Drinks

Is Whole-Bean Coffee Really Better than Pre-Ground?

A coffee expert weighs in on this caffeine conundrum
Whole-Bean Coffee or Pre-Ground Coffee?
Photo: Katie Foster/ Tasting Table

Unless you're a nay-saying tea drinker, coffee is most likely an integral part of your morning routine. And with more bagged options than ever available at grocery stores nationwide, many of us caffeine addicts are swapping $5 lattes in favor of a hot mug (or two) of home-brewed drip. Though going with an at-home pick-me-up is undoubtedly easier on the wallet, one question remains: Is it better to buy whole-bean coffee or the pre-ground stuff?

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To get to the bottom of everyone's favorite bottomless cup, we consult with New York-based coffee expert Sadie Drazewski. In addition to having over a decade of barista experience under her belt, Drazewski recently opened Bearcat, a java-centric café and bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (a neighborhood known for its discerning coffee culture). It doesn't matter if you're sweet on Sumatra or flip out for French roast, Drazewski's answer is the same: Buying whole beans reigns supreme.

Whole Beans Last Longer

"We can think of coffee beans in the same way we think of fruits and vegetables," Drazewski explains. "They're both rich in antioxidants and full of nuanced flavors. And, just like an apple, coffee is vulnerable to natural chemical processes that can diminish its inherent health effects, flavor and mouthfeel. Keeping beans whole helps to slow down these processes, just like keeping an apple whole instead of sliced keeps it fresher, healthier and tastier for a much longer period of time."

Ground Beans Lose their Scent . . . and Their Taste

"Carbon dioxide is also a biggie," Drazewski says. "Roasting beans fills them with CO2, and while some of it's released as the beans cool, keeping them whole allows a lot of it to remain intact. This gas plays an important role in coffee consumption by emitting oils and soluble flavors into the air during the brewing process, creating all those beautiful aromas that make a fresh cup so inviting. Much of what we taste is dependent by our sense of smell, so aromatics are very important when it comes to flavor quality."

Tips

① Find a Good Grinder

"Consider investing in a fancy grinder to get the most out of your coffee," Drazewski recommends. "And if that's not an option for you, bring your beans to a local coffee shop and ask to use their high-quality machine. If you're kind and polite, most shops will be happy to grind your beans for you. Many supermarkets will use the same grinder for both flavored and unflavored coffees, and those residual flavors can definitely leave their mark on your coffee, no matter what type you're grinding. No bueno."

② Keep Your Stock Fresh

"My general recommendation is to treat coffee like fresh produce," Drazewski says. "Aim to buy only as much as you're going to use in a week or two; that's it. Keep it un-ground for as long as you can, then grind your beans just before you brew. That way, you're sure to get the best, most flavorful and richly aromatic cup possible."

③ Stash Your Bags in a Dark, Dry Place—Not the Freezer

"Whether you keep your coffee ground or whole, I'd store it in a dry, dark place," Drazewski advises. "Cupboards are perfect for keeping your beans fresh and free from excess oxygen and moisture. Freezing can damage coffee by drawing out moisture. And there's always the dreaded freezer burn—nobody likes that. If you're planning to store your coffee for a long period of time, cold temperatures can keep it from turning rancid. But that shouldn't be an issue if you're buying your bags week to week."

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