brew (“dust and boulders” as it’s sometimes called).
There’s two types of grinders you should know about. Automatic blade grinders are cheap and useless. Avoid at all costs. What you want is a burr grinder, where precise engineering allows the coffee to be groud up evenly. You can get these as a hand crank or an automatic, with the automatics costing more. Also, they ain’t cheap. The good ones, I mean.
And that’s the problem. Everyone thinks spending $20 on some POS budget grinder is good enough to make fresh coffee. Let me tell you, it is not. At all.
Is it cheaper to grind your own coffee?
It’s more expensive to grind your own coffee, because you need to pay for a coffee grinder. When you buy coffee, whether it’s preground or whole beans, it always costs the same. As you can see in the table below, there are very good reasons why you want to grind your own coffee, but saving money isn’t one. It won’t be cheaper to grind your own coffee.
Should I use fresh ground coffee?
Here are the reasons I think someone should choose fresh ground coffee over pre-ground:
- You want the best coffee possible.
- You don’t mind paying $100+ on a quality grinder.
- A little extra time preparing coffee doesn’t bother you.
- Grinding by hand doesn’t bother you (in case of getting a hand grinder).
- You use different brew methods and need to change up the size of your grinds regularly.
If the above list appeals to you? Maybe it’s grinder buying time. Scroll down to here to see my latest (2023) recommendations.
Pre-ground coffee is when you get the coffee shop or roaster to grind your coffee for you. In a grocery store, you can buy packs that are preground (but avoid these, they’re bad).
If you’re in a decent roaster’s, they’ll only sell whole bean coffee but will ask if you want it grinding. They’ll also ask what brew method you’re using, because different brew methods require different grinds. For example, a French Press with it’s long immersion brew needs a larger grind size. Faster brews (like espresso) require much a finer grind.
Is pre-ground coffee bad?
Pre-ground coffee gets a bad rep because as soon as you grind it, it starts losing freshness. However, it’s not all bad. First off, check out this table for a quick guide on how quickly it starts to get stale.
|0-15 minutes||Peak condition to be brewed.|
|2+ hours||Noticeable drop in quality to experienced coffee drinkers.|
|2-24 hours||Capable of making decent but not great coffee.|
|1-7 days||Capable to making a drinkable but stale cup.|
|7+ days||Very noticeable drop in freshness, even to novice coffee drinkers.|
Seems bad, right? Well, the thing is that when you buy pre-ground coffee you get one BIG advantage. And that’s using the top quality grinder of your coffee shop or roaster. A quality grinder gives a smooth, consistent size of coffee grounds, which is huge in making quality coffee.
And if you’re just starting out, getting that quality grind can go a long way to making up for lack of freshness. To be honest, I recommend pre-ground for beginners. Get up to speed, then figure out if you want to invest in a grinder further down the line.
Should I use preground coffee?
Here are the reasons I think someone should choose pre-ground over fresh ground coffee:
- Just getting into brewing quality coffee at home.
- Not read to make a big expense on a grinder.
- Thinks $20-30 would be enough to get a decent enough grinder.
- Wants decent coffee with minimum hassle.
Here’s a neat trick. If you’re buying your coffee pre-ground, try to buy some beans at a time when you can go straight home and make a brew. Like within an hour, or even half an hour. That’ll give you a good idea of what fresh ground coffee would taste like.
Notice a big difference between that brew and the ones you make a few days later? Well, my friend, might be time for you to get yourself a little grinder!
Like to do your research? I’ve written comprehensive buyer’s guides for both hand grinders and automatic grinders. Those links should give you all the information you need to feel confident buying yourself a new coffee grinder.
On the other hand, if you just want a quick reco then it’s hard to look further than the Baratza Encore. The company Baratza makes a long line of premium grinders and this is their budget model, but it’s great for personal use.
It’s an automatic, so it’s like a black box in your kitchen that you plug in somewhere. Pour your coffee beans into the funnel at the top, flick the dial to the grind size you want and hit the buttom. Come back in 30 seconds to beautifully ground coffee. Fair warning: it can get a bit loud.
It’s a real bargain at about $100 and you can usually find it on Amazon these days. And to be honest, these things are so well made that you can get most of the money back if you decide to sell it on.