Pre-ground coffee done right?

It’s hard not to notice that “pre-ground” is a bad word in certain coffee circles. Without a doubt, this is mostly for good reason. Grinding your own freshly roasted coffee right before brewing it up is the way to go, when possible, and it doesn’t take a Q grader’s palate to verify the difference that doing so makes in the cup.

However, pre-ground coffee doesn’t have to be bad. Here’s a little story about how I (re)discovered this counterintuitive little nugget of truth and why it matters to me lately.

A few Saturdays ago I had the pleasure of spending three hours with local members of the Home-Barista community at one of their meet-ups in Baltimore. The forum regular who hosted the get-together had agreed in advance to let me play with his Mahlkönig Tanzania grinder—in particular to get a sample of its much-touted press grind that I could then compare to my Preciso’s and, possibly, to the LIDO’s. I had sieving rather than tasting in mind, right or wrong, so I was prepared to grind up any old beans and store them in an 8-oz. Ball jar. But I was soon convinced to use some of Rafael’s home-roasted Ethiopian Aleta Wondo (dry-processed). He dumped about 60 g. worth of these beans into the throat of the Tanzania (hopperless) and ground straight into my jar, which I then sealed and stashed away because I was distracted by somebody offering me a cup of Geisha brewed in a Bonavita. This was like a coffee lover’s dream party, after all.

The following night, some 18 hours later, I decided to crack open the jar for whatever reason, and much to my surprise I got a little pop from carbon dioxide rushing out once the seal had been broken. Interesting! I’d always thought that grinding exposed so much of the beans’ surface area that it pretty much instantly obliterated all of that pent-up gas, allowing oxygen to get to work making everything stale. Not so, apparently, as the ground coffee had continued to release a certain [unknown] amount of carbon dioxide while in the jar. Then I noticed that the Aleta Wondo smelled too outrageously fruity and good to waste in a sieve, so I decided to brew it in the Eva Solo. The cup was wonderful—certainly very fresh-tasting.

Since then I’ve experimented several times with grinding directly into Ball jars (see visual aid below), sealing the lids immediately, and then waiting hours to brew them—occasionally even overnight like I did originally. Each time I’ve gotten a very good cup out of my pre-ground coffee. Now it’s true that in all cases I was starting with fresh beans (never more than a week post-roast) and using a coarse press grind, so your mileage might vary if you change these variables significantly, but the results have been consistent enough for me to take them seriously.

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Why on Earth would I bother with pre-ground in the first place? To satisfy my curiosity, sure, but also partly out of necessity. Sometimes when I want a cup my 5-month-old daughter is sleeping, and I don’t want to (a) wake her by firing up the Preciso or (b) go downstairs to hand-grind, which isn’t exactly a quiet process either. If I’ve had the foresight to pre-grind some beans I can then brew them silently at my leisure.

Anyway, just thought I’d come clean and see what others have to say. Please don’t revoke my coffee geek credentials over this! ;)


In my cup right now: 1000 Face’s Kia Ora (Kenya)
Arriving tomorrow: The OE LIDO!

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