Don't Buy Great Coffee Beans Unless You Do This.
The fact that you're here means taste of your coffee is important to you, otherwise you wouldn't be here looking at high quality speciality coffee.
But there's one thing that I believe you absolutely must do if you're going to buy great quality coffee beans - and that is, to grind your own
Why You Absolutely Must Grind Your Own Coffee Beans
If you don't currently have a coffee grinder, and instead you buy pre-ground coffee beans, in my humble opinion - there's not a great deal of point of investing in great quality coffee. This is why you'll only find whole beans here at The Coffeeworks.
If I sold you a bag of this lovely coffee pre-ground rather than to do my best to convince you to freshly grind your own coffee, I would be doing you a disservice.
Coffee beans are an amazing feat of nature. These tiny little seeds of the coffee cherry plant (they're not actually beans at all) are packed full of natural compounds. Oils, acids, flavanoids, antioxidants - over a thousand of them, including caffeine - which we refer to simply as solubles.
Literally what a cup of coffee is, is the soluble compounds from the coffee seeds extracted from the roasted and ground beans. So coffee isn't just a flavour, you're actually ingesting all of these chemical compounds extracted from the bean.
If you're buying high quality coffee beans, you're investing money in coffee beans that have been grown in order to deliver outstanding compounds in your cup, which translate into fantastic tasting coffee.
The coffee plants responsible for producing these beans have been specifically chosen for the quality of their seeds, and they're grown in very specific places, usually at high altitudes which provide the perfect growing conditions specific to the variety of coffee plant chosen.
Where these coffee plants are grown makes the coffee cherries harder to pick. They have to be picked by hand, which makes it more labour intensive.
The way they're handled between being picked and roasted is also done very specifically to help to protect and even to enhance what these coffee seeds have to offer when they're finally roasted, ground and then brewed.
Farming higher quality coffee takes more investment than growing "normal" coffee beans, also known as commodity grade coffee beans, which are grown, picked and processed simply as a commodity - with all the focus being on price.
Speciality coffee is grown, picked and processed with only one priority, quality. They need to be defect-free and to be highly scored by professional coffee tasters in order to be deemed speciality coffee.
Farmers growing speciality coffee demand a higher price for their beans, and the price doesn't follow the rise & fall of of the stock market. The price is tied to the quality, not the stock market price.
Most farmers growing commodity grade coffee are simply doing their best to survive, they don't usually have the resources to improve the quality of their crops. Their margins are incredibly tight and often nonexistent as the market has no conscience.
This is the idea of Fairtrade, although it's worth pointing out that not all Fairtrade coffee is speciality grade coffee.
The Importance of Roasting.
Commodity grade coffee tends to be roasted in large batches, and it is generally roasted relatively dark in order to disguise any negative flavours and also to enhance the batch to batch consistency.
This isn't at all to say that darker roasted coffee isn't any good - darker roasts can be incredible - but darker roasts in speciality coffee are used specifically to bring out certain qualities in certain coffee beans. The Sumatra Mandheling for example is roasted medium - dark to bring out the full, deep and complex flavour these coffee beans have to offer.
Commodity grade coffee beans on the other hand tend to be darker roasted not because a darker roast profile brings out the best from the beans, but because it's simply what works best for maintaining the taste consistency of this kind of coffee.
Without roasting darker, it would be very difficult for the supermarket brands you're familiar with to deliver any kind of taste consistency. In order to build a commercially viable brand & make it a household name, it has to deliver the same taste in each cup.
You can say what you like about the most well known brands of instant coffee for example, but I bet if you occasionally drink instant or have done in the past, you can conjure up the exact taste of a brand you're familiar with right now. I grew up on instant coffee, and I can think of some of the major brands best selling coffees and instantly taste them.
This is what the most commercially successful coffee brands have done well, they've ensured consistency - and to do this with commodity coffee, darker roasting works best.
It's no surprise then, that second wave coffee chains such as Costa and Starbucks favour dark roasted beans.
It's particularly important to brands that use a Robusta & Arabica blend, as at least some of these brands (as I know from the research I did when writing my post CoffeeGate - the great caffeine conspiracy) don't actually know what percentage of Robusta to Arabica end up in each cup, which means they can't know exactly how much caffeine is in each cup, and it also means that in order to ensure consistency, they're going to have to roast that coffee fairly dark.
I'm waffling a bit, if you're a coffeeblog reader you'll be used to that ;-), but the point I'm trying to make is that as well as speciality coffee beans being very specially grown and processed, they're also very specially roasted in order to deliver the very best tasting coffee beans.
So by the time a bag of high quality coffee beans lands on your door mat, a lot of care has been made to preserve the particular qualities of the thousand or so compounds that you're going to extract while brewing, and then enjoy.
The Importance of Home Grinding
These compounds I keep harping on about are kept in-tact with the lack of oxidisation.
As soon as beans are roasted, all of these compounds are subject to oxidisation, in which these lovely compounds start to deteriorate. So in order to taste the coffee at it's best, we need to keep oxidisation to a bare minimum.
Speciality coffee is roasted in small batches so that it doesn't sit on a shelf oxidising, it's much more fresh when it ends up in the hands of the customer than with commodity grade coffee.
But there's one thing which massively speeds up oxidisation - and that's grinding.
When whole, only the outside of the bean is in contact with the environment. Once coffee is ground, far more of these precious compounds are exposed, and it starts to deteriorate much faster.
Think about an apple for a minute. Apples can sit in a fruit bowl, or the fridge (each to their own) for quite some time before they start to go manky, for the want of a better word.
But then slice that apple in half - and watch how quickly it starts to go brown. Puree the apple, leave it exposed to the air, and see how long it stays fresh for. Not long.
While you can't see the effects of oxidisation on ground coffee like you can with an apple, the same thing happens with coffee beans. When coffee is ground and then packaged up, it's likely to have started to deteriorate even before its bagged up.
Even if it's really well vac packed, and this happens immediately after grinding, it's still not going to be as fresh - the compounds aren't going to be as in tact and unspoiled as they would be if you ground them yourself just prior to brewing.
The major deterioration with pre-ground beans, though, is going to happen when you're opening the bag or the airtight container you store your coffee in if you prefer to do that (which I believe is a good idea & which I do myself), each time you brew.
It's all well and good having a form of air tight storage, but you can't avoid allowing your coffee to be introduced to the environment every time you need to open the container or bag to stick your scoop in.
So buying a bag of high quality coffee beans that have been pre-ground - to me, seems like a real shame. What you're investing in when all said and done, is those compounds which deliver the taste and the other good stuff that comes with it. By buying it pre-ground, you'll have lost a fairly significant amount of these by the time they reach you, and even more by the time you've finished the bag.
You Don't Need to Spend a Fortune on a Grinder.
I've had a Sage Smart Grinder Pro for over 4 years now - the dose control pro is almost the same but less features and a bit cheaper. These are fairly inexpensive grinders, and they're good all-rounder grinders, particularly good for quickly changing from one brew method to another.
The Iberital MC2 I think is a better performing grinder when it comes to espresso. Not good as an all-rounder grinder for various brew methods though, due to the stepless wormdial grind adjustment. It's a bit of a rough diamond, it doesn't look particularly pretty, it feels a bit flimsy, but it's a lot of grinding performance for the cost - around £130.
The Nemox Lux is almost the same grinder as the MC2 - but in a prettier and more robust feeling shell - and on-demand rather than being a timer grinder. I prefer on-demand, I found the timer on the MC2 to be a bit of a pain, and I much prefer the look of this grinder. The main difference between the Lux & the MC2 is that the Lux is really made as an all-rounder, with 10 stepped grinding settings, so it's OK for espresso, but it's more a jack of all trades than a master of espresso. But - you can mod the Lux to make it a stepless worm-dial grinder, which many people do.
The Eureka Mignon is a great range of grinders for the cost, in my humble opinion. They're a bit more pricey than the other grinders I've mentioned, at around £300 - £400 depending on the model, but this still isn't an expensive coffee grinder, relatively speaking - and they're very good!
The Niche Zero - I love this grinder. One of the most notable features of this grinder is it's near to zero exchanged retention - which, simply put, means that you don't need to purge coffee (waste a few grams each time) to get out the few grams of coffee from the last time you ground. As well as this, it's quiet, it's great to look at, it performs brilliantly, it's not at all messy, and it's a lovely grinder to use.
For more options - including lower cost grinders than mentioned above see 8 Best Budget Coffee Grinders of 2020 & a Couple to Avoid.
You can get even more for your money if you go down the manual grinder route - and you can grind your own coffee with a hand grinder from as little as about £30. See 11 Best Manual Coffee Grinders / Hand Grinders in the UK