If there’s one debate that always splits coffee pros and convenience lovers right down the middle, it’s this one – whole bean versus ground. It’s the kind of thing that everyone has an opinion on and it’s rare to find anyone that’s not firmly on one side of the fence or the other. Indeed, both kinds have their pros and cons to be taken into account. After all, if there was a single perfect product, there would be no need for the other to exist.

Ground Coffee Perks

For example, ground coffee always has been and probably always will be the most popular for the mainstream coffee drinker. Why is this? Simple really – it all comes down to convenience. Every supermarket up and down the land these days features dozens, maybe even hundreds of ground coffees in all manner of shapes, types, flavours and prices. They may also carry a certain selection of beans, but this is almost guaranteed to be smaller. And not only is it easy to find, but it’s pretty much ready to go as soon as you open the bag. You don’t need any specialist equipment, skills or knowledge to use it and that’s pretty much the whole point of ground coffee – it’s convenient and easy.

In addition, ground coffee also makes an attractive option for those that frankly wouldn’t even know where to begin were they handed a bag of coffee beans. It’s not quite as simple as smashing the living daylights out of the things and expecting a world class cup of coffee, so in the eyes of most it’s far easier to let someone else do the hard work on your behalf.

But is it really?

Ground Coffee Cons

Despite all its convenience and the way in which it’s pretty easy to make a good cup of coffee using ground, there are certain inevitable drawbacks that come with going down this road – the biggest of all being freshness. The reason being that no matter how great the coffee is or how respectable the brand, the moment a coffee bean is roasted and ground down it starts to go stale.
The taste you get from coffee comes from the oils in the beans, which naturally begin to dry up and disappear once the roasting and grinding has been done. And so even if you buy a nicely sealed drum of coffee from a big-name brand you can trust, chances are it’s already been in there for long enough for some or much of the flavour to have dissipated.

Try Once, Change for Life

If you’ve ever wondered why it is you just cannot get your homemade coffee to taste quite as good as that you pick up from the coffee shop, chances are this is your answer. For those that have never actually compared two cups side by side, the difference can be difficult to get across…but it’s a biggie. When you buy beans in order to grind them only when you intend to use them, you come out with a flavour profile that’s simply exceptional. Not only is the coffee stronger, but any notes, accents or additional flavours it presents will be much more prominent and enjoyable.

Something else you’ll benefit from is being able to choose exactly how fine or course you want your resulting ground coffee to be. When you buy from the store, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the brand you’re buying from as they’ll decide what’s best for the beans they’re selling. Different types of coffee machines and coffee making tools need grounds with a very specific fineness – you’ll only ever have control over this if you grind the beans yourself.

And the Downsides?

Yes, there are downsides to grinding your own beans and the most obvious one is the effort needed to make it happen. Whether using a machine or going for the classic manual approach, it’s not quite as simple as opening a bag and scooping a wad into the coffee maker. Sure, it only takes a minute or two…maybe just 30 seconds…to get the beans ready for a brew, but if you’re busy, it’s understandable that this can seem problematic.

And then of course there’s the small matter of cleaning the grinder, which is essential to keep it in full working order and to ensure each cup tastes as good as the last.

But really, is this too much to ask for quite simply the best cup of coffee you’ll ever make at home? Some say yes, we say no way!

Buying Whole Beans

So if the above has convinced you and you’ve made the decision to invest in some home coffee beans, you’ll need a few pointers on getting it right. Just like any ground or instant coffee you’ve ever bought, the differences between rival brands and beans are literally night and day.

Be sure to go with a brand you can trust and then feel free to experiment until you find your perfect flavours. But no matter where you buy or what you think about taking home, bear the following pointers from us in mind:

• Roast Date – If possible, you should try and pick up beans that were roasted as recently as possible. In the best case scenario you’ll be looking at beans roasted just a few days prior to making your purchase, which is something that’s very difficult to find with standard supermarket products. The freshest beans can usually be bought online.
• Open Bags and Jars – When buying from a specialist coffee shop, be sure to ask how long the display bags and jars have been open. They look pretty enough, but as soon as the airtight seals are broken after delivery, freshness fades.
• Good Grinders – If you pay next to nothing for a barrel-bottom grinder, you’ll end up with coffee grounds of a thousand different sizes that are really no good to anyone. If you’re going to do it, do it right!
• Freeze Your Beans – For any beans you don’t intend to use pretty quickly, it’s not a bad idea to bag or box them and put them in the freezer – they’ll stay fresh for up to eight weeks with their oils and flavours preserved.